After watching your gazillionth TikTok of the day or mindlessly scrolling your Instagram feed for way too long before bed, it’s easy to feel like screens have completely taken over our lives — and, in some respects, they have (particularly among children during the pandemic). But even in an era of addictive Reels, endless Zoom calls and virtual everything, it’s still possible to travel somewhere as a family without letting screens get in the way of quality time.
How to do it? Set yourself up for success by intentionally visiting low-tech destinations where nature and togetherness are the top priorities. With activities to keep everyone busy from sunup to sundown, limited access to TVs and WiFi, gorgeous scenery and educational opportunities, here’s where to travel if your crew could use a technology reset.
Giddyup At A Dude Ranch
With fly-fishing, horseback riding, rock climbing, mountain biking, ATVing, yoga, archery, cooking classes and so many other activities to choose from at the Lodge and Spa at Brush Creek Ranch, kids and adults alike vacationing here won’t miss their phones or tablets one bit. And, because there aren’t TVs or even Wi-Fi in the ranch’s rustic-yet-dreamy family-friendly cabins, there’s no temptation to engage with other screens, either.
The 30,000-acre working cattle ranch, set on a ruggedly beautiful expanse of sagebrush prairie in southern Wyoming, is the perfect antidote to too much technology, thanks to the abundant outdoor activities, kid-friendly wide open spaces just waiting to be explored and friendly guides. Multigenerational families can adventure together during the day or do their own thing, then meet back up for dinner at the Cheyenne Club restaurant.
And they can soak up any spare moments by playing bocce, cornhole and other hands-on yard games on the ranch’s sprawling lawn. There’s also plenty of wildlife to ogle through binoculars, from graceful birds to mischievous marmots to handsome horses out grazing in the field.
Families with little ones will also appreciate the ranch’s Lil Wranglers program, which is led by professional counselors and guides. While Mom and Dad do a tasting at the distillery or tour the ranch’s 20,000-square-feet of greenhouse space, kids can spend the day panning for gold, going on hayrides, making crafts, riding horses, fishing or participating in numerous other fun activities.
Wonder At Wildlife And Science
Your kids won’t realize that they’re learning something new — on vacation no less — as they marvel at the wildlife, history and culture of Norway on Hurtigruten’s new Svalbard Express ocean voyage. The coastal landscape of destinations like the Lofoten Islands, Vesterålen and the North Cape is so rugged and unique that everyone in your family will be transfixed and won’t have a moment to spare to look down at their phones.
The journey includes a visit to Svalbard, part of a stunning archipelago that’s less than 820 miles from the North Pole and one of the most northerly permanently-inhabited places on the planet. Keep your eyes wide open and take in the high Arctic tundra landscape, home to walruses, puffins, pink-footed geese, guillemots, Arctic fox and reindeer. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a polar bear hunting for seals or catch a glimpse of a white beluga whale surfacing from the chilly waters.
Science is everywhere you look on Svalbard, where hundreds of researchers convene every summer to study glaciers, climate, wildlife and other important topics. You, too, can learn about some of the research and discovery happening here during a wilderness evening at Camp Barentz, where knowledgeable guides share stories and information about polar bears over a steaming bowl of homemade reindeer bidos (stew).
On a walrus safari to Borebukta bay, you’ll learn how this once-threatened species has made a big comeback. Go fossil-hunting and search for remnants from the Jurassic period, some 150 million years ago. Wander through an ice cave to understand more about the changing climate.
Back onboard your ship, the MS Trollfjord, you can participate in various workshops and lectures about everything from photography to glaciology to botany. And as you cruise from place to place along the Norwegian coast, you’ll be inclined to spend low-tech time together as a family by working on jigsaw puzzles, reading, ogling the northern lights and savoring delicious “farm-and-fjord-to-table” meals made from Norwegian ingredients, to name a few pastimes.
Of course, one of the easiest ways to make sure tech doesn’t sneak into your vacation time is to go somewhere with limited cell signals and no Wi-Fi. Your kids might complain at first, but after a few hours paddling along the Green River in far northwest Colorado and northeast Utah, they won’t miss their devices one bit.
Organized by travel company Oars, the Green River trip can span three, four or five days, depending on your crew’s comfort level and your time constraints. You’ll meet up with your guides in Vernal, Utah, then take a scenic drive to Dinosaur National Monument to start the rafting adventure. Raft through the Gates of Lodore, then prepare to get splashed while going over iconic rapids like Upper and Lower Disaster Falls. You’ll camp on some of the river’s sandy beaches before heading out for adventures on rapids like Harp Falls, Triplet Falls and Hell’s Half Mile.
Guides take care of breakfast, lunch and dinner, and ensure that everyone has a good (and safe) time. Oars also provides waterproof bags for all your gear, tents, life jackets, chairs, utensils and all the other creature comforts you’ll need to comfortably spend a few nights out in the wilderness.
In addition to making the kind of priceless memories you can only rack up while sleeping out under the stars or tackling an exhilarating challenge together, you’ll also learn about Native American cultural sites, fossils and the local flora and fauna on this trip. Oars has tons of other similarly tech-free itineraries around the world, so if whitewater rafting isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other options to choose from.
Retreat Into Nature
You don’t have to sign up for an official retreat to unplug. On the contrary, you can create your own by booking a remote cabin in the woods, like those at Taylor River Lodge. Located in a secluded canyon in Almont, Colorado, near the confluence of the Taylor and East rivers, this off-the-beaten-path hideaway is surrounded by pine trees and aspens, all set against a beautiful, blue-sky backdrop. Without the hustle-and-bustle of city life, your family will be able to bask in the soothing sounds of the babbling Taylor River, the many high-alpine birds that call this region home and the wind blowing through the trees.
The lodge once served as a locals’ general store for fishing supplies, but it’s since been transformed into an outdoor adventure basecamp (with all the amenities of home and then some). On this trip, Netflix and TikTok get replaced with fishing and float trips, horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, archery, hatchet-throwing and other outdoorsy, low-tech activities.After a day of adventuring, cozy up around the campfire to marvel at the stars and munch on s’mores or read a book together in front of the fireplace. Kiddos will love the game cabin, complete with a pool table, foosball table and dartboard, while grown-ups can relish in some alone time in the on-site Bathhouse, with a saltwater pool, steam room, sauna and hot tub.
Meals and drinks are included with your stay, and you’ll have access to personal guides who can show you the ropes for any outdoorsy pursuit you want to try. They can even teach you how to fly-fish, which is the ultimate mindful outdoor activity in the Gunnison Valley. You’ll need zen-like focus as you watch for your fly to dip below the water’s surface, then patience as you carefully pull in one of Colorado’s colorful rainbow trout.
Go Backpacking (With Help)
Backpacking — in which you carry all of your camping gear on your back, hike to a remote destination, then sleep in a tent — can be intimidating, especially for families. But it’s the perfect way to unplug and, if you’ve always wanted to try it, consider getting a little help from some four-legged friends and a guide.
With a Wildland Lllamas’ Bechler Llama Traverse through Yellowstone National Park, you get all the perks of backpacking — digitally detoxing, wandering way off the beaten path, avoiding crowds and enjoying uninterrupted bonding time in nature — while the llamas do all the hard work.
The five-day itinerary hits lots of off-grid Yellowstone highlights, from Lonestar Geyser (the largest backcountry geyser in the park) to the Mr. Bubbles hot springs and Colonnade Falls. Guides will take you through llama orientation and help you load your gear before you hit the trail, covering between 3-11 miles each day. At night, you’ll sleep in a provided tent (or you can bring your own). Your trip leaders will prepare all of your meals from fresh ingredients that travel well, like couscous, pasta, herbs, spices and more.
One traveler who recently made this trip called it “the ‘real’ way to experience Yellowstone.”
“I must admit, I was a bit skeptical of dealing with llamas, but found them to be pretty pleasant creatures to work with and after a quick introduction along with some training on how to handle and care for them, they became trusted servants for the 6 days,” this reviewer wrote. “A great thing about the llamas is … not only did they lighten our loads, but they allowed for a better overall experience as we had typically better meals than you would expect on a backpacking trip,”
The llamas also create some great photo ops, too! In fact, all these trips will surround you with beauty. You can even post them using your devices if you want, once you’re done with your refreshingly tech-free vacation experience!