Review: digital detox stay at the Hilton Bankside
There’s a touch of the old-fashioned about me. I’d always choose a paperback over a Kindle, I experience ‘the fear’ at incoming WhatsApp messages and I get frustrated with friends and family members who feel the need to check their phones constantly during mealtimes. For these reasons, the chance to enjoy a digital detox stay at the Hilton Bankside and surrender my phone at the front desk sounded ideal. I invited my sister Kathleen along with me, as we were well due a catch-up. Plus, I thought it would be a guaranteed opportunity to spend some quality time together without distractions.
I didn’t think that being separated from my phone would bother me, but watching the hotel staff stash it away in a brown paper envelope felt distinctly odd. ‘Are you ok?’ the concierge asked as we forlornly watched his colleague carry the envelopes out of sight. We were given small numbered tickets, which we could hand in and exchange for our phones if we decided to change our minds at any point. But of course we wouldn’t – we’d be fine!
‘We can do this,’ I thought, as we were shown up to our room, where the hotel had provided a hamper of non-digital goodies, including a face mask, bath salts and a book of sudoku puzzles. There was also a map and guide of things to see in the area, and the option to rent a bamboo bike from reception to do some exploring. But as we’d travelled straight from work, we were both feeling quite hungry and decided to go downstairs to the OXBO restaurant for dinner.
While tucking into delicious food and catching up on the events of the last few weeks, I caught myself instinctively reaching for my phone several times before remembering that I didn’t have it on me. Whether it was checking the date of a gig we said we’d go to, showing Kathleen a photo of a top I’d bought, or reading out a funny message I’d received from one of my friends, I started to realise just how much I must use it without realising.
After dinner, we decided to have a drink at the Distillery bar and were surprised to find an array of boardgames waiting for us there. Feeling nostalgic, we got started on a game of Scrabble and things were going well until one word caused some dispute. ‘Juke,’ suggested Kathleen. ‘That’s a word, right? As in jukebox.’ I wasn’t convinced and nor was she, and frustratingly, we couldn’t use Google to check. We decided she shouldn’t play it and I went on to win. And she was rightly outraged the next day when she discovered she’d been right.
Cocktails finished and a round of Battleships played (which I lost), we were both feeling pretty tired. As I usually rely on my phone alarm, I asked for a wakeup call from reception for the next morning and we made our way back to the room. It was a freeing feeling going to sleep without the risk of an ill-timed message disrupting my snooze. And to my surprise, I woke up well before my scheduled call, choosing to read the last few pages of my book, rather than scroll mindlessly through my feeds.
After breakfast, we checked out and traded in our tickets for our phones. Switching it on, I was reassured that the world hadn’t ended, but a disappointing message from a friend was enough to dampen my mood. And after saying goodbye to my sister, I couldn’t help myself from checking the quickest way back home on Google Maps, even though it only confirmed the route I already thought I should take.
For the rest of the day, I was a little bit more aware of the moments I found myself reaching towards my pocket. The whole experience made me more aware of how much I rely on my phone, or am reassured by it to fact-check on a daily basis. I’ve also recognised the anxiety it can cause me, as I find it difficult to separate myself from the demands of incoming messages. I’ve been inspired to have more phone-free periods and next time I go on an overnight stay, I might introduce a self-imposed ban. But hopefully next time, I’ll have the willpower to stay off it, without the need to hand it in to the concierge.
For more information, or to book a room at the Hilton Bankside, visit hilton.com