October 23, 2017

Unplug and Unwind

Follow our seven suggestions for disconnecting from digital distractions

By Jennifer Davoren

Vacations Magazine: Unplug and Unwind
Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort
Getting away from it all isn't easy.

Take Mount Rainier National Park. Nearly 370 square miles of Washington state wilderness, this is a spot for hikes in flower-strewn meadows, lakeside huckleberry patches and the foothills surrounding the park's namesake volcano. If plans recently proposed to officials come to pass, those hikes will be hampered by increased cellphone coverage, the result of wireless antennas added to a central visitors center. It becomes that much harder to immerse yourself in nature when your neighbor on the trail is streaming Spotify or chasing virtual Pokemon.

Where can you go for a true escape? After all, part of the fun of traveling is "Sorry, bad service," a handy excuse for ignoring the ping of work emails. Perhaps you can pitch a tent in the Galapagos, retreat to a bungalow in the Amazon or cross the Arctic Circle and spend a few nights in an igloo to avoid constant connectivity. You can escape screen time a little closer to home, too, in Colorado ski country or along the rim of the Grand Canyon.

We've come up with seven ideas for electronics-free getaways, paired with packages offered by travel discounter Vacations To Go. Read on, and visit the suggested websites for more information on upcoming departures.

Go cold turkey. A line of "digital detox" itineraries from Intrepid Travel could be the solution to your screen dependence, as both social media and cellphone use are prohibited once you hit the road. More traditional cameras are welcome, of course, but as Intrepid puts it, guests should "forget the perfect filter or condensing your journey into 140 characters" and instead focus on making real-world connections.

Adventures available this fall include the nine-day "Vietnam Active Family Holiday" which makes time for Hanoi cultural exchanges, Halong Bay kayaking and leisurely bicycle tours of both the country's northern reaches and south to Hoi An, a spot for rice cultivation and souvenir shopping. A single digital detox departure is available on Sept. 30, with prices from $1,125.

Departing Nov. 12, "Mountains & Mystics" stresses spiritual renewal while sampling India. You'll visit the self-proclaimed yoga capital of the world, Rishikesh, as well as the Dalai Lama's temple and Sri Harmandir Sahib, Sikhism's most sacred monument, where visitors don head coverings and remove their shoes in deference to the golden "abode of god." The 13-day trip, which also features a night of camping alongside the holy Ganges River, is priced from $1,140.

The digital detox version of "North Morocco Adventure" discourages screen time with a journey through the past, including a guided tour of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Volubilis, founded in the third century B.C. Also featured on this nine-day trek from Casablanca to Marrakech are a variety of souks (public markets), casbahs (former fortresses) and medinas (typically walled, historic neighborhoods) as well as Chefchaouen, known as Morocco's "blue city" for its soothing color scheme. This trip departs Dec. 8 and prices start at $810.

Leave it to the law. Don't trust yourself to pack away the electronics on your own? Let your destination police your social media addiction. Garoupe Beach is a tempting stretch of French Riviera that made headlines in 2014 by declaring a ban on selfies. A special patrol unit shut down sunbathers who ignored world-class views in favor of Instagram updates, and "no braggies zones" were established for those in need of a break from photos and Facebook-fed egos. Garoupe Beach is just a 15-minute drive south from the cruise port of Antibes, reached during select Mediterranean sailings from Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, with prices from $2,049 for a weeklong Oceania journey aboard the Marina leaving Nov. 9, 2018.

Galleries also can offer a respite from cameras. You'll be hard-pressed to find a venue that allows selfie sticks, considered a danger to artwork and patrons alike, but some venues shut down photography of any kind. Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum banned it in 2014, though the rules were later amended to allow snaps in its entrance hall and against designated "selfie walls" around the building. A short walk away, the Rijksmuseum takes a hands-on approach: The Dutch national museum uses its #StartDrawing campaign to curb quick pics, instead suggesting pencil sketches of its collection to better appreciate the time and talent involved in the artistic process.

You can reach the museums of the Netherlands' largest city through a variety of Baltic- and Mediterranean-bound ships, including MSC Cruises' Preziosa. A 12-night vacation beginning Oct. 6, with prices from $1,069, overnights in Amsterdam before setting sail for Paris, London, Barcelona and other Old World gems.

Huddle in an igloo. Urho Kekkonen National Park is a nearly 1,000-square-mile slice of Lapland, a region in northern Finland. This is a secluded haven for ice fishing and reindeer herding, a beloved Finnish tradition. It's also a remarkable vantage point for aurora borealis viewing when the sky is clear, the weather cold and a guide available to point out the best spots for photos.

On the western edge of the park, Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort is the stuff of Pinterest dreams: a collection of cabins, chalets and igloos -- some made of snow, for the hardier traveler, and others made of glass, their clear domes ready for a glimpse of northern lights -- equipped with private saunas, fireplaces and other cozy touches. According to the resort, mobile service is steady in Finland, even in some of the more remote areas of Lapland, but "we like to think that once you are here in the wilderness, you can also take a break from technology and the internet." (It helps that accommodations are not equipped with TVs or Wi-Fi, though some public spaces provide web connections.)

In addition to guided sightseeing and leisure time in Helsinki, the Finnish capital, wintertime departures of the eight-day "Finland's Lapland" spend four nights at the resort. Your time here is spent on your choice of arctic activities: meet-and-greets with reindeer and huskies, snowmobile tours, horse-drawn sleigh rides, dog sled outings and, of course, plenty of opportunities for aurora hunting. Prices for the trip start at $5,549, and departures are available through March 2018.

Enjoy Aspen alfresco. Long before it was a ski resort hideout of the rich and famous, Aspen, CO, was a mining town, its Rocky Mountain foothills drilled for precious metals. Jerome B. Wheeler was among those drawn by the silver boom, and in 1889 he opened the Hotel Jerome. A grand property, it was the first lodging west of the Mississippi to boast complete electrical lighting, hot and cold running water and, odder still, an elevator.

Now operating under Auberge Resorts management, the Jerome salutes its 128-year history with little touches: the 38-star American flag, marking Colorado's status as the 38th state to join the union; artworks commissioned in honor of high-profile guests, including author Hunter S. Thompson; and, in an attached watering hole, the original maple bar that 19th-century miners once bellied up to. Enhancing this throwback atmosphere is a refreshing lack of blaring televisions in most public areas.

But the Jerome encourages enjoyment of the outdoors as much as the cozy indoors. The Junior Je-Roamers program wrangles younger guests for bike and horseback rides, ghost town hikes, s'mores cookouts and more. Adults and older kids can take part in whitewater rafting, hot air balloon rides and, of course, ski lessons booked by the hotel, but inquire about a special perk: an Alpine Lake fly-fishing lesson with a Jerome chef, Bryan Wallace, ending in a cooking lesson featuring your catch of the day. Another friendly employee, Rocky the hotel dog also is available for guests, should you need a furry addition to a family walk in the mountains.

Suspend time, or live simply, on safari. Lured by President Theodore Roosevelt's tales of big game, American hunter Charles Cottar set off for Africa in 1909, eventually relocating his whole family to Kenya to start a safari guide business. Though the pursuit has changed -- they follow wildlife with cameras these days, not rifles -- the family's fourth generation now operates Cottar's 1920s Safari Camp, where 10 guest tents re-create "the golden age of safari" with four-poster beds, steamer trunk storage, phonographs and other antique touches. A swimming pool, spa and limited Wi-Fi have been added for modern flair, but vacations like the 10-day "Kenya in Style" prefer the quiet of the property's 6,000-acre private game reserve. Priced from $11,699, this escape devotes three nights to a Cottar's stay.

For those in search of a rugged experience, Serengeti Wilderness Camp awaits. This is a seasonal camp that changes locations depending on weather and wildlife movement, so it travels light: Beds, bush showers and flush toilets are on offer, but power is provided by solar energy, and a central charging station will have to do for any electronics you've brought for the trip. A common area is stocked with books and board games as well as maps exploring the camp's namesake national park, which guests also experience through walking and four-wheel safaris. See it on certain departures of the eight-day "Tanzania Under Canvas" with SITA World Tours, priced from $5,445.

Find peace in the Last Frontier. Alaska calls to fans of rugged adventure, from the king crab haulers of Discovery Channel's "Deadliest Catch" to the strongmen of the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. Cruise passengers can meet both on a shore excursion in Ketchikan, but those in search of unplugged getaways are likely in the mood for a more calming escape.

Looking for something low-tech that includes a bit of a history lesson? Wrangle the family for an afternoon of gold panning outside Juneau, where the city's namesake struck it rich during the prospecting boom of the late 19th century. You probably won't end up with a canoe full of nuggets, as Joseph Juneau once boasted, but the soothing music of the rushing creek might have your iTunes library beat.

Keep your eyes on the sky (and off your phones) in Haines, home to the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, and in Sitka, where the Alaska Raptor Center rehabilitates owls, hawks and other birds of prey. Stow the electronics completely while out on the water -- you won't want to drop them while kayaking around glaciers or the Eagle Islands, where you should watch for seals and starfish. You'll want to keep them packed away when you're in the water, too, in spots like Mountain Point, where snorkeling trips (in insulated wetsuits, of course) search for sea urchins and other hardy inhabitants of a submerged kelp forest.

These excursions are available on select Princess Cruises itineraries in Alaska, with prices from $699 for summer 2018 departures.

Go off the grid with G Adventures. You could pitch a tent on your own, but camping is made even easier when the details are handled by this escorted tour company. G Adventures will haul the heavy equipment and manage day-to-day hiking plans as you sample locales like Africa, the Galapagos Islands and, of course, American classics like the Grand Canyon. These camping itineraries generally fall under the company's Yolo brand, designed for guests ages 18 to 39, and lean toward budget accommodations and other cost-cutting measures for younger travelers. Priced from $1,949, the nine-day "Galapagos Camping Adventure" explores lava tunnels, reaches the rim of an active volcano and snorkels with sea lions, so don't expect regular Wi-Fi access.

For an all-ages vacation, look to G Adventures' rustic homestay itineraries. These include the weeklong "Local Living Ecuador - Amazon Jungle" priced from $620 and suitable for those 12 years and older. Four nights are spent in a lodge like Cabanas Pimpilala, a collection of simple bungalows near the Napo River, with activities focused on local culture and ecology. Cabanas Pimpilala is run by three generations of a Quichua family, an indigenous South American group; here, spa treatments involve masks made from freshly dredged river mud, and G Adventures highlights its nonprofit arm, Planeterra, with a visit to a rural school wrapped by jungle. Other reasons to keep away from your screens: a blowgun contest and a meeting with a local shaman for a healing ceremony demonstration.

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in Fall 2017. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 680-2858 for current rates and details.


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