New Year's weekend I booked a night at a hotel to set goals for 2018, and promptly received 100 messages on Instagram about it.
Everyone was like, "I need to do this!" and "Who is watching your kids?" and "Where are you?" ... and fifty other questions about the sweater I was wearing (it's from ThredUP).
I started doing solo retreats in 2016 while working on The Magic of Motherhood manuscript. About five minutes into the book process, it became clear to me that I couldn't possibly do all of that work in twenty-minute increments, business as usual. The book workload simply piled on top of my regular workload, and all of a sudden it felt like someone had added a new part-time job (book) on top of my other part-time job (running Coffee + Crumbs), which already feels like a full-time gig most days.
If you're still with me, two part-time jobs + two children + five hours of childcare per week = me, crying into a carton of waffle fries in the Chick-fil-a drive-thru. I started getting up early to buy myself longer stretches of time in the morning to get everything done, but it never felt like enough. Panic ensued.
And that's what led to the solo retreats! It honestly didn't even feel selfish the first few times because I was so stressed out at home—I think offering my husband a 24-hour break from me was more of a gift than a burden.
That being said: I've gone on about four or five solo retreats in the past two years, and have learned a thing or two along the way. Here are nine of my best tips for planning a solo retreat:
1) Figure out your why. Why do you want to go away by yourself? Maybe you feel depleted emotionally, and need some time to recharge. Maybe you've been battling illness for weeks and need one solid night of uninterrupted sleep to care for your body. Maybe you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed and just need to be quiet with God for a while. Maybe you’re on the brink of a creative idea, and need a block of time to get it out on paper. There's no right or wrong "why" for getting away—but it's helpful to identify your mission up front (both for your own expectations and for the people covering for you while you're gone!).
2) Figure out how long you can actually get away. If you’re nursing a baby six times a day, an overnight trip might be a bit of a stretch. Look at your life and honestly ask yourself: what is a reasonable amount of time I can escape? Can I get away for 24 hours? 48 hours? 6 hours?
3) Figure out your childcare. If you’re a mom of young children, this is probably going to be the biggest piece of the puzzle. Can your husband watch the kids? Or a grandparent? A babysitter or other caregiver? Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and be upfront about why you need this. Be open and honest about your intentions and share how you plan to spend the time.
4) Figure out your budget. Can you afford to book a night in a hotel? Do you have any credit card points or AirBNB credits you can redeem? Can you ask for this as a birthday gift? If money is tight, consider asking if any of your friends or family are planning to travel soon and offer to housesit for them! (This is when it comes in handy to be friends with people who own a jacuzzi.)
5) Make a plan, and be realistic. It can be super tempting to bring a list of 15 things to accomplish on a retreat, but trust me when I say: 24 hours goes by really fast. Jot down everything you want to do on your retreat (ex: finish a book, write an essay, pray, do a face mask, clean your inbox, journal, finally design that photobook, etc), and pick your top THREE. What are the three things that are going to make you feel the way you want to feel when you leave the next day? If you want to feel relaxed, maybe your top three things are take a bath, do a face mask, and meditate. If you want to feel productive at the end of the retreat, maybe your three things are actual items from a to-do list. Either way—prioritize your goals, start with your top three, and work your way down. (Truth: I bring nail polish to every solo retreat. I have never once come home with nails painted. But it's okay! Painting nails is never in my top three, and I'm totally okay with that.)
6) Pack your bag. I like to overpack for retreats because I never know what I’m going to be in the mood for. I bring tons of books and journals. I bring a lot of pampering luxuries like bath bombs and face masks. I also bring all my own food because I like to introvert pretty hard and not leave my room till checkout. (I've also ventured out for takeout, but after doing it both ways—I definitely prefer to be a hermit. You do you.)
7) Request an early check-in and a late check-out. Most hotels are willing to accommodate this if they can. Always worth the ask!
8) Minimize your distractions. Because I am used to hearing "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!" around the clock when I'm at home, I do very little music/TV when I'm on a solo retreat. The quiet is what I'm paying for! Music tends to be super distracting to me, but maybe for you that's social media or e-mail. I highly suggest doing whatever it takes to minimize your distractions. Maybe you take Facebook and Instagram off your phone for the weekend. Maybe you log out of your e-mail. Maybe you even leave your laptop at home, depending on your goals for the retreat. Identify any hindrances standing between you and the top three things you want to accomplish, and remove them altogether if possible. For me, that is ALL SOUNDS.
9) Go in with an open mind—and ENJOY. Ditch any ounce of guilt you feel for leaving your kids. They will be fine. Remember your end goal: returning to your family rested and restored and grateful, a better wife and mom. This is time well spent. It's okay to enjoy yourself!
Have you ever done a solo retreat? Where'd you go? What'd you do? I would honestly love to do these quarterly but twice a year is probably more realistic for me. I might need to find somewhere with a pool for a summer retreat ...
If you live near Sacramento, my favorite solo retreat location is The Hanford House in Sutter Creek. I've stayed in a few of the main rooms and a couple of the cottages and give them both five stars. It's an easy (and pretty!) 45-minute drive from Sacramento, no freeways and no traffic. You get fresh warm scones delivered outside your door at 7a.m. and all rates include breakfast at Element (coffee, juice, main entree and a side!). I love this place because it feels like I am really getting away without spending 4+ hours in the car roundtrip (like you would with Napa or Tahoe, etc). If a half-day retreat is more in your wheelhouse, Asha Urban Baths is awesome for that.