WELLBEING | How To Have A Tech-Free Family Camping Break

There was a time when the mere thought of going tech-free left me feeling panicky. I believed (and part of me still does) that I was far too busy and had no option but to work evenings and weekends, I felt my life was far too cool and fun to simply keep it all to myself. This distorted perception lead to me being constantly connected, and compelled me to share pretty much every aspect of my life on social media.

reading a book
A good book and a great view, I’ve finally learned to find joy in more simple things

After spending the best part of a year reading extensively on the subject of neuroscience, and brain plasticity in particular, I learned how our over-reliance on the internet is changing the way our brains work and turning us into essentially, unhappy idiots.

My creeping suspicion that being always connected and over-sharing was bad for me, was now backed up by myriad scientific research. I decided to break my over-reliance on social media, and to stop taking on the insane volume of work I’d been labouring under for years, so I would no longer have an excuse to take my laptop away with me at weekends.

Sharing our lives on social media is so ingrained, it’s become an automatic response. If we’re glued to our mobile phones, we’re influencing our children’s behaviour, and it stands to reason that they will seek the same level of digital distraction.

It wasn’t easy, but I’ve now learned to spend a few days at a time away from the internet, and several weeks at a time with no personal social media use. The benefits have been immense, and if I can do it, so can you. So if you fancy trying a digital detox next time you go camping, here are some simple ways you and your family can spend a few quality days together, tech-free.

Find joy in the simple things, like rock-pooling

Right off the bat, let’s be clear, I’m an advocate of being tech-free, to a point. So I’m not going to suggest you leave your mobile phone at home. For emergency situations alone, having the ability to contact people is important, and the safety of your family comes first, so take your mobile phone with you by all means but…

Tips for a family camping digital detox

1. Turn off mobile data and WiFi

Don’t look at me like that, yes I mean it. It will stop you from stressing about the lack of mobile signal or shonky WiFi. Children learn by example, and if as parents we are constantly peering at a screen, then it’s only natural that they will want to do the same.

Turning off mobile data means that you won’t be able to update Instagram or provide an endless commentary of check-ins on Facebook. So what? The world will still turn, your friends won’t suddenly forget who you are.

Stacking Stones
Stacking stones on the beach at Cae Du Farm campsite

You and your family are the ones having the experience, and you’ll get more out of it if you are fully present and immersed. You can share all you like once you get home, just not right now. So for now, turn flight mode on, turn the handset off, whatever it takes to break the Pavlovian response of checking notifications and making updates.

2. Don’t pack that tablet or laptop

You are going away for a reason, presumably, for a short break or holiday in order to recharge yourself and/or to spend some quality family time, so let work wait. Nothing is more refreshing than disconnecting from your everyday life and reconnecting with the outdoors. OK, maybe a professional aromatherapy massage IS pretty damn relaxing, but unlike nature, it’s not a free, easily accessible method of ongoing stress relief.

Whilst you’re away, with a little bit of planning, your main source of entertainment can be easily provided by the great outdoors. Don’t even think about taking the laptop. Turn off the tablet and leave that at home too. And yes, that applies to the children too!

Digital Detox
I never go camping without a colouring book and colouring pencils

Kids in particular have been conditioned to rely on instant entertainment in digital form. Many have a tablet shoved in front of their faces as a pacifier, a boredom buster or a mood stabaliser.

We are condemning them (children) to an imagination-free life in an always-connected culture that exacerbates stress and unhappiness.

Quite aside from just shrugging and accepting this over-reliance of digital devices such as tablets, we need to understand that by doing this, we are changing the way our children’s brains work. In doing so, we are condemning them to an imagination-free life in an always-connected culture that exacerbates stress and unhappiness.

Camping Tea Party
We love throwing little tea-parties whilst camping

There have been heaps of reports that tell us how little contact your average child has with nature. We know that playing outside in fresh air is good for their bodies and their minds. We know that kids report loving outdoors play, and we also know that idle-time is valuable, as it gives them (and us) space and time to think, to process and to be creative; all of which are huge positives that a child doesn’t get from having a tablet plonked under their nose the second they appear even vaguely fidgety or bored.

In bad weather or in the evening before bed time play a family game, get them to read a book, do some relaxing colouring-in or a jigsaw instead.

3. Plan nature-based activities in advance

When boredom sets in, it can be all too easy to turn to tech to fill that gap. Try instead to nurture an interest in nature. It isn’t always easy, but there are loads of ways you can help to encourage your children to be more interested in the outdoors.

camping wildlife
From Buzzards to bunnies, dragonflies to dolphins, we’ve spotted lots of wildlife when camping

Here are some ideas to get you started, and every single one of them will prove more rewarding and more memorable than gazing at a screen.

  • Devise a scavenger hunt to make walks more interesting
  • Go rock-pooling at the beach
  • Learn as a family to identify trees, flowers, birds and fungi
  • Get arty and draw a landscape or write a poem about it
  • Hunt out interesting shots to capture on your camera
  • Get walking or bike riding or swimming
  • Fly a kite!
  • Learn about the constellations and do some star gazing
  • Go wild foraging and see what edible free food you can find
  • Go and collect and stack stones and make your own mini cairns
  • Get your children to count how many times they spot an animal or plant
  • Try some bushcraft and scavenge materials to make a shelter

4. Slow down and don’t be scared of nothingness

Don’t feel that you have to over-plan your family break. It’s fine to have an idea of things you’d particularly like to do, but you should always plan for down-time too.

When was the last time that you laid out a picnic blanket and simply lay on your back with the children picking out shapes in the clouds? Or the last time you pointed out Orions belt as you gazed up at the night sky?

Chill out
Don’t be afraid to kick back and be still

Sitting around doing nothing is OK. It’s not something to be scared of. Even now I have to admit that I still feel the pathological need to be occupied and productive at all times, and I often struggle.

True boredom is a rare thing, and as long as they have air in their lungs and sun on their backs, there is a fascinating world beyond the screen, far from the internet connection, and it’s full of all the wonders and beauty of nature.

Next time your child moans that they are bored or there is nothing to do, don’t feel the need to rush in and remedy that fleeting moment with technology.

Teach your children to embrace those times, true boredom is a rare thing, and as long as they have air in their lungs and sun on their backs, there is a fascinating world beyond the screen, far from the internet connection, and it’s full of all the wonders and beauty of nature.

When your family shifts into that mindset, it’s impossible to be bored and constant access to technology doesn’t feel so necessary.

Kite flying
Our friend flying the same kite she flew as a child whilst camping in Wales

References & Further Reading

Over to you

I’d love to know how you deal with the demands of children who seek constant connection. Do you put your foot down and insist on tech free times, or perhaps you feel that giving your child a tablet is the only thing that gives you any peace? I’d also love to hear how you entertain the children and whether they’ve been creative and used their imagination to come up with games and things to do themselves?

Where to next?


Shell Robshaw-Bryan
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