Researchers Investigate the Impact of ‘Digital Detox’ during Travel

The study conducted by the University of East Anglia (UEA), University of Greenwich and Auckland University of Technology (AUT), shed light on the impact of social deactivation on people while traveling.

The researchers focused on the emotions of the participants at different times. Their emotions while having access to mobile phones and social media, to their disconnection and ultimately getting back to the world of technology was recorded. The researchers observed the holiday experiences with losing access to technology and social networking. Some of the participants were the researchers themselves.

The findings showed an atmosphere of anxiety and frustration while having access to mobile phones, but stepping into stone-age periods the travelers were delighted to enjoy their freedom. The unknown anxiety was absent during the periods of disconnection. This study was published in the Journal of Travel Research.

The so-called ‘digital detox’ holidays led to this research. Dr. Wenjie Cai, from the University of Greenwich Business School, lead author of the study 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 travelers are experiencing,” he explained.

“Our participants reported that they not only engaged more with other travelers and locals during their disconnected travels, but that they also spent more time with their travel companions.”

Dr. Cai, working in collaboration with Dr. Brad McKenna of UEA’s Norwich Business School and Dr. Lena Waizenegger from AUT University, New Zealand studied the pros and cons of technological access by using the theory of affordance while traveling, and the association of technology on human emotions. For instance, Google Maps affords navigation and when taken away, the participants lost the ability to navigate, which may cause anxiety.

“Understanding what triggers consumers’ negative and positive emotions can help service providers to improve products and marketing strategies,” said Dr. McKenna. “The trips our travelers took varied in terms of lengths and types of destinations, which provides useful insights into various influencing factors on emotions.”

The findings showed various emotions with disconnection. Some people accepted the disconnected experience within no time, but some people took the time to adapt it. The delayed acceptance and adaptation had a significant effect on their feelings and the attitude they were exhibiting.

“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.”

During the study a team of 24 participants visited 17 regions and countries, the participants were from seven countries, experiencing a lack of technology for more than 24 hours and data was gathered through diaries, interviews, and questionnaires.

Many travelers reported that they were able to concentrate on their surroundings thus learned more about the sights, places, beaches, which information was not available on any site online. Almost everyone preferred a hands-on experience of things that would normally go unnoticed when using gadgets.

With gaining access to technology and social sites, many participants experienced anxiety and submerged with massive messages and notifications they received over the days they were disconnected. Many travelers were delighted with their digital-free journey, as it allowed them to interact with the locals and observe nature. They planned to have such a tour in the coming future where there was no technology available as it was a very soothing experience for them.

As compared to solo travelers, participants in groups or traveling as a couple were more confident in losing technology. They suffered no negative symptoms of disconnection as they were connected with their companions.

The study showed a contrasting thing on a personal level. On a personal level, participants in digital-free tourism tended to be stronger with social commitments. They had a higher probability to have negative impacts. Some participants didn’t disconnect as a result of their fears and insecurities, or due to some private commitments, they remained online.

Any drops in the data signal would have a great effect on their moods and attitudes. Even in areas where there was no network signal people who did not have a good bond with the group, they were traveling in exhibited ‘withdrawal symptoms’ whereby disassociating themselves from others and refusing to enjoy the journey.

Adeena Tariq

Adeena's professional life has been mostly in hospital management, while studying international business in college. Of course, she now covers topics for us in health.

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