Four years ago, an email landed in my inbox for a new retreat, Designer Vaca. Held annually in Palm Springs, the all female gathering for creatives quickly grew from a group of 25 to close to 200 attendees. Every year, though very different from the last, has held one central theme: openness. No matter how many ladies attend, a sense of friendliness and a willingness to share stories and ideas resonates and that’s what keeps me coming back.
I talk about Designer Vaca a lot because it really shifted my career by giving me the confidence to drop all outside gigs and trust that I could be my own boss. I went from being scared shitless the first year to having my own studio the second. Meeting other women doing the exact same thing made me feel less alone. It also provided me with a strong support network — ladies I’d only knew online became close friends and that makes all the difference when you’re working for yourself, unsure of what each day holds.
Showing up to Designer Vaca has taught me a lot and if you’re considering attending, I wanted to share some tips to make your time there as smooth as possible:
1. Register Fast
When tickets go on sale, things get crazy and they are usually completely sold out in 1 to 2 days. Even if you’re on the fence about attending, just buy the damn ticket! Worst case scenario is that you can always sell it to a friend or offer it up in the private Facebook group. Sign up to the mailing list to be the first to find out when registration re-opens.
2. Stay Late
The retreat flies by and it can be a little overwhelming networking when you’re still trying to get your bearings. Whenever I’ve left as soon as the retreat was over, I’ve regretted it big time. An extra day or two allows you to get to know more ladies on a deeper level without the set schedule — it’s the perfect time to hang out by the pool or go on group trips to Joshua Tree and Salvation Mountain. Your post-retreat time is sacred. It’s the ideal time to discover, explore and most importantly, relax!
3. Fly Into LA
Palm Springs has a teeny, tiny airport that’s quite expensive to fly into. The most cost efficient way to get to the retreat is to fly into LA and then drive to Palm Springs. Depending on traffic, it’s about two hours from LAX. And, there’s plenty of fun stuff to see on the way like the Cabazon Dinosaurs!
Tons of the girls attending Designer Vaca are California natives and have extra room in their cars. If you can get to LAX, chances are that you can hitch a ride to the retreat! My friend Pam carpooled this year and had the time of her life with a group of ladies in a rented yellow Camaro. Once you register, you’ll automatically be added to the private Designer Vaca Facebook group and you can hook up with a carpool in there.
5. Pair Up With Roomies
Whether you’re trying to save some money or just want to make some new friends, partnering up with roommates is a great option. Between hitting the talks, dinners and pool, the time you spend in your room is so little, anyway! To find roommates, join the Facebook group.
6. Hot Tub After Hours
This is a big one! Everyone is always exhausted from traveling but the real magic happens at night in the hot tub. I always have the most memorable conversations (from Burning Man to weird celebrity trivia, all bases are covered) and though I’m tired the next day, it’s nothing a strong cup of coffee can’t cure.
7. Focus on Quality Over Quantity
With 100+ women to see and meet, it can be difficult to even scratch the surface. When our group was just 25 ladies, I walked away knowing everyone on a more personal level. But with the growth, it’s just impossible to meet everyone. Instead, I’ve started messaging ladies on Instagram that I really want to meet and then letting the rest of my interactions happen naturally. This year, I made so many new friends just by joining different groups and eating lunch by the Ace pool.
8. Pack Business Cards
I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it again: BUSINESS CARDS ARE NOT DEAD! Some of the interactions you’ll have are in packed, loud rooms. It’s impossible to understand your contact information when you’re shouting it out — save everyone the trouble and hand out cards. Since this is a design-focused retreat, it’s also the perfect opportunity to show off your skills. A lot of the girls Instagram the cards they’ve gotten afterwards so once again, it’s a great marketing opportunity. Based on the cards I gathered this year, most of us are using Moo Luxe.
9. Be Fearless
This year, I read so many Instagram updates from new ladies who were very open about how nervous they were to attend Designer Vaca. Whenever you attend something new, that’s totally normal! Nerves kick in, you wonder if you’re too old or too young, you wonder if your website looks good enough and if your outfits are cute enough. Seriously, throw all that out the window. I felt that exact same way the first year and within a day, I was over it. Don’t waste your time or energy second-guessing yourself. Instead, use that energy to go out of your way to make someone else feel welcome. If you see a lady standing by herself on opening night, say hello. This is not the time to be shy — everyone is there to network!
10. Use The Photo Booth
Every year, I drag all my friends into the Ace Hotel photo booth and every time, I’m so thankful that I have those memories. Swipe that card a few times — the photo strips are perfect for your inspiration board back home. Even better, scan the strip and email it to everyone in it. I did that the first year and it definitely made me more memorable to my new friends.
11. Rise Early
The sunrises in Palm Springs are some of the best in the world. There’s nothing quite like being in the desert…so don’t miss out! Also, the main restaurant at the Ace, King’s Highway, gets packed in the mornings before we head to the 10 a.m. talks. Getting food, let alone the check can take forever. Get a move on it and beat the crowds.
12. Keep It Casual
While it’s nice to dress up on opening night (the atmosphere is like a casual cocktail party), the rest of the time is super laid back. Most of our time is spent attending talks or lounging by the pool so keep it simple. Just don’t forget to pack a swimsuit, sunscreen and sunglasses!
13. Leave The Compound
While staying at the Ace is fun, Palm Springs is full of amazing hotels, restaurants and sights. My favorite places to eat are Las Casuelas for Mexican and Lulu’s California Bistro for a bit of everything — this is a total crowd pleaser, no matter what your dietary restrictions are. I also like The Avalon for poolside drinks, Birba for pizza and Cheeky’s for brunch.
14. Chill Out
Designer Vaca is fantastic for networking but at the end of the day, don’t forget to relax. There’s nothing worse than leaving a vacation feeling totally exhausted! The scheduling at the retreat is purposely minimal so you have time to hang out, get some sun and recharge. Let things happen naturally — there’s no race to the finish line!
15. Be Yourself
There’s no reason to put on a show — everyone who’s new to the group feels just as self-conscious and as worried as you. Vulnerability is encouraged — the more open you are, the more likely you’ll draw in your ideal tribe of new friends. During Designer Vaca, I’ve seen tears shed and we’ve all confessed moments of complete failure. These are the stories that bring us together because we are all human. We all have ups and downs. If you want to connect on a deeper level, you have to be willing to open up. The support system I’ve gotten from these ladies is unreal.
I hope these tips help you have an amazing time at Designer Vaca. And if you have any questions, let me know in the comments below!