Study shows travelers who digitally disconnect go through withdrawal, then experience “liberation”

Surveys have shown that the average American checks their phone once every four minutes, so its no surprise that asking vacationers to go without their mobiles will cause some static.

But a small study from the U.K.’s University of East Anglia and the University of Greenwich, and Australia’s Auckland University of Technology reveals the “emotional journey” that happens when vacationers leave their phones home.

First, the test subjects — two dozen people from different countries — recorded spikes in anxiety, similar to what drug addicts go through when they’re getting clean, the researchers noted.  But after a while, travelers told the scientist they experienced increased appreciation, “a sense of enjoyment” and, eventually, “liberation.”

Lead author Dr. Wenjie Cai of the University of Greenwich Business School, explained, “Many people are increasingly getting tired of constant connections through technologies and there is a growing trend for digital-free tourism.”

The researchers explained that a lack of translation apps and digital maps is what caused the most anxiety among voyagers, but they also felt more connected to their surroundings, without having to chase likes on social media and answer emails.

“Our participants reported that they not only engaged more with other travellers and locals during their disconnected travels, but they also spent more time with their travel companions,” Dr. Cai said in a statement.

Unfortunately, the subjects’ anxiety spiked again when they were given their online access back — as they worried about all the stuff they’d have to catch up with when they got back to the real world.

The findings were published in the Journal of Travel Research.


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