colombia itinerary with teens

7 Ways To Keep Kids Off Their Phones On Family Holidays (2024)

Last Updated on March 11, 2024 by Nicole

My 16 year old son has his ear phones in again. I ask him a question and he doesn’t even look up from his phone. He’s listening to music and can’t hear me. A couple taps later, he looks up, takes one ear bud out and says, “What?” I repeat myself, “Let’s go play cards before our dinner reservation.” He says, “Nooooo…my friends have just gone online. I want to talk with them.” Then, seconds later, the ear bud is back in and I am ignored. Sound familiar? Here are 7 ways to keep your children off their devices and engaged on family vacations.

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At A Glance

I know you are busy. If you only have a couple minutes to spare, here are the key takeaways from this article.

  • Phones and social media channels distract your children and keep them connected to their friends back home instead of reconnecting together on a family holiday.
  • In order to reduce the risk of this happening, do not pay for an international phone plan; pick destinations or do activities with limited wifi; set reasonable rules about the use of their devices that are consistently followed by everyone, including you; and offer time everyday that they are allowed to freely use their phones.

If you can find more time, try to read my full article. It explains my suggestions, gives you details about experiences that you will have, and provides travel tips.

The Impact of Smart Phones On A Family Vacation

It used to be that you would go on a family holiday with your husband and children to escape your everyday life. Even if you were happy with life back home, it was a treat to leave it all behind.

Daily life, filled with school, homework, extracurricular activities, sport tournaments, plus your own work and obligations, is usually crazy busy. Who wouldn’t trade that all in for some sun, beach, an exciting adventure or a new culture to discover somewhere else in the world? Especially when you get to do that with the people you love most – your family.

no social media or wifi here
Exploring the beautiful and deserted beaches of Nuqui Choco, Colombia

But, reality interferes with this fantasy.

With mobile phones, wifi and social media, your family vacation is no longer yours. You are, in fact, sharing your precious time with your children with their phones, their preferred online streaming services, social media, and their friends. Add in FaceTime or something similar, and sometimes it feels like your family vacation has grown to include 3 or 4 of your kids’ buddies that you were absolutely sure you left behind.

Welcome to modern day travel with your kids!

Unfortunately, it is likely your relationship with your teenagers that suffers the most from this.

The Good Old Days

I have four children who are now 20, 16, 14 and 13 years old. We have been travelling the world together since they were babies. I would say that travelling with my children has been one of the greatest pleasures of my life.

When the kids were younger, controlling access to electronic devices was pretty easy. Maybe bring one for the plane? Maybe not. Allow some TV time at the end of the day? May not.

We certainly didn’t have to navigate the near constant access today’s teenagers have to social media, their friends and their life back home.

A family holiday was once truly about being in the moment, with your family, finding time and ways to reconnect with each other without other distractions.

Access to phones and social media was too easy
The beautiful beaches of Playa Del Carmen, Mexico on a family vacation

Strategies And Tips For Keeping Children Off Their Phones

So, is that it? Do you give up and accept your teenager’s seemingly never ending addiction to their smart phones and social media?

No way!

Over the years, I have found certain strategies that have worked to keep our family holidays truly about family and our experiences at our destinations.

With four children and multiple family holidays, these have been crafted over time. They have worked for all of my children, notwithstanding their gender, age or level of obsession with their phone, social media and their social life back home.

Do Not Purchase A Travel Plan for Your Kids’ Phones

We are from Canada and most phone/data plans only include travel within Canada. If you want to talk, text or have data once you leave the country, you have to pay extra.

I never purchase travel plans for the kids’ smart phones or allow any additional fees to be incurred because they are in a foreign country. Instead, they must turn off their cellular data or leave “airplane mode” on constantly to prevent any roaming or text charges. As a result, the only time my children can connect to social media or their friends at home is when free wifi is available.

no electronics or social media during safari
Having a coffee break during our early morning tiger safari in Ranthambore National Park, India.

Choose Destinations That Have Limited Wifi

I try to pick destinations where wifi may be difficult to get.

I prefer travelling to developing countries and exploring more isolated parts of the world. Usually, wifi is limited in these places. For example, we went to Nuqui Choco in Colombia a few months back. We stayed in a lodge where wifi was only offered in the evenings from 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm, and only in the dining room (Best 14 Day Colombia Itinerary With Teens).

On another trip, we were on a small boat in the Galapagos Islands where no wifi was offered at all until we went into towns (Our 5 Day Galapagos Cruise With Teens).

social media limited
Nuqui Choco, Colombia where wifi was only available for a few hours a night.
No electronics or social media during this tour
Spending time with some very lazy sea lions in the Galapagos Islands.

It isn’t necessary to go to the far reaches of the planet to find destinations without wifi. For example, most major cruise ships that cruise in Europe and the Caribbean do not offer free wifi. Camping is also normally wifi free.

We just returned from an all inclusive resort in Mexico where there was free wifi not only in the hotel, but also by the pool and on the beach. This was the worst! My kids could barely tear themselves away from their phones and social media all day long.

Choose Activities Incompatible with Electronics

Generally as a family, we lose interest hanging around the pool or sunbathing on a beach after a day or so. We prefer to be busy, active and engaged doing something. Accordingly, I usually look for excursions that take us off the beaten path, have an element of adventure, or take us into remote areas. These type of excursions rarely offer wifi or you risk losing or damaging your phone if you bring it.

For example, when we were in Cambodia, we went on a quad bike tour in the countryside (4 Day Adventure In Siem Reap With Teens). There wasn’t any wifi and it would have been dangerous using a phone.

In Mexico, we chartered a boat and went snorkelling and fishing in the Caribbean Sea. There wasn’t any wifi and all devices had to be kept away from the water.

In India, we went hiking in the hills with a guide with no access to wifi.

no wifi or social media here
Our quad bike tour in the countryside of Siem Reap
No wifi so no electronics
A fun day fishing and snorkelling in the Caribbean Sea.

Choose Activities That Engage Your Children

If your child is interested in or having fun with what they are doing, they won’t want to go on their phones. However, if they are bored, they will. No matter how gorgeous a resort is, if everyday is about hanging out by the pool or on the beach, your teenager will get bored.

When you are planning your family vacation, try to find activities that you know will interest your child and keep them in the moment. This past summer, we tried the Olympic bobsleigh run in Whistler in a modified sled (it had wheels). It was so interesting and exciting, no one even thought about phones or social media for hours (21 Best Cheap Summer Family Activities In Whistler).

On our trip to Peru, we went horseback riding in the Sacred Valley (Best 7 Day Itinerary In Peru With Teens). In Medellin, Colombia, we explored the street art of La Communa 13, once one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in one of the most dangerous cities in the world, but no more.

no wifi or social media here
Horseback riding in the Sacred Valley, Peru.
no social media here
Juliet looking out over La Communa 13 in Medellin.

Create Reasonable Rules About The Use Of Their Devices

As mentioned earlier, we just got back from an all inclusive in Mexico that had free wifi everywhere. We couldn’t avoid it until we left the resort. So, my husband and I made a rule that phones would not be allowed during our meals together.

This was the best we could do while at the resort. My kids were old enough to join activities, get drinks and snacks, and spend time in the hotel room on their own schedule and without parental supervision. However, in different circumstances, we would have set more boundaries.

Do not be afraid to set reasonable rules about access to phones and social media that preserve your family time together.

no social media here
Learning how to crab fish in the waters around Cartagena, Colombia.

Be Consistent And An Example

If you make a rule, make sure your children follow through with it. Don’t turn a blind eye to a child breaking that rule, then, expect him or her to respect the rule another time.

Also, if you decide to allow the use of electronics or access to social media during certain times, then make sure you respect that rule too. Don’t change your mind. You run the risk of your children losing their respect for you and your rules.

Finally, if you make a rule, you need to abide by it as well. If you have asked your teenagers to leave their phones alone during a family meal, then don’t pull your phone out of your pocket and check your social media channels or emails. Teenagers, in particular, are way past the point of accepting that there should be different rules for parents and kids in these situations.

Give Them Time With Their Phone or Access to Social Media

It is all very well to limit or discourage the use of devices and social media on your family vacation. However, at some point, it is in your families’ best interests to allow your teen access to them.

As discussed earlier, on most of our trips, I try to fill our days with activities. If I know that our days will be super busy and wifi free, then I do my best to ensure that our hotel has reasonably good wifi and they have time to connect with their friends back home. This usually happens at the beginning or end of the day, either just before or after a meal.

no wifi and social media
Our bike tour in Cartagena, Colombia.

Generally, my children know that if they are engaged and participating in our family getaway, then they will be left alone at the beginning and end of the day.

If you remove all access to their phones or social media for the whole holiday, odds are you are going to have an unhappy teenager. Ultimately, they may not wish to go on the next family vacation and that is NOT what you want.

Last Word

A family vacation is a time to leave the challenges and busy schedule at home and reconnect as a family. This becomes difficult if your teenager is glued to their phone and sending text messages all day to their friends with indecipherable teen emoji meanings!

Accordingly, when you are planning a family vacation with teens, it is important to consider the impact that devices and social media can have.

If you want to minimize their impact, then a conscious effort needs to be made to create a family holiday that limits their access. The right combination of rules and restrictions will help you have a successful family vacation.

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Your family vacation is a great time to reconnect with your children. However, it is difficult to do so when they are glued to their phones, social media apps and their friends back home. In order to have a successful holiday, you need to have strategies in place to limit your child's access to these distractions while keeping everyone happy. Here are strategies that I use that have been successful.
I have four kids, all of which are teenagers or older. We have travelled together as a family for 20 years. Here are 7 tricks for limiting your kid's seemingly endless obsession with their phones and their social media while on a family holiday. #travel #familytravel #travelwithkids #traveltips | all inclusive, beach, child, teen, electronics, family time, wifi, limited wifi, strategies

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  1. When I read the title of your post, the first thing that came to my mind was “do not get an international talk and data plan.” So cool to see that was your first tip. I travel with my husband and we do not get a data plan when we get out of the country. We do it on purpose since it is our way of doing things like they used to be done some time ago. We use maps and interact with people. I am glad you have found good ways to deal with this situation. I think every traveler should think how electronics affects their travels. #WeekendWanderlust

    1. Hi Ruth, I like your thought “Every traveler should think how electronics affects their travels.” I rarely get plans too because I love the freedom of leaving my phone behind in my hotel room and focusing solely on my holiday. I wish I could do that at home but I’m always worried that my children are trying to reach me or something.

  2. Fantastic article Nicole! Thanks for sharing. Katy is 12 and I’m setting technology boundaries such as tech-free Tuesdays. It’s my favourite evening with her. No electronics in restaurants or in my car unless music. Suzanne xx

    1. Thanks Suzanne. You are smart to start this early. I also forbid the use of phones when they are in the front seat of my car. I tell them I’m not their chauffeur and they need to talk to me!

    1. Thanks! I definitely love the ability to unplug when we go away. You almost need to detox a bit because we are so used to having our phones handy. But once I am free, it feels great!

    1. Yes, I agree. So, it is a bit more of a challenge to get away with your family and stay connected to each other and not to our phones. Hopefully, my suggestions will help a little bit.

  3. This a really nice post. Electronic gadgets are taking over every activity these days. However I believe limiting it’s use and using it only for work is the only way to get the best of both worlds. I have listed some cheap travel laptops on my website: Your article has helped a lot.
    Thanks for sharing this post.

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