On Vacation and Cell-Phone Free

I love my cell phone, I love it not. I love my cell phone, I love it not …

In today's information-overload age, most people have conflicting feelings about that pocket-size gadget that rings — at times incessantly — and makes them reachable practically everywhere.

These days, a number of hotels and resorts make the decision for guests who aren't sure whether to pack their cell or not. In places from Vermont to California and Mexico to the Caribbean, a variety of inns are either in zones with no cell-phone reception, have designated areas where mobiles aren’t welcome or forbid guests from using them on the grounds entirely.

“The whole point is to break the bond with normal life and immediately throw you into a different mindset,” said Marilyn Gubler, owner of Sandy Valley Ranch in Sandy Valley, Nev.

The inn offers a “City Slickers,” life-on-the-ranch experience, complete with tents for guests to sleep in, the chance to live and work like a cowboy and no cell-phone reception.

“People start relaxing right away," she said. "They get away from the cell phone, get away from all the things they have to do and just enjoy themselves.”

Sandy Valley even has some of its staff dress as Old West bandits who “hold up” visitors and tell them to “Give us your money and cell phones and have a good time — or else,” according to Gubler, who added that it’s amusing to watch guests discover their mobiles don’t work.

“They shake their phones, try to find a spot where it works and then they just give it up and start having a good time,” she said. “If someone’s real upset then we’ll let them use the landline.”

On the other side of the country, in the rural town of Grafton, Vt., the entire region is devoid of mobile-phone reception — save for a few spots — and The Old Tavern at Grafton is no exception. But visitors there are slightly less amenable to the idea than the ones who travel to Sandy Valley.

Assistant Innkeeper Virginia Lisai said most guests are fine with the fact that there are no phones in the rooms. But the lack of a cell-phone signal is tougher for some to swallow.

“It’s a little less easy for them to understand why they can’t use cell phones here,” she said. “I haven’t ever seen anyone get upset and throw a temper tantrum. … It’s more like an annoyance.”

If they’re desperate to place a mobile call, Lisai said there are pockets where cells might work — and guests go to some lengths to seek out signals.

“You can get in your car and drive about half a mile up a hill and get reception,” she said.

Some scholars are worried about the technology overload that characterizes modern life. “Informational environmentalists” is the latest term for those who yearn for quiet time, and a conference on the subject was recently held at the University of Washington’s Information School called “Information, Silence, and Sanctuary.”

“The issue is not just of cell phones but of information overload in general,” said conference organizer and Information School Professor David Levy. “There’s a lot of frustration around the amount of devices, information and the sense of being intruded upon.”

So, what makes people feel such separation anxiety when they’re out of range?

“They still need to feel like they’re in touch in an emergency situation,” said travel agent Kathy Sudeikis, vice president of the American Society of Travel Agents. “The convenience is really important to people so their kids can reach them, their office can reach them.”

Sudeikis, an agent at All About Travel in Kansas City, said she doesn’t get requests for cell-free getaways — but has clients make sure they'll have a mobile signal when they go away.

“Cell-phone reception is more important than the view,” she said.

Other travelers scratch their heads at the thought of wanting to stay within reach of the boss while they're taking time off.

“The point is, if you’re going on a vacation, why would you want to be in contact?” said Cristina Barden, a store planner from Long Island, N.Y. “If someone goes with their cell phone, I couldn’t even begin to understand why. Leave it at home.”