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Why ‘going off-grid’ is the next big travel trend

Compost loos, campfire cuisine and compasses: switching off and tuning into nature has never been more glamorous, says Lucy Thackray

Wednesday 23 March 2022 15:52 GMT
The Fisherman’s Cabin in the Dordogne
The Fisherman’s Cabin in the Dordogne (One Off Places)

It’s funny how we so often use the phrase “recharge your batteries” when talking about unplugging, going offline, or getting away from technology.

Recently I’ve been struck by how often this wording pops up in my inbox, beside mentions of remote hideaways, back-to-basics campsites and the other off-grid retreats that have become a sort of reverse luxury.

Getting away from the pings and whirrs of modern urban life is a huge accommodation trend at the moment. In November, Airbnb added the category “off the grid” to its search-narrowing function. Meanwhile, the #vanlife movement has shifted from Instagram onto TikTok, with videos attracting tens of millions of views.

At the beginning of 2022, rentals website One Off Places spotted that their “off-grid” category had zoomed into the top 10 most-browsed sections.

To be clear – off-grid doesn’t just mean remote, says the website’s founder.

“To make the cut for our off-grid category, the property needs to not be connected to the mains electricity grid,” says founder Tabitha Symonds.

A few years ago, it would have been hard to imagine ‘primitive’ signifying a rave review. It’s caveman chic, of a sort

“Most of them do have some utilities, but the energy is all produced on site from solar panels or wind turbines. Many of them are also not on mains water supplies.

“Our most extreme off-grid rentals are remote places without even any solar or wind power, and with a compost loo, but many of them produce enough of their own energy to be able to boil a kettle or charge a mobile phone.”

One example is the sleepy Fisherman’s Cabin in the Dordogne region of southwest France – built from local timber and recycled material, it does away with smart TVs and Nespresso machines. Instead you have binoculars and a compass for exploring, plus board games and a wind-up radio for entertainment – not to mention a beautiful deck facing a lake (sleeps four from €95 a night).

Withywindle cabin in Devon (Canopy & Stars)

For the family market, there’s Bear Grylls’s new survival camp in the UAE, which opened last spring in the Ras Al Khaimah desert. Clans can ditch their phone chargers and go back to basics telling stories around the campfire, stargaze and learn survival skills, staying in camouflaged cabins which are emphatically low-tech – no wifi, and few amenities beyond a barbecue, firewood and toilet paper.

But off-grid doesn’t necessarily mean roughing it, either. The jet-set’s penchant for switching off – and developments with renewable energy sources – mean hundreds of pretty little cabins, lodges and earthy retreats have sprung up to accommodate burnt-out city dwellers.

Tempting UK hideaways include By the Wye, a cluster of safari-style tented cabins set in ancient woodland, with no wifi and only solar power; and the Unplugged retreat, where phones are locked away and maps, compasses and a disposable camera are provided.

Unsurprisingly, the green-leaning Nordic nations are leaders in this area. You could stay in an architecturally fascinating but spartan cube on a mountainside outside Bergen, Norway – Tubakuba is an entirely off-grid space where guests bring everything they need and have no facilities outside of a woodburner and basic toilet. Or escape to Project O, a wooden settlement on a tiny Finnish island, running on solar panels and filtered seawater.

At “Sweden’s most primitive hotel”, Kolarbyn, there are no showers, no electricity and well-heeled guests get down and dirty in earth-built huts. You fetch water from a spring and cook food over an open fire; there are foraging sessions and rustic spa treatments in a floating sauna. A few years ago, it would have been hard to imagine “primitive” signifying a rave review. It’s caveman chic, of a sort.

UK rentals website Canopy & Stars, which specialises in simple, quaint but comfy hideaways, has also seen an uplift in interest in off-grid cabins. Increasingly, it says, these have little luxuries such as wood-fired outdoor baths or hot-tubs, solar-powered showers or pizza ovens.

Huts built into the earth at ‘Sweden’s most primitive hotel’, Kolarbyn (

Tina Clarke and her husband designed their own off-grid cabin, Withywindle, in Devon as a pet project, but have been amazed at the fascination with its alternative energy sources. Boreholes for water supply and biodigesters for waste are commonplace in the county, she says.

“Passers-by are interested about the technical details of being off-grid,” explains Tina. “They’re especially curious about the supply of electricity – we have only six solar panels and four large batteries, so it’s fairly compact. But we still manage to run LED lights, a fridge and the pumps for the borehole and biodigester.”

The couple had stayed in off-grid huts themselves before deciding to design their own. Anticipating the trend for something earthy and close to nature, they wanted to ensure the cabin both blended into the landscape and could be dismantled at a moment’s notice. “It was designed to make minimal impact – there are no foundations and it sits on large screws, which can be easily removed,” says Tina.

Blogger Sian Anna Lewis, also known as The Girl Outdoors, has seen the trend coming for some time. It’s far from a novelty, she says – it’s something our bodies are actively craving.

“We use more technology than ever before – the average UK adult spends 40 per cent of waking hours in front of a screen – so it’s no wonder that digital detoxes in the great outdoors sound appealing,” she says.

“As well as forcing you to slow down and relax, I also find that retreats with no electricity mean I get better and more natural sleep – going to bed when it gets dark and waking with the light. Given the constantly worrying news cycle most of us follow, it’s also calming to take a break from pinging updates and live in the moment, at least for a day or two.”

Tina Clarke agrees. “I think, at the end of the day, it’s the attraction of living a cleaner and simpler lifestyle.”

So leave the phone charger at home and prepare to recharge your batteries – if only figuratively speaking.

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