I Tried a 72-Hour 'Tech Detox'. Here's Why I'd Recommend It – Men's Health UK

Three nights in an off-grid woodland cabin changed the way I think about my phone
The concept of the ‘digital detox’ has existed for about as long as smartphones have been ubiquitous. But, as with most kinds of detox plans, they’re much talked about, seldom completed. Going tech-free for the weekend seems like a nice idea – but it’s tough to execute in your living room, with fingers twitching at the TV remote and Alexa hanging on your every word.
The team at

Unplugged – an off-grid experience ‘created to help the always-on, switch off’ – has ambitions to make the practice more enticing. Founded by two tech workers, who switched gears after realising they were clocking upwards of 14 hours of screentime a day, Unplugged operates a series of cabins in rural locations close to UK cities. Cabins are solar-powered and eco-friendly, blending rustic looks with steamy rainfall-style showers and luxury bedding.
Eager to escape it all, but too soft for wild-camping, I booked three nights in Unplugged’s picturesque ‘Loki’ cabin, on the outskirts of a farm next to the New Forest National Park. All Unplugged stays are 72-hours long, hooked on a 2012 study, which noted cognitive benefits from three days spent in nature, offline.
On arrival, guests are advised to leave their phones in a lockbox, with the key in a sealed envelope. It occurred to me, as I switched off, that this might be the first time I’d gone fully phone-free for longer than a day since my teens (bar that one time I dropped my iPhone in a toilet on a night out).
Unplugged’s guests are provided an old-school Nokia – yes, Snake included – a paper map and compass, and an instant camera. The latter proved instantly attractive. Ironically, the cabins – with their millennial-pink pillows and panoramic windows – are very Instagram-friendly. Swerving the urge to document the sunset is likely to be your first challenge. That, along with avoiding the compulsion to check your Nokia in case one of the three people who have your emergency number have texted.
Happily, there’s no shortage of distractions. If you’re tempted to book a stay in Loki yourself, here are some of my recommendations:
I’d start by leaving the car parked, and trekking the local surroundings, starting with the fields and woodland around the back of your cabin. Don’t fancy a self-guided tour? Call up Wild New Forest, which offers seasonal walks, as well as boat tours of Beaulieu River. Or rent a bike from Forest Leisure Cycling and get your bearings on two wheels.
If the weather’s good, you might want to go for a dip in one of the area’s many wild-swimming spots. Try the Lymington River or the River Test, near the old market town of Romsey (which is also well worth an amble).
For dinner, I’d recommend The Rockingham Arms, a cosy country pub roughly an hour’s walk from your cabin. Or take a drive out to Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary, which has a viewing platform overlooking the meadow. Nearby hotels Lime Wood and The Pig have more-than-decent menus if you fancy fine-dining over dutch-oven dinners.
It is, however, worth making use of the Loki cabin’s kitchen at least once. (Swing by Glebe Farm Shop on your way home.) The cabin is kitted out with a two-ring gas hob, chef knives, chopping boards, peelers and pans – enough to let you boil a kettle while whipping up a one-pan breakfast shakshuka.
There might not be any YouTube, but there’s enough kicking about the cabin to stimulate all but the most dopamine-addicted of brains. That includes a portable cassette player and stash of tapes, games such as Scrabble and Jenga, and a selection of books – appropriately, Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism and Celeste Headlee’s Do Nothing.
Keen to ditch your own phone for the weekend? Whether you book in an off-grid experience or tough it out at home, here are the key things I took away from my three-day detox:
Before my tech detox, I hadn’t realised just how much time I spent taking photos – of my dog, my surroundings, my breakfast or (most embarrassingly) of myself. My stay in the New Forest was prime territory for Instagram content – coffee in tin camping mugs, backdropped by gorgeous sunrises; my dog’s first encounter with a farmyard goat. I noticed my hand reflexively reach towards my pocket multiple times a day. Without my phone, I was forced to enjoy the moment – drink the coffee, pet the goat – rather than attempting to document it.
The absence of bleeping notifications and flickering lights certainly brought on sleep quicker. Plus, the sooner you power down, the more likely you are to wake for that panoramic New Forest sunrise…
A break from email, WhatsApp and the 24-hour news cycle is a helpful reminder that the world keeps turning when you’re offline. I expected to return to 83 unread texts, six office emergencies and at least one major political scandal and/or Twitter furore. Instead, barely anyone noticed I’d gone (possibly because I’d already informed anyone within earshot about my ‘digital detox’…) and the only news I’d missed were some updated RMT strike dates.
It’s normal to reach for your phone in response to negative emotions – anxiety, boredom, frustration. Social media platforms are sometimes referred to as ‘painkiller apps’ for exactly that reason. They offer an endless stream of stimulation, while demanding very little from us, cognitively. But, during my tech-free weekend, I realised it wasn’t just Instagram or even Netflix that I missed. I was surprised by my perpetual urge to Google things, to make notes, to set alarms, to check the weather, to check my step count… I suspect a big part of our tech-dependance is our intolerance of uncertainty.
In the short time I was away, I read a book and a bit, and walked roughly 20km a day. On the average weekend at home, I consider it an achievement if I manage to go to the gym and wash my hair on the same day. It makes me grimace to think how many evenings are squandered re-watching episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia while half-reading Succession fan theories on my laptop and mindlessly scrolling videos of dogs befriending ducks on my phone.
Finally, a confession: I didn’t quite manage to leave my phone in the box for the full 72 hours. Smartphones – though weapons of distraction when it comes to compulsive tweeting and doomscrolling – are very useful for navigating. Particularly when trekking unmarked footpaths connecting woodland and farmland in search of somewhere to eat. They’re also very useful for Googling things like ‘dog-friendly café new forest open sundays’. If your map skills aren’t top-notch, a handheld hiking GPS would be a good investment. And a deep-dive on eating and drinking spots ahead of time would be wise, too. I suppose my phone does have some uses after all.
Three-night stays in the Loki cabin are £390 on weekdays, £450 on weekends; unplugged.rest
Scarlett Wrench is the Senior Editor at Men’s Health UK.
With more than 12 years’ experience as a health and lifestyle editor, Scarlett has a keen interest in new science, emerging trends, mental well-being, and food and nutrition. For Men’s Health, she has carried out extensive research into areas such as wellness in the workplace, male body image, the paradoxes of modern masculinity, and mental health among school-age boys.
Her words have also appeared in Women’s Health, Runner’s World and The Sunday Times.

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