Going off the grid

Lodged Out: Soulful, Unplugged Retreats for Entrepreneurs and Creatives

Imagine loading onto a bus with a group of makers, entrepreneurs, and creatives you’ve never met. Driving down a winding road, the bus heads deep into the mountains towards a snow-encased lodge.

Imagine loading onto a bus with a group of makers, entrepreneurs, and creatives you’ve never met. Driving down a winding road, the bus heads deep into the mountains towards a snow-encased lodge.

Along the way, your cell-phone service cuts off and you start striking up conversations with people you meet. No longer able to check each others’ websites, Instagram or LinkedIn accounts, you simply connect as people with a shared love of nature, creativity, and a desire to unplug for a few days.

Bobbilee Hartman first dreamt of a scenario like this back in 2014, while working as a software engineer in San Diego, CA. Tired of attending sterile work conferences, she wondered what it would look like to bring people together and provide the elements of professional events she enjoyed, such as panels and workshops, in a more engaging environment that encouraged people to connect on a deeper level.

Soon, Hartman discovered Rails Camp, an event for web technologists to get off the grid. Realizing the event was a lot like her idea for a new unplugged retreat, Hartman began running a U.S. version. The event was a huge success and, after getting her feet wet with event planning, Hartman decided she wanted to create a series of retreats that were open to more than just engineers—and so Lodged Out was born.

The first Lodged Out retreat took place on Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho. The event centered around the theme of women makers. Having spent so much time working on a computer, Hartman’s inspiration stemmed from her own curiosities. “I was like, how do people get into making shit with their hands?” Hartman told Supermaker. “That’s how it started.”

Hartman has been running different iterations of these retreats since 2014, and has now organized retreats for groups of lawyers, makers, entrepreneurs, and more. She has held events across the country, from Upstate New York to Eastern Washington and, soon, Alaska. In order to make events accessible to as many people as possible, Hartman also works to offer scholarships for individuals who may not have the financial means to otherwise attend. Carefully choosing every venue to optimize for natural environment and, ideally, lack of cell reception, Lodged Out’s priority is to get as many people as possible back outside to “play like we used to.”

Hartman has a longstanding tradition of unplugging, and tries to do so every Sunday in order to reconnect with herself before heading back into the work week. The clarity and inspiration she’s found through this practice is part of the reason she prioritizes lack of phone service and WiFi at her retreats. “When you aren’t distracted [by technology] the days seem a lot longer. You get more creativity and can think about things for a longer period of time,” Hartman said.

Photos: Alycia Lovell, Sarah Forrest

Maren Nelson, 32, is a designer based in Minneapolis, MN. Nelson attended a 2018 Lodged Out retreat for makers and entrepreneurs in Leavenworth, WA. The experience, she said, was reenergizing. Though Nelson enjoyed the workshops and speakers, what really made an impact, she said, was spending her days completely unplugged. “I didn’t realize how many hours there were in a day until my eyes were unglued from screens,” Nelson told Supermaker. “There was something really special about going through that detox with a group of other makers and doers as well, a community that formed so easily and authentically.”

Nelson was, at first, a bit nervous about how her interactions with others would unfold. Despite being a self-proclaimed extrovert, Nelson admits that she "absolutely hates networking." And yet, Lodged Out turned out to be completely different than traditional networking experiences. “The folks I met really inspired me to look at not only my own vocation but also how to use community to drive vision and inspiration,” Nelson said. “It wasn’t all designers or writers or entrepreneurs. It was a mixed bag of adventurous doers that created a cocktail of new ideas and supportive encouragement.”

“I didn’t realize how many hours there were in a day until my eyes were unglued from screens.”

This type of environment is precisely the vision Hartman holds in her mind’s eye as she creates and curates Lodged Out experiences. “I keep doing unplugged retreats because of the magic I see in conversations,” Hartman told Supermaker. “You see people talking for longer. People don’t know each other before they get there. It’s so nice not knowing someone’s status and having real conversations with diverse groups of people they might not normally talk to.”

In fact, one of Hartman’s favorite things about holding these events is watching Lodged Out attendees’ connections flourish afterwards. “I see a lot of [them] liking each others’ work, working with each other or collaborating,” Hartman said. “[There is] magic when people are real with each other and not distracted. They’re just having cool, authentic conversations.”

Photos: Alycia Lovell, Gale Straub

Being able to meet new people in this way is, in many ways, nostalgic; it reminds us of what it was like to meet others without depending on technology to facilitate our relationships. And being able to cultivate more candid, meaningful connections has proven to be inspiring for attendees. “When I went to Lodged Out, I was in the middle of a depression that [left] me drained and creatively stuck,” Nelson continued. But after resetting at Lodged Out, Nelson had a surge in creative clarity that she isn’t sure she would have found if she hadn’t taken a break from her digital habits.

Detoxing, Nelson says, has now become part of her routine. “I don’t want my work to be series of vector images. I don’t want my friendships to only happen through a tiny screen—Lodged Out reminded me of that,” she said, adding that this experience has reshaped her day-to-day practices. “While I still sit on my computer all day at work and I’m on my phone more than I want, I have become much more diligent about setting screen time limits and have started to dig into analog ways of creating.”

Inspired by the positive feedback and tangible impact the retreats have had on attendees, Hartman has no plans to stop and has plenty of ideas for the future. She hopes to partner with more brands, and intends to build out an online store with limited batch goods made by Lodged Out alums. Hartman already accepts in-kind product donations to include in attendees’ goodie bags (past collaborators have included Rhythm Superfoods, Juniper Ridge, and Cotopaxi), and hopes to establish new partnerships with diverse entrepreneurs and makers. Hartman has also started curating events for companies and groups who want to build relationships or break away from more traditional offsite experiences.

“I don’t want my friendships to only happen through a tiny screen—Lodged Out reminded me of that.”

Ultimately, the existence of Lodged Out is a hopeful one. In a world of omnipresent technology, workaholism, and an obsession with professional productivity, these retreats are a remedy to more traditional means of professional and personal relationship-building. “We’re all so siloed in our lives, we’re not sharing or meeting in person much anymore,” Hartman said.

And while she admits it can sometimes be uncomfortable to think about interacting with others without the psychological security afforded to us by our phones, this hesitance can quickly dissolve in the right kind of environment. At least, that’s what Nelson found during her time at Lodged Out.

“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at our ability to make connections. But making friends without technology was like using a long-dormant muscle,” Nelson concluded. “I was half-amazed we could still do it.”

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