Unplug at Camp: The Secret to Happy Campers

In today’s hectic world, taking time to unplug can be near impossible. Camp is one of the few places where campers can just be. Although initially four weeks without a phone seems impossible, having a time to be free of all obligations soon came to be one of my favorite parts of The Heart.

Phones at Home

As technology becomes more and more intertwined into our daily lives, phones become more and more a source of communication and status. I still remember the day I got my first phone. I was about to start 7th grade. With the array of after school activities I participated in, and inconsistent pick-up times those activities caused, my parents decided a phone was necessary. I was absolutely overjoyed because I was far behind my peers in owning a phone. From then on, communication through phones became paramount in navigating friend groups. Everyone needed to have the next app, or you were suddenly out of the loop.

At The Heart the stress of keeping up with others disappears. Camp forces you to unplug and live in the moment, being with the people around you. The Heart is the one place I can be and never once worry about where I left my phone, or if so-and-so texted me back. Instead, I worry about preparing my speech for an office or what’s being served for lunch.

Uninterrupted Connections

At meals we eat family style. Sitting down face-to-face with no outside distractions, save the occasional “Save your spoons” and “Napkin check!” Campers learn how to hold a conversation at the table and the joy of sitting down to have a meal. At home, my whole family lives on a different schedule. We try to eat dinner together most of the time. However, practices and rehearsals usually conflict. At camp there is no skipping out on meals because of other obligations. More importantly, when you’re present you are fully present.

Jumping In

Getting to unplug for a month gives you a break from the constant social responsibilities. It also teaches you that you don’t need to rely on a tiny computer to make friends and memories.

At the waterfront, the gorgeous Guadalupe provides breath-taking views. Not having a phone not only helps you appreciate the beauty, but also allows easier engagement with nature. Without the added wariness of “What about my phone,” campers can jump in the river carefree. As someone who struggles to keep up with things, this was always something I loved about camp.

Making Memories

Another important use of phones is taking pictures. Campers are allowed disposable cameras. However, my favorite method of preserving moments is “mind photos.” One day I went on a hike with a Heart O’ the Hills alum. As we were climbing one of the Tribe Hills, she paused and said, “You know, I can tell this has changed because when I was fourteen this tree was over here.” I awed at her memory of such a small detail, but she laughed and continued to explain how that year her sponsors were very adamant about “taking it in.” They told every camper to pick one thing on the hill and lock in everything about it. Pictures aren’t allowed on Tribe Hills, but your mind sure is!

So much of my last term as a camper was about “taking it in.” The walk to the Big Field as the sunset on Saturday, the sound of my friends voices singing Sunday songs, the crackle of a fire and the smell of bug spray. All of these memories are seared into my brain because I made the choice in that moment to “take it in.” Instead of relying of the photographs or videos my phone could take for me.

The Power of Presence

Not only is it easier to make memories, it’s easier to enjoy the present. Without the constant FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), campers can simply live in the moment. There is no thought of “I’d be having more fun if I was somewhere else.” Every second at camp is a second to be lived and appreciated.

The Difference

When returning home, campers become more confident. Social interactions aren’t such a challenge. They are less distracted, aren’t as apprehensive about the future, and began to recognize the joys of living in the present.


As crazy as living without your phone for a month may seem to today’s teen, any Heart Girl knows not only is it doable, it is worth every second of getting to be still and take it in a while.

By now I’m sure your camper is starting to feel the effects of PCLD (Post-Camp Longing Disorder) Check out our blog to help both you and your camper cope with their campsickness!

Don’t wait for camp to unplug!

About the Author

Rachel Pannell

Rachel is a rare fourth generation Heart girl. Her great-grandmother was the nurse for our first summer as Heart O’ the Hills Camp, and her grandmother and great aunt were campers, as were her mother and aunt. This fall she will be at UTSA as a marketing major. Rachel is a Jo Jones girl.

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