A change of venue gets my creative juices flowing, helps me focus without all the usual distractions, and gives me incentive to write toward concrete goals. Basically, it’s great for everything except my wallet. Don’t get me wrong: if you have the cash flow for an actual writing retreat with actual keynote speakers, go for it. If you don’t, I’ve done the research for you, and below are your DIY budget writing retreat options. Among the many writing retreats on the market, the main overlapping considerations are travel, accommodations, a learning element (workshops/talks), and writing time. Some have a health and wellness component (spa, yoga, meditation, etc.), feedback from professionals, and opportunities for socializing. My focus in this article is the main considerations, and if you want the extras, then do a little extra research of your own, and I’m sure you’ll come up with something fantastic.
Points programs for flights: Many moons ago, I realized that if I wanted to live the nomadic dream, I needed to get myself involved with some aero points programs posthaste. Points programs don’t always lend to the easiest flights with the least amount of airport stopovers, but the trade-off is that I only have to pay airport taxes, so to me, it’s worth it. Where I live in Canada, one can access flight points programs through banks, credit cards, and direct through an airline’s in-house program. In my experience, points programs intentionally make sure they’re not comparable to one another, meaning that from one program to another, the way points are accumulated differs, and, for instance, while Program A charges 4,000 points for a flight, Program B charges 20,000 for the same flight. This can be research intensive, and it’s a good idea to read blogs, ask around, and maybe sign up for a couple different programs if you can. While waiting for points to accumulate, look for seat sales, and go where the seat sales take you.
Ride-sharing: For locales within road-trip distance, search online classified sites in their ride-sharing sections. The most popular classified site depends on where you live, and usually, the ride-share host is only asking for contributions toward fuel.
Get an hour away: Plan a getaway that isn’t so far from home, yet far enough that it feels like a retreat.
Budget Accommodations: When evaluating the options below, aside from cost, your considerations should include 1) remoteness/regular access to amenities; 2) Internet speed and reliability; and 3) how much time can be spent writing.
House/Pet Sitting: Among these options, house/pet sitting is the one I signed up for most recently. Generally, the accommodations are free in exchange for your house/pet sitting services, but some ads did ask to cover the cost of a utility or other expense. Because I was looking for a longer retreat (3 months), there were fewer options, but loads of 1-4 week stays. The sites I recommend trying are MindMyHouse.com ($20 USD/year) and TrustedHousesitters.com ($119 USD/year). They both offer multiple ways of sorting opportunities and are relatively intuitive. TrustedHousesitters has more opportunities, but MindMyHouse holds its own for a sixth of the price. Yes, there are other sites to try, so I encourage you to search for a second or third blogger’s opinion before buying. I ultimately couldn’t find an opportunity that was a good fit this time around, but I have new invitations to visit people in Columbia, Portugal, and Chicago, and I only signed up for this three weeks ago. Important to note is that these sights tend to be more accessible for people who speak English, and so the countries most represented are Anglo ones, with a fair amount of opportunities in Spain and France as well. One of my favorite features is that I was able to use external references from sites like Airbnb and Couchsurfing to boost my credibility.
Rent someone else’s home: Airbnb.com was the first major entry in this market, and it’s the only one I’ve tried, but a simple Google search for “Airbnb alternatives” reveals at least a dozen up-and-comers, often vying with an element that differentiates from the pack. FlipKey.com by Trip Advisor seems to be the one to watch, differentiating itself from Airbnb by not allowing shared rooms. The way Expedia is an aggregator for hotels, Tripping.com is an aggregator for many of these newish types of sites, but it doesn’t check Airbnb at the moment. I suggest starting with a search of both Airbnb AND Tripping.
International Volunteering: There are numerous sites for international volunteering, and they all have guidelines about minimum length of stay (expect two weeks), length of volunteer day, and number of days off per week. The guidelines are not always respected by hosts, so it’s important to open a line of communication, video preferably, before you book travel to a destination. Also check references if available, and if something feels like a red flag, don’t ignore that. Arrangements generally include accommodations in exchange for a five-on, two-off work week for a minimum of four hours a day. Some arrangements include meals, but don’t expect this, especially in non-First-World countries. Including a volunteering element in a DIY writing retreat offers an opportunity for socializing, getting some exercise (active body; active mind), and maybe even material for an upcoming story. The majority of these sites charge an annual rate, and some are regionally based, so you may have to decide where you want to go before choosing which site to sign up with. Most of the sites allow you to preview opportunities prior to purchasing a membership. I have done a lot of WWOOFing, which stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and in my travels, I’ve met a lot of people who have volunteered via WorkAway.
Couchsurfing: Through Couchsurfing.com, accommodations are free, but because the majority of hosts only accept guests for stays of less than a week, and there is such a high expectation of socializing, not to mention sometimes feeling like you’re underfoot in someone else’s home, I wouldn’t recommend this as an optimal way to find dedicated writing time.
Budget Learning Element:
Online writing courses and conferences are everywhere now, and so if you want to include a learning element in your DIY retreat, those are an option. Or you could just bring along a couple of books on the subject of writing, which is what I’m planning to do for my upcoming trip.
I wrote this post for the monthly Insecure Writers Support Group blog hop. To continue hopping or to join the hop, click here. (There are more than 200 of us, and it’s fun!)
What is your ideal writing retreat? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!