Best Places to Unplug
The phrase “digital detox” was added to the Oxford Dictionaries Online in August 2013 along with, interestingly enough, the term FOMO, or the fear of missing out, often brought on by posts to social media.
It seems that the former is an ideal cure for the latter: a digital detox from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and all the other stimuli that surround us constantly is a perfect way to shake that fear of missing out—and put that energy toward something personally worthwhile.
“Unplugging gives our brains a chance to slow down. Our blood pressure goes down. It gives us a chance to think for ourselves,” says Levi Felix, California-based cofounder of The Digital Detox, which leads device-free retreats. “When you’re not looking at a screen, sharing something, considering what everyone else is doing in the moment, you get to be who you are.”
The Digital Detox launched its first annual Camp Grounded in June 2013 in Navarro, CA, and I was among the 200 adult camp-goers. It was a life-altering experience that let me get in touch with my own natural rhythms in a beautiful environment. Sure, I came home and reacquainted myself with my devices, but I find that post-camp I’m more mindful, more comfortable being outside of the constant thrum of information, and more willing to let a text, tweet, or email go unanswered for a while—especially if I’m with other people. I can’t say I never get FOMO, but I certainly don’t let it take me over.
Hotels from Chile to Canada to the Caribbean now offer similar getaways that encourage travelers to unplug. Often devices are banned, and days are filled with meditation, yoga, nature, and communal activities.
Whether these packages are examples of bandwagon thinking (like “eco-resorts” that simply don’t wash towels and linens daily) or a true reflection of travelers’ yearning to break their habits is still unclear. But Felix is optimistic. “Hey, if you’re staying in a hotel or somewhere where there’s less cell phone use and they’re promoting massage and yoga, that’s an awesome shift in culture,” he says. “When you successfully unplug, you’ll have more awareness about yourself; you’ll be more in touch.”
New Camaldoli Hermitage, Big Sur, CA
Generations of travelers have known that Big Sur is a magical place removed from the hubbub of San Francisco to the north and L.A. to the south. And those seeking solitude among the area’s beaches and old-growth redwoods need look no further than the New Camaldoli Hermitage, a working Benedictine monastery where guests are invited (but not required) to attend daily prayers. The simple rooms, private houses with gardens, and outdoor spaces offer a lot of calm, but little else. There’s no app that can replicate the light as it hits the coast and no Spotify playlist that can beat the gentle sound of the surf as you take in the ocean views. contemplation.com
Remota Hotel, Puerto Natales, Chile
Designed by Chilean architect Germán del Sol, Remota’s rooms feature handmade modern furniture, much of it built on-site using recovered wood. The lack of televisions encourages guests to tune in to unobstructed views of the sky, the expansive wild grass–covered Patagonian landscape, and looming glaciers. Nature and isolation are the main lures at this upscale sustainable lodge, with the option to go on guided and unguided hikes, bicycle and horseback excursions, and bird-watching expeditions that are sure to make you forget all about Twitter. remotahotel.com
Arawak Beach Inn, The Valley, Anguilla
The Arawak Beach Inn on Anguilla has devised a seven-day tech-free package called Isolation Vacation. While the rest of the hotel features televisions and Wi-Fi, guests are invited to “unplug and recharge” by handing over their devices and to stay in rooms where televisions have been removed; they’re unable to purchase Internet access anywhere on the grounds. Without endless games of Candy Crush at your fingertips, you’re freed up to enjoy Anguilla’s gorgeous beaches, boating excursions, or a book. (Yes, they still exist.) arawakbeach.com
Tanque Verde Ranch, Tucson, AZ
This family-owned dude ranch and spa outside of Tucson plays to its natural strengths of gorgeous scenery and sunny weather. With desert horseback excursions (no cell phones allowed), day camp for the little ones, and spa treatments for the adults, you won’t even think about your friends’ status updates. Instead, you and the gang can share real-time updates from the day’s adventures at communal dinners—then head back outside for stargazing. Rooms don’t come equipped with TVs, and guests can unplug further by requesting no Wi-Fi access.
Rancho La Puerta, Tecate, Mexico
Here’s how Rancho La Puerta, a resort and spa in Mexico’s western Baja Peninsula, describes its approach to wellness: “You don’t need an ‘app’ to unplug from life’s clutter—our Mindfulness/Reflection classes will help you tune in to your own spirit and navigate your inner terrain without the constant bombardment of outside distractions.” If that sounds like your speed, you’re probably ready to leave your iPhone 5S at home and take a cooking or art class, go for a hike in the 3,000 acres adjoining the property, or learn more about work-life balance during one of the resort’s lectures.
Fairmont Kenauk, Montebello, Canada
When people describe this nature resort in rural Quebec as “off the grid,” they mean it literally: each of the one- to six-room chalets on the property is completely off the electrical grid and reliant entirely on solar power. There’s also no cell phone service in the area, so if you’re tempted to check in with work, you’ll have to do it using the pay phone at a nearby picnic site. Fishing, hiking, picnicking, golf, and spa access are available either on-site or nearby. fairmont.com
The Farm at San Benito, Lipa City, Philippines
Ninety minutes from Manila sits this 118-acre oasis of health and wellness complete with a vegan restaurant. Spa packages like the Detox Cleanse promise weight loss and improved heart health, but just unplugging in such a tranquil setting will do wonders for your mental health. Activities include yoga in open-air pavilions, meditation, circuit training, and flower arranging. The Art of Living Course offers lectures on balance, breathing, and stress management that will carry you through even when you get back to civilization. thefarmatsanbenito.com
Camp Grounded, Anderson Valley, CA
Emphasizing wholesome fun and games, this tech-free summer camp for adults is held on the grounds of Camp Navarro, a former Boy Scout camp about three hours north of San Francisco. The summer 2013 inaugural session featured sing-alongs, swimming, archery, color war, and a prom. Campers were asked to hand over phones, tablets, watches, and other technology and partake in a “human search engine” (posting questions on a bulletin board to tap collective knowledge). They wrote letters home on vintage typewriters. There are three sessions planned for June 2014, with a 10 percent “Scout’s Honor” discount still available. campgrounded.org
Kamalaya Spa, Koh Samui, Thailand
Koh Samui is known for its health and spiritual retreats, and the Kamalaya offers the sort of spa menu that attracts seekers of high-minded, high-end pampering. There are yoga, detox, weight loss, and fitness programs, but it’s the Stress Release & Burnout packages that will appeal to the overworked and overscheduled among us. Leave the laptop at home and partake in ayurveda and traditional Chinese healing practices as part of the Asian Bliss program, or learn how to heal from within during the Basic Balance & Revitalize program, which aims to “counteract the stresses of contemporary lifestyles and prevent adrenal blowout.”
Earthshine Lodge, Lake Toxaway, NC
You—and your kids—won’t even remember you have iPads after a day at North Carolina’s Earthshine Lodge. Frankly, there are too many fun things to do, with zipline runs, obstacle courses, archery, and the ultimate unplugged experience: a pioneer-style village that lets you see how people lived in the 19th century. If the planned activities feel a little too much for you, there’s 80 acres of wilderness for quiet contemplation and exploration. earthshinediscovery.com
Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
The original off-the-grid American vacation remains a great way to get out of the data stream and into the wild. Despite heavy tourist traffic, Grand Canyon National Park is isolated enough to have very dodgy cell service. What’s not dodgy at all is the 1.2 million acres of national parkland, offering some of the most dramatic views and breathtaking sunsets you’ll ever see—no Instagram filters required. Bring your camping gear and try timing your visit to late fall or early spring, when crowds are smaller.
Westin Dublin, Ireland
Dublin, which has recently attracted tech start-ups, isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think about spending time offline. But the Westin Dublin has put together a decidedly analog package to wean visitors of their digital security blankets. It comes with a Detox Survival Kit that includes a board game, a paper map of the city, an aromatherapy candle, and a local newspaper. That may not seem like enough to fully inoculate you from the siren call of the Internet, which is why you also get an in-room massage to ground you in your body, not your News Feed. thewestindublin.com
Lake Placid Lodge, NY
This rustic hotel currently offers a package called Check-In to Check-Out, which includes two nights in a television-free room or cabin, outdoor activities like hiking and boating, and access to a lending library that stocks bestsellers in hard-copy form. Read your book by the fireplace or, during warmer weather, outside on one of the lodge’s Adirondack chairs as you watch the sunset along the private shoreline. Guests are invited to turn over their devices on check-in for the fully unplugged experience and are given a one-hour cooking class to keep their minds and hands active.
St. Vincent and The Grenadines
The savvy marketing team for the Caribbean archipelago of St. Vincent and the Grenadines declared the entire country a “digital detox” destination as of 2012. The Tourism Authority created a digital magazine with book suggestions and inspirational slogans like “Hit the off button, now.” What it lacks in specifics, it makes up for in atmospherics: the photos alone are like a little break from your busy day. We suggest looking into the Burke House, a private villa 100 feet above sea level on the island of Bequia, where the ocean views are more breathtaking than anything you’ll see on Instagram. discoversvg.com
Green Bank, WV
There are few places in America that get you away from your phone in quite the way that Green Bank does. According to a BBC report from 2011, the entire town falls within the U.S. Radio Quiet Zone, a 13,000-square-mile expanse in which all wireless technology (phones, radios, Wi-Fi) is banned so that signals don’t interfere with nearby government radio telescopes searching the cosmos. Green Bank has become a haven for people with electromagnetic hypersensitivity, which some claim causes sufferers to feel physical pain (headaches; muscle aches) when inside the radio and cellular fields that surround us. While it has little to offer vacationers, Green Bank could be an interesting full-immersion approach to unplugging for anyone who’s truly had enough of our ever-connected age.