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Planning Your Perfect Solo Writing Retreat: A Comprehensive Guide

June 13, 2024

A laptop sits on a glass table with a cup of coffee on the right and a view of plants and mountains as one prepares for a solo writing retreat.

7 Strategies for planning and making the most of your own solo writing retreat

Craving uninterrupted focus to finally wrap up that grant proposal, book, or manuscript? Does it feel like carving out dedicated writing time is impossible between work, family, and everyday life distractions? A solo writing retreat might be the answer you’ve been searching for.


Related Post: Invest in Yourself: The ROI of Writing Retreats for High-Achieving Academics & Scholars


And while there are many benefits to attending organized group writing retreats like my Write From Anywhere retreatūüėä, it is not always feasible. That’s where solo writing retreats come in. It’s your chance to minimize distractions, recharge your batteries, and conquer your writing projects in a space outside your norm but also does not break the bank.

I recently took a last-minute solo retreat to Tepotzl√°n, Morelos, Mexico, a pueblo m√°gico. Living in Mexico City, I love the energy of big city living but I was desperate for a change of scenery. I needed a slower pace, fewer options, and a lot more nature. I love the city, but I had forgotten what the big sky looked like! And I wanted vistas, fewer distractions, and a fresh space to strategize and brainstorm ideas for the future of my business.

A women with a cowboy hat sits in front of a wall decorated in the style of a Mexican cantina.
I ended a long day of writing in a mezcalaría at my solo writing retreat in Tepotzlán.

Related Post: Mexico City for the Traveling Scholarpreneur


In this post, I’ll share 7 strategies for planning and making the most of your own solo writing retreat.

1. How Long Should Your Solo Writing Retreat Be?

When planning the length of your solo writing retreat, consider:

  1. Your writing capacity: How many days or hours can you productively write without hitting a wall?
  2. Personal obligations: What duration will your family, work, or other commitments allow?
  3. Financial concerns: How much can you afford per night of accommodations, the most expensive portion of a solo writing retreat?
  4. Avoiding burnout: Can you balance writing time with rest and exploration?

Personally, I prefer a week-long retreat. This allows me to write and explore without feeling guilty about neglecting either activity.

However, if you can only spare a weekend or a few days, that’s perfectly fine! What matters is that you’re dedicating time and space to meet your goals.

To maximize effectiveness, regardless of duration, pre-planning is crucial. Reflect on your writing objectives, think about your daily routines, and plan on how to create an environment that fosters creativity and productivity.

2. Where Should You Go For Your Solo Writing Retreat?

When choosing a location for your solo writing retreat, consider a place that meets your basic needs and comforts, but is far enough from home that you can’t just “drop by” if you forgot something.¬† This distance helps maintain the retreat mindset.

You don’t have to travel for days to experience a true solo writing retreat. I can bet there is a place within 3-4 hours driving distance from your home (if you are in the U.S.) that would serve as a perfect retreat space. There are dream solo retreat spaces (oceanside, lakeside, mountain views), but you know best what you can afford and where you can actually go.

For me, convenience was key. I wanted to stay somewhere within 1-2 hours by bus from my home. The idea of getting on a plane was too daunting (and if you’ve ever flown through the Benito Juarez International Airport, then you know!). I also prioritized a very small town where I could walk everywhere and have few options for distractions. Beautiful views, proximity to nature and hiking trails, and some fancy spa options for self-care were also on my wishlist. Tepoztl√°n fit the bill for everything I was looking for except the climate. It was hot as hell. And in a country with limited air conditioning, I was pretty uncomfortable most of the week.

You will want to do a bit of research on the community before you go. This will help you pack accordingly and plan your time. Even if your solo writing retreat is just a few days, plan to do a few things outside of writing. Do you need hiking gear, walking shoes, water shoes, or workout clothes?

Having a few ideas of things you’d like to explore, even if it’s just trying a new restaurant, can enhance your retreat experience and provide mental breaks from all the writing sessions.

A volkswagon van is parked on a cobblestoned road in Mexico. There are green and yellow flags that hang above the street, that is lined with small brick buildings.
One of the many colorful sites of Tepotzl√°n.

3. Where Should You Stay?

Accommodations are crucial for a solo retreat, especially if you plan on working from that space most of the time. Take your time and think through everything you might need to feel comfortable.

  • Write a list of ‘must-haves’ for the space and research thoroughly.
  • Consider how you want to feel when you wake up, look around, and work.
  • If using Airbnb, ask the host as many questions as needed. Inquire about wifi speed, noise levels, and proximity to amenities like markets, for example.

I picked a space that ended up being too hot, too far from town, with few amenities. In hindsight, I wish I’d chosen a place with a yard or green space for afternoon relaxation or reading.

If you’re wary of Airbnbs, stick to what works for you. Hotels are an option too and offer certain amenities that can make a stay much more comfortable. This isn’t the time for trying new things. The optimal environment for you is the optimal writing environment, so minimize external disruptions.

Insider Tip: Try Housesitting

You might consider housesitting or pet sitting for your solo writing retreat.

Here me out! Housesitting offers:

  • A new space and environment
  • A home with amenities so you can be as comfy as you can
  • Low costs
  • Potentially a pet for companionship and scheduled breaks

Yes, I JUST said not to try new things on your solo writing retreat, and I stand by that. But if you have done a solo writing retreat before, then now might be a great time to try something new.

Personally, I’ve found dog sitting to be an excellent option for solo writing retreats, especially when trying to save money. I’ve had fantastic stays in England, Hampton Roads, and Washington D.C., striking a balance between writing, pet care, and local exploration. My strategy was to seek out pet sits with specific criteria:

  1. Dogs only (preferably older, more laid-back pups)
  2. Stays of at least a week or longer
  3. Locations with accessible public transport and nearby amenities
  4. Homes with reliable WiFi
  5. Neighborhoods offering pleasant walking routes

This approach allowed me to enjoy a comfortable, home-like environment, with the added companionship of a furry friend and built-in breaks for walks. The combination of a new setting, minimal costs, and a structured routine proved ideal for my writing productivity.

If interested, I recommend Trusted HouseSitters (this is a referral link).

Accept the things we can’t control

Remember, you can’t control for everything, in our lives or in our research. Be prepared to accept imperfections in your retreat space. It’s okay to be briefly annoyed, but then move on. The last thing you want to do is let an annoyance damper your writing time. And if the situation is dire, there are always options! Switch accommodations. Abort mission. Raise hell!

4. What Should You Pack For Your Solo Writing Retreat?

Pack items that make you feel 100% comfortable or at home. If that means bringing your entire coffee setup, then that means packing your entire coffee setup!

Essentials to consider:

  • Snacks and hearty breakfast foods
  • Comfort items like a hoodie, pillows, and blankets
  • Clothing suitable for the climate and your comfort level
  • Notebooks, notepads, pens for scribbling ideas
  • Headphones (you never know when you’ll need them)

Don’t forget to pack creative break-time activities that keep you away from screens:

  • Coloring books
  • Puzzles
  • Crossword puzzles

These items can keep you off your phone and exercise your brain in creative ways during downtime.

Another benefit of traveling a short distance to my retreat space was the ability to bring a few comfort items like my yoga mat and my favorite candle. Adjust your packing list based on your travel distance and accommodation amenities.

Remember, the goal is to create an environment that fosters productivity and creativity. Pack what you need to get you there, without overcomplicating your travel.

5. What Should You Do When You Arrive?

Try to arrive during daylight hours, which will give you time to explore a little and get yourself situated in the new space. Orienting yourself will help you feel more comfortable in the new environment.

You’ll want to plan your meals, make a shopping list, and visit the grocery store. You may not be cooking every meal, but having a meal plan will provide structure to your days and eliminate the need for last-minute decisions. Get everything you think you’ll need at the grocery store. Don’t worry if you overestimate ‚Äď you likely won’t consume it all, but it’s better to be prepared.

Once you’re back at your accommodation, unpack fully. Make the space feel like your temporary home. Take some time to get acquainted with the layout and amenities. Day zero is for relaxing and getting situated. Give yourself time to settle in without pressure.

You’ll want to take this day zero to minimize distractions. Log out of your social media accounts and email on your laptop. Close those browser tabs and remove anything that might distract you during your writing.

The sun is coming up beyond the mountains in the early morning. The sun is framed with plants, mountains, and homes.
The view of the sunrise from my Airbnb.

Plan for the writing week ahead

Next, write a list of everything you want to accomplish during your retreat. Include both writing goals and any local activities or explorations you’d like to do. Having a plan will help you stay focused and feel more accomplished when you hit those goals at the end of the week.

This should also include a daily timed to-do list. Plan when to wake, move your body, write, eat, nap, etc. You will want to make a plan for communication with your family and loved ones too. The less you have to think about logistics, the smoother your writing days can be. Also, plan to take advantage of your internal writing clock. Whether you’re a morning writer or work better in the afternoon, take advantage of it! Keep your schedule flexible for less productive times.

By taking these steps when you arrive, you’re setting the stage for a productive solo writing retreat and creating an environment that supports your goals and minimizes potential distractions.

6. What Does A Solo Writing Retreat Look Like?

Congratulations, we are writing now! What does that look like for you?

My days in Tepotzl√°n roughly looked like this:

  • Morning yoga
  • 20-minute meditation
  • Coffee
  • Checking emails
  • Late breakfast
  • Writing & brainstorming block in the morning
  • Walk into town for a late lunch and new writing space
  • Writing & brainstorming block in the afternoon
  • Evening happy hour with a friend and fellow traveling scholarpreneur
A laptop is open on a table in a cafe for a solo writing retreat excursion. The laptop is surrounded by plants, a cup of coffee, and pens. In the background are seats, a staircase, and decorations fitting for a small cafe.
An afternoon working from a local cafe in Tepotzl√°n.

Do you abide by time management techniques like the Pomodoro method? It may help to start with a writing/productivity method that works for you. Or are you a “I want to write 500 words by the end of this writing block” kind of person. There are many time management and writing techniques to consider, but if that’s not your vibe, that’s fine! As long as the words are showing up on the page!

Here is some advice to help maintain the focus but also to have some balance:

  • Don’t overwork yourself. It’s easy to do when you’ve carved out this dedicated writing time, but your brain needs breaks. Schedule walks and movement. Take time to explore your new surroundings. A short trip outside can do wonders for productivity. Try different paths to see various parts of town.
  • Move your phone out of sight. One less distraction. You may want to have a notification for any emergencies. Otherwise, out of sight, out of mind.
  • Celebrate your accomplishments! Have a celebratory meal before heading home to acknowledge your accomplishments!

Accept the things we can’t control

There may be hours or a full day when you’re just not feeling it. Something in your brain or body isn’t clicking with the work. This happens! Sometimes we try to force our way through the block. I’ve tried lubricating this feeling with wine ‚Äď it doesn’t help, and I end up wine drunk loaded with feelings of guilt and wasted time.

One of the best ways to deal with this feeling is to walk away. Close your laptop and take a walk. Read a non-work-related book. Have a meal out. Nap. Journal. Call your family. Meditate.

Most importantly, don’t feel guilty over ‘lost time.’ It’s not lost. It’s time your brain and body said, “ENOUGH! GIVE ME A BREAK PLEASE, YOU ARE WORKING ME TOO MUCH.”

7. How Do I Keep This Writing Energy When I Go Home? A Post-Solo Writing Retreat Reflection.

When you return home, take time to reflect on your solo writing retreat experience. Consider:

  • What worked? What would you do differently next time?
  • Were there elements of this retreat that you enjoyed and want to maintain in your daily life? Schedule them! Personally, I discovered that while daily yoga wasn’t for me, but I loved starting each day with meditation.
  • Did you try a time management or writing technique that proved effective? Did you unlock the secret to staying focused and avoiding the temptation to scroll on your phone?

If you’re seeking more accountability in your writing practice, consider joining a writing group when you get home. This can help maintain the momentum you built during your retreat. There are lots of virtual groups, and your university may have a few options. You can always start one yourself!ūüėä

Remember, the benefits of your solo writing retreat don’t have to end when you return home. By identifying what worked best for you and incorporating those elements into your routine, you can continue to cultivate a productive and focused writing practice.

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Alicia Cintron, PhD

Research Public Communications Trainer & Coach + traveling Scholarpreneur

Welcome! Here you’ll find insight, musings, and thoughts about research, public engagement, communication, travel, and higher education. Have an idea for a topic for us to cover? Shoot us a note.¬†
 

Alicia Cintron, PhD

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