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Playa del Carmen Travel Guide

How a Millennial Couple Survived a Digital Detox Vacation—And Lived to Tell the Tale

The takeaway? Let's disconnect to reconnect, lovers!

As ’90s kids, my husband and I enjoyed the best of both worlds. The news came in print, not Twitter; hideous, unfiltered photos could be stashed away and forgotten; and we arranged meet-ups via landline. As young adults, we adapted to a digital world, personally (my MSN screen name was J-Wo, FYI) and professionally (typing on blackberry with one hand). And now? Well, we’re fairly reliant on tech. If “fairly” means plugged-in 24/7. We use laptops all day, streaming services all evening, and apps for everything from banking to takeout.

One night, binging on Hulu (premium, obvs) I brought up a digital detox. “We should do a long weekend, at a resort” I suggested as my husband Chase uploaded photos of Tiki mugs to Facebook Marketplace.

“Sure, I can do that,” he shrugged.

Our neighbors, the Owides, aka local tech-wizards behind the Planr app, recently traveled to Mexico and raved hard about Banyan Tree Mayakoba in Playa del Carmen. A luxurious resort centered around well-being, with private villas and tons of amenities on-site; this checked all the boxes in our quest to “disconnect and reconnect.” Fast forward a month, Chase and I were on a flight to Cancun International Airport, embarking on our first tech-free vacation.

Chase Dorsett

Day One: Letting Go

One last phone binge before landing. For the next three days, we’d only use them for photos, alarms, and flight updates. No more. As I turned off, panic hit. What if mom had a medical emergency? What if the boss needed me to Zoom with Adele? What if Bennifer got engaged again? I reminded myself that none of these had happened in the last three years, let alone days, and the feeling subsided the moment I stepped onto the resort. Zen passageways and flowing waterways lead us to a two-story villa featuring a king bedroom with adjoined spa/bathing area, entertainment pavilion, and private outdoor swimming pool.

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“You’re an A-Lister checking into a tropical hideaway,” I said, trying to trick myself. “A detox with honeymoon indulgence. No need to stare at a screen in a place like this.”

We stripped and took a refreshing dip. Cocooned in the shade of palm trees, the digital noise that occupied my brain quietened. I lay listening to the water and birds circling above. This is a breeze. However, when hunger kicked in, the phones came out.

First, a chance encounter with coatis running along the golf course left us lost and late for dinner at Sands Beach Club. “I’m gonna need Google Maps,” announced Chase. Then, at our beachfront table, in place of menus sat a QR code. “Well, it is the most Covid-safe way to dine.” Chase reasoned in his best Fauci voice. We agreed then to make Google Maps and QR codes an exception. They were necessities. The meal went without talk of tech, except for when I ordered a horchata and itched to Google the contents. Not a necessity. That night, in the absence of blue light shining on my eyeballs via Squid Game memes, I lit an incense stick and drifted off like a cloud.

Bayan Tree Mayakoba

Day Two: Couples Retreat

Married two years, we acted like honeymooners by splurging at Banyan Tree’s spa. A foot soak followed by a full body massage performed by petite ladies with deceivingly strong arms not only loosened tension but blissfully detached us from pixelated cravings. Spas are traditionally a place where people lock away their phones, after all. It wasn’t until the afternoon, sat back by the pool that I yearned for music–because who doesn’t love Christina Aguilera circa Stripped on a sunny day? Phone out of bounds, I focused on a novel instead. Not today, Xtina, not today.

Chase Dorsett

Dinner was later enjoyed under the stars at the resort’s signature Thai restaurant, Saffron. “I really want to use the Night Sky app,” moaned Chase as we discussed the dots.

“Can we please enjoy the pad thai and stargazing without the info?” I fumed, wondering if we’d keep this up. Fortunately, back at the villa, a screentime distraction awaited in aid. “Intimate Moments’” was the hotel’s answer to our request for the ultimate couple’s soak. A delicious bubble bath trailed with candles, aromatic oils, and rose petals. Unapologetically romantic, it made our previous (real) honeymoon feel like a weekday at Panda Express. We had to, of course, souvenir the experience with selfie-stick assistance before sinking in. My screen time that day? 16 seconds. Chase’s: 20 minutes (mostly photography and QR scanning). We were elated and proud of a hard day’s abstinence.

Chase Dorsett

Day Three: Caving in

On a roll, we hit Mayakoba on airplane mode entirely. Distraction’s key to digital-free! A complimentary eco boat tour, albeit at the hottest time of day, had us focused on the sights of turtles, crocodiles, and colorful birds sans WiFi-induced thoughts. As did the boutiques and galleries on community square, El Pueblito. It was only when we had downtime that mini-Xtina popped up like a devil on my shoulder whispering “Play my Stripped album” repeatedly. Oh the torment! One final evening to get through. I can do this.

Wining and dining at Cello, their spectacular on-site Italian spot, provided ample time to converse and reflect. “Three days digital-sober,” we saluted, before I slipped, “Let’s treat ourselves to a movie night!” Gasp. Choke on tiramisu. Retraction. “No, never mind, we can’t.” Moments later, we retired to the villa and noticed the turn-town team had left a surprise parting gift of wine and chocolate-dipped strawberries. Gasp. Screw detox and reschedule my gastric band appointment for Monday. Let’s treat ourselves. And so we did, and it was magnificent. Like the bearded woman in The Greatest Showman, this is me, necking another dessert as I hit the remote and felt the sizzle of LED light on my face. No regrets.

Chase Dorsett

Day Four: The Take-Away

As we exited Banyan’s lobby, I rounded up what I’d learned. One, that 50% of my online searches (“What’s Doja Cat’s real name?”) are useless to me in the real world and I really ought to spend that time taking in the real world. Two, hubby is a fantastic photographer and I’m considering selling him on Flytographer. And three, tech isn’t a one-rule-fits-all. There are aspects that are vital in modern daily life, such as for work or keeping in touch with loved ones. And then there are aspects that should be consumed responsibly. We shouldn’t deny its pleasures, but rather than allow it to rob us of precious time, harness it as an enhancement. This digital detox taught us to set boundaries, prioritize each other and Bayan Tree’s breathtaking setting, and if the mood calls for a touch of entertainment, to ask simply ourselves this: What would Alexa do?