The best way to connect with a place and its people: Stash the phone and leave the tablet at home. When I travel in Europe I take little to no electronics. I plan ahead and take maps. Disconnecting is a wonderful experience.
A few years ago, I took a one-week rafting trip on the Snake River with my son. The white water was smashing good fun, and the soaring geology more startling than I’d imagined. But what was most indelible was something I hadn’t considered: In the beautiful canyon, there’s no cell service and no Wi-Fi. For me this was no big deal, but others in the group were very conscious of their un-connectedness. They were having a ball!
Connectivity is all but ubiquitous in most places. According to UN data, as of 2019, two-thirds of people worldwide had mobile devices, and, given that many people have multiple devices, there were more than a billion more mobile connections than human beings. More than 50 percent of the global population has Internet access, and that number is surging. Meanwhile, 41 percent of travelers say they feel obligated to work while on vacation, even as the National Institutes of Health now links cell phone and Internet addictions to sleep disturbances, anxiety, and depression – and it’s hard to find places where you can’t be found these days. Technology has brought us many great advances, but the expectations for instant communication and the increasing pace of change in the world can have negative impacts on our well-being.
That’s why the white water rafting was so eye-opening. Everyone was completely disconnected, something most had never done for years. Even though I slept on the ground and gave up showers, the lack of external commitments felt more indulgent than a stay at any five-star resort. And it’s not just me: Research links digital detoxing to enhanced attention spans, less stress, and more-fulfilling relationships. In the name of unplugged travel, here are a few favorite adventures and retreats to truly break away.
Travelers won’t find Wi-Fi on UnCruise Adventures’ Alaskan expedition ships, a feature designed to encourage better engagement with wildlife and landscapes. Daily activities on the 15-day sailing from Ketchikan to Sitka aboard the 76-passenger Wilderness Discoverer range from Zodiac outings to spot whales and paddling past sea lions in kayaks to hiking to the Mendenhall Glacier.
Many African safari operators have “modernized” with Internet connectivity, but Ker & Downey’s off-grid camps in Botswana are excellent for getting away from it all. Highlights of one of the company’s 12-day trips include walking safaris in the Okavango Delta, a wetland profuse with hippos and elephants in the country’s north, followed by overland and canoe explorations of the Selinda Spillway, an exclusive concession known for intimate big-game sightings. Even after leaving the bush, the Victoria Falls finale should drown out any thoughts of plugging in.
Nestled in a thick rain-forest canopy just outside Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano National Park, 35-villa, adults-only Nayara Springs has always focused on tranquility and seclusion, but now detox packages make it official. Upon check-in, guests hand over cell phones and laptops to be placed in resort safes, and plug into nature with bird-watching walks, open-air yoga classes, and soaks in each villa’s private, mineral-hot-springs plunge pool. Thermal-water facials and hot-stone massages add to the relaxation. Detox programs include three nights’ accommodations and breakfast daily.
The antidote for #southbeach overload: the 326-room Mandarin Oriental, Miami’s digital detox, where guests store cell phones in mini sleeping bags and check into a suite stocked with a basket of puzzles and games in place of TV. A spa consultation provides Mayo Clinic tips on how to manage technology in life, while yoga, a singing bowl session, a massage designed to remove the strain of device overuse, and a healthy bento-box lunch at the pool ensure relaxation. Digital detox includes two nights’ accommodations, breakfast daily, and a $100 spa credit.
I remember so clearly 30 some years ago, when I suggested to a Harvard professor to go to a Club Med which at the time had no telephones or TV’s in the room, let alone room keys, he just about freaked out. Being in the moment, just stopping can be the best holiday ever. Let me help you plan your escape.