I lay in a single bed, wrapped in a gingham duvet, in a ‘hermit’s cabin’ on the Swedish island of Gotland. In this upmarket shed, sans television, music and mobile, I spent the evening listening to wind and waves, then slept like a happy baby.
It was an energising experience, albeit one with luxury back-up: the cabin is an outpost of the Fabriken Furillen, a boutique hotel, and the cabin is a way to offer a downshift with an exit strategy. Yes, it’s a shade Marie Antoinette, but at the same time, it’s in the vanguard of a travel boom: the luxury tech-free break.
Everywhere I look, I see people choosing holidays that allow liberation from constant distraction
The pervasive nature of mobile technology means that life has become an incessant stream of chatter. We need to escape properly, and the travel industry is stepping up to the mark. “Everywhere I look, I see people choosing holidays that allow liberation from constant distraction,” says Carl Honore, author of In Praise of Slow (Orion, £6.99). The German word freizietstress, or ‘stress in your free time’, has come into its own, he says.
Now more than ever, we need to reject freizietstress. “With apps, mobiles and travel seem to be connected at the hip,” says Vivian McCarthy of Acacia Africa. “But more people are seeking to completely escape. We have had an increase in travellers looking for off-mobile locations such as Botswana’s Okavango Delta and Namibia’s Spitzkoppe.”
Some destinations default because they don’t have coverage, and others actively discourage mobiles. In the Caribbean, the Grenadines’ Palm Island beach resort has a ‘no mobile’ policy, and the tourism authority is having a ‘de-tech’ week in January to wean holidaymakers off gadgets.
Last summer, the Swiss tourist board noticed demand for mountain huts with no mobile coverage and compiled a dedicated list.
There are several one-off places offering tech solace, including Chic-Chocs Mountain Lodge in Québec’s Gaspésie region. It offers ‘total detox’: complete freedom from the phone, mobile, internet and TV.
Then there are destinations, such as islands and ranches, so remote that tech-freedom is part of the product promise. For example, mobiles don’t work at all on St Helena in the South Atlantic, which is starting to attract more tourists. “Most ranches are remote, and that’s a key attraction,” says Tony Daly of Ranch Rider. “Ranching is about the great outdoors and connecting on a face-to-face level.”
There are also activities where fiddling with a smart phone has become a bit of a faux pas. “I’ve observed that taking your mobile on game drives on safari is becoming a real no-no,” says Glen Donovan of luxury travel agency Earth.
Psychologist Sheila Keegan, a specialist in consumer behaviour, says we need respite from constant communication. “Demands on our time are increasing, and technology increases those demands enormously,” she says. “Constant access encourages constant contact, and the boundaries between different parts of our lives have become blurred.” It’s time to reclaim the capacity for reflection, she says.
“Rose Kennedy – President Kennedy’s mother – visited a religious retreat for two weeks each year during which even her children were not allowed to contact her. She claimed that it sustained her for the following year.”
This could be the era of technological sanctuary, when luxury means letting go. As Carl Honore says of those using mobile technology on holiday: “I often want to ask them: ‘If you left it at home, what would be the consequence?’” The answer would surely be: not much.
Links to holidays
Hotel Furillen, Gotland, Sweden
Acacia Africa (020 7706 4700)
Ranch Rider riding holidays in America and Africa
My Switzerland: huts in the Swiss Alps with no internet
The Grenadines’ Little Palm Island Resort with Kuoni
New 18-night Hideaway Tour to St Helena (off South Africa), 7 May
The Chic-Chocs Mountain Lodge, Québec