What I learned about coworking camps and digital nomad retreats when organizing my own.

During my sabbatical, I decided to set up a coworking camp for betahaus in collaboration with our lovely friends from DNX and Copass. I was super surprised to learn that this is a huge trend and new providers are popping up everywhere. Here is what I learned about the format and its growing market.

In November, we started to work on a 10-day getaway to a Greek island set to take place this summer. In a collaborative effort, we wanted to bring together different communities of coworkers, digital nomads, and startups to connect, exchange ideas, and have a nice time in a holiday paradise.

This idea seemed to resonate with many coworkers at betahaus and beyond. We were able to quickly sell many seats after setting up the landing page.

But what I realized on the way was that it is not only our camp that is selling well. These kinds of camps and retreats are, in general, absolutely on the rise. In every corner of the planet, people seem to set up a retreat location or a temporary camp directed at digital entrepreneurs, nomads, and startups. The combination of coworking, living, and holiday seems to hit a sweet spot among digital natives.

There are digital nomad sailing boats and cruise ships that are sailing around the world. There are whole islands waiting to be populated and there are even travel agencies built around this new type of traveler.

There are generally three different types of camps:

  1. A temporary getaway with a group of up to 10–30 people, mostly around 7–14 days duration.
  2. All-year programs where you can hop on and off more or less when you want while the actual group is moving around the planet.
  3. Fixed locations very close to coworking spaces, with the additional offer to accommodate people and take over most of the organizational work for setting up retreats if you want go there with a group.

(Have a look at the overview spreadsheet I used over here.)

Just for fun and to be a little bit scientific, I also had a quick look at the “hooks” and taglines of these organizations and how they are selling their camps/retreats on their websites. The keywords were circling around: bringing a super interesting community to an inspiring and beautiful environment. This seems to be the common sense selling argument of camp organizers. Not a surprise, because that’s exactly what we want to do with our camp, too.

Landingpage of southwestcollective.co

I think what happens is that even when having a flexible agenda as an entrepreneur, there is rarely enough time and mindspace in our daily lives. It is really hard to make profound connections or deeply think about something in this dense environment. The solution is to escape the routines and make some space at a coworking camp outside your regular day-to-day activity. Booking a trip to a remote island and making sure there are enough like-minded and interesting people seems to do the trick for many people.

For digital nomads, the picture looks slightly different: Nomads are working all year from the beaches of kolanta or the jungle of ubud. They are in beautiful destinations all the time. For them it is super relevant to meet the right people with the the right content and make meaningful connections on those occasions. You could say camps and retreats are specialized gathering points for these “tribes.”

The funny thing is that outside this bubble most people think we are crazy. Those who are not involved in coworking or digital nomadism wonder why we invest time and money to travel to a beautiful holiday destination and then, when we’re there, we try to get work done instead of chilling out. I get their point and it is really weird in a way. But there are good reasons to start transforming your holiday into something more meaningful than “just” hanging out at the beach, right?

Having said all of the above, it is absolutely clear that if work changes and so does the way we live, the role of “the holiday” also goes through a fundamental change. We can see it happening right now by the example of retreats, sabbaticals and coworking camps. There will probably be more to come.

If you want to experience it firsthand, I suggest joining us or one of the other camps in the near future. I definitely will write a travel report from the inside of our camp after I am back from Greece at the end of June to share some firsthand experience.

Until then, follow me on Medium or DM me on Facebook if you have questions.

POC 21 Camp Paris 2016 – Photo by Stephano Borghi