New research reveals the emotional journey that tourists go on when they disconnect from technology and social media while travelling.
The study, by the University of East Anglia (UEA), University of Greenwich and Auckland University of Technology (AUT), investigated how engaging in digital-free tourism impacted travellers’ holiday experiences.
It involved losing access to technologies such as mobile phones, laptops, tablets, the Internet, social media and navigation tools.
The researchers, who also took part in the study themselves, examined participants’ emotions before they disconnected, during their disconnection, and after they reconnected.
Published in the Journal of Travel Research, the findings show there were initial anxiety, frustration and withdrawal symptoms among many of the travellers, but later growing levels of acceptance, enjoyment, and even liberation.
The findings come as the demand for so-called ‘digital detox’ holidays is on the rise. Lead author Dr. Wenjie Cai, from the University of Greenwich Business School, said: “In the current ever-connected world, people are used to constant information access and various services provided by different applications.
“However, many people are increasingly getting tired of constant connections through technologies and there is a growing trend for digital-free tourism, so it is helpful to see the emotional journey that these travellers are experiencing.
“Our participants reported that they not only engaged more with other travellers and locals during their disconnected travels, but that they also spent more time with their travel companions.”
As well as looking at emotions Dr. Cai, working with Dr. Brad McKenna of UEA’s Norwich Business School and Dr. Lena Waizenegger from AUT, used the theory of affordance to understand the loss or gain of technological opportunities while travellers engage in digital-free tourism.
For example, Google Maps affords navigation and when taken away, the participants lost the ability to navigate, which caused anxiety for some.
Dr. McKenna said the findings have valuable implications for tour operators and destination management organisations to gain a better understanding of travellers’ emotions when developing ‘off-the-grid’ packages or tech-savvy tour products.
“Understanding what triggers consumers’ negative and positive emotions can help service providers to improve products and marketing strategies,” said Dr. McKenna.
“The trips our travellers took varied in terms of lengths and types of destinations, which provides useful insights into various influencing factors on emotions.
“We found that some participants embraced and enjoyed the disconnected experience straightaway or after struggling initially, while for others it took a little bit longer to accept the disconnected experience.
“Many also pointed out that they were much more attentive and focused on their surroundings while disconnected, rather than getting distracted by incoming messages, notifications or alerts from their mobile apps.”
In total 24 participants from seven countries travelled to 17 countries and regions during the study.
Most disconnected for more than 24 hours and data was collected via diaries and interviews.
By talking to other travellers, especially locals, many reported that they were given excellent advice and learned more about sights, places and beaches that were not on any tourism websites or guidebooks, but were a highlight of their trips.
Once reconnected, many participants said they were upset and overwhelmed as soon as they saw all the incoming messages and notifications they received over the days they were disconnected.
However, having enjoyed the engagement with locals and physical surroundings during disconnection, some decided to have another digital detox in the future.
Various factors affected how travellers perceived the digital-free tourism experience. Participants suffered anxieties and frustrations more in urban destinations due to the need for navigation, instant information access, and digital word-of-mouth recommendation seeking.
Those in rural and natural destinations, on the other hand, tended to have withdrawal symptoms related to being unable to report safety or kill time.
Participants travelling as a couple, or in a group, tended to be more confident to disconnect than solo travelers.
They reported suffering less or even had no negative withdrawal symptoms when travelling with companions who are connected; while solo travellers tended to feel vulnerable without technological assistance to buffer cultural differences, such as an unfamiliar language.
On a personal level, withdrawal symptoms tended to be stronger for travellers who participated in digital-free tourism with many social and professional commitments.
They were also more likely to have negative disconnected experiences.
Some participants tried, but could not disconnect during their travels either because they did not feel secure and thought they would get lost, or because they had private commitments that did not allow them to be unavailable.
‘Turning it off: Emotions in Digital-Free Travel’ Wenjie Cai, Brad McKenna and Lena Waizenegger, is published in the Journal of Travel Research on August 14, 2019.
Provided by University of East Anglia
The Meaning of “Living Off the Grid”
The term “living off the grid” appeared in the mid-1990s and is credited to environmentalist Nick Rosen, founder of Off-Grid.net.
Some define off-grid as being independent of electrical utilities and having a smaller carbon footprint (“going green”). Some claim it to be a self-imposed exile from the modern world and its conveniences (“dropping out”), while others define it as being anonymous (“being untraceable”). Andrew McKay, a journalist with Survival Mastery, calls it “living without any dependence on the government, society, and its products.”
Living off the grid is on the rise, according to Rosen. Practitioners include marijuana farmers, doomsday preppers, environmentalists, libertarians, horse-and-buggy Mennonites, and those who just want to escape the establishment. Some adherents are nomads or loners, entirely self-sufficient people who are constantly moving or living in remote areas. Some share a back-to-nature philosophy as members of colonies or communes.
Reminiscent of the hippie enclaves that flourished in the 1960s and 1970s, here are a few examples of settlements across America and Canada:
- Lasqueti Island. Off the coast of Vancouver, Lasqueti Island is the home of 400 year-round residents who provide their power through solar panels, windmills, micro-hydro systems, and fossil fueled generation.
- Common Ground. An 80-acre intentional community in Blount County, Alabama, Common Ground is owned by a group of people “who caught the tail end of the Mother Earth movement and actually bought a farm.” They focus on limiting consumption and being good stewards to the Earth.
- Earthaven. Solar panels and a small micro-hydro system are sources of electricity in Earthaven, a small eco-village of 60 residents living on 320 acres by Black Mountain, North Carolina. Members of the community are seeking to expand to 150 residents.
New intentional communities continue to open.
An off-grid.net advertisement recently solicited “individuals that are not afraid of hard work and are truly committed to breaking the cycle of post-industrial consumerism” for 40 to 80 acres in the North Shore area of Lake Superior.
Many define getting off the grid as reducing their carbon footprint or weaning themselves from the expense of the fixed utility grid. Benjamin Sovacool, the founding director of the Energy Security and Justice Program at the Vermont Law School, estimates there are approximately 300,000 people living off the grid in the United States, 70% to 75% of which are the result of poverty, as reported by Burn.
Others either live in remote areas too far to be connected to utilities or they make a conscious choice to replace or reduce municipal utility use.
Disconnecting from the grid is neither easy nor cheap unless you are prepared to give up some or all of the conveniences of modern life, including light, heat, and instant communications. While reducing electricity consumption is relatively easy with the availability of solar panels and windmills, securing potable water and disposing of human waste is just as important and more complicated.
Furthermore, disconnecting from the grid in some locales may be illegal, with municipal health and building departments requiring running, potable water and an approved method of disposing of sewage. A resident of Cape Coral, Florida was evicted from her home because she refused to connect to the local water supply and electricity provider.
Getting off the electrical grid entirely, even with power-producing technology, is not economically viable for most people, according to a study by researchers Rajab Khalilpour and Anthony Vassalio.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that the typical American home used an average of 911 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per month for a cost of $114.09 in 2014.
A wind turbine or solar panels capable of powering a typical home costs $25,000 to $30,000 after tax incentives, according to The Huffington Post, and that does not include the expense of batteries sufficient to store power when the system is not operating.
As a consequence, only the most dedicated and affluent environmentalists are likely to disconnect from the grid completely.
Homeowner Steve Rowe, who lives in a remote area of Maine, would have preferred staying on the power grid, but connecting to the grid had an estimated cost of $100,000, according to Pika Energy.
His off-grid system of wind, solar, and batteries, designed to replicate the availability of energy, cost approximately $75,000 before tax credits equal to 30% of the expense.
Rowe also notes that he is responsible for maintenance of the system, including removing snow from the solar panels, oiling the solar tracker, and replacing water in the batteries.
As a consequence of rising utility bills, many homeowners are seeking ways to reduce their use of utilities through better insulation, more energy-efficient products, and new habits. With the price of solar panels and wind turbines continuing to decline, more homeowners are likely to supplement their power sources with renewable energy, reducing their dependence on the grid without disconnecting entirely.