17 February 2012 ~ 2 Comments

The future of travel & life services: Off-Grid Zones

You probably didn’t have access to the internet as a small child. You can remember a world before “social media”. But your kids had Facebook profiles from the womb and, before they could speak, they could maneuver your mini-computer (which you call an iPhone, just to make you feel connected to a past when people owned something called a “phone” which only did voice transmission). Their world has always been online: their birth weight was bet upon by your friends on some baby betting platform, they got a cell phone when they were in elementary school to keep them “safe”, and their grandparents talk to them through the computer on video and then later show up at the door (yet eventually they realize that Mickey Mouse wont do the same). They don’t know what the world was like when your “pen pal” was someone from whom you anxiously awaited handwritten letters.

But YOU do. And when they start getting addicted to the inter-web, when Angry Birds is more important than setting the table, when they get made fun of online by a “friend” or get broken up with via text, when they throw a tantrum because their cell service is slow during your family vacation in the South of France or can’t stop checking Facebook to see how much fun their friends are having “there” while apparently loosing the ability to have fun “here”, you’ll wish they could. And so will millions of parents around the world.

I have often reflected that in the future I imagine paying for adventure travel which is truely disconnected – like rafting trips through the Grand Canyon where the operators ban cell phone usage. There is a HUGE untapped market that is about to open: Off-Grid Adventures. The concept is so palpable that I just Go-Daddy’ed the name and it was available and then 5 minutes later when I changed my mind and decided to buy it, GoDaddy had bought it already, obviously agreeing with me about the potential of this market. This market will be huge and the need for it is fast approaching.

Actually, it’s already here it seems. In Korea, there is now a bootcamp for kids who are “web obsessed”. The internet: our latest drug addiction.

I imagine a whole range of new products which could service this market:

- material you can put in your walls which makes cell phones and internet not work thereby creating “internet-free” zones

- internet-free cafes, spas, tourism destinations and maybe even whole “Off-grid towns” where people can get away from the over-communication which dominates the rest of their lives

- Cell phones and computers with settings which automatically turn off during certain hours of the day to force children to have internet-free time (or for adults to force themselves to take a digital diet)

- Coaching and training classes on “How to disconnect in order to reconnect” for corporates, for youth, for retirees, etc

- And surely, Off-Grid-Adventures (which I was able to get from Go Daddy, with dashes, for any of my friends who really does want to take on this space!) There will be space for many companies in this market and I can see a lot of current adventure providers re-branding themselves and rewording their sites to highlight their off-grid potential

I have watched as adventure travel experiences have changed people’s lives and, although our official aims at PEPY Tours are to inspire people to improve the way they give, travel, and live, “life transformations” are often what people take away from their trips. We are all so wrapped up in a race to the bottom of our email pile and are in constant fire-fighting mode managing our multiple communications channels that it is only once we step away from them that we realize we want to change our lives: enjoy the work we do, get out of a bad relationship, or commit to a good one. (At one point when we were trying to track the long-term impacts of our trips through a survey we realized we could more easily track the number of breakups or marriages that had results from our trips than anything on our official goals list!)

As we all explore the “urgency of slowing down” and getting off the grid, I imagine we’ll find times in our lives when we want to show the next generation what life was like before on-line communication made all of the knowledge of the world available at your fingertips. Before we felt a constant sense of being behind on all of the information being pushed our way. And when we took more time to think and then freely decide what to learn about before slowly walking to the shelf of encyclopedias and seeing what Mr. Britannica had to teach us. As this NY Times article says, “the children of tomorrow…will crave nothing more than freedom, if only for a short while, from all the blinking machines…that leave them feeling empty and too full all at once.”

How do you see the need for digital dieting effecting our futures? And, who is interested in creating opportunities in the space that is opening up “off-grid”?

  • Lisa Collier

    This is the most strange occurance id say. in order to move peacefully forward we all must take a step back in time when things were slower and patience was a natural given. Massive market alright. Internet and cellphone free cafes would be superb thats my fav

  • http://www.jarofphotos.com/ Jason

    I love the anecdote about GoDaddy, not so much because of their racy commercials (if they even still make them) but because I had a similar incident when trying to buy a site name.  I also like the idea of electronic room scramblers, which my high school teacher of an uncle told me he once had but soon became outdated with the new phone technologies.  But what I like most is the opportunity for travel experiences to “distract” people long enough to realize the insanity and connectivity binges of modern times.  Call it a “spring cleaning” of sorts, but people could really benefit from this digital dieting.  It will be interesting to see how this topic grows and what type of products and services can actually be successful in pulling the digital candy from the sticky fingers of today’s world.