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Guide to Unplugging for a Technology-Free Vacation

Becky Hart | Oct 16, 2023

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Do you dream of going off the grid, at least for a little bit? Vacationing somewhere you can’t be reached and, therefore, be unbothered by other people’s questions, demands, and responsibilities? How does the idea of a little solitude sound?

If that got you excited, you need an unplugged vacation. Here are two ways — off-grid travel and digital detox vacations — you can make that happen.

So You Want to Go Technology-Free on Vacation

Couple distracted by their phones.Most studies say that Americans spend about seven hours looking at screens every day, and about half of that time is spent on our phones. And more than two hours is dedicated to social media daily. Some reports have found that we watch the equivalent of a full-length movie just on TikTok, just in one sitting.

Spending so much time on technology has been linked with worsening our mental health, negatively impacting our sleep, and causing eye strain, which for some people leads to headaches and other physical ailments. And that’s just in adults; technology is believed to have an even stronger impact on teens and children.

If you’re feeling the strain — mentally, physically, relationally, or otherwise — it might be time to reset your technology habits with an unplugged vacation.

What Does an Unplugged Vacation Mean?

Very simply, an unplugged vacation means you avoid using electronic devices while you travel.

How much you unplug on vacation is up to you. You could go off the grid and totally disconnect from the “outside world,” no phone, no laptop, maybe not even electricity. The only thing you’ll be binge watching is sunsets.  

Or you could opt for a bit of a more relaxed approach with a digital detox. You don’t leave civilization, but you do set stronger boundaries between you and the media you’re willing to consume during your trip. Maybe you stay logged out of social media or swear off email. If you do use your phone, it’s to take photos, which you then keep to yourself instead of immediately texting or posting them for the rest of the world to see.

Each of these requires intentional practice, which is why tech-free vacations are becoming one of the most popular forms of alternative travel.

Why Is It Important to Disconnect on Vacation?

Whether you go off-grid or simply delete social media apps, a few things can happen when we limit our time with technology.

1. We lower our stress levels and improve our mood.

If you’ve ever found yourself feeling gloomy scrolling through the news or your heart starts racing first thing in the morning when you wake up to an email from your boss, you know this is true.

2. We combat burnout.

Many of us are familiar with burnout — feelings of exhaustion, anxiety, and depression, loss of interest and motivation for things that used to excite us. Travel can help us avoid burnout and recharge our batteries. It allows us to break out of our usual hectic routines. Sometimes a change of scenery is enough to jumpstart our creativity and serotonin levels.

But those anti-burnout benefits of a vacation are diminished if we never disconnect from the things that are wearing us down. If you keep checking your work email or track what everyone back home is doing on social media, you miss out on the opportunity to reset your mind and body, and you risk returning home just as burned out as before you left.

3. We get better sleep.

Long periods in the glow of a screen interrupts our body’s natural rhythms. If you have a hard time falling asleep, find that you sleep fitfully, or have twisted dreams about that show you binged right before going to bed, it’s time to log out and get away.

4. We build new relationships and strengthen old ones.

One of my pet peeves is someone checking their watch while I’m talking to them. It feels like you’re either looking at the time to see how quickly you can get away from me, or you’re reading text messages on your smart watch instead of listening to me.

Stepping away from technology lets you devote your full presence to the people you’re with. Your loved ones will appreciate the undivided attention, and you just might learn something new about each other. You’re also more present to meet new people, which is such a vital part of being immersed in travel.

5. We can be more present in the moment.

Beyond just being there for people around you, being present when you travel lets you notice the sights, sounds, and smells of your destination. You’ll be able to enjoy your surroundings more deeply instead of having half your mind somewhere else, like in the world of social media or back in the office.

Off-the-Grid Travel

Family hiking.Going “off the grid” might conjure images of a hermit in the woods, living without electricity and eating only what they can gather and hunt in the wild. That’s not entirely wrong, but when it comes to travel, it’s a little less extreme.

Off-grid travel may involve some kind of backcountry trip. You might be camping or backpacking away from Wi-Fi signals, going without indoor plumbing (or any plumbing, for that matter), and relying on your own self-sufficiency.

This is the kind of trip that’s popular with survivalists. Off-grid travelers find energy and enjoyment in the challenge, and there’s a sense of accomplishment that comes from knowing that you can thrive off your own skills and grit.

Off-grid travel is also popular with anyone who craves ultimate solitude. Without distractions of technology, people say they’re better able to think. The remoteness gives them a chance to slow down, meditate, and immerse themselves in their surroundings without buzzing phones and pinging notifications. In other words, if you want to hear the birds sing, you might need to go where they aren’t being drowned out by all the other noise.

Where can I go to disconnect from the world?

There are fewer and fewer spots we can go to temporarily escape and not still have technology tether us to our lives back home. But they do exist. Here’s where you can go off-grid and what to do when you get there.

  • Hut-hopping: Also known as hut-to-hut hiking, hut-hopping involves trekking from one primitive lodge to another over several days. You’ll stay on designated trails and spend each night in basic accommodations, typically managed by a park or trail association. Don’t expect electricity or plumbing, let alone a Wi-Fi signal. You’ll just find a dry place to rest your head while you get the deep, uninterrupted sleep that comes with breaking free from your phone. You can find hut-to-hut hiking around the world, from the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin, USA, to the W Trek in Chile, to the Mount Meru Trek in Tanzania.
  • Lost Coast Trail, California: Highway 1 is one of the best road trips in the U.S. You can literally get off the beaten path and away from those pesky electronics, though, by hiking a 25-mile portion of it. While you’re never too far from civilization, you could very likely go stretches without seeing another person.
  • Yosemite Digital Detox Trek: If you’re looking for a California hike with a little more expert support, reserve a spot with White Wolf Private Tours for its guided Yosemite trek. You’ll see some of the most iconic spots in the national park — Half Dome and El Capitan, among others — and do it without a signal, perfect for technological breaks.
  • Converted bus in Weaverville, North Carolina: You don’t have to hike into the wilderness to go off the grid. Instead, book a stay at this romantic bus in the forest. This Airbnb site is just 15 minutes from Asheville, N.C., but without Wi-Fi, television, kitchen, or other amenities you typically find in a vacation rental, you’ll get a taste for roughing it without it getting too tough.

Digital Detox Vacations

Maybe divorcing yourself from technology completely feels too extreme. Or maybe you’re not outdoorsy enough to fend for yourself in the backcountry. Few of us are ready for that, and that’s why a digital detox could be your answer to a successful tech-free vacation.

What to do on a digital detox vacation

Start your trip by setting boundaries. Maybe you don’t want to use your phone at all. Maybe you want your phone, but only to get directions or take photos. Maybe you’re okay with making phone calls and texting, but you don’t want to get on social media at all. Decide what degree of electronic separation is right for you.

If you need more inspiration for how to do a digital detox without unplugging completely, check out our blog on alternative travel.

How to do a digital detox with your family

Family riding bikes.When your toddler can’t get enough episodes of Bluey and your teen doesn’t even know what a road atlas is because “Why not just use Siri?” (true story), it can be hard to get your kids to wrap their brains around a tech-free vacation. We aren’t saying they’ll immediately love it or truly understand the benefits of a digital detox, but it is possible. It's also very much worth giving it a shot.

Try these tips for an unplugged family vacation.

  • People are loving “nothing-cations,” but with kids, you’ll want to plan some activities. Tailor those activities to your kids’ interests and styles. If you have active kids, plan hikes, bike rides, surf lessons, and other outdoorsy things you can do as a family. Alternatively, pack some board games, prepare meals together, or take a guided tour of the city together.
  • Remember to plan some alone time. Obviously, you can’t just set your toddler free unsupervised, but if you can tag-team childcare with your partner so you each get a few solitary moments, or if your kids are old enough to entertain themselves, take advantage of that opportunity. Read a book — a real one with paper pages — or enjoy some peoplewatching. Take a nap or just stare off into the sunset. Really savor a cup of tea rather than chugging your coffee in the car like you would at home. You have time to breathe, so breathe deeply.
  • Talk to each other … but let it happen naturally. With two teenage girls, we’re learning the art of silent car rides. Give it enough time, and they’ll start talking about whatever’s on their mind. You’ll learn more about what’s happening in their lives if you just listen and let the chat meander organically, and they’ll relish your undivided attention.
  • Relax some of the rules. We’re not saying you should let your children go feral, but see what happens when you let them make a few more choices (and mistakes) on their own. Vacation is a time for trying new things and exploring curiosity. Indulge in it.

Get more tech-free tips for traveling with kids and then decide on your next digital detox destination.

Where is the best place to do a digital detox?

Compared to off-grid travel, you have a lot more choice for digital detox destinations. Here are some of our favorites.

Young woman anjoying a snowy mountain view.

  • Treehouse in Walhalla, South Carolina: One of Bolt Farm Treehouse’s four properties, the Majestic Treehouse is a little bit luxury, a little bit glamping, and a whole lot of refreshing. This treehouse with suspension bridge and two-tiered deck comes with enough amenities that you won’t feel like you’re roughing it, and Wi-Fi is available upon request. That means you can completely unplug or stay a bit connected if that gives you peace of mind.
  • Big Sky, Montana: Montana is one of the least populated states in the U.S. and with an area of about 147,000 square miles — about the same size as Norway — there’s plenty of room to spread out. The Nine Quarter Circle Ranch is a dude ranch that gives you a taste of the traditional cowboy lifestyle. There’s horseback riding, fly fishing, and other activities taking you back in time a century … a time before internet. Note that there’s a family season, June through late-August, and an adult-only season, late-August through mid-September.
  • Wellness retreat: Retreats exist to help you create something new for yourself, including better habits and a renewed outlook on life. Some have dedicated digital detox programs. Others focus on developing mindful practices that, by their very nature, can change your relationship with technology. Our in-depth travel guide to wellness retreats will help you get started.
  • African safari: Safaris get high marks for a digital detox trip. You’re in remote areas, accommodations are often (although not always) basic enough not to include comforts like television or Wi-Fi, and you’re immersed in nature. Research tour companies well. You’ll see a wide variety in luxury, activity, and price. Because safaris do trend on the expensive side, you want to choose one that’s a good fit for you.

Travel Insurance for Off-Grid Travel and Digital Detox Vacations

Trips of all kinds need travel insurance, and when you’re trying to travel to regain peace of mind, the right protection can make all the difference.

Find the right plan for your next trip at SevenCorners.com, and if you’re planning an off-the-grid trip, it could be worth chatting with one of our licensed agents. Some adventure activities like backcountry hiking might not be covered by all plans, so you want to be sure that you have the coverage you need and expect.

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