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A New Phone Case Can Save Your Vacation. Here’s How

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Photo by Will Sabel Courtney

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Going on Vacation? This Is Why You Need a New Phone Case

Change up your tech as you take a break from life.


These days, taking a vacation can feel like, well, work. Separating one’s self from the burdens, duties and issues of the office may have been easy once, but every new layer of technology to force itself way into our lives makes breaking away from your day job trickier. The telephone meant work could always call you in an emergency; the fax machine and e-mail meant documents to read or sign could always find you in a pinch; text messages meant someone could ping you with a question, even on a beach or bike ride.

Then the smartphone arrived, packing all those features and more into a single pocket-sized device that you can’t live without … and any hope of putting real distance between you and the nine-to-grind vanished. Those of us lucky enough to have a second phone dedicated to work may be able to leave it behind, but many of us don’t have that luxury. So instead, we spend our vacations and breaks with half our mind still thinking about our jobs and their attendant responsibilities, the gravity of the black box in our pockets keeping us from achieving mental escape velocity.

But what if I told you there was a simple, straightforward way to help break those work-related habits when you’re away on vacation?

Better yet, what if that method didn’t require any extreme measures like buying a second phone with less features, or trying to do everything on a cellular-connected Apple Watch, or — god forbid — go without any connected device while you’re out there enjoying your precious freedom?

Well, that’s what I’m telling you. Because in fact, all you need to put some mental space between yourself and your job on vacation is a new phone case.

A different phone case helps you build different habits

I never got into the whole fidget spinner trend, in part because I already had a gadget that I couldn’t stop playing with in my daily life. Jony Ive and his successors and teammates have done a remarkable job making the iPhone tactually pleasing; not since the Zippo lighter has there been a device in your pocket that’s been so pleasing to flip around in your hand or flick open and shut.

And of course, once you have it open … why not just check your email real quick?

It may not be the sexiest case, but the Lifeproof Frē keeps your phone safe from water — and you safe from your phone.Photo by Will Sabel Courtney

So, when heading out on my first real vacation in years — a week-long trip to Maui — I figured it would be beneficial to add some sort of case to help reduce my touchy-feely iPhone habit. I settled on the OtterBox LifeProof Frē, for both its specific features (more on that in a second) and its ability to keep my fingers from fiddling directly with the phone.

Simply put, changing the way your phone feels in your hand can do wonders to break the habit of playing with it. It’s no longer a familiar fixation that your brain has grown used to associating with cheap dopamine hits; instead, it’s something generic, anonymous, like a knick-knack you picked up along the roadside. A new case changes the texture, the size, the shape and the appearance of your phone, making it seem foreign. And it’s hard to have a co-dependent relationship with something you don’t really know, isn’t it?

A new phone case can also bring features that come in handy on vacation

Switching phone cases also gives you an opportunity to add capabilities to your device — for example, waterproofing. Apart from a brief return to an Otterbox Defender during the panicked early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve generally stuck by Apple’s (dearly departed) leather MagSafe case for my iPhone; it both levels out the back by mounting flush with the camera pod and provides a warm, natural feeling to the touch.

My Hawaiian vacation would involve ample swimming pools and sandy beaches, however, so making sure I could keep my phone safe from water was a must. (I had dreams of taking pictures of sea turtles while snorkeling that, sadly, never came to pass.) While every iPhone rolled out since the XS in 2018 has been waterproof enough to go six feet underwater for half an hour, I — and, presumably, many others — wasn’t willing to gamble on that with the $1,000 chunk of technology that I depend on more than anything besides clothing and eyeglasses.

The OtterBox LifeProof wraps completely around the phone, even going so far as to cover the camera lenses in transparent plastic, sealing up the case’s seam with a rubber gasket and plugging up the Lightning port. While it only offers an IP68 waterproof rating, same as the newer iPhones, I felt much more secure knowing there was a separate shield around it and keep from putting the far pricier phone’s waterproofing to the test.

It doesn’t provide a completely seamless experience; properly affixing said gasket in the case is tricky, and the screen protector, for example, didn’t fit quite sit flush against the display on my iPhone 12 Pro. But again, in the case of a vacation, anything that discourages easy phone use is a feature, not a bug.

That little rubber band gasket will be the bane of your existence while putting this case on. Consider it another reason to not be tempted to take it off while on vacation.Photo by Will Sabel Courtney

iPhone users can pair it with Focus modes for maximum effect

If you’re really seeking maximum distance from work — and I assume you are if you’ve read this far in the story — I’d also recommend taking advantage of the iPhone’s Focus modes to further cut down on distractions. While “Do Not Disturb” and “Sleep” are the best known, recent versions of iOS boast a host of others, offering bespoke settings for work, home, driving and more. There is even one for, yes, vacation.

Each of these Focus modes (Focii?) can be customized as desired, to an extent; you can lock out entire pages of your home screen, lock out certain apps or set time caps for them, prevent notifications from popping up and even change your lock screen and home screen wallpaper. Focus modes can also be paired with specific faces for your Apple Watch, in case you’d like to simplify the view on your wrist, as well.

I found it a godsend on my vacation, keeping away all sorts of distractions while I concentrated on fun in the sun. (It’s amazing how many group chats are actually more enjoyable to catch up on later; it’s like reading a play.) And in all honesty, the greater use of Focus modes has been my biggest long-term takeaway from my trip. I peeled the case off once I got home … but now I pop my Weekend focus mode on come 5pm Friday.


OtterBox Lifeproof Frē

This sturdy hard case for iPhone and Android provides comprehensive protection against all sorts of common smartphone foes.



0.1 pounds


Yes, very


Waterproof to 6’6″ for a whole hour

5x as drop-proof as required for military standard spec

Comes in a wide range of colors

Offers MagSafe


Difficult to put on and take off

Screen protector doesn’t sit flush

Touchscreen buttons can be hard to operate through case