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Vacation tips on how to truly unplug

Doug Gross
A woman browses the internet on a laptop while on the beach at Villingili Island, part of Maldives.
A woman browses the internet on a laptop while on the beach at Villingili Island, part of Maldives.
  • No Vacation Nation: Even when we're on holiday, our gadgets can keep us from relaxing
  • Authors say setting rules about when to use phones, laptops and other devices is crucial
  • Need to get extreme? Ask friends to change your online passwords until you're back

(CNN) -- In the United States, we don't vacation often. And thanks to our ever-growing cadre of mobile gadgets, some experts fear that we don't vacation very well, either.

Smartphones, laptops, tablet computers and other devices make it easier than ever to stay plugged in all the time. That's not exactly news.

But there's a growing awareness, and concern, that the same items designed to keep us engaged and entertained around the clock can also make it harder for us to ever actually relax.

Sure, we're on vacation at the shore, or a peaceful lakeside cabin in the woods. But it can't hurt to whip out the laptop and check work e-mail real quickly, right? You know, just in case something big happened back at the office.

Maybe you can't resist peeking at your phone to see what your co-workers are up to on Facebook. Or, you know, to get in a quick round of Words With Friends, or a game of Qrank during that long sunset stroll on the beach.

And never mind how many miles there are between you and the office. In 2011, your boss knows you're always just an electronic nudge away.

As part of our No Vacation Nation series, we talked to two authors: Daniel Sieberg, writer of "The Digital Diet" and William Powers, author of "Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age."

Both books address finding a healthy balance in our use of technology. The authors shared some tips on how to keep your gadget in check while on vacation.

On why it's important

Sieberg: If you respond to one (work) e-mail, you've just opened the floodgates. You've lost that barrier -- it's gone like a sandcastle in front of the ocean. Now that person knows that you're really not on vacation. You are reachable and you will respond. Hold onto that. Otherwise, it's just a slippery slope to just responding to everything. ... It's not giving you that clarity in your head that you're seeking from a vacation -- the reason you did it in the first place.

Powers: It feels like a small thing we're doing. "I'll just check Facebook" or "I'll just go into this one little game I like to do." What we forget is that it actually takes you into a different state of mind. It's a different type of consciousness, the digital one. That may not be true in 20 years, when we've adjusted to it. But it is now.

Create rules for when you can use gadgets

Sieberg: Say, 'Thirty minutes is what I'm going to do.' Then close it down. Put it away. Give it to somebody else.

Powers: The No. 1 thing is to set up rituals for yourself and stick to it. It could be once a day. It could be twice in a week. But set those times ahead of time and stick to it.

Get friends, family to help

Powers: Get other people, the people you're traveling with, to work with you. Work with each other on it and support each other. You can make it a game. If one person takes the plunge back into 'screen life,' it's easy to follow them.

Ban gadgets during meals

Sieberg: No throwing the smartphone out on the table if you're out to dinner or just having family time. It's really valuable keeping them put away for that period of time. If it has to be out, acknowledge it. Let everybody know why it has to be out.

If you must get extreme

If you think no amount of planning will be enough to resist the urge to text, tweet, blog or browse, Powers suggests you try intentionally planning trips to places where coverage will be spotty -- or nonexistent. Or, he says, you can emulate a guy who called in to a radio show he was on once.

Before he leaves on vacation, the guy gives all his passwords and user names to friends who he trusts. One person gets e-mail. One person gets Twitter. One person gets Facebook. They're under orders, on the day he leaves, to go in and change the passwords. When he returns, they change them back.

Don't necessarily go cold turkey

Sieberg: Even if we say we're not going to use them, we're not going to leave them at home. You worry about an emergency. You worry about that work e-mail that you just can't miss. It's not about getting rid of technology. It's about managing your technology more carefully.

Powers: These devices are wonderful. But spending all day (staring) into them doesn't get you to a good place.

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