As Jasper Chan ambled down the grounds of Thailand’s Wat Arun temple in the capital of Bangkok, his attention was hardly on the famed ornate mosaics adorning the temple’s structures.
Instead, just as he was about to step through the doorway to tranquility, the 30-year-old legal counsel was feeling anything but serene — struggling to stay wired to a Whatsapp call over patchy data connection.
“The judge stood down the hearing and wants an answer to his questions ASAP? I don’t have my laptop with me now!” he told his colleague in exasperation.
People like Chan make up more than a third of travelers who find it difficult to switch off from everyday life while on vacation, according to research by Collinson Group’s Priority Pass, where a majority of the survey’s respondents face the constant pressure to be connected to their devices — with a staggering 73% expressing worries about missing messages if they did not check their phones.
“The persistence of remote working post-pandemic has exacerbated the constant connection to work devices, as lines between professional and personal lives continue to be blurred,” Todd Handcock, global chief commercial officer at Collinson said.
The nagging feeling which keeps travelers tethered to their devices has been coined the fear of switching off, or FOSO. It’s loosely similar to the fear of missing out (FOMO), commonly denoted as the worries of not being included in exciting experiences or activities that others are a part of.
FOSO can be seen as an extension of FOMO, said Handcock. “The fear of disconnecting from devices partially stems from a fear of missing out on work and home updates,” he elaborated.
And this niggling unease may be compromising the quality of travelers’ vacations.
Switching off is not so easy
“There were large groups of tourists milling about and taking photos, while I was the only one busy on the phone trying to find a quiet corner to take the call,” Chan told CNBC Travel.
Board certified clinical psychologist Dr. Cortney Warren associates FOSO as the experience of people wanting to relax, but struggling to detach from life’s daily responsibilities sufficiently enough to enjoy the present moment.
More than half the world is now on social media, according to data by consultancy firm Kepios. A large majority of adults check at least one platform daily and this can be addictive, Warren told CNBC.
The psychologist said that as the pace of daily life speeds up, putting electronic devices aside and immersing oneself in the present, especially while traveling, may not be an easy feat.
“Travel itself can be stressful because you’re out of your daily routine and there may be ongoings at home that require your attention to ensure that things are running smoothly,” she added.
According to the survey by Priority Pass, FOSO is more prevalent among younger travelers.
Some 51% of Gen Z (aged 18-27) respondents admitted to checking work messages while traveling, a number that far exceeds baby boomers’ tendency to do so (aged 59-77) — with just 29% of them saying that they do.
Baby boomers matured as adults long before hand-held technology and social media came onto the scene, explained Tovah Klein, an adjunct associate professor at Barnard College.
“It used to be that you canceled your newspaper delivery, put an out of office message on your landline office phone voice mail, and went away on vacation,” Klein said.
Younger generations, such as Gen Zs and millennials (aged 27-42), have grown up with technology and are more likely to be constantly connected, echoed Collins’ Handcock.
Earlier in March, 29-year-old Jefferson Low spent a week snowboarding down the powdered slopes of Niseko, one of Japan’s most popular scenic ski resorts.
After each run, as his peers dusted clumps of snow off and scampered to the ski lifts for another round, Low whips out his phone — to check on stock market movements.
“It has become more of a lifestyle … for work, but also out of curiosity,” said Low, a currency trader at a bank. He said he once kept his eyes on an upcoming Bank of Japan policy meeting while on the slopes.
“Not great though, given that I should be recharging,” he admitted sheepishly.
Drawing the boundaries
Others are firmer in establishing a personal “no work” policy while on holiday.
“I think it’s a first world syndrome,” said Tan De Xun, a sales personnel at a software company in Singapore.
Tan said that whenever he’s overseas, aside from navigational purposes, he tries not to touch his phone at all.
“I’m clear in drawing the fine line. Nothing related to work will be on my personal phone,” he told CNBC. “The number one problem that a lot of people do is they extend their business applications onto their own phone, such as Teams and Outlook.”
That said, he noted that the nature of his job allowed him the luxury to properly disconnect and attend to work only when his vacation ends.
But not everyone’s work allows them to unwind fully.
Chan, a legal counsel, recalled how he kept access to his work emails on all his devices in a previous job, and checked and approved documents whenever he had the time to, even taking zoom meetings on holidays if necessary.
“Some deadlines and timelines are tight with consequences. I am but a cog in the wheel, and if my responses are delayed, everybody else’s work downstream will be affected,” he said.
He said being constantly plugged-in contributed to an inability to detach from work. “If I really wanted a hard disconnect, I would have to be stricter about my boundaries,” he added.
That said and established, it’s still a case of different strokes for different folks when it comes to the fear of switching off.
“Some may find that FOSO helps them to stay motivated and productive, even when they are on vacation, while others simply see it as stressful,” said Handcock.