A Beginner’s Guide: How to Take a Screencation

By Amanda Wowk

August 18, 2020

Screens. Whether you love them or hate them, we, as a society, can’t seem to live without them. On the one hand, screens keep us entertained, informed, and connected—the latter a serious blessing in the early months of COVID-19 (that is, before Zoom fatigue set in). But on the other hand, we know the blue light emitted by screens negatively impacts our sleep, that quality (versus quantity) of screen time matters most for young children, and that screens are generally a distraction—often from the other tasks we should be focused on, like driving or a work meeting.

What’s a screencation?

Like any activity, it’s healthy to take a break from our screens. Sometimes, said break should be a lengthy one. Enter: the screencation. Much like a vacation, a screencation is an intentional break from your screens planned for a predetermined amount of time. Of course, many of our screen-related activities revolve around work, so in order to take a screencation you’ll likely need to take a few vacation days, too. Then, you can truly leave your devices at home—or, at the very least, turned off—and not have to worry about the notifications you’re missing.

Why should you take a screencation?

Out from behind the glare of a mobile phone, laptop, or tablet, you’re more likely to slow down and live in the moment. You might be familiar with the slow travel movement: the call for travelers to spend more time in fewer places—and move more intentionally from place to place, too. 

The same concept applies to screens. When you take a screencation—whether you’re lazing at home or retreating to somewhere out in nature—you get a chance to connect with those around you, practice mindfulness, think deeper, and regain your own attention (that’s often otherwise spoken for by pings and pop-ups).

Ready to give it a go? Here are three variations of a screencation, each with the swaps you’ll need to replace your screens, plus ideas for making it work. I suggest starting slow and working your way up. Then again, maybe seven days off the grid is just what you need to break your screen dependency.

One-day screencation: Warm-up challenge


Best suited for: All ages and levels of screen dependency. Also suited for those low on vacation time as this challenge can be achieved over a weekend or scheduled day off.

This screencation aims for 24 hours of device-free living. Worried about boredom or going stir crazy? We have you covered.

To fill your time, put down your electronic devices and pick up:

  • A book instead of an e-reader. Need to replenish your bookshelf? Order from your local independent bookstore or from Bookshop; they support local indies, too. 
  • A cookbook instead of your go-to recipes app. Whether cooking is your hobby (nay, passion!) or you’re still getting comfortable in the kitchen, a screencation is the perfect time to hone your culinary skills.  
  • A board game; jigsaw, crossword, or Sudoku puzzle. Instead of the litany of gaming apps on your device(s), board games or puzzles can be a fun way to encourage your family or roommates to gather for quality time. Likewise, take an introvert break with a solitary activity like a crossword. The key? Stock up on games before your planned screencation starts so you have alternate entertainment on-hand when the craving for your phone kicks in.
  • Your favorite outdoor gear. A screencation is the ideal time to leave the devices inside while you head outside. Whether that’s for a leisurely stroll around your neighborhood, a day hike, 20-mile bike ride, or something else, your brain will welcome the device-free activity—and so will your heart health.  

Tip: Before kicking off your screencation, give your loved ones a heads-up that you’re going device-free and to expect not to hear from you. If you’re going for an extended outdoor adventure, let friends or family know where you’ll be. Safety always comes first, even on a screencation.

Three-day screencation: Staycation challenge


Best suited for: Those who have built up their confidence in completing the one-day warm-up, are planning a staycation for Labor Day Weekend, and/or just need an extended break.

This next level of screencation will take some added preparation. Aside from taking time off from work, you’ll also want to stock up on the essentials for entertainment (mentioned above), think through who needs to know they won’t hear from you for several days (via text, at least), and the gear you might need to enjoy the outdoors—even if you're simply headed to your own backyard.

While the structure of your three days is completely up to you, here are some tips for achieving this challenge:

  • Still need to stick to a schedule? We get it! Keep track of your appointments in a pocket planner or wall calendar versus relying on your phone’s calendar and/or digital reminders.
  • Need to write down your ideas or take notes? Do so in a notebook. Research shows you’re more likely to commit information to memory if you write by hand instead of typing on a computer or your phone. 
  • While you have your notebook out, pen some handwritten notes (saying thank you or anything you’d like!) to friends and family. Writing a letter is a great way to catch a loved one up on you, plus expressing gratitude boosts your mental health. Later, pop your letters in the mailbox when you’re out for a walk (hint, hint).
  • Speaking of exercise, another way to boost your health (mental and physical) is to head out for a wireless run, rollerblade, or cycle. Picked a rainy weekend for your screencation? Skip the exercise app or streaming service and get creative with your own at-home workout with bodyweight exercises like push-ups, sit-ups, burpees, and jump squats. 

Seven-day screencation: Off-the-grid challenge


Best suited for: Those screencationers who have successfully completed the one- and three-day challenges and/or anyone who hasn’t taken a day off since the beginning of the pandemic. You deserve this.

For a successful week off from your devices, I suggest getting out of the house, if you can. But this doesn’t mean you need to venture far or spend all of your vacation funds. For instance, a camping trip is a low maintenance (and socially distant) option for getting off the grid and back to nature. Depending on where you plan to camp, you might not have cellular reception, so the temptation to use your phone won’t be there anyway.

Tip: Online or offline, you can always access your TripIt itinerary. Ahead of your screencation, use the Nearby Places feature to locate amenities near to where you’ll be staying. Save places for later by hitting the (+) sign to add convenience stores, pharmacies, and more to your itinerary. This way, you’ll still have access to those places during your screencation—even when you’re off the grid.

While you’re making screencation memories, capture those moments with your DSLR or Polaroid camera. Don’t have an alternate camera? No problem. Put your phone on airplane mode and use it to take photos. You can post all of your best pics to Instagram when you get back home. 

Finally, as with any vacation—but definitely a screencation—be sure to share your travel plans with your Inner Circle (a TripIt Pro feature). This way, your travel buddies can access your trip details (AKA, no need for you to get back on the grid), and anyone at home can be in-the-know about your whereabouts in case they need to reach you, too.