I recently discovered the joys of a new mobile telephone and what it doesn’t do. The Punkt cellular phone makes calls and can send text messages. That’s it. There’s no Wi-Fi connection, touch screen or social media apps enabled. A smart phone it is not. Enabling me to spend more time doing things – like living in the present, travelling and seeing the world around me rather than staring at a screen.
The phone got me thinking about going off grid entirely, leaving modern urban life behind and living on a remote island somewhere with a dog for company and coconuts for sustenance – until I realised that if I did that I wouldn’t be able to watch the final series of Game of Thrones. Not going to happen.
But off grid holidaying, leaving all tech and Internet noise and news behind for a period of travel… now that’s an idea that makes sense.
There are plenty of ecotourism companies that offer this sort of thing, and you can even find the perfect retreat on Airbnb – there’s a magical former shepherd’s hut in the pine-covered hills around Deià on the west coast of Mallorca featuring a stone tank to collect rainwater, a butane cooker and fridge, solar panels and a wood-burning fire on the site, for example. Best thing about it is the million-dollar view that’ll cost you nothing. Responsible Travel has a beautiful off-grid villa on the Ligurian coast near the French-Italian border, as well as in Dominica and yurts in Lanzarote. Then there’s always the wild camping option – look for patches of woodland next to a crystal-clear, trout-filled stream, with some mushrooms and wild garlic for foraging. Leave the iPhone at home and take an instant camera instead – Instagram-ing your idyll is strictly prohibited.
If you truly want to disconnect there is one other option I am keen to try: ensconced in the rolling landscape of eastern Tuscany the Vipassana Centre Dhamma Atala offers a free, yes FREE (though you can make a donation) 10-day off-grid meditation course following an ancient technique of self-observation that’s believed to be a ‘universal remedy for universal ills.’ The catch? You must take a vow of silence on arrival, no talking is allowed throughout your stay and alongside obligatory group meditation you are encouraged to meditate yourself for up to 10 hours per day. Laptops and mobiles are outlawed as are reading and writing.
In this crazy age of instant gratification, virtual reality and the 24-hour digital plug in, I can’t think of a more calming or enriching travel experience.
First published in my bimonthly On Travel column for A Mag 2016