How To Switch Off On Vacation
You’ve packed your suitcase, checked in for your flight, confirmed your Airbnb reservation and set up your out of office. But the truth is, in a society ruled by the smartphone, it’s harder than ever to get away from it all, from the day-to-day distractions of work and home. In this super-stressed, super-connected age, switching off and allowing yourself to recharge on your summer vacation requires more than simply booking a spa retreat or finding a hotel with an infinity pool. No, the right destination is only the beginning. MR PORTER asked a selection of experts what you should do to truly escape the grind, and squeeze the most out of every minute away – when to sleep, what to eat, which books to read, how much to sweat and how to keep yourself from tumbling into the downward spiral of social media.
Invest In A Dumbphone
The fact that we talk about holidays in tech terms – switch off, recharge – only demonstrates just how dependent we are on our devices. If you really want to switch off and recharge metaphorically, you’ll have to do it literally, too.
Ms Tanya Goodin, founder of the digital detox firm Time To Log Off and author of Off, recommends leaving your smartphone at home and switching the sim card to a so-called dumbphone, such as a Nokia 3330 or the stylish Punkt MP01, which is designed specifically to cut out app distractions. “You’re contactable by phone and text,” says Ms Goodin, “but you can’t be sucked into the internet black hole while you’re on holiday.”
The cheaper, though ultimately less reliable, alternative is simply to uninstall the social media apps and work email from your phone for the duration of your time away. Buy maps and guidebooks in advance so you won’t have to open Google Maps to find that recommended restaurant or beach or pretty medieval church. Take a camera so you don’t need your phone to take pictures of the frescoes. Just think of all the money you will save on data.
You could book a holiday destination that’s off-grid, says Ms Frances Booth, author of The Distraction Trap, but that’s not easy when every resort or rental apartment boasts about its wi-fi speeds. Instead, if you absolutely, positively must post that Instagram snap of you lying on an inflatable slice of watermelon, “choose one or two points in the day to do it, for example 5.00pm each day, rather than checking your device constantly”, says Ms Booth.
If you do manage to set boundaries around your device and stick to them, make sure you have enough activities to keep you occupied during all that free time. “People on our digital detox retreats are surprised by how much time they suddenly have, and by how bored they get,” says Ms Goodin. “We’re used to our screens providing all our entertainment, so you need to think about how you’re going to use those hours.”
Pack A Big Beach Read
Your holiday might be the only fortnight of the year that you get to dive into a good book, and the temptation is to fly through something lightweight and forgettable such as the latest Jack Reacher novel. “Bingeing on ‘beach reads’ is like eating too much McDonald’s,” says bibliotherapist Ms Ella Berthoud, co-author of The Novel Cure: An A-Z Of Literary Remedies. “Bring that book you’ve been meaning to read for ages, and allow yourself the time to read it properly.”
Ms Berthoud has the following suggestions. In the realm of speculative fiction, along the lines of The Handmaid’s Tale, there’s Ms Naomi Alderman’s The Power, and Stories Of Your Life And Others by Mr Ted Chiang, a collection of short stories (including one from which the Oscar-winning movie Arrival was adapted).
In Mr John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies, a gay Irishman born in 1945 bears wry witness to Ireland’s painful process of cultural modernisation, from Catholic theocracy to the legalisation of gay marriage. In Mr Matt Haig’s How To Stop Time, meanwhile, a 400-year-old narrator with a genetic condition that prevents him from ageing faces the challenge of falling in love in 21st-century London.
Finally, Mr Ivan Turgenev’s 1860 novella First Love is “a slim classic that’s perfect for a holiday read”, says Ms Berthoud. “It’s set during a very hot summer in Russia, as an old man reminisces about his first love as a 16-year-old boy. It’s quite a full-on story that might reunite the reader with their adolescent self.”
Breathe Like Baloo
If you’re a regular at the gym, you probably won’t want to work out while you’re away, but you ought to keep moving nonetheless. “I’ve spent a whole week away lounging on sunbeds and then come home, played sport and got injured straight away,” says Mr Dan Redwood, a personal trainer at the Matt Roberts gym in the City of London. Mr Redwood recommends relaxing before and after holiday exercise with a couple of minutes of diaphragmatic breathing. “Lie on your back with your heels on the floor and breathe into the stomach,” he says. “It helps reduce stress, release tension and balance the mind. A good way to visualise it is this: in The Jungle Book, when Mowgli sits on Baloo’s tummy and Baloo breathes in, Mowgli goes up – and when he breathes out, Mowgli sinks down.” Exercise is a simple way to switch off mentally, so take a swim in the pool or the ocean, do a simple yoga routine, pack a skipping rope or some resistance bands in your suitcase. And if you take a long walk, make sure you have the right footwear. “Sportspeople wear flip-flops all the time and they can wreak havoc with your feet,” says Mr Redwood. “I’m not saying don’t wear them, but be conscious of keeping your feet active. Take some good shoes with you, especially if you’re going to be walking.”
Eat Local Food, Drink Sparingly
For some of us, a holiday means a break from the regular dietary regimen, but that often means guzzling alcohol and overeating. Your vacation is an opportunity to treat yourself to good food that’s also healthy.
“If you’re going to Mediterranean countries, for instance, their diets are very healthy,” says dietitian Dr Sarah Schenker. “They really know how to make a salad, they’re great with fish. Go to restaurants where the locals go, and then you won’t be tempted by the less healthy options.”
Drinking is fine in moderation. Enjoy a boozy lunch some days, and on others try to plan an afternoon activity that precludes it. Go for one or two big nights out if you must, but if you want to return from your break relaxed and recharged, says Dr Schenker, “wasting the next day with a hangover is not relaxing. You don’t want to come back from your holiday tired, overweight and thinking, ‘Now I need a week in a spa.’” Plus, while a full bottle of wine at dinner might help you to fall asleep, alcohol detrimentally affects REM sleep, so after a skinful, your sleep is going to be less refreshing.
Skip The Siesta
If you’ve spent the past 50 weeks staying up too late and getting up too early, your holiday is the best opportunity to get a proper night’s sleep without the threat of the alarm clock. But while you might be tempted to take a Mediterranean siesta, be wary of dozing in the afternoon. “Use afternoon naps sparingly,” advise the experts at Sleepio, a sleep improvement programme from digital medicine organisation Big Health.
“Napping in the afternoon may disrupt your ability to fall asleep at night. If you are behind on your sleep, you’ll be carrying around a sleep debt, which is going to make you more tired. A nap of 10 to 15 minutes can help, but don’t overuse it.” Lots of people do, and then can’t sleep in the evening and find they go home with only marginally less sleep debt than they left with.
In the evenings, make sure you shed the bad habits of home and spend the last hours before bedtime clearing your mind, not filling it with Facebook posts, tweets and prestige TV drama. “Most of us are so busy in our regular lives that we don’t have any true leisure time anymore,” says sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley. “We think leisure is going to the gym or reading Facebook or Twitter.”
Illustrations by Mr Tommy Parker