As far as vacations in Italy go, the latest offering from IfOnly is hard to beat—at least in the eclectic-but-cool department.
The San Francisco-based company, which peddles in experiential travel packages, has put together a trip that enables lucky takers to shake hands and snap photos with Pope Francis at the World UnPlugNPlay Festival in Vatican City August 29-31. The festival is a three-day celebration to encourage people to play table tennis with loved ones and unplug from electronic devices for 15 minutes a day.
Yes, you read that right. The trip, formally referred to as a “Pope Francis Experience” and co-sponsored by the table-tennis brand Killerspin, involves a) flying to Italy, b) meeting the Pope, c) playing table tennis with people you love, and d) unplugging from electronic devices.
But there’s more. In addition to playing ping-pong, on top of meeting His Holiness, travelers receive private VIP tours of the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, and Palazzo Colonna; a two-night stay at Forte Village on Sardinia; and a gala dinner and panel with thought leaders discussing the subjects of digitization and humanity. Oh, and because Chicago-based Killerspin is involved, participants also receive a bunch of swag, including high-end, ultra-rare table tennis paddles. They also get front-row seats for the UnPlugNPlay Table Tennis Championship that same weekend.
Based on this description alone, it’s safe to say the trip is over the top. Factor in the $25,000 per person price tag, and we won’t even fault you for rolling your eyes.
But all IfOnly excursions benefit charities, and this one supports Best Buddies, which provides opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Technically, the trip supports a good cause.
Oddly, the connection among unplugging, ping-pong, and the Pope has existed for a while.
As Killerspin CEO Robert Blackwell, Jr., tells it, the idea behind UnPlugNPlay grew out of a conversation he had with Pope Francis earlier this year about the growing alienation of humanity caused by an increasingly digitized society. One of the by-products of this chat was World UnPlugNPlay Day—August 29, for those of you scoring at home—a day dedicated to scaled-back use of devices of all kinds.
As the table tennis company added more events to the celebration, World UnPlugNPlay Day became an entire festival. The event kicks off in Vatican City, and the Pope will be part of the pomp and circumstance.
The whole idea of a trip has us thinking about how—or even if—one challenges His Holiness to a game of table tennis. Pong, Pontiff? Care for a volley, Vice-regent? The possibilities are almost endless.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com