Study reveals the emotional toll of digitally detoxing when travelling

Participants emotions were examined before, during and after digital disconnection
Image: Stockfresh

13 August 2019

A new study investigating the impact of tech-free tourism on travellers’ holiday experiences has revealed the emotional impact of digitally detoxing.

The study was conducted by a team of researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA), University of Greenwich and Auckland University of Technology (AUT).

Twenty-four participants, including the researchers, steered clear of all technology; including phones, internet and navigation tools during their travels. Their emotional states were tracked via diary entries and interviews before, during and after disconnection. Most abstained for 24 hours, with some lasting longer.




Initially, anxiety, frustration and withdrawal symptoms were common among travellers. Ultimately, many found acceptance, enjoyment and liberation.

The findings, which are published in the Journal of Travel Research, correspond with the increasing demand for digital detox holidays.

“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,” said lead author Dr Wenjie Cai, University of Greenwich.

“The trips our travellers took varied in terms of lengths and types of destinations, which provides useful insights into various influencing factors on emotions,” said Dr Brad McKenna, UAE.

Higher instances of anxieties and frustrations were reported in more urban areas, due to the greater need for navigation and online recommendations. While those in rural settings displayed considerate withdrawal symptoms due to safety concerns and the urge to kill time.

Group travellers were happier to disconnect than solo travellers. When travelling with companions who were connected, participants displayed no withdrawal symptoms. However, solo travellers found themselves vulnerable without technology to buffer barriers such as language.

Withdrawal symptoms were most acute amongst travellers with many social or professional commitments. For some participants, carrying out a total digital detox was not possible, due to feeling unsafe or vulnerable when disconnected.

However, some noted improved engagement with their travel companions and physical surroundings. Others found that by talking with other travellers and locals, they became privy to information not found in guidebooks or tourism sites.

For tour operators and destination management organisations, these findings give valuable insight for developing off-grid packages in future, said Dr McKenna. “Understanding what triggers consumers’ negative and positive emotions can help service providers to improve products and marketing strategies.”

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