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Digital Detox: 8 Places to Unplug and Unwind

Seeking a getaway from electronics? Check out these vacation spots.

By Irene S. Levine

At the tech-savvy Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo, guests can check-in digitally at the airport. But once they arrive at the resort, they are challenged to leave their smartphones at the front desk. In exchange, they receive a “Disconnect to Reconnect” list of 24 tech-free things to do — from exploring the jungle shoreline on a catamaran to visiting the local artisan market. As a reward for having relinquished their devices, they can retrieve their cellphones 24 hours later with a new custom cover depicting one of the resort’s scenic views.

Increasingly, travelers are searching for ways to disconnect from technology — at least for some portion of their vacations — so they can truly connect with people and places.

The Tethered Generation

“Once upon a time, work was work and home was home,” writes stress management expert Dr. Edward T. Creagan in the Mayo Clinic Newsletter. “There was a clear boundary between the company or the office and one’s home and personal time.”

That’s no longer the case. Advances in technology have made it easy and relatively inexpensive to remain connected 24/7 at home, at work and while traveling. Free Wi-Fi has become the most sought after amenity at hotels and resorts. No matter how far off the grid someone goes, by air or sea, they are likely to look for and find a Wi-Fi connection.

Yet, there can be too much of a good thing. “Feeling overwhelmed when you turn on your device is a sure sign you need a break,” says social psychologist Susan Newman. “Another sign you need to unplug is jumping from email to email without responding or taking appropriate action,” she adds.

Travel as an Antidote

Several sectors of the hospitality industry have responded by promoting opportunities for people to unplug. “Such experiences could be upscale tropical resorts without in-room technology, ranch-type spa retreats or learning experiences such as cooking, painting, writing or photography,” says San Jose, Calif. travel agent Joni Gingrich, part of the Travel Leaders Network. “Other popular choices are being up close with wildlife, so maybe a safari or cruising the Sea of Cortez,” she adds.

One example: The 32 islands that comprise St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) have launched an ambitious “digital detox” marketing campaign describing ways guests can slow down, recharge and rediscover simple pleasures. One selling point (that once might have been thought of as a downside) is that some participating hotels brag they have no TVs and discourage use of technology on beaches. (The SVG also has developed an online guide for prospective visitors with advice for preparing to unplug and for modifying bad habits after returning home.)

If you worry that you may be too attached to your devices, an unplugged vacation this spring or summer might help you find ways to de-stress, engage with your environment and traveling companions and modify your habits. Here are some options:

Nayara Springs, Costa Rica

This adults-only resort is located in the Arenal Volcano National Park, an area with one of the world’s highest concentrations of tropical plants and wildlife. As part of the resort’s Digital Detox Special, guests are encouraged to minimize temptation by locking cellphones and iPads in their villa safes. Upon request, even alarm clocks and televisions can be removed from rooms. For those who can’t do it alone, an on-site therapist is available to help guests work through the anxiety of withdrawing from email and social media. Private yoga or meditation classes, massages and naturalist tours in the rainforest offer a distraction from technology.

JW Marriott Cancun Resort and Spa, Cancun, Mexico

An oasis in the heart of Cancun’s bustling hotel zone, the resort offers 32-inch flat screen TVs, Wi-Fi and iPod docking stations. But when guests hit the sand, they can take yoga classes on the beach or relax with a good book or conversation in one of the well-marked “tech-free zones” (which operate on the honor system) near the pools. A massage at the Mayan-inspired spa is also a perfect enticement to leave electronic gadgets behind. Through the summer, guests can take advantage of Return of the Vacation packages that include food, beverage and spa credits.

Miraval Resort & Spa, Tucson, Arizona

The setting of this iconic wellness resort in the Santa Catalina Mountains couldn’t be more conducive to relaxation. There are no strict regimens to be followed; instead, guests choose programs and experiences to achieve mindfulness and healthy lifestyle changes. One new option: Guests can meet wellness counselor Anne Parker to learn about the mind/body effects of the “digital life,” as well as steps they can take to alter their relationships with their devices.

Rosewood Little Dix Bay, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands

Set on 500 lush acres and surrounded by crystal blue waters, Little Dix Bay was one of the first eco-tourism destinations. Since there are no televisions in guestrooms, guests are more likely to engage in intimate conversations with companions or pause to hear the sounds of nature. For more active travelers, there are hiking trails, tennis and watersports; for those who want to slow down, the resort recently expanded its wellness offerings to include a meditation program designed to help guests achieve mental well-being and inner peace.


Four Seasons Silicon Valley, Palo Alto, California

If one had to identify the epicenter for tech addiction, it might be Silicon Valley, home to tech giants such as Apple, Cisco Systems, Yahoo, Google, Oracle and others. But even here, guests at the Four Season Silicon Valley can get back to basics, unwinding during “oasis hours” on the rooftop with its whirlpool, lap pool and private cabanas. The property’s herbal tea is called ctl+alt+del (a name befitting its location), a blend of chamomile, mint and rose to help the body “reset.”

Uma by COMO, Bhutan

Yes, there is even cell reception (albeit spotty) deep in the Himalayas. But a remote location can be conducive to unplugging. After all, when you’re this far away, no one really expects to hear from you. COMO Hotels and Resorts offers private villas at two off-the-grid sister lodges, Uma Punakha and Uma Paro. One is located on a river bend in the Mo Chu River and the other closer to many of Bhutan’s cultural treasures. In addition to trekking, guests can raft, mountain bike, horseback ride, fish, play archery and relax at the COMO Shambhala Urban Escape, which offers holistic Asian-inspired treatments.

Strawberry Hill, Irish Town, Jamaica

Once a coffee plantation, this historic hotel located 3,100 feet above sea level is set on 26 acres in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. Remote, quiet and immersed in nature, the exclusive 12-room property offers hiking and biking trails, as well as a spa to help soothe tired muscles. There are no televisions in the rooms, but the panoramic outdoor views are dazzling. Summer Satisfy My Soul offers include many extras.

Camp Grounded, Navarro County, California

Set on 2,000 acres on the edge of Jackson State Forest, Camp Grounded bills itself as a back-to-nature summer camp for adults. Its motto: “Disconnect to Reconnect.” Guests sleep in rustic cabins and spend their days as they did as kids: Enjoying arts and crafts, swimming, hiking, kickball, archery, Capture The Flag, color wars, talent shows, campfires and more. Plus there's meditation and yoga. Although there are classes in analog photography, digital rules are rigid: No digital technology allowed. Period. No cellphones, computers, digital cameras, camcorders, watches, iPods, iPads, eBooks, Kindles, gaming devices or wearables. Organized by Oakland-based Digital Detox, the camp will host a session in a new location in Hendersonville, N.C., August 27-30.

The Bottom Line

Understandably, it’s hard to kick any habit cold turkey so some tech addicts may need to start off gradually. “A vacation can mean putting all your devices away for a day or the weekend and sitting in your living room or going outdoors to exercise or garden,” says Newman. “It’s a mini-vacation for sure, but one that will revitalize you.”

Irene S. Levine is a psychologist, lifestyle and travel journalist, and member of the Society of American Travel Writers who produces, a blog offering advice and inspiration for travelers over 50. Read More
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