Bangkok Post - - LIFE / TECH - BETH J. HARPAZ

Would you take a trip if you couldn’t use your cell­phone? A new tour com­pany called Off the Grid is ask­ing trav­ellers to put their cell­phones away and not even use them for pho­tos.

“When you’re some­where new, there’s a lot to soak up, a lot to see, a lot of cool, in­ter­est­ing peo­ple to meet. Your phone can dis­tract you,” said Off the Grid founder Zach Beat­tie.

Off the Grid trips, he says, are de­signed to be “fully unplugged and very so­cial”.

The first trip is to Lis­bon, Por­tu­gal, in July, with oth­ers planned to Prague; the Croa­t­ian coast; Barcelona, Spain; Lima, Peru; and Tu­lum, Mex­ico. “Peo­ple have signed up for ev­ery trip we’ve launched so far,” Beat­tie said.

Tours are seven to 10 days, with small groups of up to 16 peo­ple. Prices range from US$1,500 (468,200 baht) to $1,650 (51,500), in­clud­ing ac­com­mo­da­tions in hos­tels, some meals and ground trans­porta­tion (but not air­fare). Itin­er­ar­ies in­clude at least three ex­cur­sions and two so­cial events, with an em­pha­sis on unique ex­pe­ri­ences over bucket-list sight­see­ing. The Lis­bon tour in­cludes surf­ing lessons, yoga on the beach, a day of sail­ing and din­ner with a fam­ily to learn about lo­cal cui­sine and wines.

“We are un­der-schedul­ing,” Beat­tie said. “The en­tire fo­cus of the trip is mind­ful travel and not cram­ming ev­ery sin­gle site into your trip.”

The phone ban won’t be en­forced quite as strictly as it seems at first glance. “We want it to be vol­un­teer,” he said. “We’re not col­lect­ing phones and throw­ing them in a locked trunk. It’s held by you, but put in a pouch, and you state your in­ten­tions for the week,” whether that’s check­ing your so­cial me­dia once or twice a day or en­gag­ing in a to­tal black­out. Tour-go­ers also get a “dumb phone”, with­out in­ter­net ac­cess, loaded with num­bers for group lead­ers and other par­tic­i­pants, both for emer­gen­cies and to pro­mote so­cial­is­ing.

Seventy-five per­cent of US trav­ellers va­ca­tion­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally use smart­phones to ac­cess the in­ter­net, ac­cord­ing to MMGY Global’s Por­trait of Amer­i­can Trav­el­ers 2018-19.

Par­tic­i­pants may bring reg­u­lar cam­eras, but Beat­tie is hir­ing a pho­tog­ra­pher for each tour, so there will be plenty of im­ages to re­mem­ber the trip by. Once the trip is over, par­tic­i­pants will have ac­cess to those im­ages for use in so­cial me­dia posts.

“I think it’s in­ter­est­ing and chal­leng­ing to say, ‘Can I en­joy this mo­ment with­out a cam­era? Can I soak up this mem­ory and have it be part of me with­out in­stantly shar­ing with some­one else in or­der for the mo­ment to be real?’,” he said.

Those sign­ing up range from kids grad­u­at­ing high school to folks in their 60s, but most par­tic­i­pants are pro­fes­sion­als aged 24-35, “peo­ple who’ve worked for a cou­ple of years who re­ally need a real va­ca­tion”, said Beat­tie, who’s “boot­strap­ping” the busi­ness us­ing money he saved from a tech job at a map­ping com­pany. He’s hired guides for ev­ery trip but will help lead the first few him­self.

Kensey Neely, 30, a speech pathol­o­gist from St Joseph, Mis­souri, signed up for the Lis­bon trip. “I’m so ex­cited to go,” she said. “I had been try­ing to find a way to step out of my com­fort zone.”

Giv­ing up her phone will be hard, she says, but “I’m hop­ing once I do it dur­ing the trip, I won’t be as tied to it when I get back”. She is tak­ing a dig­i­tal cam­era, but hopes to use it spar­ingly: “I want to en­joy the ex­pe­ri­ence and not take pic­tures of ev­ery lit­tle thing.”

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