How to Get Away: An Introduction

Enjoy this free chapter from How to Get Away, written by Getaway Founders Jon Staff and Pete Davis.

The digital age has left us unbalanced. We’re not just connected; we’re suffering from social and technology overload. We rarely experience the joy of solitude or the respite of nature. We’re always on; we never turn off.

We started our company, Getaway, to help counterbalance these digital-age excesses. Seeking balance isn’t a new (or even New Age) idea: We can trace it all the way back to Aristotle, who taught that virtue could be found in the balance—the “golden mean”—between extremes. For years, we’d been talking about how we could build something to provide some disconnection to our fellow tech addicts, some nature to our fellow city folk, and some leisure to our fellow workaholics. To our surprise and delight, we’ve been able to weave these projects together into a single business, which designs tiny cabins, places them in the woods, and invites folks to rent them out by the night. While on a Getaway, guests disconnect from their cell phones and work, and reconnect with the world beyond the daily grind.

It’s the kind of reprieve we were looking for ourselves. After college—where we met and became friends—we got wrapped up in the hustle of city living and stressful, time-consuming jobs. We were cranky and tired, and often joked to each other about wishing we could just run away to the woods.

Several years ago, in need of a break, Pete decided to get off the grid for a weekend. He found an Airbnb listing for an RV in the middle of a farm a few hours away from his D.C.-area home. He went out alone, with just a book and a change of clothes. The RV was dilapidated and full of bugs, but he loved being there anyway—it was an incredible feeling to hole up in that little home, far away from the rest of his life, and give himself permission to do nothing.

Jon had a similar experience when he and some friends booked a stay at a geodesic dome on a farm in Connecticut. It was a cold January, and the group arrived to find wind blowing snow under the sides of the unheated dome. A few of the friends weren’t especially keen on sleeping in snowdrifts, so the farmer who owned the property kindly offered to let them stay in a nearby shed instead. The shed wasn’t much more than four walls and a roof, but at least the walls went all the way down to the ground, keeping out the wind and snow. The group bundled inside with a pile of blankets, then spent the night talking and playing cards by the light and heat of a single bulb.

These trips have stayed with us as some of our favorite memories: pockets of space and time that allowed us to expand our thinking beyond the stresses of our daily lives and connect with versions of ourselves that felt more authentic and meaningful.

We’ve also thought about the people we know who exemplify the kind of balance we’d like to have in our own lives. For Jon, one of these people is his great-uncle, a former high school principal who runs a small family farm. Despite the responsibilities of both jobs, Jon’s great-uncle somehow always seems calm and fully in control. He’s an authority figure with an easygoing demeanor who’s earned the respect of everyone he encounters. He’s also a model of balanced living: civic-minded and community-oriented, but deeply connected to the land, too.

Pete thinks of a family friend who became a Benedictine monk. When Pete was young, he and his family traveled to visit the friend at his monastery on a farm in Missouri, and Pete went back to spend a few days there in 2015. Both times, he was struck by the serenity of monastic life. (As a kid, he was also struck by the fact that there were no TVs!) Days in the monastery were structured around six periods of prayer known as the Liturgy of the Hours. In between, the monks worked in the garden or at the print shop. Returning as an adult, Pete was acutely aware of how hectic and frenetic his thoughts and speech seemed compared to the calm demeanor of the monks, who’d pared down their concerns to the practice of their faith and the tasks required to maintain a devotional, community life. After a few days at the monastery, Pete could feel himself settling into a slower pace, as his outside-world anxieties ebbed away.

These were the seeds that would grow into Getaway: a desire to carve out the space and time to slow down, take stock, connect with nature, and return to a more analog way of living. In 2015, after some late-night brainstorming, a few months of sketching with Harvard Graduate School of Design students, a few weeks of carpentry (with the help of Jon’s very handy dad),and a harrowing drive north on Interstate 93 with a tiny cabin in tow, the first Boston Getaway house arrived in southern New Hampshire. We named it Ovida, after our then-intern’s grand- mother. When that house filled up, we added a second, Lorraine (after Jon’s grandmother), and then a third, Clara (after Pete’s).

Three Getaway cabins became ten, then thirty, and now almost a hundred. It’s been a great adventure, one that has taken us and our tiny cabins from the mountains of New Hampshire to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and even to the set of Shark Tank. As we grow, we do our best to remember that if Getaway is successful, that has less to do with us than with the simple idea at the center of the business: helping people restore balance to their lives.

It’s why we have a cell phone lockbox in each of our cab- ins—to help guests experience the joy of disconnection. It’s why our cabins are in the woods and come with constellation maps—to help folks get closer to nature. And it’s why we have no Wi-Fi—to help guests break away from their work.

We hope we’ll have the opportunity to bring balance to the world in more ways than one. We’re also working hard to build a company culture that provides balance to everyone who works there, and can become a sustainable model for other workplaces.

Now that we’ve built our business, we want to share the philosophy that informs it. Borrowing from Aristotle’s concept of balance as a virtue, we’ve laid out three virtues for the digital age: the virtue of balancing technology and disconnection, the virtue of balancing city life and nature, and the virtue of balancing work and leisure. In each section, we’ll begin by taking a frank look at the dangers of the various extremes we have reached. Next, we’ll share the scientifically proven benefits of moderating these extremes. And finally, we’ll explore some of the exciting ways people are already finding balance in the digital age.

In doing so, we’ll examine various cultural trends that have emerged over the past few years: digital detoxes, Japanese forest bathing, the Danish art of hygge, the National Day of Unplugging, and much more. If the past decade was about the Silicon Valley–fueled obsession with being plugged in and always on, the next decade is going to be about rediscovering the joy of unplugging and turning off.

We’re not against the city—Jon lives in New York, Pete in D.C., and we both love the people, places, and food that surround us. We’re not antitechnology—we are really delighted that we didn’t have to write this book on a mechanical type- writer, given the number of arguments we had about misplaced commas. We’re also not antiwork—we love what we do, and we hope we can get to a world where everyone does what they love. Our goal is to live lives of balance, and our hope is that we can help others do the same.