Technology, such as cellphones and computers, is wonderful when it comes to being productive at work and keeping in touch with loved ones. But, those devices can wreak havoc on your vacations if you don't unplug.
And many of us don't. According to a poll by NPR, some 30 percent of Americans say they work often during a getaway. That means you're packing stress into your suitcase by never truly disconnecting.
That's why a transatlantic crossing is such a unique way to travel. Where most forms of transportation aim to get you to your destination as quickly as possible, a transatlantic cruise is all about taking your time. On many sailings aboard Cunard's Queen Mary 2, the only ship to actually have a scheduled series of departures between New York and London that call at no other ports, you get seven or even more days at sea -- and a chance to enjoy the journey as much as the destination.
Still, however you choose to recharge while traveling, it can be tough to transition from your crazy daily life filled with a million commitments to a life filled with as few or as many diversions as you choose.
Make Sleep a Priority
Not surprisingly, 42 percent of us are sleep deprived, according to the National Sleep Foundation. So, focusing on getting some shut-eye is key to helping you disconnect from technology while recharging your mind and body. NFL stars like Tom Brady and actresses like Brooke Burke-Charvet -- who have extremely demanding and hectic schedules – have admitted to taking "sleepcations," where they take time off just to get some rest.
A transatlantic crossing is an ideal setting for a "sleepcation" as the focus is on relaxing, going at nature's pace and not packing a day full of sightseeing. "Make it a goal to satiate your body's sleep need," says Dr. Rafael Pelayo, sleep expert and adviser to Adaptive Sound Technologies, Inc. "Once you are alert, the cruise experience will be that much more enjoyable." ,"
Let your stateroom steward know when you plan to sleep so that the environment can be optimized for you – or make liberal use of your “do not disturb” door hanger.
Limit Your Social Media Usage
Yes, cruise ships have Wi-Fi available but that doesn't mean you need to take advantage of it constantly. "Everyone doesn't need to know a play by play of your vacation," says A.C. Brown, founder and chief slumber officer of Goodnight Darling Co. "You're on vacation to escape from the day to day, so unplugging from social media helps you disconnect from the world back home."
By placing a limit on your social media use per day, you will be more present in the variety of activities offered onboard or simply in a conversation with a loved one. It also reduces the chances you could wander over to your work email and get caught up in unnecessary stressors.
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Spa Indulgences Have Health Benefits
Between work, family and friends, it's rare that we take any time for ourselves -- let alone indulge in any pampering. Most cruise ships have spas. On a transatlantic crossing, you simply have more time to take advantage of the services they offer. Shop around for the best quality spas, too. Choose a ship with a superb facility, such as Canyon Ranch SpaClubSpaClub
, which, Forbes notes, is the top wellness destination in the U.S. Use the time to disconnect from the world and reconnect with your body.
Spend time in one of the spa’s steam rooms and relaxation pool. Indulge in tranquility-inducing experiences like facials and massages -- all of which help you take a break from the ordinary. Plus, getting a treatment such as a massage has been proven to reduce anxiety, ease aches and pains, fight insomnia and even help with digestive disorders.
Onboard spas also are staffed with health and wellness counselors. Have you got a whole week onboard? Arrange for private sessions and create a program that you can continue once you're back home.
Learn a New Skill
Sure, the notion of unplugging from daily life implies that there's a lot of relaxing, sleeping and doing a whole lot of nothing. Here's a tip, though: It can also be stress-reducing to activate your mind. How often do you get the chance to use it for pleasure?
"If you want to learn something new," says Josh Leibowitz, senior vice president of Cunard North America and a travel industry proponent of slowing down and charging up. "There are different events over the seven days such as wine tastings and even acting courses. Based on your interests, there's something to do and learn all the time."
Learning a new skill forces you to focus on the task at hand rather than what's happening on Facebook or at work. Use the classes and events as a catalyst for forcibly unplugging from your everyday routine. And know that crossings can revolve around specific themes, such as a fashion week that features red carpet shows and designer showcases.
Treat Your Ship as a University at Sea
On cruises, particularly those that spend multiple days at sea, programs are comprehensive and quite intriguing.
Similar to learning a new skill, listening to a lecture is that perfect combo of disconnecting and engaging simultaneously. Enrichment programs can include insights into space from leading astronomers, stories from journalists and cartoonists and even tales from former NASA astronauts. You can re-learn all the historical perspectives you’ve forgotten from school days on everything from Roman civilization to the Vietnam War.
"If you want to be enriched, we have the most incredible speaker series at seas," says Leibowitz. "You can listen to combat veterans from World War II speak or leading authors like Bill Bryson. And we've hosted James Taylor onboard. They're like-minded in that they also want to have their own time to relax while onboard but are excited to enlighten passengers."
Get Some Exercise. For the Fun of It
Just as you have many options to activate your mind, so too can you do the same with your body. Studies have even proven that regular exercise works as well as medicine (in some instances) to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. With a lot of days at sea, you've got time to jump-start or maintain your fitness routine. The good news is that so many cruise ships have state-of-the-art fitness facilities with treadmills, stationary bicycles and free weights. Give yoga, spinning or speed-walking a try -- even better if you're out on deck, breathing the fresh sea air.
Want to learn a new routine? In addition to workouts, you can also take classes that introduce you to Pilates, boot camp fitness and spinning.
A round of a more leisurely sport like shuffleboard or a game of paddle tennis is a great way to help your mind relax and body reboot.
There are even some more unique recreational activities you wouldn't expect to find on a ship. On Queen Mary 2, for instance, tango classes are held and there's a state-of-the-art golf simulator with 51 courses to choose from, so you can enjoy a round or two in the middle of the Atlantic.
Sit On the Open Deck
According to a study conducted by BMC Public Health, people who visit parks and sit in "green space" for 30 minutes or more weekly are less likely to have high blood pressure and poor mental health. And, you get the same effects if you spend time near water or "blue space."
Well, guess what? On a seven-day transatlantic crossing, you have nothing but open ocean all around to help you decompress. "One of the best things you can do is simply go outside, look at the sky and see more stars than you’ve ever seen in a lifetime," Cunard's Leibowitz says. "It's like sea therapy."
Get Dressed Up
Do you remember when, as a kid, getting dressed up was fun? Today, even for the fashion conscious, you're usually getting dressed for practical reasons: work, errands, etc.
On Queen Mary 2, there are nightly dinner and dancing parties, some of them themed, such as a roaring twenties evening or a masquerade ball, that encourage you to get dolled up. "Our evening balls are a highlight for many, especially those urbanites," says Leibowitz. "It's like stepping into a retro way of life, putting your jeans away and going to a gala. That rarely happens in our daily lives and is a great way to enjoy a special moment with a loved one."
Music Reduces Stress
Who doesn't love listening to some good jams once in a while? In fact, neuroscientists have found that listening to music can reduce stress and even ease physiological pains. But catching the Billboard Top 40 in the car while in bumper-to-bumper traffic doesn't necessarily have the same effect.
On a cruise, particularly a transatlantic crossing, you have the chance to sit and listen uninterrupted to pianists, harpists, string quartets, jazz ensembles or contemporary bands. In fact, even stars of music find these voyages relaxing and productive -- recently, singer Ed Sheeran built himself a music studio on Queen Mary 2 and recorded an album during his crossing.
Enter a Zen Zone
Did you know that simply being at sea helps you achieve Zen more easily? "Water has all kinds of amazing relaxing properties," Carla Hammond, founder of mobile meditation studio Be Time Practice. "Also, the sound of water is wonderfully calming: Think of the sound of the pitter-patter of rain, the sound of water running through a stream, of the ocean waves. All perfect tools to focus on for a meditation session or to just lie down and relax with."
It can really be as simple as taking a minute or two to drop everything and focus only on your breath. Sometimes adding an intention that you can mentally repeat with each breath in and out can also be beneficial (think "peace" or "I am calm").
Jordi Lippe-McGraw is a freelance writer covering travel, food and wellness for outlets like Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the New York Times, Forbes, and more. She has traveled to more than 30 countries on all 7 continents and is an avid puppy, penguin, and truffle lover.