How to Plan a Creative Retreat Weekend

How to Plan a Creative Retreat Weekend via Chrystina Noel

In early March I had the pleasure of attending (well, and planning) a creative retreat weekend for three pretty fabulous ladies. We spent the weekend in Lancaster, PA – only 1.5 hours of Philadelphia, but it still felt great to get out of the City for a while – and to have some ladies to chat with about blogging and business troubles that we’re currently facing these days. And you know what? It was really quite easy to put together, I highly recommend it if you’re stuck in a rut and looking for a little more inspiration in your life. Here’s how to make it happen:

Choose a location

Admittedly, every part of me wants to be the person who emails a group of people and then decide all together where you want to spend the weekend, that’s just the kind of girl I am. I knew that was going to be really complicated though, so I went ahead and chose the location: Lancaster, PA, which turned out to be perfect. Here were my criteria:

  • Close enough to the city that it made sense to go for a weekend.
  • Not super expensive.
  • Must have cute coffee shops.

How to Plan a Creative Retreat Weekend via Chrystina Noel

Figure out a loose budget

Before you invite people to something, you need to know how much it’s roughly going to cost, that way people will know whether or not they’re able to financially commit. Break down your costs into the following categories:

  • Hotel/Lodging: Find a boutique hotel, an AirBNB, or stay at a friend’s house who lives in the area. Admittedly, I had a bunch of hotel points that were going to expire soon, so we used points to rent a hotel for two nights, which made this part of the trip $0.
  • Transportation: How will you get there? Will you need to rent a car? Is it cheaper to take public transportation than to have to park a car over night? What will gas and tolls cost?
  • Meals: Every individual has her own control over this, but have an idea if you want to go out for expensive dinners or stick to the basics ahead of time.

Figure out a loose itinerary

This will help provide some framework around what people will expect to do, what they will get out of the weekend, and what kind of logistics they should be planning for. Questions to consider include:

  • When will you arrive?
  • How many nights will you be staying?
  • What type of meals will you be eating?
  • What will you do each day?
  • When will you leave?

 How to Plan a Creative Retreat Weekend via Chrystina Noel

Send out your initial email

Choose some people that inspire you to come on the adventure. Keeping the list small will keep it manageable (in my brain once your group is large enough that you can’t all stay in the same location, you’re making it too complicated for yourself). Here’s what my initial email looked like:

Hi guys,

…I have 2 nights at a Holiday Inn that I need to book before Friday. I know some of you live in that area already, but I thought it would be fun to do a blogging retreat type thing at the Holiday Inn in Lancaster/Litiz. We can stay Friday and Saturday night. We can find a cute café to visit, we can set aside a bunch of time for blogging stuff we want to get ahead on, we can go out to dinner, and the stay itself will be free. I’ll be more than happy to itinerary it out if people are into that. And we can all drive there.

Upcoming dates that work for me:

  • February 3-5…



We found a date that worked (2 months out) and put it on the calendar all within 3 days.

Finalize some of the details

Once you know you’re going and book a place to stay, you have some time to figure out the details. I said in my email that that I would “itinerary it out” if people are into that. It turned out everybody was into the idea of a loose itinerary, and I would highly recommend it just to make sure the weekend has some forward momentum.

  • How will you be splitting the costs? Know this information ahead of time. Will one person be paying and everybody else will Venmo them. Should people come prepared with cash?
  • Structure your itinerary. Here was our plan: Arrive Friday night, have dinner at Bull’s Head, go to a café Saturday morning, mastermind conversations, lunch, go to the West Elm Outlet in the afternoon, have a nice dinner at Luca, wine in the hotel room, Sunday brunch, and head home. It was a loose enough itinerary to have a plan, but vague enough that we could decide things as we went (like what coffee shop to choose, where we would eat, and how long everything would take).
  • What will people need to bring? Sure, there’s toothbrush, toothpaste, underwear, etc, but should people also come prepared with specific questions? In doing my research for how to plan one of these, I found a great freebie from Sarah von Bargen at Yes and Yes called How to DIY a Creative Mastermind Retreat, where she mentioned having everyone give a small presentation on a topic to everyone else. I decided to keep it simpler for the first time around and ask everybody to come up with something they were struggling with right now to talk about.

 How to Plan a Creative Retreat Weekend via Chrystina Noel

Don’t forget to:

  • Exchange phone numbers (and consider starting a group text message to get people excited and coordinate logistics).
  • Make dinner reservations ahead of time.

Things I would do differently next time:

  • We had some really great conversations, but we didn’t accomplish much on the getting shit done front. There was time in the afternoon we could have planned better to be work session time.
  • Don’t be doing the Whole 30 before you go to a really great bar. (Ha, this was my own personal problem.)

My biggest worry before we got there was that people weren’t going to get anything out of it. It was actually really stressing me out. All of my worrying turned out to be pointless though (as worrying usually does). The weekend went wonderfully. Four people was just the right amount. It was amazing how effortlessly the conversation flowed from blogging to life to business ideas to shopping to internet culture. This is all to say that so long as you choose people that you’re excited to spend time with on your retreat, it will all turn out fine in the end.

Let me know if you end up planning a creative retreat weekend – or if you have any additional questions about planning your own. I’d love to help you out.

As for me? I’m definitely thinking about planning other one. I just need to choose the next location. I’ll keep y’all posted.

How to Make a Guest List: Party Planning 101

Party Planning 101 - How to Create a Guest List via Chrystina Noel

Today we’re continuing the Party Planning 101 series with how to make a guest list. We started with how to choose a party theme and then worked our way to how to choose a venue. Once you have the party theme and venue, you already have a good idea of the type of people and amount of people that you’re going to be able to accommodate.

It may seem like a simple starting point, but there are enough things to consider when you make a guest list that this deserves a post of its own.

The first question you want to start by asking yourself is, “am I paying for each person or are they each paying their own way?” If you are paying, now is a good time to roughly look at your budget and see how many people you will be able to accommodate. Once you know this, you can figure out you’ll be able to answer the who and how many question for most parties. For example:

  • A spa party in your living room: you can probably accommodate 6-12 guests who like doing feminine things
  • A bowling party at the boutique bowling alley down the street: you will probably need to some back-of-the-napkin math to see how many people you can accomodate – and then invite people who like activities
  • A beer and cheese party in your living room: you can probably accommodate 8-15 guests who appreciate good beer and/or cheese
  • A soccer party at the park down the street: you can probably accommodate a large group of people, but ideally it will be however many people you need for each team plus a few substitutes that enjoy being active in their day-to-day life
  • A murder mystery party in your house: this number of attendees is derived based on the game you choose to play – and make sure that you invite people who will enjoy role playing for the evening
  • A nice dinner out at a restaurant: you will probably need to do some back-of-the-napkin math to see how many people you can accommodate – or if you’re not paying, choose a number of people that will easily be able to enjoy each other’s company – and then look to the foodies and good conversationalists in your life to fill the table
  • A make your own pizza party in your kitchen: the limiting factor for this party is probably how many pizzas you can fit in your oven at once to have everyone eat at a reasonably similar time – and of course, you can probably invite anybody to this party because who doesn’t like making your own pizza?

Once you have a general understanding of what direction you’re heading, you can start to finalize the guest list with the following steps.

Step 1: Write down everybody you would possibly invite.

This is the fun part where you can write down all possible attendees. Think about who you’ve seen in the past week, think about who you wish you’ve seen in the past few months. Go through your phone contacts and look through your recent Facebook messages. Check who your top emailed contacts are and look through the stack of business cards sitting in the corner of your desk. Make sure that you consider plus ones and children as well. Once you have a full list of people that could possibly attend, it’s much easier to figure out the best attendees for the party.

I always use an Excel spreadsheet and sort people into groups/columns of how I know them. This way I can make sure that everyone knows at least one other person at the party (or has something in common with them that they can talk about while they’re filling up their wine glasses). It also helps you to make sure that you don’t forget anybody in a general category.

Every time I’ve messed up the guest list for a party, it’s because I didn’t spend enough time writing down all the possible attendees. I’ve thought, “oh, I know who usually comes to my parties” and I’ve ended up leaving out some key folks that should have been invited. It’s always a bummer when that happens

Step 2: Narrow down the list.

Once you see the list of everybody you could possibly invite, you have a better look at the big picture. Some names may obvious come together. You may have been looking to introduce your co-worker who loves board games to your neighbor who has been looking for a new Scrabble buddy. Jon and Jamie might both currently be planning trips to France. The party may not really be female- or male-oriented. The party may not be suitable for children. Take a look at the list overall and decide what the best fit for your party is. Here are two tips when narrowing down the list:

  • I like to always make sure that there are a few people on my list that I know are okay talking to anybody. They’re super useful people to have around, especially if all of your guests don’t already know each other. Everybody on your list doesn’t need to know everybody else, but having a few of these connectors or having activities planned can totally ease that transition. More on that in months of Party 101 to come.
  • If you’re planning a party where you need a specific amount of attendees (a murder mystery party, a board game night where you want to play 7 Wonders at full capacity, etc) and/or you’re dishing out a lot of money per guest make sure that you invite people that you know are reliable. Everybody has those friends that you know tend to back out last minute, so a party where you are targeting a specific number of attendees or need to pay if somebody doesn’t show up is probably not the time to invite those folks.

You’ll notice that in the introduction to this blog post I said that we were trying to figure out how many people you could accommodate, not invite. That’s because unfortunately, not everybody is going to be able to come to your party. (A total bummer, I know.) If there are super specific people you want there, make sure to check in with them before choosing a date. Otherwise, you’re probably going to end up with a hodge podge of your invite list.

In my experience, as a 28-year-old living in a city, I have found that if I invite 40 people to a party one to two months out, 20 people (50%) with RSVP yes, and then around 12 (60% of those who said yes,  30% of those you invited) will show up the day of the party. Now, I wouldn’t use those statistics as a rule of thumb, you have to figure out what works in your own crew. I asked a friend who lives out in the suburbs whose friends hang out together quite often and she said that for a major event (like a 30th birthday party) she gets about an 80% turnout, whereas if it’s just a regular event she gets about a 50% turnout.

Start small, see if you can gauge roughly how many usually say yes, and you can build up from there.

Step 3: Finalize the guest list.

Take a look at whoever you’ve circled, starred, and highlighted on your original guest list. Make sure that you’ve allowed for people bringing plus ones and/or their kids to the party (if you so choose). And that’s it – you’re done.

Things you shouldn’t spend too much time worrying about.

  • Even though you’ve finalized the guest list, remember that it’s technically a rolling invite list – and not in that A-list, B-list kind of way. If you genuinely forgot somebody, you can always catch somebody in person or give somebody a call to say, “you know what, you should totally come to this party I’m having” without it being too awkward.

This is a good time to bring up tiered invites. And here’s the thing. I’m not even really sure they’re tiered. What I usually find is that I end up with a few small groups of people who already know each other and I can’t invite one without inviting everyone, so I may just not invite the whole group on Day 1. Sometimes I will send out the invites to the group who I think the party applies the most to, get a feeling on whether people will be able to join and then 1-2 days later send an invitation out to the second group. They’re not quite tiered, you just want to make sure that you have room for enough people so everyone knows somebody there. Does anybody have any thoughts on this? Since it’s a wedding and not a party, I say just host a second party for the second group.

  • The only instance I can think that it’s worth making the guest list before you choose the venue is a wedding. A wedding is an event where you want everybody there who can possibly be there to share your big day with all of the important people in your life. A random party at your house? Don’t put that much pressure on yourself. If you’re new to hosting parties start small, keep it simple, and don’t worry if you can’t invite all of your friend groups to the same party. One day you can either (a) work up to that, or (b) get yourself a bigger apartment so that they’ll all actually fit.
  • Don’t bother trying to get a solid ratio of males to females. Depending at what stage of your life you’re in, things are going to change. If there’s only one outlier, maybe consider not inviting them, but in general, it’s up to the attendees if they want to join in on the fun. (If you use an online invitation tool like Evite, others can even see who else has been invited so they can make their decision according to how they feel comfortable.)

Things you should spend some time thinking about.

  • If everybody you’re inviting to the party is in a couple, make sure you give the single friends an option to bring a plus one (a friend, a romantic partner, a co-worker, whatever).
  • Now’s the time to start gauging if there are any people who have specific diets. It probably shouldn’t affect the invite list, but just make a mental note for later.
  • If you have a really big group of friends and you’re worried about hurting people’s feelings, I would try to figure out if there’s a logical way to split the group. Whether that’s boys/girls, beer drinkers/wine drinkers, people who like to stay up late/people who get up early, I would find a very obvious split so that you have an answer if anybody asks. When I said this to Ben he said, “so you’re really just saying plan more than one party.” Yeah, I guess so…

I was recently asked if you actually need a guest list for your party. Technically, the answer is no. There’s no reason you actually have to do this step before inviting people. I’m just kind of scatterbrained and frazzled sometimes. (Like that time I made an entire party list and forgot to put my boyfriend at the time on the list.) So if you have a group of friends that are the only folks you would invite to a party, I still recommend writing it down, just keep the list of paper as your reference guide for when you send out the invitations. And here’s to all of you with way better memories than me.

Now you have your party theme, party venue, and guest list, so it’s time to start sending out the invitations. Stay tuned for next month’s Party Planning 101 post to find out what information you should be including on your party invitation.

PS. Following Party Invitations you will find posts on managing multiple groups of friends, entertaining your guests, setting up the space, planning the logistics, being a great hostess, and more. If there’s any questions you have, please let me know!

Find The Best Wine Under $20

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

It’s been two years since I had my last “find the best wine” party. The inspiration for this party was the suggestion to add a chalkboard to my living room that could be utilized during parties. It seemed like the perfect time to take a second stab at finding the best wine under $20. (Last time it was under $10, but now we’ve grown up a bit.)

A word for the wise. (Just going to lay this out there right off the bat.) There’s something I forgot about this type of party. In order to get the absolute most out of it, you should definitely specify which type of wine you’re trying to find the best of – whether that’s find the best merlot under $20, find the best sweet wine under $20, or find the best wine to pair with my favorite gouda under $20. That would definitely bring more structure to the party and result with an actual outcome. When you have 10 different bottles of wine, you’re essentially voting on your favorite type of wine. I guess we’re just going to have to do it again. (Rough life, I know.)

That said. Please note that for the 22 oz. beer party I had where the purpose was to just try as many beers as possible, I think it was totally acceptable to have all different varieties. It made it more interesting for the pallet – and there was something there for everyone.

Now, onto the party.

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

I was very proud of myself. After a few weeks of parties where I had way too much food, I think I got it right for this one.

Wine Party Menu

  • Baked Ziti, Ricotta, and Mozzarella – it’s super easy to make ahead of time, feeds a lot of people, and is great reheated if you have leftovers
  • Cheese – this is definitely the most expensive part of the lineup, we went with gorgonzola, midnight moon, truffle tremor, and gouda, the gorgonzola definitely didn’t go as fast as the others, I would probably leave it out next time unless there was something special to pair it with
  • Spinach Dip – I don’t know why I took this out of my circuit of usuals, it’s so easy to make and it’s delicious. It also gives you an excuse to put more healthy things on the able to dunk in it.
  • Philly Pretzel Factory Pretzels – I still ordered too many, I really need to work on this (1 per person is too many)
  • Sweet Snacks – Cookies, brownies, and chocolates
  • Savory Snacks – Bread, crackers, carrots, and popcorn

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

The Party Setup

This is actually a pretty easy party to setup for, and the activity takes care of itself. There are only a few things you need ahead of time:

  • A rating system – we decided to rank each wine 1-10 (worst to best), I found this to be much easier than needing to put all of the wines in order of worst to best. This does, however, mean that you could rank every bottle of wine the score of an 8.
  • A way for people to record their wine ratings – this is how you find the best wine under $20, last time we did this we used score cards that everyone carried around with them and I typed the numbers into an excel spreadsheet at the end of the night. This time we used the chalkboard wall.
  • Bags to cover the bottles – this is so that you can’t judge a book by its cover (or wine by its bottle), we also labeled them so we knew which bottle was which
  • A way to tell your glasses apart – I have a stash of “wine charms” that everybody got to choose from
  • A great icebreaker question icebreaker games are my favorite (in case you’re new around here), we went around in the circle and everyone told the story of the first drink they ever had

One of the fun parts of this party is that everybody actually brought two bottles of wine with them. We tasted one of them and the other one went into a prize pile. So with 11 bottles of wine, there were also 11 prize bottles of wine available for the winners.

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel
Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel
Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel
Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

Drinking Responsibly

There are a few things you can do to make sure that your guests stay put together. Also, you can tell that we’re growing up, because I don’t think I did most of these last time we had the party.

  • Serve food – between the baked ziti and pretzels I felt like there were enough options to keep people full throughout the night
  • Make sure there’s water nearby – don’t make it so people have to ask for it, keep it right in front of them and always full
  • Provide a dump bucket – you’re not going to like every type of wine you pour, it’s okay to dump some of it out at the end of your glass (that said, we suggest you only pour a few ounces to not be wasteful until you know you like it)

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

Tallying the Score

At the end of the party, you unveil all of the wine bottles, total the score, and find out who won. The persons who won took home 5 bottles, second place took 3, and third place took 3. (I think? It’s a little hazy.)

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

And then what happens is you leave a bunch of tipsy engineers alone with the numbers too long and they try to find the standard deviations to see if the scoring was really fair. Admittedly, some people scored bottles over a range of 6 numbers and some scored over a range of 3 numbers. There’s probably a way to even the playing field a little bit in the future. Maybe you rate 1-7 instead of 1-10. Also, I think if the wines were more similar it would be easier to compare them. I’m not sure that our top three bottles are actually the best bottles because of the aforementioned reasons, but here were the winners:

  1. Bottle 6: 19 Crimes, The Banished, $8.99
  2. Bottle 8: Joel Gott Zinfandel, $14.79
  3. Bottle 5: Apothic Red, $7.49

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

At the end of the day, a great time was had at all. I recommend getting through the tasting in somewhere between an hour and 90 minutes so that the rest of the wine is available for drinking the rest of the night. We closed out the night with board games – and I made a cup of tea because that’s what happens when you get older.

Have you ever had a party like this? How would you have you tried to keep the scoring fair? I’d love to hear more about it in the comments below.

How to Choose a Party Venue: Party Planning 101

Party Planning 101 - How to Choose a Party Venue via Chrystina Noel

This year I will be doing a series about how to plan a party when you have no idea where to start. I’m super excited to share with all of you some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way on my party planning adventure. We started last month with how to choose a party theme. Once you choose your party theme you have an overall idea of what the party will be. The next step is to choose a party venue. In many cases, there is an obvious choice (your house), but there are definitely other options to consider if that won’t work out.

Option 1: Your House

This is the most obvious option because you have the most control over it. You know the space, you have access to your own kitchen and refrigerator, and you don’t need to pack anything up ahead of time. Of course, if you’re worried that your place isn’t big enough, don’t have enough room for parking, or have a bunch of moving boxes sitting around, there are many other options at your disposal.

Option 2: A Friend’s House

If you have a friend or family member that has better accommodations than you that is either willing to co-host the party or let you take over their house for an evening, this is another option for the party location. The logistics of bringing in all of the things you need could get a little tricky, but it’s nothing that a last minute grocery store run can’t fix. Just make sure to sit down with the person whose house it is to ask to find out how they like to maintain their space to make sure that it stays clean and comfortable for the folks living there.

I did this once in high school, mostly because there was no way my parents were going to let me have a party with a band, so I hosted a party with everyone I knew at my friend Kristine’s house. Her parents were up for the adventure so I figured why not. Granted, the party ended with a rainstorm, drying band equipment with hair dryers, and a car crash at the end of the night (totally sober and completely by accident). So that was kind of a hot mess, other than how it ended it was a really great party. Just check the weather first and you’ll be fine.

Option 3:  An Outside Venue

You also always have the option of choosing an outside venue for your party. This can either be renting a hall, choosing an activity that comes with a venue, or finding a free location for people to meet up. It all depends on budget, level of effort you want to put in, and how much space you think you’ll need.

Rent a Hall

Renting a venue is definitely the most complicated option, only because you need to bring all of the things in yourself. That said, it definitely saves you some money, especially if you can find a venue where you can bring in all the food and drink yourself. You can rent a fireman’s hall, a warehouse, a barn, art gallery, or a church basement. You should be able to search on the venue websites to find more details, and if you can’t find anything you can always call.

Think about places you already inhabit on a regular basis, places where you are a regular are more likely to let you in to use the venue (possibly even for free). I tried this recently with my hair salon and had great success. (Yes, you can even choose a hair salon as a venue, any space that has the vibe you’re going for.)

Choose an Activity that comes with a Venue

This is the easiest, but most expensive option since you won’t need to bring anything with you, and may need to be considered as you are choosing your theme. There are so many venues that you can rent out that may come with pre-made party packages. Here’s a list of possible options sorted by type of activity:

  • Enjoy Some Food and Drink: The obvious choice for this category is to choose a restaurant to all meet up at (remember, some restaurants are more interactive than others – like the melting pot or a hibachi restaurant), you can keep it a little cheaper by choosing a coffee house, but you can also consider a cooking class (iron chef style, how to make pasta, sushi, etc), or do a private tasting (breweries, wineries, chocolate shops, and any specialty store).
  • Get Creative: There are so many businesses these days that offer creative classes, you can work with the owner to coordinate your own class that could consist of: hand-lettering, jewellery-making, pottery making, glass blowing, greeting card design, or more.
  • Get Active: If you’re sick of sitting around the house, choosing a venue that helps get you up and moving might be fun. You could find a dance studio (salsa, swing, pole, etc), rock climbing gym, laser tag studio, bowling alley, or mini golf course to invite your friends to.

Or you could even visit an arcade (which didn’t fit in any of the above categories). The options for choosing an outside venue are really endless. Think about where you like to hang out and what activities you do that you might like to invite a friend along to, and that will help you narrow down your list.

Find a Free Location

If your budget is tight, there’s always the option of finding a free location for your party as well. While you may need to think a little more creatively, it’s definitely possible to make it happen. You could meet up at a local park, the town library, or even a mall. For my 19th birthday my friends and I went to a mall, divided into 3 teams, and each got $15. We then had one hour to buy something that began with every letter of the alphabet. Not going to lie, it was a pretty fun challenge. And the venue was free, which was great.

Things to Consider

There are a number of questions you will want to consider when choosing an outside party venue. Here are just a few to get the ball rolling:

  • Can you bring in your own food? Do you need to use a specific caterer?
  • Can you bring your own alcohol? Will you need to hire a bartender?
  • How early can you get in to setup?
  • Is there a deposit or cleaning fee?
  • What is included in the cost per person? What if someone doesn’t show up?
  • What if there’s a snowstorm that day?
  • Where will people park? Is it easy to get to via public transit?

The key is to think about your guests and anticipate things they might need ahead of time. Actually, that’s pretty much the definition of party hosting right there: making your guests feel comfortable while they’re at your event. Hopefully this thought makes hosting a little more manageable!

What’s been your favorite place that you’ve hosted a party? Do you have a go-to location outside of your house? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.