A few weeks ago, I was trekking deep in the mountains of Nagano Prefecture in Japan. Surrounded by chlorophyll-saturated forests that have been practically untouched for millennia and the odd ancient shrine dotted here and there, I was in the middle of nowhere, tracing the steps of monks on the pilgrimage route.
At the end of the 10km trek, after climbing 250 stone steps, my phone dinged in my pocket. I had service. I thought to myself, how on earth do I have service here? But as we all know, you will not find many places without service.
Imagine if there was somewhere you could go and not be interrupted by an Instagram notification or a call from your mum. Would it be bliss or torture? Well, you can find out.
An island in Finland has just become the Earth’s first phone-free tourist zone. Considering Finland is the happiest country on the planet, we should listen carefully.
The island of Ulko-Tammio, sitting prettily off the coast of Hamina, is asking visitors to switch off their smart devices.
“We encourage visitors to voluntarily put their phones away and focus their senses on nature rather than their phones. This is a great initiative that could be implemented in other nature and recreational destinations, too”, Joel Heino, the manager of outdoor recreation and visitor management at Parks & Wildlife Finland, said in a statement shared with The Latch.
The idea of a digital detox is not exactly new. The trend blew up in 2019, with people logging off on holidays, but the pull of social media is complicated. Society’s addiction to technology has been studied, criticised, and commented on countless times. We know that addiction spikes when we’re travelling, thanks to the growing pressure to share our holiday moments rather than taking the time to enjoy them.
“People are not meant to be glued to screens all the time. Even a short digital fast can be useful and improve our well-being and help relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression”, said Terhi Mustonen, a psychologist and program manager at the Sosped Foundation.
But thankfully, we’re seeing a shift in the digital landscape, moving towards soulful sojourns rather than overcrowded tourist hotspots and less screentime.
A study conducted by the popular global touring company Contiki shows rather than succumbing to the pursuit of picture-perfect moments tailored for social media consumption; young Australians are embracing the ineffable charm of genuine and unexpected encounters during their sojourns. Their collective desire for authenticity, serendipity, and meaningful human connections propels them towards uncharted destinations and exhilarating activities that challenge their comfort zones.
Ulko-Tammio fits the bill for uncharted destinations. It is just one of 100 islands in the Eastern Gulf of Finland National Park, known for its rare birds, plants, and lush natural landscape. Formerly a wartime frontier post, the island now has nature trails for tourists, a bird tower, and rugged shores to explore. Visitors can camp overnight in tents or cabins or make a day trip by catching a ferry or water taxi from Kotka.
We will admit there is actually cell service on the island, but visitors are encouraged to switch off the entire time, except when there’s an emergency. But that’s just common sense.
“Switching off your phone, exploring nature, and meeting people face to face are bound to boost your mood and well-being. We spend countless hours scrolling our social media feeds, so taking a short break from them means you have more time for new experiences, Sari Castrén, psychologist and research manager at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, said in a statement.
Although, for now, the digital fasting encouragement remains on the island, the Visit Kotka-Hamina team is hopeful this mentality will catch on to the entire region and beyond.
“The eastern side of the Gulf of Finland is home to a unique group of islands you won’t find elsewhere. According to our research, interest in the islands of the Eastern Gulf of Finland is on the rise among Finnish tourists looking for a nearcation destination”, Mats Selin, an expert in island tourism at Visit Kotka-Hamina, said in a statement.
Would you switch off on your next holiday?