Tech-Free Trips Are On The Rise — From No Wi-Fi Hotels To No Phone Multiday Retreats

From hotels with no wi-fi to multiday retreats with no phones, digital detox vacations allow travellers to connect with nature again.
Tech-Free Trips Are On The Rise — From No Wi-Fi Hotels To No Phone Multiday Retreats

Would “Eat, Pray, Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert have fallen so deeply in love with Neapolitan pizza if she’d been taking photos of her pie to post on Instagram? What if Steinbeck had travelled with Charley and Waze? These days, iPhones, laptops, and tablets — not to mention fitness trackers and smartwatches — are ubiquitous, making it feel all but impossible to truly disconnect.

Digital detox trips are on the rise and how

“There used to be a distinction between home and away,” says Trine Syvertsen, whose 2020 book “Digital Detox: The Politics of Disconnecting,” examines the dissolution of that boundary. These days, Syvertsen adds, “people do all sorts of things to self-restrict their media use,” including turning off notifications or switching on airplane mode while on the ground. Proof of the interest in going phone-free can be found on Reddit, where forums like r/nosurf and r/PhonesAreBad host discussions on how to more effectively log off while on vacation.

Now, travellers can choose from a growing number of intentionally tech-free trips. Consider the start-up Italian travel agency Logout Livenow, which organises one- to five-day retreats in Sardinia on which guests lock away their phones in order to hike, kayak, practice yoga — and reconnect with themselves.

Cofounder Gavino Puggioni says that arrivals are visibly anxious when they hand over their devices and will often continue to reflexively touch their empty back pockets. But they eventually forget about their phones and start chatting with each other, says one recent participant, Mauro Luzzu. “Instead of three days, it felt like we had seven,” recalls the Graz, Austria–based software engineer. “Time really expanded.”

Tara Cappel, founder of the agency FTLO Travel, has noticed something similar. After successfully instituting a no-phones-at-dinner rule on some of her company’s group itineraries, she’s launched a series of “phone-free trips” to destinations such as Costa Rica, Cuba, Iceland, and Portugal. (Digital cameras are still allowed.)

“Without that distraction, the experience feels so much richer because you’re just immersed in it,” Cappel says.

Hospitality brands are also embracing the trend. Eremito, in the hills of Umbria, Italy, has no Wi-Fi — but does offer a heated plunge pool, yoga classes, and candlelit vegetarian meals. Luxury spas including Rancho La Puerta, in Baja California, and Miraval Resorts, which has three resorts in the US, discourage phones and laptops in common areas.

In the UK, Unplugged now has a network of 19 tech-free cabins within an hour or two of London or Manchester. They’ve proven particularly popular with couples, says cofounder Hector Hughes. “People who have been in a relationship for ten years haven’t spent a day together without phones,” he observes. In the US, the company Getaway offers a similar approach, with hundreds of tiny-home hideaways within a short drive of major metro areas.

Many experts emphasise the need to avoid half-measures. “The most effective retreats happen when you’re completely disconnected,” says Melissa Huey, a behavioural scientist. It’s a lesson I learned the hard way recently on a two-week writing retreat in the woods of Georgia. With Wi-Fi limited to only one spot on campus, I found myself obsessing over when I’d be able to check my messages, rather than enjoying the opportunity to log off. “It’s an addiction,” Huey acknowledges.

For London-based photographer Elena Bazu, a weekend alone in an Unplugged cabin was much more successful. “For the first day, it was scary,” she admits, “but on the second day I was okay.” Since then, she has committed to weekly walks without her phone. “I feel much better, mentally and physically, when I’m not checking it all the time.”


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