Panic ensued. I begged the captain to unplug, to restart, to call someone, to do something. But no flipping of the switch was going to connect us for the next week. It was just my family of four alone on a boat with no entertainment except one another. There were no televisions, no phone connection, nothing electronic whatsoever.
At first, it was miserable. I fretted about work (what if there was an emergency?), about real emergencies (what if someone needs me?), about all the updates I was missing. (I’m hardly alone; 59 percent of professionals check their work email while on vacation, according to a 2019 study from LinkedIn.)
But I didn’t have a choice. So I read a book from cover to cover. I played Uno with my children. I learned the ins and outs of the fifth-grade drama in my daughter’s school. It was, surprisingly, the best vacation ever. As soon as we returned, we started researching our next WiFi-free vacation. Next time, we’ll be prepared with even more games and books.
Granted, it can be tricky to find off-the-grid spots, because if they’re truly off the grid, they’re not usually on the Internet. But if you, too, are dreaming of phone-free travel, the majority of the accommodations on this list are in WiFi dead zones, and they’re also in some of the most beautiful places in the world. While some properties advertised as phone-free do have designated spots where you can log on if necessary, they’ll nevertheless get you closer to having a family vacation sans screen time.
Mountainside pod in Peru
This isn’t for anyone afraid of heights. Skylodge Adventure Suites, located 90 minutes from Cusco and eight miles from Machu Picchu in Sacred Valley, consists of three transparent pods attached to a mountain by cable. Reaching your four-person room, crafted of polycarbonate and airplane aluminum, requires a 90-minute climb via metal steps and wires (hiking is also an option). Leaving involves a zip-line. A guide will arrive with you, along with your food and water. Don’t worry — there’s a toilet in the pod. Entertainment is limited to stargazing, eating and sleeping.
Skylodge Adventure Suites
Pista 224 km, Urubamba-Ollantaytambo, Cusco, Peru
Rooms starting at $409 per night including the zip-line
Private sheep farm in Argentina
Bahia Bustamante Lodge is a 210,000-acre sheep farm in Patagonia that offers only 11 cabins that can accommodate 39 guests total. The cabins are steps from the South Atlantic, and visitors will include egrets, horses, dogs, ostriches, guanacos (similar to llamas) and the sheep. Some of the food you eat (three daily meals are provided) will be harvested from the farm’s organic garden and orchard. Electricity is supplied by a generator in the lodge — and cabins are only lit by solar energy and battery lights. Your hosts will take you to visit penguins, to ride horses and to learn more about sheep farming. WiFi is incredibly spotty, and there’s no phone service.
Bahia Bustamante Lodge
U9111 Comodoro Rivadavia, Chubut, Argentina
Rooms starting at $135 per night
Safari lodge in Southern Africa
This property is as much bucket-list as off-the-beaten-path experience. The newly renovated, eco-friendly Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge overlooks a watering hole that attracts elephants, cheetahs and hyenas (you can snap photos from your phone, but you’ll have to wait to post them until after your vacation since the included Internet is spotty to nonexistent). You won’t exactly be roughing it here: The lodge looks like an incredibly luxurious glamping experience, with air conditioners and en suite bathrooms within the 12 tented rooms, complete with a luxury spa. All meals are included. Get up close to the elephants on a safari before unwinding by the lodge’s pool.
Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge
Chobe National Park, Botswana
Rooms starting at $2,300 per night
Mountain open-air resort in St. Lucia
Jade Mountain Resort sits on the southwestern Caribbean coastline above a volcano sand beach. There are 24 private suites, each with its own infinity pool with views of the Caribbean and the Pitons (five additional suites have a tub for two rather than a pool). Because every part of the resort is open air, there are no windows. Scuba diving, cycling, kayaking and other water sports are popular activities — and the rainforest, botanical gardens, a semiactive volcano and some sulfur springs are nearby. There are no TVs, radios or air conditioners, and you’re not allowed to use your phone in any public areas. If you choose to use Internet in your room (it’s discouraged), you’re required to keep your phone on the vibrate setting.
Jade Mountain Resort
100 Anse Chastanet Rd., Soufriere, St. Lucia
Rooms starting at $1,225 per night without meals
Cliff-top retreat in Australia
There’s a spot on Kangaroo Island in Australia that boasts more than 260 bird species, along with kangaroos, goats, sheep, sea lions and more — and a small luxury property with panoramic views of the ocean. The Southern Ocean Lodge on 1,700-square-mile Kangaroo Island offers each visitor a backpack, water bottles and other necessities to explore their surroundings. Naturalists take visitors on daytime tours of Flinders Chase National Park to spot koalas, geese and seals, or nighttime tours of a koala sanctuary. While WiFi is available, it doesn’t usually work.
Southern Ocean Lodge
Hanson Bay Rd., Kingscote, South Australia
Rooms starting at $850 per night
Nomadic lifestyle in Mongolia
Three Camel Lodge in the Gobi Desert aims to combine Mongolia’s nomadic culture with the feel of a luxury retreat. Stay in one of 40 fancy all-inclusive gers, as yurts are known in Mongolia, which are made of wood and covered in felt and canvas. Each has a private bathroom and is heated by a wooden stove. You’ll have unobstructed views of the desert and the Gobi-Altai Mountains. The focus here is on sustainability, so the amenities are eco-friendly, the lighting is solar-powered and the water is limited. There’s no TV or WiFi. Activities include horseback and camel riding, and exploring the desert.
Three Camel Lodge
Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park, Mongolia
Rooms starting at $320 per night
The 'real Alaska'
At the Ultima Thule Alaska Lodge, you’ll be 100 miles from the closest paved road, and only up to 14 guests within individual groups will be accommodated weekly (you arrive on a Sunday via one of the lodge airplanes and will leave on a Thursday). There’s no phone service, and the WiFi is reminiscent of dial-up. To get here, you’ll need to take a bush plane (fly into Anchorage, and the lodge will help arrange a seat on a charter flight). Advertised as the “real Alaska,” Ultima Thule is located within the largest national park in North America: mountainous Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. Since it is truly in the middle of nowhere, you can only visit between May and September, and all meals and experiences are provided. It’s all about the wilderness, though the lodge is designed with plush couches, sheepskin rugs and a wood-fired hot tub. There’s even a wood-fired sauna and a greenhouse. While you’re there, you can hike, take a private safari by plane, explore a gold mine and more.
Ultima Thule Alaska Lodge
18714 Mink Creek Dr., Chugiak, Alaska
Rooms starting at $8,550 per person for the five-day trip
Eco lodge in Costa Rica
Lapa Rios Ecolodge, a 1,000-acre private reserve in southwestern Costa Rica that has 17 bungalows in the Osa Peninsula rainforest, is intentionally low-tech. You’ll have a hard time finding any Internet or phone service. Instead, tune in to the sounds of the rainforest, swim in the pool or take the short walk to the ocean and watch the monkeys swing through the trees. Screens are the only divider separating you from the forest; you’ll be waked by howler monkeys rather than by an alarm clock, and entertained by the parrots, monkeys and toucans that like to hang out in the trees by the pool. Take a wilderness tour to see waterfalls, the forest and the wildlife (included with the price of the lodge).
Lapa Rios Ecolodge
Puntarenas Province, Puerto Jimenez
Rooms starting at $887 per night
Glamping in Big Sur
The Treebones Resort campground overlooks the Pacific and feels like a playground in a rustic setting. It’s a bit like camp (the sleepaway kind), as everyone is glamping or camping and it’s a short walk to the shared bathroom (most of the accommodations here are without a bathroom). There are various choices for sleeping arrangements: a yurt, which is sparse but comes with beds, lights and chairs; a fancy tent, with 500 square feet of space including an en suite bathroom and a claw-foot shower; a BYO tent option ($95 per day with a two-night minimum); or the Human Nest, a hand-woven hut that looks like a human-size bird’s nest. It comes with a futon pad and a warning that raccoons, bats and mice sometimes visit. There are two restaurants serving local organic food, plus a hot tub and yoga classes. Most people spend their days hiking and relaxing. While there’s Internet in the main lodge, it’s not strong enough to support much more than email — and there’s no cellphone service.
71895 Hwy. 1, South Big Sur, Calif.
Rooms starting at $215 per night for a twig hut
Italian monastery retreat
For those who want to go off the grid alone — there’s no double occupancy, and it’s not family friendly — Eremito, 90 minutes north of Rome, is the place to be. It’s a half-hour from the closest road and is only accessible via a 4x4. Stay in a small, restored 14th-century monastery that was created specifically to drag people away from their grind. While you can speak with other guests during breakfast and lunch — silence is demanded part of the day — the vibe is always peaceful, with the occasional Gregorian chanting. There’s farm-fresh homemade vegetarian food, a steam bath dug out of a rock and a yoga room. Rooms come sans minibar, sans TV, sans Internet, and dinner is silent. Fill your day with yoga, meditation, hiking and relaxing in the outdoor hot tub.
Localita’ Tarina 2, 05010 Parrano TR, Italy
Rooms starting at $180 per night
Braff is a writer based in Chicago. Find her on Twitter: @daniellebraff.