THE phrase ‘digital detox’ gets bandied about a lot by Aussies prognosticating about how they’re on the cusp of shifting their gears back to neutral and placing a hard break between themselves and digital technology, but looking at the broader trends of mobile and internet usage, I wonder how many people are truly prepared to see such an ambition all the way through?
If you look at the latest data, the average Australian can scroll their way to the summit of Mount Everest in just under a month, or to illustrate it another way a little closer to home, our poor exploited little digits are dragging themselves across the Sydney Harbour Bridge arch close to 18 times every 29 days on our various smart device touch screens. In the coming years, get ready for the biggest mansions to be owned by physical therapists managing our collective RSI issues.
A study conducted by creative agency We Are Social in January also found that 25.31 million Australians (96%) consider themselves regular internet users, with the number of Aussies who are “active” on social media totalling 21.3 million (81%). For all the hard talk we hear about taking a more measured approach to things like social media, the average daily time spent scrolling and posting on social still increased by 6% in Australia in 2023, up by seven minutes a day to two hours and four minutes on average. The most notable rise has been gobbled up by the controversial Chinese-backed TikTok app, which saw a scary 26.5% increase from the previous year to an average usage of close to 30 hours a month per user (good luck banning that app Albo).
While there’s little doubt in my mind that being so continuously wired into the online grid is creating a raft of social sicknesses, from diminished attention spans to rising anxiety levels, a growing digital detox segment in the travel sector is emerging as a key player in the fight against internet addiction. Getting away from the everyday distractions and habits of home is being increasingly viewed by social psychologists as crucial in establishing a barrier between unhealthy digital usage habits.
In this framing, it appears travel might at least be one effective way to escape the vicious cycle, however, as we in the industry know all too well, visits to tourism attractions like the Great Pyramids in Egypt or the Colosseum in Rome are now often accompanied by a throng of wildly swinging selfie sticks brandished by tourists furiously swiping through photo filters looking for the perfect lighting. So, it would seem travel operators need to do more for frazzled clients looking to kick their digital habits than simply book them tickets to great destinations.
I remember organising a trip to Fiji for a friend’s birthday and thinking how lovely it would be to dial things down a bit to ‘island time’ and chill out for the week, only for the group I was with to spend most of their time glued to their respective devices around resort pools, resort dinner tables and even during resort activities. So much for that detox!
But over the weekend I was lucky to receive a reminder that the elusive detox is still attainable, with Jetstar and Cook Islands Tourism inviting me along to celebrate the first direct flight by an Aussie carrier to the Pacific Island nation in 30 years. The first thing one notices after landing in the largest of the 15 islands, Rarotonga, is that it’s definitely not a “resort culture” destination, that is to say accommodation is dotted throughout the outer rim of the entire island so there’s no temptation to remain anchored to any specific tourism precinct. There are also very few international brands in operation here, opening up a more boutique experience for restaurant bookings and resort stays.
But the other striking feature of this largely untapped tropical destination is its distinct lack of internet coverage. Resorts do offer wi-fi, but the sluggish reception speed is just shy of snail mail, leaving guests in the unusual scenario of having to get out and about and enjoy their physical surroundings without the aid of an instant feed to friends, family or, gulp, their loyal followers. While there are workarounds to the internet coverage issues like buying expensive pre-paid sim cards, it strikes me that this suddenly more accessible tropical delight is best enjoyed without the constant stream of alerts. The Cook Islands is indeed the perfect place to take that next digital detox holiday, boasting endless golden beaches, warm turquoise waters, and a seemingly endless supply of wellness spas and restaurants.
Activities on offer include swimming with turtles, snorkelling, bush trekking, fishing, are we picking up on a trend here yet? There is also a healthy selection of cool pubs and bars to check out, but again you will notice that many (at least the ones I stepped inside) do not have TVs blaring sport or western music, or even TVs at all for that matter, instead the ambience was created by a local band strumming ukuleles and the screens were replaced by panoramic views of the beach.
But if you do want your detox from technology to have a more high-octane flavour, then I recommend getting behind the wheel of a souped-up buggy (as I did) and thrash your way around a mud circuit with Raro Buggy Tours. It’s a rare blend of unspoilt nature and intense petrol-head giddiness. Jet skiing, kite surfing, and a host of other more up-tempo recreational activities are also on offer, so rest assured there really is a Cook Islands holiday for everyone.
However it would be remiss of me not to talk up my personal highlight of the trip, only a short flight away in nearby Aitutaki. To say this place is idyllic is the understatement of all understatements. It’s a postcard come-to-life. Sailing in the lagoon on a catamaran, I had the opportunity to step off onto several sand islands, including the famous One Foot Island, renowned for having one of the best beaches in the world.
Before I transcend from the tone of review to straight-up gushing, let me just sum up by imploring the travel trade to encourage more digital detox trips for Aussies, and to consider this Pacific paradise, whose old-world charms are an amazing cure to many of modernity’s technological ills. Kia Orana (may you live long)!
*Jetstar now flies direct from Sydney to the Cook Islands three times a week, with many discounted promotions being rolled out intermittently.