The Power of a Personal Retreat

The Power of a Personal Retreat

As featured in the gadabout.

Whether you like to travel for the ‘gram, the experiences or the food, there’s no denying that every trip is a chance to learn and grow. But if you take a trip specifically to focus on self-growth, the results can be life changing. Sure, you could book an organized getaway to learn a new skill like cooking, surfing or photography, but there’s also tremendous value in designing your own self-imposed skill-building retreat 100% tailored to your own needs and your future.

This year I did exactly that. I booked myself a honeymoon suite in the Philippines and designed my own writing retreat. Yes, I’m 100% aware that traveling over 7,000 miles to lock yourself in a room for a week is the ultimate privileged-white-girl thing to do. And yes, I could’ve easily chosen a location much closer to my home in Los Angeles. But since I work full-time and was already planning on spending a week in Myanmar with a volunteer organization, I chose to maximize my travel time by cashing in hotel points and spending another week in that part of the world. 

The main reason I chose to take this kind of trip was because I’d been feeling stagnant in my day-to-day life for several years. After repeatedly falling short of my personal goals, I had a list of things I could never find the time or motivation to start. Luckily this experience brought me the distraction-free solitude and inspiration I needed to not only get started, but to also develop a plan for holding myself accountable. 

So, if you’re looking for an excuse to take a trip in 2020 and kickstart some New Year’s resolutions, these three tips will help make sure your self-made retreat is a success.

1. Choose a destination that will inspire you without distracting you. 

It’s important to choose a destination and a workspace that will inspire you, but not distract you. You want to wake up and be inspired to get to work, not procrastinate. This makes a staycation a great option. Not only is it convenient and affordable, it provides enough of an inspiring change of scenery without the pressure of having to play tourist.

I chose the adults-only Vellago Resort in El Nido specifically because it was remote (it was only accessible by boat), and had no cell service, no TV, and no electricity or Wifi from 8am-8pm. Since it was a romantic destination, there wasn’t the temptation of meeting new people to go explore with either. I had no distractions, leaving me to read and write and focus on myself for six days.

I also chose this place because it had amenities that I knew would inspire me. My most productive thinking happens first thing in the morning, preferably over a giant breakfast and a beautiful view, so I also made sure to choose a place that included breakfast. Even better, it was delivered to my room at my preferred time every morning. All I had to do was wake up, walk ten steps out to my balcony and enjoy a full meal with endless cups of coffee while my brain did its thing. I spent at least two hours every morning eating, thinking, and writing while listening to the sounds of the waves below my balcony, finding it to be the most valuable part of each day.

It also helps to choose a location that makes it easy to maintain healthy habits from home or allows you to do more of something you don’t typically have time for. Love yoga? Consider a place that offers daily yoga or has space to practice on your own in a new setting. Back home I spend a lot of time outdoors, so in the Philippines I would go for a swim in the ocean or grab a kayak whenever I needed a break. Sometimes I’d end up paddling to another beach with a book in hand to read a couple chapters in the sun. Other times I’d just explore aimlessly and let my mind wander until I was ready to get back to work. I made sure this resort had readily available options for me to get moving whenever I needed to.

2. Have a clear goal, outcome, and/or actionable next steps.

My writer’s retreat served two purposes—allowing myself the time to absorb and process the emotionally heavy experience in Myanmar, and leveraging that inspiration to launch my freelance writing career. It was important for me not to slip into full-on vacation mode. I allowed myself one day off to go explore the sights, but I also set clear goals that weren’t overly ambitious to keep me from succumbing to excessive naps and beach cocktails.

My ultimate goal was to kickstart my freelance writing career outside of my 9-5. I wanted to return home with at least five unique story ideas, and to have sent at least as many completed pitches to various editors.

3. Prepare your “curriculum” in advance.

To achieve this, I essentially put together a curriculum of content to study and exercises to work through, vetting it all beforehand to ensure I wasn’t stuck with useless reads or listens. Since I had a hard deadline (my return flight) to get these things done, I stayed focused and on track all week. I ended up reading three books on different aspects of the freelance writer’s career. I listened to a dozen podcast episodes that helped push my thinking and increase my productivity. I acquired a newfound confidence in my asking rate, came up with 25+ potential story ideas to pitch, sent five, and queued up another three. I mapped out a vision for myself as a freelance writer, created short and long-term next steps, and developed a timeline of goals and milestones to keep me focused once I got home. All of this kept me going for six months after my trip, with little additional work outside of my 9-5.

This trip ended up being hugely beneficial not only to my career, but also to my mental health. It felt great to challenge my brain to learn new things, think in new ways, and map out future goals, but also to shut off completely once in a while. I plan on taking these kinds of trips a bit more regularly, although just a quick weekend here and there within a couple hours of home. So while you’re getting your 2020 resolutions in order, maybe this year you can check off the “take a vacation” and “start a side hustle” or “build a website” in one swing. While you certainly don’t want to break the bank and add any unnecessary financial stress to your life, just remember that it’s ultimately an investment in yourself.