'Black-hole' resorts: Turn up, tune out, log off
'Black-hole' resorts where mobiles are banned and the internet is anathema are set to be huge this year
There you are basking on a sun lounger beneath an azure sky, just the sound of the lapping sea and a cold beer for company when the heart-sinking rumble of your BlackBerry signals another joyless missive from the world of problems. The idyll shattered you trudge back to the hotel where the giant plasma screen in the lobby updates you on the latest global disaster or the plummeting stock market.
Defeated, you return to your room, flick on British satellite television and fire up the laptop. You may as well be at home.
It is a scenario all too familiar to the modern traveller. There was a time when we went away to get away. You don't have to be too much of an ageing hippy to recall the small thrills of the pre-travel blog world when finding a handwritten letter or postcard waiting at some far-flung post restante felt like being contacted from outer space.
Now of course, wherever you go your friends, family and boss come too, instantly, courtesy of digital technology. But things could be about to change.
A recent article in The New York Times by influential travel writer Pico Iyer entitled "The Joy of Quiet" identified a growing desire to silence the incessant babble of the information age.
"In barely one generation we've moved from exulting in the time-saving devices that have so expanded our lives to trying to get away from them .... The more ways we have to connect, the more many of us seem desperate to unplug," he observed.
Even Danah Boyd, Microsoft's perpetually switched-on social media guru has recently returned from an "email sabbatical" in Patagonia and Easter Island having warned his followers: "In order to function, I need to take time off... this means saying goodbye to email and, more importantly, not letting myself anxiously worry about all that's waiting for me when I return."
The travel industry is now waking up to the technology backlash. Independent travel expert Alastair Sawday has already identified it as growing trend this year.
"My generation is quite relieved at getting away from it all but also young people who are super-stressed," he says. "A lot of our hotel owners have deliberately set up shop away from it all for the same reason."
After years of creating destinations bristling with connective gadgets, resorts are now trumpeting their unreachability heralding the advent of so-called black-hole resorts. The St Vincent and The Grenadines Tourism Authority is currently marketing a week-long trip to two private islands where mobile phones are banned on the beach, there are no televisions and even alarm clocks are frowned upon.
Tom Marchant, co-founder of specialist travel operator Black Tomato, says busy people prefer to connect with the simpler things in life.
"There is definitely a growing appetite out there for technology-free holidays; it's almost the 'anti-trend' or reverse of the proliferation we saw a few years ago in state of the art technology in hotel suites and 24/7 ever-present Wi-Fi connection," he says.
The life coach Louise Gillespie-Smith has just returned from running a Caribbean "digital detox" in which she helped to guide five professionals through seven screen-free days.
All gadgets were locked away in the resort safe and instead clients focused on themselves and those around them.
Most found it remarkably easy – despite recent studies showing 80 per cent of students exhibited anxiety and stress at being severed from their digital connection.
"Because of the situation, which is so beautiful and you feel so removed from back home, by the time you get there it is amazing how you switch off," she says.
She encouraged them to fill out handwritten diaries and discussing the good things in their lives. At the end they were talking about making positive changes to their relationships, health and business lives.
"It was so much fun. Without distraction we all focus on each other. We were the entertainment. Everyone really bonded," she says.
Oxford Internet Institute's Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, author of Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age, is a big fan of black-hole resorts which he sees as increasingly important in escaping the "useless simplistic drivel" of much modern technological life. He says they can also help us improve our creativity and decision making.
"There is constant pressure from a huge amount of past information and memories – a huge repository that is constantly there. This makes it hard for us stay in the present and to make decisions because we are tethered to the past," he explains.
"Vacations take you out of the comfort zone and expose you to new feelings, impressions and thoughts. As you start forgetting, as you stop surrounding yourself with the artefacts of the past all the time, you make space for something new."
Silent nights: no phones allowed
Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur, California
Often cited as the original black-hole getaway this exclusive cliff-top resort inspires guests to get back back to nature with its Pacific sea views, spa and fine dining. Guests can ditch screen-based entertainments for woodland walks and stargazing.
St Vincent and the Grenadines
The first dedicated "digital detox" began this month. Guests arrive by sea plane and are stripped of their electronic valuables. The holiday is split between two islands where mobile phones are banned on the beach and a life coach will help you get your digital habits under control.
Soneva Fushi, Maldives
The original Robinson Crusoe experience set on the unpopulated island of Kunfunadhoo. There are no phones or televisions but guests can fill the digital void with diving, tennis or waterskiing.
Old Kilmory Church, Kilmory, Argyll & Bute, Scotland
Wild, rugged and miles from anywhere but the ocean. There is no mobile reception, television nor a shop or restaurant for more than three miles. There is however a log-burner, a selection of board games and books.
Mount Athos, Macedonian Peninsula, Greece
A stay at the ancient monasteries is popular with those seeking out the rugged spirituality of the Orthodox Church. Prince Charles stayed there after the death of Diana. Monks welcome pilgrims to the spartan quarters where they are provided with a simple meal and left to fend for themselves. No phones, no cameras, no women.
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