When I received the email inviting me to embark on an isolated nature vacation in a tiny house near Big Bear, the timing was pretty much perfect. So perfect, in fact, that I almost didn't even see how badly I needed it. As a freelancer — and someone who's been hustling consistently since I was 14 years old — working hard and frequently is so engrained in me that I don't really know how to turn that mentality off. And so, when the folks at Getaway first approached me for the press trip, my immediate response was a hard pass: I just couldn't possibly take off work for a whole two days.
Yes, I've gone on vacations before, but as those who work freelance know, you're seldom completely off-duty — unless you have more willpower than me, that is. Thankfully though, it occurred to me on second thought that a remote, quiet. immersed-in-nature escape was exactly what I needed in order to quiet my mind and work on some much neglected creative projects (personal essays, reading) away from the usual distractions, namely my needy pets and legitimate devotion to TV and social media.
Getaway, which offers a few collections of these nature pods (bookable for a two-night minimum, starting around $99 per night) in cities including Los Angeles, Austin, Portland, and New York among others, had a location about an hour and a half away in the San Bernardino mountains. Though just a short drive from LA, the landscape couldn't be more different. And besides that, it had just received a fresh dusting of snow. I'd seen from the photos that the tiny cabins here featured a large glass window — perfect for stargazing and sunset-watching from the queen-sized bed, where I imagined I'd spend the two full days catching up on books and finishing up an essay I'd been completely procrastinating on.
When I arrived the weather was crisp and cold (about 35 degrees Fahrenheit with a "wind feel" of 18) but not totally immobilizing. The town, Running Springs, was about a mile or two away from the main drag, which boasted a few liquor stores, a classic greasy spoon diner (my favorite part of traveling anywhere), a pizza place, and a spot where you can get customized wood carvings — a must for any mountain home. The cabin itself was exactly as pictured: Small but open with that infamous, Instagrammed window, and a little kitchenette with camping cups and plates, a stove, and a mini fridge. Outside was a fire pit and chairs in case one was inclined to have a bonfire.
I'd decided in advance to be completely strict about my stay: No internet (there's no wifi on the property and the cabin even comes with a little lock box where you're encouraged to leave your phone), no dining out (I'd grabbed some essentials from Trader Joe's as well as my V60 so I wouldn't even be tempted to leave for a cup of coffee or snack). Just me, a stack of books, and a notebook and pen so that I could totally give in to the isolation in hopes it would encourage my creativity. Or at least present fewer temptations.
I made a black tea, cracked open my notebook, and scribbled non-stop until the sun went down, a glorious event I happily watched from inside my little nook. After writing a handful of pages, I decided to take a shower and get into pajamas — despite the fact that it was about 6 p.m. After an unfortunately short shower (the cold water cut out about four minutes in, my head still full of suds), the isolation hit me hard. I put on sweats, poured a glass of wine, and crawled into bed with a book, but fell asleep soon after without finishing a page.
To be honest, I wasn't prepared for how quiet, how utterly boring it felt to be working on anything without the hum of TV in the background, without the occasional scroll through Instagram or Twitter, without taking a break to pet and feed my whining cats. I vacation alone more often than not and I pride myself on such independence, but something about this setting made me feel especially lonely.
In the morning I decided to alter the original plan a bit. I woke up early, bundled up, and walked into town. The wind was louder, the sky bluer, and the pancakes more delicious at the diner without the distraction of technology. I finished a few more pages of my book and headed back to the cabin. My mom called. The cat sitter texted. Before I knew it I was sneaking in a few social media scrolls, needlessly going through old photo albums in my phone, and making notes for work.
When I left the next morning without completing a masterpiece or even so much as finishing the last 1/4 of my book, I was completely disappointed with myself. But back in my little apartment, my cats settling onto my reclined body on the couch, some horrible show providing the most banal form of entertainment, I was happy. I'd love to say I'm a wilderness-loving, expert-camper, fire-starter, star-gazer. But the fact is, I'm most relaxed at home. Maybe I just need a break and a little distance every now and then to realize it.
I think going to a place like Getaway is a fantastic opportunity to unplug and observe nature, but you can't expect the location alone to do the work for you. I'll go back, but this time I won't be so hard on myself. I'll bring a disposable camera, a record player and a stack of vinyls, some scented candles, and an elaborate skin care routine. And I'll lock my damned phone in the box. In the meantime, I've been re-creating my own small version of my most favorite part of the trip, an early morning nature walk with a thermos of coffee, no phone, and quiet space to think about creative projects before heading back to my beloved but distraction-filled home and diving headfirst into work.