Off-grid family holidays: Tim Dowling’s rules for survival

In the past, whenever my family arrived at a holiday destination with no wifi, or mobile coverage, or television, I was always the first to complain. This is the first rule of taking teenage children on an off-grid break: act surprised. No one has to know you planned this; just pretend it’s part of the adventure. A regrettable part.

Adolescents are resourceful – you can expect them to spend the first day or two wandering around nearby fields and trails, looking for a few bars of 4G. They may even find some. But if your child is willing to climb a huge hill in order to send a text that says, “I’m standing next to a cow”, you can plausibly consider this a victory.

Rule 2: pack extra books. Teenagers who grew up in the age of distraction are under the impression it takes five weeks to read a novel. Freed from their screens, they will quickly burn through the only magazine they thought to take along. Eventually they’ll be reduced to reading anything: travel guides, packaging, French board game instructions. At some point they may become receptive enough to open any book you care to give them, except, in my experience, Middlemarch.

Rule 3: let them argue. The modern adolescent boy is used to having factual disputes settled within seconds by the first person to get their phone out. Robbed of this facility, they will argue for hours, possibly days. Left to bicker on their own, they will eventually figure out how to let things go, but be warned: that might be a lesson for next summer.

Rule 4: they will get bored. Try and remember that this is not a symptom of a screen-free holiday, but the desired outcome.


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