Gini Dietrich

Five Tips for Taking an Unplugged Vacation

By: Gini Dietrich | August 27, 2012 | 

Last weekend, a very close friend got married. At a summer camp in the middle of Maine.


It was summer camp as you experienced as a kid, but with adult beverages. And, just like you experienced as a kid, there were no phone calls or emails home. There was no service except in one spot in the middle of the camp, where everyone could see you on your phone. It was as if they’d prepared to massively embarrass those of us who needed to get our fix.

Mr. D and I decided to extend our stay a few days and drove to the coast, where there was cell phone service, but I decided to turn off the email on my phone (and iPad) for three whole days. In fact, the iPhone makes it super easy to unplug. You just switch the mail icon to “off” in the settings and voila! No more email.

I even set expectations here that I was on vacation and not responding to comments – a feat in and of itself!

I have to admit I cheated a little bit. I had my laptop with me so I did scan email and blog comments once a day (very quickly) to be sure there wasn’t an emergency. As it turned out, there was only one thing that was kind of important, but it wouldn’t have been the end of the world had it waited until Thursday, when I got home.

But there were a couple of things that elevated my blood pressure and, because my out of office clearly stated I was not checking email, I decided to let them sit (which, as it turns out, gives you time to stew and think before you respond).

Three days vacation was not enough, but it did allow this completely connected, addicted entrepreneur to take baby steps.

Long Live Vacation

When I got home, I read an article in Fast Company called, “Traditional Vacation is Dead. Long Live Vacation.”

In it the author, an entrepreneur, suggests three ways to take two weeks (!!) vacation without things falling apart at home. One of those suggestions is to block off a few hours each day to work.

I’m not sure I agree with that…as I experienced, just checking email briefly took my focus away from having time off and I wasn’t fully present because I was stewing on a couple of items.

But, if you haven’t yet taken your summer vacation or are planning something for this autumn or winter, there are some very easy ways to make sure you have uninterrupted time off while the business (or your job) still continues to tick.

Five Tips for Taking an Unplugged Vacation

  1. Start communicating months in advance. Most of us plan our vacations months in advance. Start telling people as soon as it’s booked. Set expectations with clients. Work internally to prepare. And keep the dates front and center so everyone is prepared. If you are a soloproneur, I think you’ll be surprised how willing clients are to let you have the time off, if there is time to work ahead so balls don’t get dropped. And, if you don’t get paid unless you work, you’d better start working some extra hours to build up the vacation fund that allows you to still receive a paycheck while you’re out.
  2. Train someone to take your spot. All of us need someone to fill our spots. This is scary for some because we like to feel like we’re indispensable, but training someone to fill in for you while you’re gone gives you the peace of mind you need to fully be on vacation. No one minds helping you out because they know you’re going to be there for them when it’s their turn.
  3. Allow re-entry time when you get home. This is one I use when I travel for work – Patti Knight typically keeps the day after a long business trip free of meetings. It allows me to reconnect with my team, get through emails, and actually do some work. If your vacation begins on Friday, as soon as you’re finished working, and goes until midnight on Sunday, you won’t have time to decompress before going back to work.
  4. Turn the email off completely. I don’t know how it works on Android, but the iPhone makes it super easy to turn off the email. Just switch the mail icon to “off” in settings and you’re good to go.
  5. Don’t answer your phone. Because you’ve taken care in steps one and two, you likely won’t get any phone calls. But, if you do, don’t answer it. It’s unlikely there is a true emergency; rather someone just forgot. If it truly is an emergency, they’ll leave you a message to the effect and you can quickly return the call.

You could, of course, not take your phone or iPad or laptop on your trips, but that might be going a little too far. For me, my Apple devices serve also as my camera, my gaming, my reading, my writing, my social networking, and more.

A version of this first appeared in my weekly Crain’s column.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • When we were in NC a few weeks ago, cell phone signal was virtually non-existent – and it was glorious. I have a WiFi-only version of the iPad (which covers 95% of my usage needs) and the cabin (read: a fancy house in the woods) did have WiFi, but that time was limited to early mornings and late in the evenings. 
    My niece (3.5 yo) was really good at reminding “Uncle Jay” to get off the computer and play. 🙂 

    •  @jasonkonopinski There are many people (I used to feel this way too) who think the harder they work and the less time they take off, the further ahead they’re going to get. This is the first year I’ve ever stopped doing that and I’m more productive, more relaxed, and happy. Oh … and the business is profitable for the first time ever. So I’d say it has something to do with it.

  • frjohnsen

    Interesting post, especially for those of us blessed with five weeks vacation per year (by law). I think I’d add one more tip: “Turn on out-of-office replies, and make sure it is correct.” I’ve seen a ton of “I’m out of the office, returning March 17”-ish emails in July. This summer I didn’t check my email for four weeks. All my clients knew I would be gone months in advance, and my OOO-reply read something like “I’m on vacation, with very limited email access, until August 6. For urgent matters, send me a text message at (INSERT NUMBER), and I’ll call you back as soon as I can.” The result: ONE single text in a month, and no urgent emails waiting when I returned. Now THAT is peace of mind! 🙂

    •  @frjohnsen Yes! The out of office is necessary and it can’t just be “I’m out of the office.” It’s an easy way to set people’s expectations so they’re not continually calling and sending emails to find out why you’re not responding.

      •  @ginidietrich  @frjohnsen Not to mention that you and marketingprofs write some of the best OOO messages known to man. 

  • ElissaFreeman

    I hear ya! It’s amazing how the world doesn’t fall apart when you don’t answer somebody right away. It takes a bit of getting used to…but so liberating when you can actually unplug…

    •  @ElissaFreeman And, when you set expectations that you’re going to be gone, people are much more forgiving when you don’t respond. We all want time off. It’s something we can all rally behind.

  • rdopping

    Great tips! Here’s mine. Shut it down and fuggeddaboudit…….

    •  @rdopping That last part isn’t always so easy.

      • rdopping

        @ginidietrich yeah. I know. A man can can dream, can’t he?

  • Yay for you. In addition to being a electronic device addict, I’m also a recovering fantasy footballoholic. I went from 6+ leagues in each of the past 3 years to just one this year. I feel pretty liberated as well.

    •  @SociallyGenius LOL! Mr. D plays in four or five (that I know of) and it kind of takes over both of our lives during football season. I used to play, but with the book and tour and everything, I gave it up.

      • @ginidietrich OMG – we’re totally going to play in a league w/in the next couple years! Kelly, too… I have a feeling that we’d get along pretty well.

        •  @SociallyGenius  I’m waaaaaaay too competitive. It’s been six years since I played in a league with Kelly’s DC friends and last weekend they were STILL teasing me about how competitive I am.

        • @ginidietrich no, that’s good. It will feel even better when I beat you!

        •  @SociallyGenius  Puh-lease.

  • I try to differentiate between “time off” which is what most of us do — the electronically tethered trips away where you are still checking the devices, and “real vacation” which is everything cut off. I don’t think the check in for an hour or so thing works — it’s not the same. Laptop and phone in the hotel safe is the only way I call it a real vacation.
    Your number 1 is key, setting the expectations in advance. Also, important is making sure your key staff knows that your dates are black out dates for their vacations, that way your A-Team is there in your absence.
    Other that, here is my the rule I give to my team when I take a real vacation…
    Don’t call me unless it involves a lawyer, the press or emergency services.  🙂

  • jennimacdonald

    Good tips Gini. I did the same thing when I was in Maine, at the same time as you. : )
    I do also turn off my notifications on all of my social networks for when someone follows me, RTs me, tags me, etc. I didn’t check email but this way when I turn my email back on I don’t have to delete hundreds of non-important emails.

    •  @jennimacdonald Oh heck. I don’t have those notifications set up now. If I did, I would get nothing else accomplished.

      • jennimacdonald

         @ginidietrich Oh heck : ) I have them set up for biz, not personal pages. I understand.

        •  @jennimacdonald Ohhhhh yeah. I guess you kind of need that.

  • So glad you wrote about this, Gini. Since I’ve started working for myself full-time, I’ve yet to take a vacation. I’m finally doing that in a couple of months. Like you, I’m only going to be gone for a few days, but I’m excited to be away and unplugged. Like others have said, checking email and working for an hour or two is not really a vacation. For some trips, that’s necessary. But, I think we all need to have vacations that are completely unplugged.
    I think my challenge is that since I don’t have a dedicated team to back me up while I’m gone, I feel like it’s hard to be away. But, I think that’s why setting expectations with all of my clients up front is going to be the far more critical piece. I may not be able to avoid the emergency calls (since I don’t have someone to take them), but since reaching me will be difficult, I hope that will help prevent people from bugging me unless it’s critical.

    •  @lauraclick Laura, did you decide where to go? 

      •  @Lisa Gerber The trip chose us! My husband is on a board for the bar association and their annual meeting is at an all-inclusive in Cancun. So, that’s where we’re headed. It’s only for a few days, but I’m sure it will be glorious! 🙂

        •  @lauraclick  Have you been there before? There’s some great snorkeling at Xelha … and you can never vacate work more completely than when you’re swimming with the parrotfish. 

        •  @barrettrossie I’ve been south of Cancun on the Riviera Maya. I’ve heard of Xelha, but we didn’t go last time – we stayed on the resort mostly. I think our group has some excursions planned, but I’m not sure what we’re doing yet. 

    •  @lauraclick I think, as long as your clients know you’re going to be gone, they’re happy to not bug you. They may forget (which is why the out of office is so important), but they won’t be mad if they can’t get you. I’ve had only one instance when I was working solo that a client truly had to reach me: An employee was murdered while at work. I agreed it was an appropriate call to take while on vacation. 

      •  @ginidietrich Good to know. We’ll see what happens! And wow, an employee murder?! That IS an emergency. 

  • John_Trader1

    I’m sure it goes without saying that taking time to unplug does wonders for relationships with our significant others if we are lucky to have them. Take time to unplug for yourself, but also for the sanity and the sanctity of your relationship with loved ones.

    •  @John_Trader1 What? You want to be focused on your family?! What?

      • John_Trader1

         @ginidietrich Go figure.

        •  @John_Trader1 Clearly you need to see a doctor.

  • rustyspeidel

    I’ve learned that despite all of our best intentions to be indispensable, everyone benefits when you unplug for a week. You, your clients, your employees or subordinates, your pets–everyone. We think we’re so vital, but folks seem to step up in your absence, and more importantly, respect the need to drop everything for a little while. I’m not even sure #1 and #2 are that critical. If clients don’t respect this need, they aren’t very good clients. 

    •  @rustyspeidel Well, I’m not sure about pets. Jack Bauer has serious separation anxiety.

  •  @ginidietrich Gini, this is great advice for all us entrepreneurs who suffer from “I must be contactable at all times” syndrome – my wife’s view of that syndrome is “you think you are that important??” I fully agree that we need ti unplug, as @John_Trader1 says ans the best way I find is switching off emails and not answering phones. Checking in for an hour or so, which never stops at just the hour, is not having a vacation – you are still mentally tuned into work.
    Good stuff, thank you

    •  @John_Murphy  I agree. When I cheated and saw a couple of emails, my blood pressure went up and then I was distracted for a couple of hours, thinking about them. That’s not good for me or my family. 

  • When we went to Jamaica last year, I did check email once or so every day just for the first couple of days; mostly because we were at the height of the #bluekey campaign (you remember) and I didn’t want @rachaelseda to feel I’d disappeared. But she was such a trooper that outside of one phone call, I was really able to unplug. Which, to me, is what vacation should be all about.
    I will also add, for those who have blogs, etc., to keep up – figure out what you’re going to do. Either let your community know that you’ll be out (hence no new posts), or schedule several ahead of time, ideally from guest bloggers (because you won’t be around to reply to comments). I used to be very good at this, and haven’t been that good about it lately (but I will get better!).

    •  @Shonali  I remember a few years ago, a NY Times reporter called…while I was at the top of a ski lift. When I told her I was about to ski down a mountain, she said, “OH! Let me see if I can extend my deadline. Call me when you get back.” People totally get we all need time off.

  • magriebler

    I usually come across like some sort of goody-two shoes. (And they are sparkly and shiny shoes too, I might add.) I am an idealist, down to my bones. But on this topic I’ve become a realist.
    The biggest problem with taking a vacation is culture and the fall-out from years of lay-offs and re-organizations. Are you in an organization where taking time for renewal and self-care is valued and encouraged? Is the staff robust enough that someone can bear the load for you while you’re out without being crushed themselves? Does your boss want you to get away or does she/he worry that your absence will just make life more difficult? If you have to answer no to any of those questions, good luck with unplugging. It won’t happen.
    We all deserve to be part of an organization that believes people who work crazy hard, bring in big results and are passionate about the mission deserve a break in order to be even better at their jobs. OK, I’m back to idealist mode.

    •  @magriebler My organization is TINY so the idea that not having a staff robust enough to carry the load is baloney (not at you, just in general). I have a very good friend who keeps using that as an excuse to not get away, but now he’s burned out and grumpy and the only real way to get past that is to take time off. People will help out, even if it means a few extra hours a day, because they want to know you’ll be there for them when it’s their turn.

      • magriebler

         @ginidietrich I really think you’re the difference in your organization.

        •  @magriebler Someday I’ll have Global Domination. And, when I do…

        • magriebler

           @ginidietrich I’m rootin’ for you, baby. I like the way you think.

  • I also find just checking in once a day gives you peace of mind, so you CAN relax on vacation. If I were to completely unplug, I think I’d worry about things hitting the fan. A quick check to see all is well, and you can carry on!

    •  @Lisa Gerber See, I’m totally different. When I did cheat last week, there were two emails that actually made me angry. And then I was so focused on that, Kelly had to offer me booze at 10 a.m. just to bring my blood pressure back to normal. After that, I promised I wouldn’t cheat and look.

      •  @ginidietrich  @Lisa Gerber I’m the SAME way. Even in my old job, I had to really force myself not to look at emails out of the office because I would just start to get frustrated when I read some of them. I just needed to go cold turkey!

  • For the business side, I would like to be able to check my phone once a day just to make sure nothing is blowing up. The reality is, there is rarely anything so catastrophic that my team can’t handle in my absence.
    Now social is a whole different ballgame; since I am so incredibly popular now I would really hate to disappoint my audience so they didn’t have some kind of access to me…………doh………I could be gone a month before someone might say ‘whatever happened to………’
    The social part of me ‘wants’ to stay connected. Some down time is good and I’m actually doing a pretty good job of keeping the phone in my pocket (on vibrate of course) and not even taking it out when I’m with people. 
    A much bigger challenge for you I’m sure however; thanks for sharing your method. 

    •  @bdorman264 I definitely stayed connected socially. Like allenmireles said, it’s entirely up to how we each live our days. If I had to go without Facebook or Instagram, especially on vacation, I might actually die.

      •  @ginidietrich  allenmireles And it was a sad death indeed; 3 whole days without Facebook and little did she know she had her re-charger in her bag the whole time…………:(

  • There’s no right way to do this, because each of us handles separation-from-our-tech-and business-anxiety differently but I would be the first to say that taking time off is essential. Sort of the human version of rebooting.Your tips are valuable for two reasons: they help us understand the hows of unplugging and getting away and they provide some sort of permission to do so. I believe in vacation and in unplugging (even though I was less successful this summer than in the past). 😉

    •  @allenmireles You were less successful and that’s why I gave you a hard time about it. I really believe human beings can only take so much, and the only way to recharge is to unplug. That’s why I stopped working weekends. I’m MUCH more productive this year…and it’s because I can no longer say, “Oh I’ll just that this weekend.” I have to get it done during normal business hours.

      •  @ginidietrich And I want to be just like you if I grow up! 😉

      •  @ginidietrich  You don’t work weekends? And you expect Pita Pit to come calling? 

        •  @barrettrossie I totally stopped working weekends this year. It’s been FANTASTIC! And if it takes me twice as long to do a ride as I expect, it’s no big deal. 🙂

  • Very proud of you Gini. It can also depend on just how many media tentacles have wormed their way into your life. Will flipping off the iPhone (ha!) be enough? Or are there a half dozen other insidious connectors still hanging on?
    But, Gini, you have great people working for, with and around you. They’re kind of like a whole ‘nuther set of tentacles supporting you. With that going for you it’s so much easier to unplug. And as you said in your comment earlier, it’s amazing how time off actually increases your value. Why, your gravatar even looks better! 😉
    Welcome back!

    •  @Carmelo The interesting thing is I still did FB and Twitter and Instagram and WWF and Pinterest, but it was on my time and just for fun. No business about it. It was kind of nice!

      •  @ginidietrich Ahhh, yes. But that was just part of the fun of your vacation! We’re still human beings who connect! 🙂

  • When I went to India for a friend’s wedding; that is the only pact I had with her – totally unplug from everything. But then, I ain’t all that popular and people don’t notice when I go missing! But yes, good tips here. I just get tempted every time; so my friend just hid my mobile on the big day!

    •  @Hajra  So no photos to Facebook even??

      •  @ginidietrich It was a Indian – Hindu wedding ; the ceremonies are for over three days! So, technically it is a three day wedding; so I was “allowed” photos for the first two days (with time limits!) but when the “mega” event took place, no phones….

        •  @Hajra  Wow. That would hurt my little social media picture taking fingers!

  • I have gotten pretty darn good at ignoring email but I haven’t figured out how to completely disconnect yet. I like writing far too much and I do that almost exclusively on my laptop so…
    And the really sad thing is that I have become a Words with Friends Junkie. I have like 16 games going on so when I take a break I usually poke my head in to take care of my turn.
    But I have found that turning off the notifications on my Droid has been wonderful. It has made life much easier and I don’t have the same Pavlovian response/need to check in as I used to.

    •  @thejoshuawilner I’m the same way with WWF! That’s why I turned off the email, but still used my phone. It allowed me to get my fix without checking in to the office.

  • KevinVandever

    Business email is shut off on iPad and iPhone during vacations and even some weekends (depends on the what’s happening). Those who would need to contact me know to call me if there is something that requires my attention while I’m gone. A few have cheated and texted me. I made examples of them.

    •  @KevinVandever How did you make examples of them??

      • KevinVandever

         @ginidietrich promoted them to a Behr Paint customer 🙂 

        • KevinVandever

           @ginidietrich I guess it would be multiple Behr Paint customers

        • KevinVandever

           @ginidietrich Actually, I don’t mind the occasional text while on vacation and so far, no on has abused it.

        • KevinVandever

           @ginidietrich Actually, I don’t mind the occasional text while on vacation. So far, no one has abused it.

        •  @KevinVandever Well that was no fun.

        • KevinVandever

           @ginidietrich Sorry. the promoting to customer idea was a little fun, right? 

        • KevinVandever

           @ginidietrich Get it? promoting to customer. I’ll be here all week.

        •  @KevinVandever Ba da dum.

  • What’s this thing you refer to called a vacation?

    •  @Sean McGinnis It’s this glorious time when you spend time only with friends and family and you don’t work and you sleep in and you play outside. It’s pretty awesome.

      •  @ginidietrich That doesn’t sound like any fun at all…

        •  @Sean McGinnis You can watch Phineas and Ferb 24/7 if you want!

        • magriebler

           @ginidietrich  @Sean McGinnis Have you ever thought of starting Global Domination by taking over the entire Tri-State Area?  Just an idea.

        •  @magriebler  @ginidietrich I feel like I’m the Doofenschmirtz of the Internet. 🙂

        •  @Sean McGinnis  Oh, so your ‘that guy’……………….

        •  @bdorman264 Yes. And Gini is Perry the Platypus.

        •  @bdorman264 Foiling my every genius scheme. In a hat.

  • I made the decision earlier this year that there is no email so important that someone cannot call me. I then made it so I only get email on my phone when I consciously check the app. This was one of the best decisions I’ve made in the past year.
    I’m not that important int he grand scheme of things. There is no email that needs me to drop everything on a weekend or weeknight. We will all be happier if we stop expecting everyone to always be available.

    •  @JayDolan I totally agree! And it’s weird you’re being serious for a change. Are you OK?

  • Tony: going to unplug for my 40th birthday celebration vacation in a couple months. Tips received… appreciated… and will be put into practice. 🙂

    •  @T60Productions You’re admitting you’re turning 40?!?

      •  @ginidietrich Tony: I’m a man… we’re allowed to do that. 🙂

  • Oh you flew overhead and didn’t even say hello – harumph!

  •  “Communicating months in advance.”  A great way to keep the vacation commitment to yourself. 

  • Loved your vacation pictures! I’m glad you were able to relax (a little 🙂 )!

    •  @rachaelseda It was suuuuuper nice. Now I wish I’d taken more than three days.

  • I’ve written about this – there’s a difference in being ‘unplugged’ and being completely offline. I plan travel (love TripIt), book activities, coordinate schedules via my iToy… going Internet dark, not sure it’d work unless it’s some cabin in the woods thing. (But then you’d want to call for help when chainsaw killer zombie ghost demon worshippers show up, right? 😉 Did you see that movie, funnier than it was scary.) I don’t spend a lot of personal time online playing on FB and Pinterest (for yes, I finally signed up) or reading for fun. So vacation is a chance to do that. Like you said, we also use our tech to play, to read, for fun.
    IDK think it comes down to prior planning – like @Shonali and others said about notifying people, getting blog ready, etc. – and our personalities. Right now, I still have a dumbphone (thinking of upgrading) so I don’t have the constant bombardment/temptation to be so connected; also not that busy at the moment. I have no issues not checking social sites, missing calls and emails for a few hours or even a day; but days/weeks on end? No. It’s the ‘not knowing’ that gets me; once I do that 10 minute check in the morning or evening, know things are ok – I can relax and enjoy my vacay all the more. FWIW.

    •  @3HatsComm  I’m with you. I can totally go without the work side of things, but not checking the social networks for days/weeks on end? No thanks.

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