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Norwich study reveals emotional rollercoaster caused by holidays without smartphones

PUBLISHED: 07:54 14 August 2019 | UPDATED: 09:02 14 August 2019

UEA researchers studied the effect of a digital detox on tourists. Pic: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

UEA researchers studied the effect of a digital detox on tourists. Pic: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

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Tourists who ditch their smartphones when they head off on holiday suffer withdrawal symptoms and anxiety after starting their digital detox - but are rewarded with liberation in the longer term, Norwich researchers have found.

Dr Brad McKenna. Pic: University of East Anglia.Dr Brad McKenna. Pic: University of East Anglia.

Researchers from the University of East Anglia investigated the impact of technology free travelling on a small group of participants to see how they coped with disconnecting from mobiles, laptops and tablets.

The researchers, who also took part in the study themselves, examined participants' emotions before they disconnected, during their disconnection, and after they reconnected.

Some 24 people - all millennials except for two - from seven countries travelled to 17 countries and regions.

They were asked to share their emotion changes when scrapping their digital lifestyles without the ability to share a photo online or get help from Google Maps.

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Published in the Journal of Travel Research, the findings show there were initial anxiety, frustration and withdrawal symptoms among many of the travellers, but later growing levels of acceptance, enjoyment, and even liberation.

The findings come as the demand for so-called 'digital detox' holidays is on the rise

Dr Brad McKenna, of UEA's Norwich Business School worked with colleagues from the University of Greenwich and Auckland University of Technology on the study.

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

"We found that some participants embraced and enjoyed the disconnected experience straightaway or after struggling initially, while for others it took a little bit longer to accept the disconnected experience.

"Many also pointed out that they were much more attentive and focused on their surroundings while disconnected, rather than getting distracted by incoming messages, notifications or alerts from their mobile apps."

He said the findings have implications for tour operators and destination management organisations to gain a better understanding of travellers' emotions when developing 'off-the-grid' packages.

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