This is the twelfth post in my blog series about recharging and resetting your life, what I call retreating.
In January I posted an interview of Heidi Eliason, self-described middle-aged runaway, who sold her house, quit her job, and traveled around America and Mexico in a motorhome. Her initial plans were to spend a year’s break from an unfulfilling time in her life, renewing her joie de vivre, and figuring out her next move. Her journey turned into five years on the road and resulted in reclaiming her sense of self.
Her story is a common one. How many people do you know who have lost their enthusiasm for life? Feel adrift? Don’t know what they want or need to make their lives better? Maybe that’s your neighbor, sister, or best friend. Maybe that’s you. While I’m not suggesting that everyone who has these feelings sell everything and hit the road to find themselves, travel retreating may be just the cure for resetting and recharging your life.
As I define it, there is a difference between vacationing and travel retreating, although the line can blur. A vacation is an escape from something (e.g., work) or time off to spend with loved ones. A travel retreat is a move toward something, with the goal of self-care. Typically, retreating is something you do for yourself because of a need or strong desire. Deep down, something inside longs for a journey. The purpose or longing might be clear to you or not. Regardless, your soul is calling you toward something for a reason, for example:
- Traveling alone to build self-confidence
- Making a pilgrimage to a place that has special meaning for you
- Immersing yourself in another culture to learn a language or experience how others live
In Heidi’s case, she was escaping from what she experienced as a dead-end life, but her goal was to renew her enthusiasm for life and take time to think about what she wanted going forward. She didn’t know what she would find, the people she’d encounter, and where her travels would lead, but it was clear she needed to go.
Travel retreating can have huge benefits when done on your own. For comfort, some travel retreaters like to go with a companion. Too many people, and it can start to feel like a holiday, although I would count a pilgrimage to a holy site with your spiritual community, for example, a travel retreat.
Travel retreating isn’t for everyone. It’s easier to pull off when you don’t have family commitments or dependents; however, don’t confuse work as a dependent! Despite what your coworkers or manager—or even you—tell you, they can survive without you. If you have an understanding significant other, take advantage of some time off to travel retreat on your own or with a friend. Or maybe you and your significant other share a common retreat goal, like Lia and Jeremy.
I was single until my mid-thirties, so I was able to travel retreat periodically, sometimes to far-flung places. One adventure was backpacking in Scotland for ten days. My goal was to experience solo travel in a country I had an affinity for and to see a couple of sites I had always wanted visit. The experience taught me self-confidence (navigating foreign public transportation), how to cope with hardship (frequent pouring rain and wind), and flexibility (changing plans based on the weather and finding things to see and do during the off-season). Because the Scots speak English, albeit their accents were a challenge, Scotland was a safe foreign country to experience solo travel for the first time.
How long do you have to be away? That’s up to you, but I recommend at least a week. Heidi’s case was the extreme, but it worked for her! Here are some ideas:
- Nervous about the thought but think you’re ready? Dip your toe in the water with a long weekend alone. Don’t visit family or a friend; stay in a hotel or Airbnb in another state or far enough away from home in your own state so that you’re not relying on the familiar. Take restorative walks, explore the area, meditate, do whatever you need to feed your soul and enjoy the alone time.
- Hire a travel agent to help plan a retreat with a purpose. Based on your desire, an agent might have some ideas you haven’t thought of and can work within your budget. If you need assistance while on your trip, the agent can help. Agents are worth their fee, especially for those who don’t like to plan!
- Sign up for an organized adventure, such as sailing, backpacking, bicycling, or other group activity. These trips can be geared toward a purpose (such as learning new skills or personal growth) or not; however, I guarantee you will gain in some personal way even if that’s not the organizer’s intent. (Outdoor adventure retreats, REI Adventures, Women’s Quest are just a few resources.)
- If you’re really ready, take a sabbatical and follow your heart’s desire!
You never know what you might discover about yourself and the world just by pushing the limits of your comfort zone for the sake of self-care. Even if your journey is a disaster on the outside—and some are, so I’ve heard—you will return having learned something.
In upcoming posts I’ll interview more retreat adventurers and provide a checklist of things you need for preparing to go away on an extended retreat.
For links to retreats and other resources, visit my Resources page.
Read my memoir about a two-year travel retreat I took in Scotland.