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The Drive to Disconnect

Paulina Burbano de Lara is one of the most influential women in Latin America – she has been on the board of a major Ecuadorian bank and an insurance services company and is now executive president of leading travel company Metropolitan Touring. Every Tuesday morning, without fail, she takes a pottery class. “It’s like going back to childhood,” she observes. “It’s very meditative: I don’t look at my emails, I can’t touch the phone – my hands are covered in clay – so my head gets a rest.”

At the other end of the world, Sigurlaug Sverrisdóttir, founder and CEO of Ion Hotels Iceland, de-stresses by fly fishing. “It’s an all-day event, sometimes starting at 7am and not finishing until 10pm,” she says. “The best thing about it is you don’t hear anything apart from the sound of the river – just you and the fish.”

And Peter Mühlmann, founder and CEO of customer reviews site Trustpilot, takes time to go cycling in Denmark and ditches his alarm clock. “I sleep until I wake up,” he says. “I have so much anxiety, I believe in doing anything that lets off this stress.”

All three of these business leaders are attempting to tackle a concern increasingly in the news: that amid competing demands for attention and a constant torrent of information, digital technology threatens to occupy our every waking moment, all but eliminating the concept of ‘downtime’. (More than half of us reach for our phones within 15 minutes of waking, and a whopping 79% just before going to sleep.)

Tech as the servant, not the master

It may have put the entire sum of human knowledge literally in our pockets, but this brave new world of tech is not without consequences. Research has shown that an always-on, hyperconnected lifestyle can disrupt our sleep and make us less engaged and motivated at work; undermine our real-life social interaction; and affect our ability to focus, be patient and think deeply – essentially rewiring our brains.

According to Ofcom, 71% of UK adults say they never turn off their phone, and 78% say they could not live without it. Even increased awareness of stressful events in the lives of others – driven by digital technology and social media use – can result in users feeling more stressed: sometimes called ‘the cost of caring’.

As Chris Lewis, author of Too Fast to Think, says, “What you have to remember is that social media is our servant, not our master. In fact, these platforms are good servants, but evil masters.”

Deciding to disconnect

The good news is, awareness of device dependence is growing. The success of self-help books such as Catherine Price’s How to Break Up With Your Phone is testament to that, while popular apps like QualityTime and Moment have been designed to track how much time we’re spending staring at a screen (a lot).

If meditation and yoga aim to help us live in the moment, the luxury hotel market is also heeding the call. More fundamental than a simple spa session or digital detox, the ‘disconnection trip’ is set to be a trend that grows in 2019. As Trustpilot’s Mühlmann says, “Sometimes work leaves me ‘damaged’. Once a year, I lose bubbliness and I know I have to take a break and go off-grid – I usually head to south-east Asia to recover.”

The following breaks provide a crucial opportunity to ‘disconnect’ – an essential process for business leaders, who require head space to make decisions, come up with new ideas, and maintain focus amid competing demands.

“One thing we know is that the best ideas happen when we are away from the workplace, uninterrupted and truly able to think creatively,” says Lewis. “Creativity is how businesses and individuals can stay ahead. It’s how they sustain rapid growth with rapid renewal.”

Eight of the best places to disconnect


1. The Datai Langkawi, Malaysia

Once a travel secret, now one of the most celebrated of all rainforest resorts, the newly renovated Datai offers the perfect opportunity to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of urban existence and instead embrace nature in a 10-million-year-old Malaysian rainforest.


2. Eremito, Umbria, Italy

Who hasn’t occasionally longed to ‘join the priesthood’, if only for a day? Dreamt up by ex-fashion designer Marcello Murzilli, this ‘eco resort’ approximates the monastic experience with its minimalist rooms in historic stone, without Wi-Fi or television. A place to reflect in peace and quiet in contemplative stillness.

Sasaab Lodge

3. Sasaab Lodge, Kenya

The Wilderness Wellness Retreat at Sasaab Lodge near Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve offers a programme of Pilates classes in the dry riverbed, walks with Samburu tribespeople and strength training in the pool courtesy of one of Kenya’s foremost personal trainers, Karina Walsh.


4. Legacy Yen Tu – MGallery by Sofitel, Vietnam

Set amid a 13th-century pilgrimage site, considered to be the ‘cradle of Zen Buddhism’, the Legacy is the perfect union of ancient Eastern spirituality and contemporary Western elegance, replete with TV-free rooms and meditation sessions.


5. Do the North, Sweden

Kayaking and wild camping away from civilisation is what’s on offer here, in a maze of untouched islands with idyllic views. The day-to-day itinerary includes paddling through sheltered bays and around picturesque archipelagos, and exploring old copper mines and “villages that time forgot”.


6. Nihi Sumba, Indonesia

A true retreat, the remote island of Nihi Sumba boasts pristine beaches and lush, tropical scenery. For the ultimate getaway, stay a night at the resort’s cliff-top Villa Rahasia to enjoy spa treatments like deep-tissue massage and Indonesian body exfoliations, or just the expansive views of the Indian Ocean.


7. Explora Patagonia, Chile

A remote lodge situated on the banks of Lake Pehoé, Explora offers a chance to detach from everyday life and lift some mental clouds by hiking or horse-riding through the unique geography of the beautiful Patagonian mountains.


8. ROOM at The Beaumont, London

Part monolithic sculpture (by Anthony Gormley), part urban cave, this unique suite at The Beaumont, just steps from busy Bond Street, provides guests with a dark oak-panelled, cocoon-like bedroom in which to fully switch off and recharge from the distractions of the day.

Lysanne Currie writes about business and luxury travel for magazines including Robb Report, Luxury Plus, Glass Magazine and Meet The Leader.

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