A recent story in the Wall Street Journal about pricey vacation spots that boast no cell reception or WiFi had me asking, “Huh?” I just got used to looking in the hotel amenities list for free WiFi, now I need to pay extra for NO WiFi?
It’s a concept called digital detox vacations, where gadgets are turned off, taken away or just don’t connect to the Internet.
Examples of this no cell service and/or no WiFI destinations abound. A fire lookout tower in remote Oregon costs $200 a night but has a 300 person waiting list. Digital detox retreats are scheduled up and down the East Coast, costing hundreds of dollars a night for what amounts to adult summer camp. A lodge in Denali Park, Alaska, may top them all with a $2000 a night, guaranteed zero connectivity getaway.
Catherine Price, the author of "How to Break Up with Your Phone," told "Good Morning America" that she thinks this is borderline nuts.
"People are now actually paying other people to impose disconnection upon them. Which is a little bit crazy frankly if you think about it. That we reached a stage where we can't actually remove ourselves (from our phones). We actually have to pay someone else to do it for us," she said.
Crazy though it may be, I am so ready for this disconnection. One of the closest digital detox destinations for me is the Treebones Resort in Big Sur, California. This $300 a night yurt camping spot epitomizes the glamping trend: round huts with comfy beds, gorgeous décor, a hot tub and a full service restaurant. But you guessed it -- no internet. I pack up and start the 4-hour drive south. When I hit the coast, huge cliffs and gorgeous views do a lot to unwind my busy mind, but the second I pull over and see all the notifications on my screen, I’m back in the thick of it. As I drive further towards Big Sur, the bars on my phone dwindle. As I turn up to Treebones, I notice the two words every 13-year-old dreads: "No Service."
Much of the Big Sur coast is bereft of cell service, which explains the working pay phone I drive past in the resort parking lot.
Manager Megan Handy says they do have a tiny bit of WiFi in the main office in case you need to send an emergency email, but it doesn’t reach the yurts: "Parents tell us not to mention the WiFi to the kids. Even though it’s not strong enough to stream anything, they’ve set the scene that this is a tech free zone."
Couples sit on their yurt decks reading, playing guitar and in one case just silently staring at the water. I didn’t see a phone the entire time I was there. Besides the yurts there are some primitive camping options including one site that boasts a human-sized birds nest with views of the Pacific so exquisite that I spend about a half an hour whale watching as I perch in its woven branches.
But then it happens. Tech has become such a part of our fabric that despite the fact I am there intentionally doing a story about getting away from technology, I pull out my phone, snap a picture and try to text my boss. An error flashes, “Message not Delivered!” DUH, the urge to use our devices is so ingrained that I didn’t even realize what I was doing! I need this detox!
But good news is you don’t need to spend $300 a night on yurt camping to experience this phenomenon (Although I highly recommend it). Price helps us compile a list of ways to do this on a budget.
How to create your own digital detox vacation:
1. Go as analog as you can on entertainment: bring a paper book to read, take magazines, buy a book of crossword or Sudoku puzzles. Price makes an excellent point: “You should be very aware the more you interact with technology on vacation, the less time you're actually present in your vacation itself. It kind of robs you of the experience you spent a lot of money to have."
2. Turn off notifications on your phone and any wearables, like your watch. One minute you are texting a quick, "thanks we can’t make it," the next thing you know you’ve gone down an hour-long Instagram rabbit hole. Even better, put your phone in airplane mode.
3. Warn people you’ll be out of touch. "One main problem I see when people try to take a break from technology is that they get very anxious about leaving people hanging," Price said. This can be easily fixed with communication tools: create an out of office notification for your email and even more genius, use the Do Not Disturb function in the settings section of your phone to customize an automated reply to texts. Mine said: "I’m off the grid and won’t be reading texts until Monday. I’ll respond then, have a great weekend."
4. Camping! Check your carrier’s cell service map and find a state park or national forest where you don’t have coverage. Tell the kids in advance and lock the phones away when you arrive (better yet, don’t bring them).