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Why your career could use a solo weekend trip

After so many of us were cooped up at home during COVID, it can provide an excellent opportunity to read a lot and reflect.

Why your career could use a solo weekend trip
[Photo: merc67/iStock]
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Several weeks ago, I took a trip out of my home in Tokyo and up into the foothills of Mount Fuji for a solo weekend, something that I’ve been doing at least once or twice a year for the past few years. The idea is to get away from distractions and spend a few days ensconced in nature and books, by myself. I have found it’s a great way to recharge, get inspired, and catch up on my reading list in a super-focused, intentional manner.

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Taking a solo weekend is needed now more than ever. As the world begins to re-open, we have more opportunities to get out and travel locally. More importantly, after so many of us were cooped up at home during COVID, it can provide an excellent opportunity for some me-time and self-reflection. With a return to the office looming in September or October for many, there’s still some time to find a weekend for some much-needed solitude.

The power of solitude

We often attach a stigma to solitude, equating it with loneliness, but solitude and loneliness are very distinct. Solitude can be liberating, for both introverts and extroverts. When we seek solitude by choice, it can have profound health benefits and makes us more creative. In her 2012 TED talk, author Susan Cain noted that “Solitude is a crucial ingredient often to creativity.” Here’s how you can plan your own solitary getaway.

How to plan and enjoy a solo weekend

The place that you choose to spend your time is vital. Find somewhere that you can get to within two to three hours; you don’t want to spend a big part of your weekend traveling.

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Pick a location based on what recharges you. For me, that’s the mountains or the sea, but I once stayed in Kyoto in a 150-year-old Japanese machiya townhouse, where the building was part of the experience. Whichever you choose, make sure it is somewhere that will motivate you to get out for half the day.

Plan to stay at least two nights so that you have at least one full day for reading and relaxing. Three or four nights is the sweet spot. It hits the right balance between focus and solitude, while not getting behind on professional and personal commitments.

Your accommodation really matters. Here’s what I look for in a place when booking a solo weekend.

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  • It’s quiet to allow for reading and reflection
  • You can come and go whenever you want
  • It has more than one room; it’s nice to have a dedicated room for your reading
  • It’s close to nature for those half-days spent outside

Hotels are often a less-than-ideal match for these criteria, with distractions like room cleaning and noise from other guests. I often book a house or cabin through Airbnb. Find a place that you can treat as your temporary home for a few days.

Bring as many books, physical or electronic, as you think you can get through in a weekend, but don’t feel pressured to read them all. I have found a mix of non-fiction works well. For my recent trip, I read A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut, The Beauty of Everyday Things by Soetsu Yanagi, and To Be Honest by Ron Carucci. This diverse reading gave me a ton of new insights and ideas. Also, bring a notebook to scribble down your thoughts as you get inspired from your environment and your reading.

Spend half a day hiking or exploring—with all the creative and health benefits this brings—and the other half wrapped up in books. I generally spend the morning outdoors, then the afternoon and into the evening stretched out on a sofa, floor, or hammock, focused on reading and sometimes finishing a book a day. On my most recent weekend, I walked between 8-20km each day and then picked each day’s book to match my energy level and time remaining.

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Stay off email and social media as much as possible. This is key. You want to leave the worries and distractions of regular life behind. This doesn’t need to be a complete digital detox. I usually stay offline until after I wrap up the day’s reading. But it’s crucial to focus on getting recharged by the world around you and the words you’re reading, and not be distracted by a not-so-urgent email or Facebook status update. Wait to post your Instagram shots until the evening.

Let your colleagues know what you’re up to, and ask them to respect the isolation that you’re seeking. Add a note to your out-of-office email notification telling people what you’re doing. You could even offer to treat your colleagues to a debrief or review of your reading material when you come back as a kind of payback for the courtesy that they’re showing you. You may even inspire others to try it.

Wrap up things at work before you go, particularly anything that has the potential to blow up while you’re away. While emergencies may happen, it can help to agree with colleagues on what defines an emergency and when you would need to be contacted, noting that they might expect a few hours before you reply.

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Leave the work laptop behind. This avoids any temptation to do some work. A smartphone should be enough, or maybe a tablet to catch up on some viewing in the evening. Leave anything that smacks of work at the office or home.

Finally, don’t be too dogmatic about any of the previous tips. Adapt to what works best for you. The key is not to feel stressed about your solo time but to make it enjoyable and refreshing in a way that works for you.

A solo weekend is nothing new, people have been doing these for decades. But with lockdowns, our global WFH experience, and the imminent return to the office, there has never been a better time to take a short break from friends, family, and colleagues. Here’s wishing you happy trails and happy reads as you embark on your own solo weekend.

About the author

Darren Menabney lives in Tokyo, where he leads global employee engagement at Ricoh and teaches MBA students at GLOBIS University. Follow him on Twitter at @darmenab.

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