After an abundance of Zoom happy hours, online classes, and working remotely during the pandemic, I have a solid love-hate relationship with my technology. And I’m not alone⁠. 

Reports say internet use has increased up to 70 percent in this time as people struggle to stay connected while remaining distanced. The increased screen time has led to a range of negative mental and physical health issues, including sleep problems, anxiety, lack of exercise and more. 

So when I got the opportunity to head to Asheville, North Carolina for my first-ever digital detox, I hoped it would be my chance to break free from the dopamine rush of likes and comments and recalibrate my relationship with technology. 

To start my digital detox, I went to The Foundry Hotel in Asheville, which is taking the lead in the digital detox movement by offering a customizable “Digital Detox Adventure Package.” They’ve formed a partnership with The Arrivals, an outerwear design studio focused on creating mindful products and Asheville Wellness Tours, a company specializing in off-the-grid excursions, yoga sessions, forest-bathing, and other mind-body experiences.

For the next few days this historic steel-factory-turned-boutique hotel would be my respite. Here’s what it was like to do a digital detox. 

Wildcat Trail Overlook Asheville North Carolina © Amanda McCadams/Lonely Planet

Asheville: a legacy wellness destination

Asheville’s wellness community dates back almost 200 years. According to doctors of the late 19th and early 20th century the Asheville plateau was considered, “the great sanitorium of our eastern country," according to Explore Asheville

The best mountain lakes and beaches in Asheville

The cool mountain air and thousands of square miles of forest that beckoned ailing travelers a century ago is part of what still draws the health-conscious traveler today. Today’s modern wellness travelers gravitate here to try everything from soaking in natural hot springs or relaxing with salt-cave therapy, to joining a sunset yoga class. Not to mention their delicious food scene made up of locally-owned restaurants and cafes, many with healthy farm-to-table fare.

How to prepare for a digital detox 

Anxious about going off the grid⁠—even for just a few days⁠—I tried to manage everything that might come up ahead of time. I gave my partner my itinerary, set my out-of-office reply, and reminded my parents that there was no need to worry if they sent a text and didn't hear back. I downloaded maps I could use offline and made screenshots of confirmation emails and reservation information. I packed a book I’ve been trying to finish for weeks (the paper kind - not digital), my 35mm film camera and a small memo book. What was notably missing from my bag was all the cords, chargers and adapters I usually travel with, not to mention the anxiety that goes along with hoping I remembered them all. 

How to do a digital detox

A digital detox has no prescribed rules. It can be a no-phones-at-the-dinner-table rule or stashing away your technology for weeks. The personal parameters I chose were to forgo a connection to the internet and wireless network. I wanted to eliminate notifications, texts, emails, social media updates and phone calls. I carried my phone with me, but only used it for the camera, navigation with the pre-downloaded map, and the screenshots.

Day 1: Reconnection with nature without interruptions 

On the first official morning of the detox I went hiking with Asheville Wellness Tours. Kim, my guide, and I set out on a semi-strenuous, 4-mile hike up to the gorgeous overlook at Wildcat Rock.  

Starting on the trail © Amanda McCadams/Lonely Planet

Listening to the fall leaves crunch under my boots, breathing in the crisp air, pausing to enjoy how a mountain stream flowing over mossy rock looks, there was a near-immediate change in how I felt. At first I had to remind myself to stop anticipating a digital interruption, stop waiting for a buzz or a ding, stop the impulse to reach for my phone. Then the “semi-strenuous” part of the hike took over and I was in the moment; focused now on some  wet leaves that obscured the stones I was ascending, focused on spotting hidden roots before I tripped into their big reveal. I remembered how much I love the way a forest smells. I felt tension leave my body.

The rest of my afternoon was spent casually strolling around downtown Asheville. I perused an antique mall and reminisced over objects similar to ones I remember in my grandmother’s house. I had a late lunch of specialty tacos at White Duck Tacos then shopped in Malaprops, the local independent bookstore.  Here I found a cookbook of local cuisine and spent time reading through the recipes of dishes I might enjoy.  Usually during an outing like this my phone is a prime distraction, vibrating in my bag and begging for attention. On several occasions I did catch myself, mid-reach, mindlessly going for it. Turns out, that is a really tough habit to break. 

After sunset, I spent time reading in my room finally picking up the book I had been meaning to read for weeks. Later that evening I attended a private yoga session with Asheville Iridescence Yoga. The studio specializes in color therapy yoga and Jazmin, the owner, led me through a dynamic flow class bathed in blue light. As I went to bed, my muscles thanked me for the extra stretching. I was already feeling more relaxed without constantly checking my screens. 

Blue Yoga © Amanda McCadams/Lonely Planet

Day 2: Nordic experiences in North Carolina 

After a leisurely start to my day,  I made my way to Sauna House to seek an immersive disconnection from my devices. The Sauna House is a Nordic-style bathhouse that coincidentally doesn’t allow cell phones. A total newbie to Nordic sauna protocol, I followed the recommended rotation of hot, cold, relax and welcomed whatever mind-body reset might happen. Sweating it out for 15 minutes in the wood sauna got my body’s circulation moving . A quick cold plunge jolted every nerve ending in my body. The last step in the rotation was spent relaxing on heated stone furniture in the lounge area and rehydrating with a beverage. Then, I started it all over. Two hours of this passed and not once did I feel anxious or awkward and want to grab my phone for distraction comfort. I sat quiet, studying the different rooms I moved through, noticed the plants’ details and watched their shadows inch across the wall. I made a mental note to check for similar saunas when I got back home.  

After an intense sauna experience I was grateful for the downtime to relax, read and take in the sunset. Dinner was an easy stroll from the room to the hotel’s on-site restaurant, Benne on Eagle, where the Southern-meets-Appalachian food is fresh and flavorful. I ate the Moqueca (octopus and North Carolina shrimp in coconut). 

Benne On Eagle Asheville North Carolina © Amanda McCadams/Lonely Planet

Day 3: Back on the grid with a fresh perspective 

I woke up knowing my detox was about to come to an end, capping it off by reluctantly checking my phone. After I let everyone know I was “back on the grid,” I used the 5 hour drive back home to think how my experience can be carried on even though the official digital detox time is over. 

I’m doing much better about looking at my phone first thing in the morning; I reclaimed that time and now I spend it writing and drinking coffee. I also reduced the haptics on my watch to only be the ones I deemed absolutely necessary. 

Surprising to no one who has talked to me about this trip, I’m already planning my next digital detox. 

Amanda McCadams recently checked out Asheville by invitation of The Foundry HotelThe Arrivals and Asheville Wellness Tours.

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