Unplugged Holidays


It’s common to find glowing faces gathered around a family dinner table – and we’re not talking about glowing with happiness, but rather digital screens. In her book The Big Disconnect clinical psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair examines why we find it so difficult to detach from the digital world. “Not only do chronic tech distractions have deep and lasting effects, but children desperately need parents to provide what tech cannot: close, significant interactions with the adults in their lives,” she says.

Even when we decide to get away from it all, we usually still check email and cellphones, rarely unplugging completely. But there’s a backlash against this 24/7 plugged-in lifestyle that has seen “disconnect to reconnect” becoming buzzwords in the travel industry.

Promising a path to true relaxation and a deeper connection with our loved ones and nature, unplugged holidays have huge appeal to the tech weary. Travellers are consciously seeking out trips where they get off the grid and “disconnect to reconnect”. In the USA, there’s even a day dedicated to being tech-free – the National Day of Unplugging.

Digital Detox, whose tagline is “disconnect to reconnect”, is a retreat just outside San Francisco in the USA. Here you check your devices in at the door. Attendees go on hikes, do yoga, meditate, create analogue art, move and write, among other activities and “re-emerge from the experience with new-found inspiration and the tools to create a more mindful, meaningful and balanced life, both online and off”.

Camp Grounded is a summer camp for adults with the tagline: “Where grown-ups go to unplug, get away, and be kids again”. It promises an off-the-grid weekend of fun in the redwoods.

The Westin in Dublin, Ireland, also offer a digital detox minibreak. The website says: “Liberate yourself from your smartphone, laptop and gadgets and replace all that digital clutter with relaxation, renewal and a few thoughtful touches.” The package even includes a handy Detox Survival Kit, featuring information on discovering the city of Dublin, a walking map, newspaper, a relaxing white tea candle, a board game and a tree-planting kit to take home with you.

Locally, Wilderness Safaris has made a commitment to keeping some areas of the planet wild and remote. They offer camps with free wifi as well as those that are “wifi free” and believe in “empowering guests to choose the camps best suited to their needs and to make the decision to disconnect (or not) on their own”.

Wilderness Safaris’ disconnected “black hole” camps include:

  • Namibia: Desert Rhino Camp; Hoanib Skeleton Coast; and Serra Cafema.
  • Botswana: Savuti; Mombo and Little Mombo; Pelo; Jacana; Xigera; and Banoka.
  • Zimbabwe: Linkwasha; Little Makalolo; and Ruckomechi.


Here’s the full list.


Well-known blogger, writer and earth activist – The Incidental Tourist Dawn Jorgensen went on RETURNAfrica’s Pafuri Walking Trails a few months ago. For this digital diva the experience of being in a remote location, with no access to wifi was something of an enlightening experience.

She says: “It’d been more than ten years since I’d stepped completely off the grid and when I’d learnt that being in the Pafuri region would mean no cellphone reception, there was mild panic. What about all the emails I’d miss and the social media updates I wanted to do along the way? What if somebody needed me? Yet, after the first day of hopeful stares at my phone, I put it away and began to relax completely into the area. It allowed me to take notice of the details, savour the moment and become wholeheartedly consumed by all that was on offer and enjoy the privilege of being in the bush. Actually, the experience became more introspective; it became mine. A gift to myself as, all of a sudden, the moments mattered – the tracks in the sand, the sounds of the night, the rustle of the wind. My senses were able to reconnect with nature, heightened and intensified by the distraction-free experience. Retrospectively, being on my phone throughout would have detracted in many ways and I’m now promising myself regular disconnects as I realise they are greatly needed”.


The “disconnect to reconnect” travel trend clearly indicates a need to rethink our relationship with digital distractions. It’s never to late to put down your devices and have a glow-free holiday.

Time in the great outdoors, and limited screen time makes for happy holidays.


by Fiona Davern

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