We Unplugged on Vacation. Yes, We Survived.
"Luxury" is a word that gets tossed around in the travel space so often it's become meaningless. High thread counts, personal butler services, champagne on arrival: These are all nice touches, but they don't make or break a vacation. Increasingly, what does matter when traveling is how disconnected we feel from what we left at home. If you check your work email — rationalizing that you "just to make sure everything is okay" — you're not on vacation. You're in a neither-here-nor-there limbo. When you feel tied to what you leave behind, you're never truly gone. If we realized one thing when we started planning The World's 10 Best Off-the-Grid Hotels for Total Digital Detox, our latest Fathom Travel Awards, it's that being unplugged from the incessant demands of the digital world (they're so hard to resist...) is the essence of vacation. And that allowing ourselves to feel that way is the new standard in luxury. These are the places around the world that Team Fathom has been where the WiFi stinks, the cell service is unreliable, and feeling disconnected was total bliss.
When I finding myself needing a break from my tech-saturated life, a few days in Big Sur usually does the trick. The natural beauty of this rugged stretch of land on California's Central Coast never ceases to amaze me. Most importantly, cell phone service is hard to come by. Some hotels offer WiFi, and you may get occasional phone service, but, for the most part, you should plan on going without. I've always found this to be incredibly rejuvenating and refreshing, considering how connected the world feels these days. – Berit Baugher, senior editor
Rajasthan, Lake Titicaca, The Amazon
I have been to so many places with poor cellphone service and little or no WiFI. The Amazon. The desert in Rajasthan. Lake Titicaca. And they all have one thing in common: They release me from the endless obligation to stay connected. Connected to what exactly? Liking people's Instagram stories so they will, in turn, like mine back? Following up with the vet about my cat’s routine check up? A three-person, 27 message thread, scheduling a packaging meeting for Rouge? To travel is to be connected to where you ARE. And if my location has truly bad connectivity I can tell people, without a shade of guilt, that I really cannot talk to them right now. I don’t have to go on to say that I also really don’t want to. — Stephanie March, contributing editor
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Over the course of a ten-day safari in Zambia'a South Luangwa National Park, as we made our way deeper and deeper into the bush, I found that the camps became more rustic, the animals more wary of humans, the tech devices pretty useless. We had no electricity, no cell service, certainly no WiFi. I had brought a solar panel battery charger for my iPhone so that I could use it as a camera. But by the fourth day, when my guide made a joke about how everyone loves to show him the pictures of the animals he gets to see all the time in the flesh, I stopped taking pictures altogether and just took notes, by hand, and made an occasional sound recording. It was so nice to simply look around! The vivid details scribbled in my notebook made for a lasting souvenir. — Jeralyn, editorial director
I rode a camel for an hour into the western Negev desert in Israel to stay overnight at an eco-camp, Khan Beerotayim. That ride connected me to how long-ago travelers explored the rocky, sculpted landscape. We had no other connectivity. (I think if you walked up a hill, you could use some cellphones.) Once at camp, we gathered in a tent for a Bedouin-style feast, then sat outside and opened our senses to the world. We listened to the fire crackle and watched twinkling stars emerge in the vast sky, and felt the temperature drop to chilly. And we talked, about everything. Start to finish, this unconnected journey was a pretty magical way to get in touch with desert life. — Linda Cabasin, contributing editor
I visited Havana for the first time last year when Cuba was flush with the possibility of new openness with the United States and there was a lot of chatter about getting there "before it was too late." I loved the city — its colors, its rhythms. And it was refreshing to be reminded how people without WiFi addiction behave. In bars and restaurants, there were no cell phones on tables. Everyone was talking to each other. Having real conversations! No turning to Google to check some useless fact. On the streets, no one walked by, staring down and clicking into their devices. They were looking up, engaged with the surroundings. For a week, I used my iPhone as a camera and ignored it for everything else. It was heaven. — Pavia Rosati, CEO
They don't call Patagonia the end of the world for nothing. And because of its sheer and vast remoteness, WiFi is blissfully under the radar. Meaning, you don’t come to this part of the world to conduct routine business. Quite the opposite: You go to disconnect and return to the natural world. Mountains, crystal-blue lakes, and wildlife. While the spectacular Tierra Patagonia hotel has great connection in the common areas, the bedrooms only pick up a low signal, which makes your sleep heavenly. It also sets the tone for the miracle of nature, encouraging you to fully immerse in the landscape. A place where time stands still, a haunting and beautiful quiet, where mornings conjure an almost meditative experience and the days are about rugged adventure and majestic sights. This is why you come to Chile. — Kate Donnelly, contributing editor
I go back to Sicily and Cefalù at least once a year, and every time I am reminded that my favorite island is also a great digital detox. Connectivity is at a snail's speed, and 3G signal tends to be limited, when available. There is no choice but to be tuned into what is going on around me. It's a liberating feeling because Sicily is a region of incredible nuances in every town and side street. And it's incredibly social: Piazzas are still the evening scene. But that doesn't mean you won't see phones. Yes, everyone has a device, but it seems like most are just using them for photos, messages, and the occasional phone calls — not for entertaining themselves. For that, all you have to do is hang out your window and watch the theater of the street. — Erica Firpo
The World's 10 Best Off-the-Grid Hotels for Total Digital Detox
Finding Peace and Escape at the Top of the World
No Toilets, All Thrills in Mongolia's Gobi Desert