Wall Street Journal: When booking a weeklong yoga retreat, Amanda Levy signed up for a special package. Called "digital detox," it promised a 15% discount if Ms. Levy, a sales executive at a San Francisco social-networking company, would agree to leave her digital devices behind, or surrender them at check-in.
"I am constantly on my iPhone and checking my email," says the 29-year-old, who admits she sometimes "feels naked" without her smartphone. "But it was nice to be able to shut it off. It gave me an excuse to feel OK about not checking in."
With hotels, resorts, and travel companies scrambling to fill rooms, a small but growing number are rolling out "unplugged" and "digital detox" packages to entice people who need a push to take a break from their screens. Marketing the deals on Twitter, Facebook, and their own websites, many hotels are offering discounts. Others are focusing on amenities designed to reduce stress, including spa treatments, kayak lessons, and guided hikes.
Starting this month, guests at the Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel can book "Zen and the Art of Detox" on some summer weekends. The Hotel Monaco Chicago offers anyone who reserves its "tranquility suite" the option to add a "Technology Break." Others with similar packages include the Quincy in Washington, D.C., the Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa in Teton Village, Wyo., the Lake Placid Lodge in Lake Placid, N.Y., and Via Yoga, a Seattle company that specializes in luxury yoga and surfing retreats in Mexico and Costa Rica, including the one Ms. Levy took in April.
The services take similar approaches. Typically, they ask travelers to surrender their electronic devices upon check-in. In return, concierges provide them with old-fashioned diversions, from board games to literary classics. (Most, but not all, also yank TV sets and telephones from "detox" rooms.)
The programs are tied to Americans' seeming inability to detach their eyes and ears from their cellphones, e-readers, tablets and laptops—even when on vacation. According to a recent survey of more than 2,000 people by American Express, 79% of travelers expect to remain connected all or some of the time on their next vacation. For many, the goal is to stay in touch with friends and family. Still, among those planning to check email, 68% say they will do so—daily or more frequently—for work, up from 58% in 2010.
At least some are taking extreme measures to remain connected. More than one-third of people admitted to checking email on vacation while engaged in such fast-paced activities as skiing, biking and horseback riding, according to a May 2010 survey of 241 people by Osterman Research Inc. on behalf of Austin, Texas, software company Neverfail Inc. A similar percentage report hiding from friends and family to check email. Neverfail provides technical disaster-recovery services and says it uses the survey in marketing its services.
"Technology has freed us up in many ways," says Edward Hallowell, a psychiatrist based in Sudbury, Mass., and New York City and author of "CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap—Strategies for Coping in a World Gone ADD." "But there are unintended consequences." In some cases, he says, users "become addicted without knowing it. It's the new cigarette."
John T. Peters, 46, decided to go "cold turkey" during his six-day stay in May at the Cove Atlantis, a resort in the Bahamas. His inspiration: his 4-year-old daughter, who, seeing him without his iPhone, asked where it was. "It really struck a nerve," says the Munster, Ind., resident. "I realized maybe I was too connected if a 4-year-old associates a phone with Daddy."
Mr. Peters, former chief executive of Tripology, a website that connects consumers with travel agents, promptly stowed his iPhone, BlackBerry, iPad, Kindle, and laptop in a hotel safe. "Had it not been for my children, I would have fallen off the wagon in a very short amount of time," he says.
People used to constant connectivity say going cold turkey can be rough, especially the first couple of days. After working up to four hours a day on most vacations, John S. DeLanoy, 42, a lawyer at Seattle law firm Cairncross & Hempelmann, decided to leave his iPhone at home when he and his wife, Elizabeth Chambers, 40, booked a May retreat with Via Yoga. But at the airport, the Bainbridge Island, Wash., resident found himself eyeing his wife's iPhone. "I needed that iPhone to disappear. It was too tempting." Ms. Chambers, also a lawyer, put the phone away after sending a text message to the couple's nanny.
Dean Fisher, 30, an interior designer and event coordinator in Chicago, recently booked a "Technology Break" at the Hotel Monaco with her boyfriend, Michael Renaud, 33. After a digital-free night in the hotel's Tranquility Suite, Ms. Fisher says she woke up feeling disoriented. Without her iPhone, she says, she "didn't know what time it was." "I started to worry that my clients were trying to get in touch with me. I felt really anxious."
Before going off the grid, some people prepare by notifying clients and enlisting the support of colleagues. After working long hours around Christmas to close a real-estate deal, Mr. DeLanoy and two colleagues made a pact. "We agreed that during the course of this year, each of us could leave his or her iPhone behind and the other two would provide coverage."
Do people cheat?
Mr. Peters says he would "glance at my business device at night, just to see if there were any major emergencies." After hesitating, he adds: "I think there were a couple of days when I checked it in the morning, maybe once or twice. But I didn't respond."
Upon re-entry, life can quickly return to normal. "It was sort of disappointing," says Mr. DeLanoy, who estimates he checks his email 50 to 100 times a day. "You instantly fall back into the same habits."
Mr. Peters, for his part, says he has made a few changes, including keeping his devices on charging stations while at home—rather than in his pockets. Technology, he says, "has really enriched some of my relationships. But there are times when it can turn into a time-waster. I have worked hard to eliminate that."