Looking to really reconnect with your family on your upcoming vacation? Dr. Jeanine Turner, associate professor of Communication, Culture and Technology at Georgetown University, says it takes more than just getting everyone in the same place at the same time. So what’s her secret to compelling both parents and kids to unplug and start communicating in the here and now? Hint: The type of vacation you plan could make a big difference (and we’ve got tips for that, too).
1. Find an activity for the whole family
“While you’re on spring break, share an activity together to build a shared experience. This does not mean taking kids somewhere to do laser tag or paint ball while Mom or Dad finishes some action items on the laptop. Communication builds on shared experiences, so it requires everyone to actually share the experience. For example, a lot of people go on vacation and end up doing the exact same thing they do at home—maybe Mom’s on phone at beach house, the kids are wrapped up in video games. Everyone’s still kind of siloed, not together, so nobody has anything to talk about, nobody even knows what interests they share. You will always find something more interesting or relevant to your interests on your device, so you have to kind of force these connections in a bizarre way, by creating a shared experience.” (See below for destination ideas.)
2. Ask questions
“It sounds simple: Ask your family members questions. Sometimes, we have a hard time thinking of questions because we don’t really know what is going on in another person’s life. When we get a quick, one word answer, we often stop and retreat to our devices. Our devices are easy, but real communication requires attention to the other person. Parents need to ask more probing questions: “What did you like best about this? What did this remind you of?” Kids are not inherently great conversationalists, but shared experiences will instantly give you shared topics to talk about. Getting kids involved and excited about the planning of a trip can help, too.”
3. Be intentional about unplugging from technology
“Pick specific times during the week or day that no one in the family is connected to technology. Tech makes us think we can be present in multiple venues at one time, but we can’t. Communication is very complicated and very hard—you have a role, they have a role—and it is impossible to compete with the ability of various devices to answer the needs we have for information, entertainment and support. We do not get comfortable with silence, so it’s easy to go back to your device where you have better control of communication. Face to face communication is becoming harder and harder, but you just have to slow down and adjust to a new way of being present. I think you’ll see, though, that communicating becomes easier toward the end of your trip: You now have more shared experiences, more to talk about.”
Ready to plan it?
Orbitz’s experiential travel activities promise fun—and better communication—for the whole family:
Atlantis Dolphin Cay Experience – Nassau, Bahamas: Swim along and play with beautiful Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins in this state-of-the-art habitat. Discover how swimming with dolphins has been redefined, whether you share in their playful shallow water antics or experience their speed and agility in deeper waters. Cost: $136 for adults, $106 for children
Be Maya Experience – Cancun, Mexico: Experience an exciting day immersed in Mayan culture—a truly once-in-a-lifetime adventure into the heart of the Maya spirit and way of life. So much more than a tour, the Be Maya Experience allows travelers to cook a traditional Mayan dish, participate in a traditional Mayan spirituality ceremony and grants access to Chichen Itza, a UNESCO World Heritage Site one of the most spectacular remnants of early civilization in the Western Hemispheres. Cost: $140 for adults, $91.50 for children
Ultimate Space Experience – Cape Canaveral, Florida (originates in Orlando): This is the ultimate experience for unleashing your inner astronaut. Have lunch with an Astronaut, see NASA up-close on a specialty tour as well as visit the Saturn V Center and ride the Shuttle Launch Experience – this activity is a must-do for any Space Buff! Cost: $159 for adults, $129 for children
Hawaii Surf School – Maui, Hawaii: Enjoyed by early Hawaiian royalty, surfing has grown from a casual beachside activity to an international phenomenon. Experience this “sport of kings” for yourself at the Hawaiian Style Surf School. You can also choose to learn how to stand-up paddle board and discover how fun it is while enjoying its fitness benefits. Cost: $88.75 per person
Volunteer and be a Junior Ranger – Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona: Volunteer vacations continue to be a popular option for family spring breaks. Junior Rangers help to preserve and protect national parks. Here, they’ll learn about nature and history, have fun exploring the park, and tell their friends, family and schoolmates about their adventures. Junior Rangers continue to protect the environment at home and at school. Cost: All Junior Ranger programs are free of charge