It's getting harder to escape the blinking light of one's BlackBerry while on vacation. The handheld device is now supported in 135 countries and available from over 350 carriers and channels.
Travelers might also be surprised to hear cell phones ring in the Yosemite Valley, Galapagos Islands and even on Mount Everest. Not only are these remote destinations now rigged for basic cell phone service, wireless Internet is available at local hotels and resorts.
That's not so good for those seeking a reprieve from the daily grind.
Just 10 years ago, finding an area untouched by widespread digital technology was easy. But growing demand for cell phone coverage and wireless Internet access in even the most far-flung locales has changed that. Now those seeking a vacation from work and technology are left with two choices: travel far out of range or practice self-restraint.
Leaving the wired world
Dropping out of the world's many cell phone networks requires finding a very remote vacation spot. Eighty percent of the world's population currently has cellular coverage of some type. By 2010, that number will jump to 90 percent, according to Wireless Intelligence, a data research service provided by the GSM Association, a trade organization of mobile operators.
As Internet, cellular and data coverage has expanded, the expectations of business executives to stay connected while on vacation have kept apace.
"If you take on a CEO job," says Adam Weissenberg, Deloitte's vice chairman and U.S. tourism, hospitality and leisure leader, "there's an expectation that you'll be available."
Deloitte's research has shown that demand for amenities like wireless Internet, particularly among business travelers, has prompted some previously unwired hotels and resorts to install it for a competitive advantage.
A Deloitte survey of 2,000 business travelers conducted last year also showed that one-third of respondents checked and replied to work e-mails and voice mails while on vacation.
Lisa Lindblad, who runs Manhattan-based Lisa Lindblad Travel Design, says that she never fields requests for so-called unplugged vacations. Instead, her clients want guaranteed access to the outside world.
How to unplug
Those that don't should head to the Gobi Desert and Alaskan wilderness, two destinations where coverage is still minimal. While cell phone companies service parts of Mongolia, the country is mostly without a signal, including at the Three Camel Lodge in the Gurvansaikhan National Park. The lodge serves as a base camp from which to explore the foothills of the Gobi-Altai Mountains and nearby sand dunes. Guests, who are also without wireless Internet, stay in traditional, furnished felt tents used by nomadic herders.
The Ultima Thule Lodge is located in the Alaskan Wrangell Mountains, which is also out of cell phone range. Guests, who stay in rustic cabins, spend their time discovering glaciers, admiring the Northern Lights and viewing the wilderness by small plane. Travelers can also try Morocco where guests of the spa hotel Ksar Massa relax uninterrupted by technology on an isolated beach in the Souss-Massa national park.
At the Smith Fork Ranch on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains, guests have wireless Internet, but no cell phone service. Andy Adams, the ranch's general manager, says that executives are often so distracted by fishing, hiking and enjoying three-hour dinners, that there's "no time for them to sit there and start typing e-mails."
Visitors may attend to small details, like asking the staff to fax an important paper, but most, says Adams, try to avoid spending their week-long vacation—which can cost up to $21,000 when renting a riverside cabin—on work.
Destinations like these, which offer either Internet or cell phone service, can actually aid executives in setting boundaries on vacation while remaining reachable. But they are increasingly harder to find, particularly as demand for cell phone and Internet service grows in places like China, India and Africa. Even once-isolated areas like Antarctica and the Australian outback now have cell phone or high-speed data service.
Weissenberg says the key to unplugging is moderation and delegation. He recommends leaving a list of 10 people who can handle different tasks, hiring a savvy assistant who knows what merits interrupting your vacation and setting a limit on the number of times you check e-mail each day.
"If you let technology run your vacation," he says, "you can easily run into that trap of being online the whole time."