Strategies to help your guests unplug at the cottage

smartphone-cottage-sunset Photo by avtk/Shutterstock

We all know that one person who might as well have their cellphones surgically attached to the end of their arm. We’ve visited them in the hospital when they’ve come down with a bad case of “texter’s thumb.” (Yes, that is totally a thing.) We’re not sure what their face looks like anymore, because they’re either hidden behind their phone or making weird duck faces while posing for their zillionth selfie of the hour. They say things like, “Hashtag sorry not sorry,” then look confused when we don’t laugh.

Yes, cellphone junkies exist — and sometimes we have to host them at the cottage. Here’s a handy guide to helping them unplug so they can really relax and enjoy life away from the city — without being glued to a screen.

Let them know in advance that phones will be discouraged

Letting guests know your cottage rules in advance is always a good idea, but this one bears repeating. Repeatedly. Make sure to start this well in advance, as you’ll have to allow your guests time to move through the grieving process as they contemplate life without their phones. Six months worth of cheery emails should do it. If you have to, lie and say your cottage doesn’t get cell service.

Remind them that hardship is relative

Make the cottage experience seem hard and full of inconveniences: the bugs, the tricky plumbing, the ongoing maintenance. Mention the bugs a few more times. When your guests get to the cottage and realize it isn’t nearly as bad as you made it seem, they’ll be so relieved that going without their phones for a couple of days won’t seem so bad after all. At least, that’s the theory.

Go totally old school

Phones, of course, are about more than checking messages and social media. If people are more worried about not having cameras and music, go old-school. Hand out disposable film cameras so people can still document the fun times. Haul out your turntable and declare an all-vinyl weekend. (Just remember, if you’re rusty with using vinyl — don’t jump too close to the player, or your pristine vinyl will get some nasty scratches.)

Keep ‘em busy

From early-morning yoga to a post-breakfast hike to happy hour croquet to a midnight bonfire and skinny dipping, cram your guests’ days with so many activities that they’ll be too engaged to even think about checking their phones. Either that, or they’ll be so tired they’ll forget where their phones are (hint: hide them in the outhouse). Whatever works.

Designate a specific phone-checking period a couple of times each day

Some people just can’t go cold-turkey. For the real die-hards, or you know, folks with kids at home, or a business to keep an eye on, encourage them to unplug in small doses. Designate two times in the day, say, before breakfast and just before happy hour gets underway where you won’t make merciless fun of your guests for checking phones or impose any penalties (see below). If you’re really hard-core, make your designated phone checking time 3 o’clock in the morning. Under a full moon.

Turn off the WiFi

If you’re OK with folks checking phone messages but would rather not have guests ‘Gramming their every moment, turn off your cottage wifi. Sure, some guests will just use data, overages be damned, but some won’t want to waste their bandwidth and will be forced to interact IRL (that’s “in real life,” in case you were wondering).

Impose a penalty

Keep this one light and fun. First one to check their phone in the day has to do the breakfast dishes. Or put lunch together for the group. Repeat offenders have to paint the dock. Really intractable cases get dropped off in the middle of the  woods and have to make their way back to the cottage with only their phones as tools.

Make the phones difficult to get to

Making something difficult to do is the first step in breaking a bad habit, so encourage guests to put their phones in a pretty basket, and tuck the basket away in a cupboard so it’s out of sight. Need stronger measures? Lock the phones in a box, and keep the key somewhere tough to get to, like in a waterproof box in the toilet tank. Or, you know, on that island in the middle of the lake. Consider employing poisonous snakes to really get your point across.

Location, location, location

If you’re really serious about no phones at the cottage, buy a place that only gets cell service 40 metres offshore. Let them know there’s a regular phone for emergencies, but that checking their email or Instagram will involve a life jacket and some heavy rowing. Then hide the oars.

How do you encourage your guests to unplug?

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