7 Digital Detox Destinations
A detox needn’t only be for the body. Start the New Year with a clear head by giving your mind a much-needed break from the digital world. These are some of the best places to switch off.
Heather Richardson is an award-winning travel writer based in London. She has worked in print, online and in broadcasting in the UK, US, Asia and Australia. In 2015, she was selected as one of TTG’s 30 under 30 travel influencers for her work in the luxury travel industry. @HG_Richardson / www.hg-richardson.com
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You don’t need to travel far for a digital detox, as several companies now organise specialist trips in the UK. Responding to heightened stress levels, these retreats often attract people who have burnt themselves out at work or feel overwhelmed by their lifestyle. In just a few days, guests learn to forget about their emails or checking their social media accounts, which leads to more focus and clear-headedness. Overwhelmingly, people report that they feel genuinely happier after a few tech-free days.
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Rather than relying on self-control, guests have to hand over all their devices, from smartphones to laptops, at the beginning of the retreat. Usually based in the countryside or on the coast, the retreats focus on exercise, enjoying the outdoors and mindful activities such as jigsaws or drawing. Enjoy simple pleasures that need not be shared with anyone but yourself or your companions, such as hiking through the hills of the Peak District or taking a morning yoga class on the beach in Devon.
A safari feels like a real escape from the modern world, and never more so than in the wild of Botswana. The environment here is undeveloped and protected, allowing the wildlife to roam freely without fences or the risk of poaching that exists in neighbouring countries. The Okavango Delta is the most wildlife-rich area of the country and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, making it the perfect place to temporarily zone out from the issues of the outside world. Many of the lodges here do not have wi-fi, which is often a conscious decision to engage guests in their surroundings. Not that you really need any encouragement.
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A few days on safari in the Okavango Delta might afford such sights as wild dogs on the hunt; elephants drinking from the river; lions chasing impala across the plains; and leopards snoozing in the trees. And because tourism is heavily controlled, you’ll often have these rare and special sightings to yourself.
Just a short flight from the UK and mainland Europe, Iceland is a striking country with a vast amount of completely uninhabited land. Its tiny population is mainly clustered in and around the capital Reykjavik, leaving the rest of Iceland wonderfully void of development. Mountain lodges pepper the highlands, providing the ideal spot in which to escape for a few days.
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During the winter months, Iceland offers visitors a chance to see the magical Northern Lights. Out in the wilderness, the lack of light pollution makes it even easier to see this natural phenomenon, and during the day, you can ride snowmobiles or super jeeps around the icy countryside. Go husky sledding or simply get lost in a good book in the warmth of your lodge. In the summer, you can go hiking through the mountains or learn how to ride Icelandic horses across the rugged plains.
Namibia’s vast, desert scenery would be wasted on those with their eyes glued to their phones. This type of landscape takes all of your attention to absorb, such is its huge scale and drama. The Namib Desert is one of the oldest deserts in the world, dating back an estimated 55 million years. It is home to some of the biggest sand dunes on the planet and stretches right down the coast of Namibia from Angola to South Africa.
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Stay in a desert camp to base yourself in this largely unpopulated region. Learn about the desert’s flora and fauna on a guided walk or game drive, or see the area from the sky in a hot air balloon ride. Many of the camps have ‘star beds’, so you can sleep out in the open for an immersive experience of the desert and its star-studded night sky.
The world’s largest rainforest sprawls across several South American countries and is home to thousands of species of animals and plants, and many tribes that have changed little of their customs and lifestyles for hundreds of years. Your phone’s not going to be strong on signal here, so conserve the battery for your onward travels and switch it off.
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There are several different ways to experience the Amazon. Cruises are popular and the best boats are in Peru. You can also stay in rainforest lodges and visit certain tribes to find out how the rainforest residents live and how they protect their culture. In this steamy, lush and exotic jungle, you might spot spider monkeys swooping through the canopy, pink river dolphins, sloths, vibrantly-coloured poison dart frogs, capybaras and – if you’re very, very lucky – the highly elusive jaguar.
The largest archipelago state in the world, Indonesia is home to some beautiful and remote islands. Raja Ampat, in the far east of Indonesia, is a cluster of islands (four main ones and hundreds of other tiny islets) with some of the planet’s best dive sites. Underwater, you can’t check your Instagram likes even if you wanted to. Instead, there’s a myriad of fish, marine mammals and coral to discover in this overwhelmingly wildlife-rich area.
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Whether you’re diving or snorkelling, there is little risk that you’ll tire of delving into the underwater world. Manta rays glide through the water; dugongs graze on the sea grass; clownfish dart challengingly out from their anemone as you swim past; pygmy seahorses nestle close to the coral; and hundreds upon hundreds of dazzling, bizarre and beautiful fish form mesmerising shoals around the healthy reefs. When you’re in this hidden environment, it’s easy to just enjoy being in that moment.
Boats that cruise around the Antarctic peninsula rarely have solid wi-fi signal, which is certainly a brilliant thing. Travelling to Antarctica is a privilege and it would be criminal to not make the most of the short time you’ll have in this unreal polar world by not spending every second soaking it up. People regularly say their time in Antarctica was life-changing; perhaps part of this is because of the digital detox travellers are forced into when they visit.
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In this landscape of giant ice cliffs and cold water, penguin colonies potter on the snowy shores of the White Continent and killer whales lounge in sun-spots on the sea’s surface. Kayak past gigantic icebergs to the shore where you can watch gentoo penguins exchanging pebbles as gifts. Spend a night camping on the ice in a snow bunker and bivvy bag, looking up into the dark, starry sky, and listening to nothing but the sounds of ice crackling and the sea lapping.