When you stop seeing the forest through the trees,...

When you stop seeing the forest through the trees, go hike

You do not need to be experiencing burn-out to need some well deserved vacation. However, taking time off can be a challenge, and even when you do you might still be checking your emails. Few people would disagree with the statement that “vacation is good for your health”, and in fact it has been studied. Here is one example from the literature, supporting the health benefits of taking time off. Regardless that we all know it is good for us, it remains difficult to schedule real time off where we can disconnect from day-to-day pressures.

In fact, there are few places where you are forced to be completely disconnected. Short of going to a remote or deserted island, most places give us ample opportunity to stay in touch with work, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and generally the world. Having a completely un-plugged vacation can amplify the benefits of taking time off, and if you try hard enough (and make sure you have left contingency plans at work for your departure) you can find a number of opportunities to unplug. Prevention is much better than a cure, and risking long-term sick leave should be enough motivation to try avoid burn out.

Anecdotally, people who also travel for work might be even more at risk. Working across time zones, often traveling on the weekends, and sacrificing personal time while on the road to keep up with emails all contribute to business travel being exhausting.

It has not been uncommon that I’ve had periods of traveling on Friday for a conference that goes on all weekend, then traveling back on Monday and going straight into a regular work week. Repeat this a few times, and you need to remind yourself to take a break again. For some time, traveling for pleasure has been lower on the list, because I saw enough airports and planes when traveling for business. Relaxing for me has largely been staying home on weekends I am in London. I’ve also started doing my fair share of exploring London. Either way, it doesn’t qualify as a real vacation and it is not an opportunity to unplug. Staying home still means doing admin and other work.

Some major changes in my personal life combined with a realization that I started to lose focus, I recognized it was time to take a few days off. I’ve had the desire for some time to completely unplug and disconnect from the world at some point. I always thought that was wishful thinking, but recently considered that with careful preparation, it should be possible.

Selecting my getaway

I started doing my research about a month before going on my business trip to Philadelphia. My flight to Philadelphia came the day after I got back from Edinburgh, and had I come straight back from Philadelphia I would have been on four flights in six days. Nothing too extraordinary, especially not for business travellers, but it did seem like a perfect opportunity to take some time off right after my Philadelphia meetings.

For some time I’ve wanted to take a vacation where I could completely unplug. Related to that, I also wanted to be in nature, get back to basics and work on my health and fitness.

We spend so much time indoors, at our desk, behind computer screens or on planes. Even when away from the computer, we are checking our phones. A standing desk cannot save us either. When we can’t see the forest through the trees, I figured it is time to reconnect with nature and go take a hike.

After some research, the best fit for a relaxing vacation, that would still be active and take me back to nature and back to basics turned out to be a health retreat. My preferred locations were Pennsylvania, or Ontario. It did not take long for me to find the perfect health retreat. Deerfield spa is located just a couple of hours from both Philadelphia and New York. Nestled in the Pocono Mountains it would give me ample opportunity to connect with nature. The cherry on the cake is that at Deerfield Spa everything is taken care of: three meals and two snacks a day take the guesswork out of what to eat, or when to eat it. Healthy meals would keep me on track while working on kick starting a new fitness routine I could take back home. After contacting Joan, the owner, and receiving her enthusiastic email back I was sold!

To avoid wasting any time, I planned to drive up to Deerfield Spa after the conference finished. This meant breaking down the booth, packing, picking up the rental car, loading it, and then driving for a few hours. The earliest I would arrive would be 10pm, but that wasn’t a problem. I only had 6 days I could take off, and I wanted to jump right into my healthy routine the next morning.

I started my drive around just before 9pm, with a large cappuccino in hand, the music on and using Maps on my iPad to guide me into the mountains. As I drove on the freeway in the dark, I started to feel increasingly free. I love being busy, I love my job, and I love my family and friends; but it was also quite exciting to leave everything behind for a few days and focus just on my health.

Maps on iPad image

I was taking healthy travel to a whole new level. As I was getting closer, the roads got darker and traffic lighter. It was getting late into the night, and soon enough Maps told me my destination would be on the right. I pulled into a driveway that looked a little bit too dark, but figured it was a rural area and everyone at the spa should be asleep. As I drove up to the house I realized the house did not at all look like the pictures from the website, and soon enough I figured the lack of upkeep on the garden did not really signal “health retreat and spa” to me. As fast as I could I turned the car around, and sped off the driveway as some lights went on in the house. With some guilt for waking the locals, I followed the road a bit further until 20 meters down I saw the Deerfield Spa sign. I pulled in to what looked a lot more like what I had seen on the website.

After a fairly long drive, seeing Joan’s beaming smile was just the welcome I needed. I fell in to the big comfy bed that was waiting for me that night, and I slept like I hadn’t in a long time.

This article is the first of a series, covering my days at Deerfield Spa. Stay tuned for a detailed overview of what you can expect from a health and fitness retreat! 

Christine Buske is a former academic who left science at the bench, and now considers herself a woman in tech. She is a frequently invited speaker, and enjoys talking about career transformation (particularly leaving academia for the business world), tech, issues around women in tech, product management, agile, and outreach. She is a proud Canadian resident, and qualifies as a "serial expat".


  1. Jennifer

    20 July

    I never thought about going on a health retreat. I am adding this to my bucket list and can’t wait to hear more about the rest of it!

  2. Khusro

    20 July

    What a wonderful post! Just reading this gave me feelings of calm and made me feel so relaxed. I could feel waves of serenity and peace washing over me, but with a large and overarching presence of the three things that this post signifies the most: freedom, health and well-being.

    I feel the most poignant comment from the article was this:

    We spend so much time indoors, at our desk, behind computer screens or on planes. Even when away from the computer, we are checking our phones. A standing desk cannot save us either. When we can’t see the forest through the trees, I figured it is time to reconnect with nature and go take a hike.

    I would love to try this retreat myself someday, it sounds like the perfect way to disconnect and recharge and Joan sounds like such a lovely person. Thank you Christine!

    • Thanks Kushro! I really appreciate your feedback and am happy you are considering going on a health retreat yourself. It is really one of the best things you can do for yourself. Stay tuned for more tales from the trail!

  3. Ysanne

    22 July

    Goed artikel! Ik vind het ook altijd lastig om echt offline te gaan tijdens vakantie. Juist omdat je zoveel tijd hebt is het verleidelijk om naar je telefoon te graaien.

  4. Gareth

    22 July

    For a few years I hardly took vacation time, and actually got burn-out eventually. The time I had to take off to recover was so much more damaging to my career and business than taking a vacation here and there would have been. Nice to read this and remind myself to take care of myself once in a while as well. Looking forward to the next instalment.

  5. pblondon07

    28 July

    really nice ending there, and I can’t agree more. I love my family and my job, but the thought about leaving it all behind for a few days and just checking out to reboot my body and mind, it sounds like heaven.

  6. jess

    29 July

    I need to try this and abandon my phone during my vacation. Going to a retreat like you did probably helps though, where the focus is not on tourism but on health.

  7. Cole

    21 February

    Loved this idea. I always do city trips for my holiday, but get back even more tired than when I left. Loads to see and learn, and that is great, but at the same time it would be good to actually take some time and properly recharge.

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