taking a photo at digital detox retreats

Digital detox retreats don’t work, but here’s why you should hike unplugged

Are digital detox retreats as healthy as they say? When we unplug, we reconnect with our sense of self, people, nature, and the world in front of us.

Escaping digital life isn’t healthy, research says

While it seems like the healthiest of ideas to unplug from electronics for a week or more, the reality is, it’s pretty stressful. Time goes faster than ever these days, and you’ve got obligations and stuff to reply to. Right?

Hi, I’m Cat, I’m the owner of West Coast Fitness Vacations, a wellness retreat in B.C., Canada that specializes in outdoor fitness and weight loss. Our health retreat is modern, results focused and setup for today’s woman whose juggling 97 things at the same time.

In this article: 

  • Why digital detoxes are stupid
  • What the heck is a digital cleanse?
  • The better solution for digital detox retreats
  • Finding the unplugged balance
  • Some apps to help you be healthier with usage

Being without your phone is a luxury these days, which is why, as a luxury fitness retreat, we invite our guests to do just that – but only during program hours. As we disconnect digitally, we reconnect with our self, people, nature, and the world in front of us.


hiking in whistler digital detox retreats

Whistler Fitness Vacations takes guests on this gorgeous hiking trail, Half Note on Whistler Mountain.

Life Hacker agrees – unplugging simply doesn’t work.

In this awesome article they say:

During the food/juice type of detox, the allure is that you’ll feel so great you won’t even miss the junk food; you’ll eat cucumbers for breakfast every day for the rest of your life now that you’ve pushed the reset button. But there’s no equivalent way to return from a digital detox. You can turn off most of your notifications, and get in the habit of putting your phone down more often, but it’s not like you can actually live a phone-free life.

girl on phone while at coffee

QUICK NOTE: 1/ The title of this blog says to hike unplugged, but definitely bring your phone on hikes for safety. Oh, and hike within the cell range, always. There’s nothing glamorous about falling down a hill onto a logging road, only to discover you’ve sprained your ankle really badly (and can’t call anyone to pick you up). 2/ The research that says digital detoxes aren’t healthy is here and here 🙂 

Digital detoxes are as stupid as juice fasts

I firmly believe that going completely offline is nothing less than anxiety inducing.

My program is setup to be a part-time digital detox that supports participants in developing a healthier relationship with their mobile devices. Phones are not the enemy, and just like yo-yo dieting, extreme rules from other wellness retreats to ‘unplug to reconnect’ is, in my opinion, promoting extreme behavior.

READ: Digital detoxing is the tech equivalent of a juice cleanse—and neither of them work

I’m proud to promote balance. Balance and harmony without the extremes… that’s how I roll. Just like I won’t tell a weight loss retreat client to ‘never eat chocolate’ I wouldn’t enforce a ‘never have your phone’ policy in Whistler. It just doesn’t make sense, and frankly, I don’t know what the digital detox retreats all over the internet are thinking.

Promoting all or nothing behavior is setting up for an unsustainable relationship with technology. And this is likely to trickle over into all-or-nothing diet or exercise mentality. I’m not buying the benefits of digital detox retreats, bottom line.


How our fitness vacations unplug in Whistler

Many of our customers choose a weight loss retreat with us partly because of the digital detox component during scheduled program hours. It’s nice to go on a hike where the other participants aren’t ‘on the scroll’ while walking over rocks, or chatting on their phone. Sometimes you can feel like you’re between everyones conversation with other people on group travel, and it’s hard to find the right moment to jump in and get to know them.

Besides the anti-social factor, it’s also a safety precaution that we request customers not to use ear buds for any reason – even for music. This is because the guides might need to shout out to them at anytime, whether it be wildlife, fallen rocks, or a crew of fast bikers coming in less than 2 seconds.

How it works is from the morning start (9am) until lunchtime (11.30am) your phones are on flight mode, unless you’ve got an emergency that you’re monitoring. I mean let’s face it, if you’re waiting for news from your fathers oncologist, you’re not going to enjoy the hike being blocked from the news.

At lunch you can – of course – session on your phone, and then from 12-2pm it’s digital detox time again. Then from 2pm onwards, it’s all yours to do as you please. You are, after all, an adult.

So what about photos?

We’re one of the few weight loss retreats in Canada where the fitness guides leading your day also double up as photographers. I provide staff with iphones for this task. Nearly all the images on this site were taken by our guides. They’re not professional grade, but definitely good enough for you to leave the photos to us.

We airdrop every week, or everyday if you want – it’s nice to have group photos of the best view points from your day. Of course, if there’s a special photo or view that you’d like to take with your own phone, you can – but only occasionally.

There’s also no cameras allowed during program hours because we’re a fitness retreat and the guided cardio adventures are required to keep a training pace. If we stop infrequently throughout the trails for various guests to take photos of choosing, then it turns more into a leisurely tourism tour. Can’t have that!

bolivia digital detox retreats

My phone was on flight mode while traveling through Bolivia. I didn’t pay data, and could connect whenever there was wifi for facetime etc.

I’ve been unplugged on my travels, and it really bugged me.

I’m not addicted to my phone, but I do enjoy being a good daughter, partner, friend and human. If someone wants to get hold of me, its 2020 and they damn well should be able to, no matter where I am in the world. I want to be that person for them. After a while when people drop off the response game, the out-reacher stops outreaching. I don’t want ‘my people’ to wonder if I’ll be there for them.

Unplug from technology and swap virtual tweets for the sound of real birdsong – even for one hike. You’ll find a restored sense of wellness.

With many of us spending the majority of our day scrolling down our smart phones or responding to emails, it is difficult to fully switch off and relax. This over-exposure to technology can leave us feeling disconnected to the present. This can lead to feeling stressed and overwhelmed; affecting sleep, focus and even our relationships with others.

I think that telling someone not to do something is a surefire way to make them want to do the opposite. I’ve always found the straight up digital detox retreats quite limiting, especially if you’re there for a few weeks.

girl hiking with phone; digital detox retreats

Finding your highlight reel

Giving yourself the gift of an outdoor fitness vacation is saying YES to reconnecting with your healthier, happier self. Whistler Fitness Vacations is one of the many personal coaching retreats with outdoor fitness activity that’s also supported with personal development. Our life coach led workshops guide you towards clearing your mind and thinking more holistically.

You’re surrounded by incredible scenery – why not put your phone down and look up? Be in the moment, rather than watching others instagram stories and highlight reel. Embrace your own highlight reel and you’ll return home not only fitter, but also rejuvenated mentally. Experiencing the world at a slower pace, leaving behind the virtual, is nothing short of liberating!


digital detox retreats beautiful lake

What is a digital cleanse?

A digital cleanse helps us detox bad tech habits that infringe on our lives so we can regain more presence. Did you know that Americans spend up to 11 hours a day looking at screens and gadgets like the computer, cell phone, TV and video games? – Ashley Stern

Fit getaways are the perfect time to move your focus towards your fitness, away from your phone. Schedule unplugging – you don’t need to go completely off grid. Just give yourself a few boundaries, start slow such as going to the bathroom without your phone, or a workout. Log-off 60 minutes before bed, buy an old school battery powered alarm clock so you can go tech free in the bedroom.

Minimize social media, finish the conversations you’re having on various threads and don’t post any new ones before you step away. If you post and ghost, there’ll be more pull drawing you back into the phone before you’re ready. It’s refreshing to interact with the world around you in real time, which is basically the draw of digital detox retreats.

digital detox retreats weight training

Not a phone in sight! Whistler Fitness Vacations strength training sessions, with full focus 🙂

Unplug for an afternoon, to experience a slower pace

Get back to nature with a hike through the landscape or explore the coast by kayak on excursions that will surely thrill your senses. Whistler Fitness Vacations is a restorative trip that includes all kinds of outdoor activity; hiking, biking, kayaking and fitness classes.

You’ll become a great cook, and have soulful discussions with the other guests – if you’re open to it. But not if you’re on your cell phone, without letting an email or text pass you by, always having half conversations until the next ping.

Giving yourself permission to switch off and be unavailable for 6-8 hours per day is a challenge for some, but so worth it. It’s such a gift to give yourself, the ability to switch off so that your mind can be calm.

Letting go of your digital addiction will infinitely support healing from adrenal burnout, and poor sleep. When switching off, you’ll get into the pattern of improved emotional balance. You might also reevaluate your relationship with digital phones, ipads and computers.


digital detox retreats guests smiling

Get to know the other guests at Whistler Fitness Vacations – we unplug only during program hours.

Digital detox retreats make you want to binge

Binge on your phone that is. Going without your phone cold turkey is equivalent in human behaviour to going on a nasty juice fast. As soon as you leave the unplugged retreat, you’re overwhelmed with 200+ messages and notifications, with even more pressure to catch up.

Fad dieting and fasts don’t create life long change, and nor does abstinence from your phone. That’s why Whistler Fitness Vacations is so different with the space we create for our guests.

They have the freedom to use their phone before 8am and after 2pm… and at noon. In turn, they gain deepened sense of self without the pressures of digital life.

For those addicted to social media, they’re reminded how likeable they are in person, not just online. Social skills are also boosted, and insight is gained on how to stay grounded with your phone usage.


digital detox retreats cat smiley

As the owner of West Coast Fitness Vacations, I’m reachable pretty much anytime. Click here to get in touch!

Plugging into life

Your phone is toxic to your relationships. You should put it down. Turn it off often. Agreed? So how come you haven’t done it? Yeah. Me neither. – Denise Brodey

At one point, not too long ago, I’d catch every.single.notification. I felt owned by pings, and judged by silence. One by one as they rolled in, jumping to (pretty much obey my phone) like a dog not wanting to miss a cookie opportunity. 

And in my quiet times I noticed that this world of screen everything, human experiences in my day were starting to feel like a luxury. (I think there’s a lot of us who feel that way).

Balance is the goal, not abstinence – digital detox retreats can teach us that, if setup the right way.

digital detox retreats friends connecting

In the end, it’s all about human connection. Digital and physical, they’re both important.


Career goals include real words, human handshakes, your business network saying your name on the phone, a customer call that ends in gratitude.

  • We don’t need to join digital detox retreats to find a healthy relationship with technology.
  • We have powerful influencers like Thrive Global (engaging us through the screen ironically) to have less screen time. They promote a life less digital in a fresh and cool way.
  • Research is conclusive that phone addition is really a thing. People are taking note of that. Here are 7 scary things you didn’t know about cell phone addiction.
  • It’s becoming socially unacceptable to be on your phone when face-to-face with someone who is talking with you. Need help? There’s an app for that.
  • Everyone knows not to sleep with your phone, or have that dreaded neon light in bed. Here’s what the studies say.

Today’s a great day to go for a hike in the forest, with your phone turned off until you need it. If you feel like you’re on your phone too much, activate screen time. That’s a tracker that lets you know how much time you spend each day. Strive to find balanced, healthy ways to manage your technology, similar to what you do with your diet and exercise.

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