If you’re a city dweller or simply an extrovert, a cabin in the woods far away from everyone else with not much around might sound like your idea of torture. But it could be exactly what you need.
Unplugged, which set up in 2020, runs British countryside retreats with a small catch: there are no digital devices in the cabins at all whatsoever. No phones. No televisions. Not even plug sockets.
Their nine cabins, all within short travelling distance of London and accessible by car or train, are custom-built for a full-commitment digital detox.
For the unfamiliar, a digital detox refers to a time when a person refrains from using their electronic devices such as smartphones or computers for a set period of time. And now they’re becoming pretty commonplace, with more and more people dedicating time to ditching their phones and seeking out phone-free holidays and trips.
This should come as no surprise, since research from Origin found 41% of people experience some form of anxiety from social media. A digital detox can help bring us back to basics and focus on what’s important in our real-life, rather than our virtual world.
In fact, digital detoxes have been known to:
- Make us more productive
- Improve our self esteem
- Improve our sex lives
- Help us feel calmer
- Help us feel more secure
- Reduce stress
- Improve sleep
- Increase focus
And now, there are holiday trips and venues specifically-catered to saying goodbye to your phone and hello to nature, like Unplugged, which offers three-night stays in eco-friendly cabins within a short travelling distance from London (locations include Essex, West Sussex and more).
When I was invited to try an Unplugged cabin, my partner and I were sceptical of the digital detox element. Refraining from using digital devices is not something we’d thought about before, let alone actually done, and it felt like a bit of gimmick.
But Unplugged sets up their check-in process to feel like you’re truly leaving the world behind. It’s self check-in, but you’re instructed (not until the morning of your arrival date) to park in the woods, switch from your shoes to wellies which they pop in a metal container out in the wilderness for you to fine, pop your stuff in the provided wheelbarrow and head out to cabin life.
As soon as we arrived at Gruff (all the cabins are named after different dogs, adorable) and locked our phones up in the safe Unplugged provides and familiarised ourselves with the replacements – a radio, a Polaroid camera, maps for the local area and a bunch of board games – we knew we were set to have a special experience.
Think of a cabin in the woods, and your mind might fall to a horror film or Parks And Recreation, when Ron drags everyone to go hunting in a dirty shed where someone literally winds up getting shot. But Unplugged couldn’t be further from this picture, as they promise luxury with every stay.
Helping you to not think about your phone, the Unplugged cabins come with the comfiest bed known to man, with the wall at the bedside basically being entirely window. Squirrels, deer, robins and other wildlife will casually pass by as you open the blinds in the morning, giving full Disney princess vibes.
There’s also a dog bed if you want to bring your best pal (although not all Unplugged cabins are dog-friendly, so double check this). In addition, all cabins have fully stocked kitchens with tea and coffee from local businesses with a proper working shower (always a blessing), an eco-toilet and a stove to power the heat.
My partner and I did struggle occasionally with the lack of tech and wanted to get our phones back out of the safe, mostly for music reasons. There’s only so much of the Jeremy Vine Show you can listen to on a pocket radio before you start having actual dreams about Spotify and aux cords. But aside from this, not hearing the Zoom call music or the bleep noise Facebook messenger makes for an entire three days was a blessing.
We spent a lot of time on long walks, in local pubs and at a Sussex winery, where we were able to have a tour and take advantage of a tasting. And, honestly, we spent a lot of time shagging. I don’t know how much of my libido was being stolen by screen time but it was certainly returned to me during the trip.
As the days drew to a close and it was time to pack up and leave our cabin, we both realised we had been completely burned out by work (and digital devices, I guess) without realising. We hadn’t anticipated the relief and release we would feel just by escaping to a secluded cabin and pretending the outside world doesn’t exist for a few days. It’s hard to know just how much work, managing a household, planning a wedding in our case, and general life can eat a way at you until you take a few steps back from it.
Leaving Sussex and returning to our home in Hampshire, we decided to bring as much as Unplugged with us as we could, since we saw serious improvement on our moods, energy levels, sex drives, and general wellbeing. We make as many of our dates unplugged as we can, and the environmentally friendly cabins encouraged us to be more conscious of the planet in our home lives.
With 84% of millennials stating they get burnout from their jobs, maybe a cabin in the woods with a mobile phone ban is something we should all try from time to time.
James Milford, Head of Behavioural Sciences at Wellbeing Partners, says digital detoxes have huge benefits.
He tells Metro.co.uk that while the popularity of smart phones, tablets and other electronic devices has revolutionised our lives, offering us unprecedented access to information and creating ways of connecting that have become essential to our professional and personal lives, there is a downside.
‘All this engagement with excessive use of digital devices being linked to a variety of mental health issues,’ he says.
‘Much of our engagement with our devices is with social media, and while it is a very useful tool, it is also contributing to mental health issues. The constant feeling of being “on” and available, endless comparison with the carefully cultivated images on social media and FOMO (fear of missing out) has been shown to increase stress, anxiety and depression.’
James says this is because we are constantly making comparisons between our lives and the curated images of success that are exhibited on social media.
He adds: ‘The endless engagement with these platforms serves to only deepen these issues.’
So, a digital detox helps us break the cycle of endless distraction, comparison and negative emotions.
James says trying a digital detox also can help improve the quality of our sleep.
He adds: ‘Digital devices and the blue light emanating from them has been shown to impact our sleep patterns and not getting enough sleep can adversely affect your mental health, with research highlighting links to depression, anxiety and bi-polar disorder among others.’
A lack of sleep can also exacerbate existing mental health issues. Taking a digital detox reduces our exposure to blue light and helps improve our sleeping patterns.
Taking a digital detox is not simply putting down our devices but choosing to consciously do other things with that time. Choosing to spend time in nature (or at a lot of pubs and a vineyard if you’re me and my partner) has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, according to James.
He says: ‘If you combine this with a brisk walk this stimulates serotonin production which is essential for mood regulation. You can also choose to do other self-care practices, engage in hobbies, meditate or make connections with real people, all of which boost our mental wellbeing and create a sense of connection. Both are essential for our mental health.’
More spots for a digital detox in the UK:
- A quirky, dog-friendly Devon treehouse equipped with a luxury kitchen and chess, foosball, and other games – everything you need to ignore your phone with.
- This Tudor Farmhouse in the Forest of Dean where you can relax wifi-less and garden, forage and experience their ‘culinary oasis’ of food and drink.
- Stay in a Shepherd’s Hut in Essex with a Swedish-style outdoor bath and log burner.
- A luxury yurt in West Sussex with a heated shower block, wood fired hot tub and private hammocks for all, along with workshops and cinema nights.
- Or, if you need a hot tub and full blown seclusion, stay at the Secret Treehouse in either Herefordshire, which looks straight out of a children’s book.
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