Saturday 22 November 2014

The Great Digital Detox

Pol O'Conghaile

Published 01/08/2014 | 02:30

Westin Dublin
Dublin's Westin Hotel does a 'digital detox' package
Pól Ó Conghaile at Silver Strand, Co. Wicklow.
Lions lolling about in Selous Safari Park, Tanzania
Kilmurvey Beach, Inis Mór

Technology has transformed travel, this we know. We book holidays online. Our trips are inspired by photos shared via friends on Facebook or Instagram. Our devices are portable. Wi-Fi is ubiquitous, making it easier than ever to work and connect on holidays.

But here's the thing. What if you don't want to stay in touch?

What if you want to enjoy a holiday without your phone pinging every five seconds? What if you want to escape your emails, turn off your technology and truly tune out?

An increasing number of hotels and tour operators are offering packages designed to help you do just that… leave your phone at reception, or venture out of contact entirely, in order to detox both body and technology-addled mind.

Perhaps you think digital detoxes are silly (if you want free of your smartphone, what's stopping you from switching it off?) but they can make sense. This is a world, after all, when a Centre for Children's Internet and Technology Distress has just opened in Delhi, with counsellors assisting with such novelties as "conversation".

Hopefully things won't go that far - but if you do want to turn off Twitter, free yourself from Facebook or venture out of reach of reception, here's how to do it in style...

The Westin Hotel: Digital Detox in Dublin

The five-star Westin offers guests the chance "to escape from all that electronic chatter" with a package bundling B&B (with breakfast in bed), an hour-long in-room massage and a detox survival kit including information on discovering the city, a board game, a walking map, a newspaper ("real, not virtual"), a white tea candle and even a tree planting kit to take home. You can surrender your devices on check-in, or put them in a safe in your room. It costs from €175pp.

Details: 01 645-1000; www.thewestindublin.com/digital-detox

Lizard Island: The Great Barrier Reef...

Lizard Island is a luxury resort sitting away from the crowds on Queensland's Great Barrier Reef, and it prides itself on having no mobile phone reception, no TVs and Wi-Fi in only one of its suites. It's a paradise for snorkelling, diving and fishing, boasting 24 "powdery-white" beaches, five-star cuisine, a top-notch spa and its own lagoon. The long journey, culminating in a light aircraft connection from Cairns, gets you away from it all in the most literal sense - but prepare to pay for the privilege. All-inclusive rooms start from around €1,160 per night.

Details: +61 1300 130 372; www.lizardisland.com.au

Lifehouse Country Spa: Ditch the devices...

"Lifehouse is a mobile phone, Blackberry and electronic device-free area except for within the privacy of your own bedroom," says this Essex spa escape. Similarly to Monart in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford, guests can hand over their phones for safekeeping on arrival, or store them in the privacy of their bedroom if they fear going cold turkey. A detox express from Friday to Sunday costs from £339/€428pp - it's specially designed for city workers looking to de-stress.

Details: +44 1255 860050; www.lifehouse.co.uk.

Selous Game Reserve: Splendid isolation

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We've all heard of the Serengeti, but Ruaha National Park and the Selous Game Reserve offer as remote and exclusive a safari as Tanzania has to offer. Arriving on small planes from Dar es Salaam, your pilot may need to circle to scare impala and elephant off the dirt-strip runway before you're whisked off to luxury tents in the Jongomero or Selous camps. Having no mobile reception is one thing, but check out the hooters in your tents... these are to call the guards in case wildlife gets too close. Exclusivity like this doesn't come cheap, of course. Tropicalsky.ie has a nine day safari and beach break (in nearby Zanzibar) from €4,349pp including flights.

Details: +255 22 212-8485; www.selous.com

Hotel Monaco, Chicago: A Tranquillity Suite

Chicago's Hotel Monaco boasts an 11th floor suite, which it says is alone in the city in being "specifically designed to inspire relaxation". Calming beige and silver tones, feather and suede textures, a sleeping "cove" with bamboo linens, city and river views, a massage roller, sunken twin tub and soothing wall-mounted water fountain should all distract you from a rate of around $449/€332 per night. Electronics can be surrendered at reception, and staff can remove TV and phones on request.

Details: + 1 204 992-5203; www.magellanluxuryhotels.com

Ireland: Beating about the bush…

Fancy unleashing your inner Bear Grylls? In Ireland, bushcraft courses are available through several operators - including the Living Wilderness Bushcraft School in Co. Meath, Kippure Estate in Co. Wicklow, and the Lough Allen Adventure Centre in Leitrim ("We suggest leaving the mobile phones behind," its owner once told me. "They complain at first, but they come back loving it.") Activities include fire-lighting techniques, navigation, shelter-building, foraging and trap-making… as well as the chance to sleep under the stars. Basic courses cost around €180pp

Details: adventurewicklow.com; bushcraftireland.com; bushcraft.ie.

Pittsburgh: A Family Digital Detox...

Here's a chance "to revive your family from an over-stimulated world and reconnect with each other," says Pittsburgh's Renaissance Hotel. "All family members' laptops, cell phones and digital devices must be surrendered upon check in, and will be held until your departure," it continues. "Prior to your arrival, the television, phone, and iHome dock station will be removed from your guest room and replaced with board games and playing cards." It's available from $289/€213 per night.

Details: +1 412 562-1200; www. renaissancepittsburghpa.com

Three Digital Detoxes on the Cheap...

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Silver Strand, Co. Wicklow

Another no-signal zone is Silver Strand. Just a couple of kilometres south of Wicklow town on the R750, you can access this stunning little cove via Wolohan's campsite (it costs €8 per car on weekends). By the time you drive across the fields and descend the stone steps onto the sands, you'll be out of reach of everybody…

Erris Head, Co. Mayo

One of my favourite reception-free zones is also one of the most remote outposts of the Wild Atlantic Way. Erris Head sits on the Mullet Peninsula in West Mayo - a great, treeless hump overlooking the thrashing seas. Abandoned lookout huts, dramatic cliffs and a stone 'Eire' sign add to the desolation. Bliss.

The Aran Islands, Co. Galway

"If you long to truly relax and see old Irish life, hop a ferry to the Aran Islands," The Huffington Post recently advised its readers. "Most B&Bs and guesthouses have limited cell phone service, and many don't have Internet connections. But you won't crave your laptop with these breath-taking views."

First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday's Irish Independent
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