Craving a digital detox? You’re certainly not the only one…especially after the last year-and-a-half where we have been more tied to our devices than ever. It’s also precisely why remote, off-the-grid vacations are more attractive than ever.
"Anyone can say ‘I’m taking a break for the weekend, and I’m not going to check my phone or work email.’ But how many times do you suddenly find yourself on your phone, tapping or scrolling away? The temptation is constant,” says Allison Fleece, co-founder of WHOA Travel, a female-focused, boutique adventure travel company and Safe Travel Partner.
“When you travel to an off-the-grid, remote location where there’s no internet or cell service, it forces you to take that much-needed break, which is essential to our mental health,” Fleece said.
Some proof: According to a recent survey conducted by VacationRenter, of those who stayed off–the-grid during their remote travels, 81% said they felt noticeably more relaxed and at ease without access to internet or cell service.
How to Go Off-the-Grid with Careful Planning
As much as remote travel and digitally disconnecting can be life-improving, it’s equally imperative to do it right.
“The sad majority of the population is woefully unprepared to deal with an emergency in a place where they are inaccessible,” said Jeff Weinstein, a paramedic and a medical operations supervisor for Global Rescue.
“We live in a world where resources are always at our fingertips,” said Adam Bardwell, a former U.S. Army Green Beret, Special Operations Combat Medic, and current Global Rescue medical operations supervisor. “But in a remote setting, the everyday problem is suddenly amplified. Something that is just a minor incident in everyday life can become catastrophic when you’re unreachable.”
And the intentional lack of internet and cell service adds to the risk.
If you’re one of the many considering retreating to an off-the-grid remote destination — whether one hour away from your home or 10, nationally or internationally, for a few days or a few weeks — here are the most essential safety precautions and preparations Global Rescue experts recommend prior to travel.
Research the Location & Consider Your Limitations
“Anytime I’m considering going to a remote area, the first thing I’m doing is a weather and terrain analysis of the location,” Weinstein said. “Can you bring a vehicle right up to the site? Do you have to hike in and what is that hike like? What is the closest city? Closest hospital? What are the roads like?”
Weinstein will use Google maps to pull up satellite images of the location and Gaia GPS Maps to pull up topographic maps of the area, but, if you’re renting a secluded cabin through AirBnB or another travel booking platform, this is all info you should be able to find in the listing or the host should be able to easily answer.
Then, once you’ve gathered that essential info, you need to ask yourself, are you confident and capable that you could handle a worst-case scenario if you were to get stuck there?
“You might find out that it’s going to be heavy rain season in that location. What happens if your vehicle gets stuck at some point?” Weinstein said. “Do you have a winch and do you know how to use it? If not, are you physically fit enough to hike out of there on your own? You need to think of the ‘what ifs’ posed by the particular location and determine if you can handle them.”
Assess the Amenities & Prepare Appropriately
Let’s say you’re heading to a remote cabin in the woods. What is the water source (a well, nearby body of water, collected rainwater) and where is it? A heat source (wood-burning stove, propane gas, solar heating)? Solar lights, kerosene lamps or nothing at all for the evening? What about cookware?
“Take a robust inventory of what the site has and doesn’t have,” Bardwell said. “Then, start making a list of the essentials you need to bring...and what you won’t.”
For example, you wouldn’t want to show up with packages of bottled water, only to find out there’s a perfectly good hand-operated pump for the well on-site. That bottled water just took up space for something else, like more non-perishable food or additional backcountry equipment.
Consider the Activities You’re Going to Be Doing
If you’re ditching your phone and internet, chances are, you’re also looking to spend some time in nature — hiking, swimming, maybe some fishing. If you don’t know the area well, this can be where you run into trouble, so research the local trails (level of difficulty, type of flora and fauna you could run into) as well as bodies of water, so you know what to expect.
“Googling the general area is good, but you should also try to learn from people who have been there already,” Bardwell said. “This is where forums and social media comes in handy. You can raise questions about spots they frequented and what they wish they had known or done to prepare ahead of time.”
Always Pack a First-Aid Kit
While it is impractical to pack for every single situation you could encounter, it is possible to create a small, packable remote travel first aid kit full of highly useful items that takes up little space.
An easy starting point is to purchase an off-the-shelf product. A commercial first aid kit will contain the items you need to treat minor travel illnesses and injuries. Blisters, minor soft tissue injuries (scrapes and cuts), orthopedic injuries (ankle sprains) and stomach ailments are the more frequently encountered issues. Global Rescue has customized its own list of must-have items over the years for packing an everyday, travel-friendly first aid kit.
Get an Off-the-Grid Communication Device
We understand that one of the reasons you may be going off-the-grid is to get away from the constant urge to connect. But as a leading provider of medical and security advisory and evacuation services for travelers, we know that unexpected incidents can crop up, from simple slips and falls to sudden snakebites.
If something happens and you’re out of cell range to call for help, you will need a satellite alternative communication device. There is a variety of options available — from personal locator beacons (PLB) and standalone satellite phones to messaging devices and gadgets that pair with your smartphone to establish satellite communication. Global Rescue strongly recommends opting for a two-way communications device. A one-way emergency signaling device only sends a distress signal, like a whistle or a flare — nothing more.
“While that’s certainly better than nothing, with two-way communication, you can provide additional information, so rescue can organize the most appropriate resources to get to you,” Weinstein said.
Make a Contingency Plan and Share It
It isn’t enough to make others aware that you’re going remote — to a cabin in the forest, a campground in the mountains, or any other remote destination. You need to provide details and put action steps into place — specifically the kind laid out in a five-point contingency plan — in order to speed up rescue response should you not return or get in touch within the appropriate time frame.
Guided by the acronym GOTWA, it’s a brief you create outlining these details: going where (G), others going with you (O), time span you will be gone (T), what to do if you do not return in that timely manner (W) and final actions to take if you do not return (A).
“I type up all these details, then disperse it to my friends and family,” Weinstein said, who in addition to his medical background is also a wilderness expert. “I’ll even stick an abbreviated version on the windshield of my car if I’m going to be hiking out a distance from a remote trailhead.”
If someone comes by, sees an abandoned car and the date specified in the contingency plan has since passed, then you will have another person potentially alerting search and rescue response on your behalf.
Get a Global Rescue Membership
If you’re ever traveling anywhere remote, whether close to home or far away, a Global Rescue travel protection membership is a must. Not only can we pluck you from whatever precarious situation you find yourself unable to get out of on your own — and do so fast — but because, without us, a medical evacuation for illness or injury could cost you a pretty penny. Under our membership, you never see a bill.
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