Inside the 'Co-Working Retreats' Where Digital Nomads Travel the World to Work and Party
More Americans are working remotely than ever before. With a little help from a new tourism startup, some of these digital nomads are waking up in private villas in Bali, snacking on fruits from the local market, and bathing in outdoor showers before starting the workday.
photo by unsettled
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Unsettled, founded in 2016, curates 30-day co-working retreats around the world for entrepreneurs, freelancers, and people transitioning between careers. The company promises a productive work environment set in paradise, where participants can break from their routine, find new perspectives, and form authentic professional relationships.

We spoke with Michael Youngblood, a serial entrepreneur and cofounder of Unsettled, on why co-working travel experiences offer something that traditional co-working spaces can't.

 

A "co-working retreat" sounds like a vacation made by millennials for millennials — like the grown-up version of study abroad. But that's not the intention, Youngblood says.

A "co-working retreat" sounds like a vacation made by millennials for millennials — like the grown-up version of study abroad. But that's not the intention, Youngblood says.

Unsettled

 

Unsettled was built on the belief that the best experiences are the ones you are a full participant in. "You have to collaborate, you have to create. You have to connect with people. You have to contribute," Youngblood says.

Unsettled was built on the belief that the best experiences are the ones you are a full participant in. "You have to collaborate, you have to create. You have to connect with people. You have to contribute," Youngblood says.

Unsettled

 

He says these "Four C's" — which he co-opted from an old professor — help people become more fulfilled in all aspects of life, from spirituality to professional development.

He says these "Four C's" — which he co-opted from an old professor — help people become more fulfilled in all aspects of life, from spirituality to professional development.

Unsettled

In 2013, Youngblood was living in Washington, DC, running his own creative agency. "My biggest and only client was MIT, so I was doing work for them. But I had never stepped foot on the campus before," Youngblood says. He started to feel isolated without an office to work in.

Around that time, he put feelers out through social media to see if any friends wanted to take an extended trip where they would work and adventure on the weekends in Bali, an Indonesian island known for its forested volcanic mountains, beaches, and coral reefs. He expected five or six friends to join in. Instead, 42 friends and friends of friends agreed to go.

It was an "ah ha" moment for Youngblood. "I wasn't making money off it, but at the same time, I was like, '$82,000 in revenue for an idea I came up with two weeks ago?'"

 

Youngblood abandoned his other ventures and joined forces with his cofounder, Jonathan Kalan, a freelance photographer. They launched Unsettled in 2016.

 

The company has hosted four trips since October, in places as varied as Buenos Aires, Barcelona, and Medellín, the capital of Colombia's mountainous Antioquia province.

The company has hosted four trips since October, in places as varied as Buenos Aires, Barcelona, and Medellín, the capital of Colombia's mountainous Antioquia province.

Unsettled

 Each retreat caps at about 30 participants and has been filled to or near capacity.

 

Participants pay $1,400 to $2,100, depending on the destination and length of the trip. The price includes a private room, a communal workspace, internet, workshops, and day trips.

 

Youngblood and Kalan interview every applicant and always ask, "How much are you working?" They don't want Unsettled to turn into spring break for slackers.

Youngblood and Kalan interview every applicant and always ask, "How much are you working?" They don't want Unsettled to turn into spring break for slackers.

Unsettled

 

The retreat is structured in a way that allows participants to remain productive. Weekdays are typically work days. Unsettled partners with local co-working spaces in each country it visits and ensures participants have access to a desk and internet connection.

The retreat is structured in a way that allows participants to remain productive. Weekdays are typically work days. Unsettled partners with local co-working spaces in each country it visits and ensures participants have access to a desk and internet connection.

Unsettled

 

Evenings are a time when participants hold workshops and share their unique skills. Discussion topics range from solving a Rubik's cube to listening to yourself.

 

On the weekends, participants check out the iconic rice paddies of Bali or the nightlife of Buenos Aires. Day trip attendance is not required, but most people go, Youngblood says.

 

The company is not profitable, thought it is ramping up the number of retreats. Youngblood says there are 18 to 20 trips in the works for 2017. Their repeat business game is strong. Roughly 15% of participants have returned for a second retreat, and about 35% of their business comes from referrals.

 

Youngblood, who says he was the first in his family to get a US passport and travel the world, returns to Bali in March, where the daily grind doesn't feel quite so boring.

 

by Melia Robinson

Associate Editor