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.

Small Goals: April 2017

Small Goals - April 2017 via Chrystina Noel

It’s about that time again where we’re talking about monthly goals. It’s been really fun setting short-term goals, they’ve turned out to be much more manageable for me that long-term goals these days. (Not sure what that says about me as a person, I might need to work on this long-term goals thing. For now, I’m going to try not to worry too much about it though.)

Let’s take a look and see how I did on my March goals –

  1. Complete the Whole30.
    Well, you all know how that turned out. I made it 16 days before I was tired of feeling hungry and being angry all the time.
  2. Clean out the fridge & pantry.
    I did this. For the most part. It wasn’t easy though, I’m not good at getting rid of food. I found a co-worker to give some of the better stuff too, but ended up throwing out a bunch of open bags of chips. (Note to self: chips and popcorn don’t go as quickly as parties as you think they’re going to go.) Hopefully I’ve learned my lesson.
  3. Meet 3 cool new people at The Lady Project Summit.
    I did this! I’ve got a small stack of business cards that I ended up with at the end of the event. After years of attending conferences, I’ve finally decided to be more strategic about people with whom I trade business cards. It’s super overwhelming to come back with a whole stack, try to remember what you said to everyone, what you liked about them – and it’s especially difficult to try to stay in touch with that many people. I think I’m going to cheat and use this goal again for this month, actually.
  4. Make some progress on the books on my nightstand. 
    I did pretty well on this one. I cleared off three magazines and two books. That said, I bought at least 2 more books. It’s at least partial progress? The stack definitely looks less likely to fall over, which is really the important part here. Maybe I’ll make it through the whole stack before the end of the year so I can start using my library card again.
  5. Take a load of stuff to Philly AIDS Thrift.
    I managed to do a final pass-through of my bedroom to come up with more stuff to get rid of. I’ve ended up with three different categories of bags: 1 for Philly AIDS Thrift, 1 for The Resource Exchange (they’ll take arts and crafts supplies), and 1 for Career Wardrobe that I will donate at The Blog Connect (they take more professional clothing and unopened toiletries). I’m feeling pretty good about this, I just need to actually find time to drop these things off. We’ll see if I can make that happen any time soon.

Not too shabby. April is a crazy month for me. It’s the month of The Blog Connect Conference, after which I’ve planned 2 weeks of vacation to try to become a sane person again. With all of that in mind, here’s what I’m going to attempt to accomplish in April:

  1. Sort out the tea situation in the kitchen.
    Have I mentioned we have a lot of tea? Like a lot a lot. And we just keep buying more. And I like rooibos teas and Ben likes green teas and that just means that you end up with a million teas. It’s taking over everything. I have a plan. I’ve purchased a stand alone, skinny, rolling spice rack that will slide between the stove and washing machine. Then I will move the spices to the spice rack, move the tea to the drawer that used to have the spices in it, and move the honey to where the tea used to be. We’ll see if that fixes the problem. Right now I just spend a lot of time knocking things over.
  2. Get a great picture of Claire.
    Claire is my cousin’s kid. She’s adorable. I’ll see her at least once in the month of April. It’s so flipping hard to get the shot you want when taking pictures of kids (She’s 15 months. Babies? toddlers? I’m out of my element here.) though. I’m motivated though. Let’s do this.
  3. Talk my cousins into doing one of those “now and then” photos.
    I don’t actually know if this is possible. When you have 6 male cousins and you’re over excited about this thing you saw on Pinterest, sometimes it’s not possible to get them all to do something. (Like coordinating any type of Christmas gift swap…) I’ve got a photo in my head. Now I just need to figure out when all 8 of us are going to be home. Thanksgiving? Christmas? Unclear.
  4. Do a better job playing hostess at The Blog Connect.
    Last year during The Blog Connect I was so worried about the logistics of the conference that I don’t actually remember meeting anyone. Shame on me. The point of hosting a conference is to host a conference. When you play hostess you greet all of your guests up front, make them feel welcome, take the time to get to know them, etc. It’s only 100 attendees. It should be possible. This year I’m hoping to do a better job delegating the day of to actually be able to have some meaningful conversations and do a much better job representing PHLbloggers.
  5. Meet 3 cool new people at Craftcation.
    Part of my two weeks of vacation after The Blog Connect is going to the Craftcation conference in Ventura, CA. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a conference where a bunch of creatives and makers get together to talk about small business and do crafts. I’m a little overwhelmed by the intensity of the schedule, but I’m really hoping to leave with meaningful connections with 3 people. (And to get to hang out with some of the lovely people I know I already love.) What are the chances I can make Emily McDowell one of those people? #dreambig

That’s the plan. I’m most worried about numbers 2 and 3. Mostly because I have no control over either one of them. Wish me luck!

I’m linking up with Nicole from Writes Like a Girl blog, so if you’re looking for a little more goal inspiration in your life, absolutely head on over to check out what everyone else has going on for the month of April.

How to Navigate the Salad Bar

Mastering Your Salad Bar Options via Chrystina Noel

Last week I had the worst salad earlier this week for lunch. It had arugula, roasted Brussel sprouts, roasted mushrooms, red peppers, goat cheese, sunflower seeds, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Yes, all of these things sound great (that’s how they all ended up in a salad together), but there was no common theme to tie all of these ingredients together. (The too much olive oil part also didn’t help, it would have been better with a more cohesive dressing.)

The worst part of this is that four years ago I devoted a few months of my life to attempting to master the New York City salad bar. I did weeks of research, conducted interviews, and created sample salads in order to feel like I was able to navigate salad bars. I created a whole week’s worth of content to get all of my thoughts in one place back in 2013. However, I’m apparently still very far away from gaining my 10,000 hours to become a credentialed salad bar expert, because I still haven’t learned anything years later.

Just as a reminder to myself, and as a resource for you, in case you’re somebody who is new to salad bars or is paralyzed by opportunity when you approach the salad bar, I’m going to put all of my resources in one place to help you (and me) navigate salad bars. Here’s everything I’ve learned:

Understand the Parts of a Salad

There are a lot salads that already exist in the world. They’re pretty famous – and they’re famous for a reason – because they’re good. Let’s take a look at some pre-existing salads.

  • Chef’s Salad: Hard boiled eggs, ham, choice of meat, croutons, tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese, lettuce
  • Cobb Salad: Tomatoes, bacon, chicken, avocado, Roquefort cheese, chives, lettuce, vinaigrette
  • Caesar Salad: Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, egg, black pepper, romaine lettuce
  • Waldorf Salad: Apple, celery, walnuts, grapes, mayonnaise, lettuce
  • Garden Salad: Tomatoes, carrots, onions, cucumbers, mushrooms, bell peppers, lettuce, croutons
  • Greek Salad: Tomatoes, cucumbers, green bell peppers, red onion, feta cheese, Kalamata olives, lettuce, olive oil
  • Oriental Salad: Mandarin oranges, sliced almonds, peanuts, fried Asian noodles, chicken, field greens, ginger dressing
  • Mexican salad: Lettuce, chicken, avocado, black beans, black olives, corn, tomatoes, tortilla chips, ranch dressing

In taking a look at each of these salads, there’s a few things that really make them work:

  • There’s a lot of color. If you have a salad that is all green things, you’re doing it wrong. Add something red, add something orange – the possibilities are endless.
  • There’s some crunch. If there’s no crunch in your salad, it’s essentially soggy vegetables. Whether your crunch comes from your lettuce choice, a topping (tortilla chips, sunflower seeds, croutons, etc), or bacon, adding that crunch will add more texture to your salad.
  • There’s some kind of protein. Whether you use eggs, chicken, ham, bacon, tofu, or beans, adding some kind of protein is going to be what keeps you full for a little bit after you’ve finished the salad.

I even made a printable that I actually printed and kept in my wallet for over a year.

Understand the Salad Bar

Here’s the part that always trips me up. Every salad bar looks different. Some have tofu, some don’t. Some have that ginger carrot dressing you love, some don’t. Some have buffalo chicken, some only have grilled chicken. My best advice is to get to know one place really well and develop a basic salad that you can quickly substitute your specialties out at other places. So let’s take a look at what you will typically (and atypically) find in a salad bar – sorted by category.

  • Greens: iceberg, romaine, mixed greens, spinach, kale, and more
  • Proteins: bacon, chicken, eggs, turkey, falafel, tofu, shrimp, steak, tuna, shrimp, salmon, beans, chick peas, and more
  • Cheese: feta, crumbled blue, goat, parmesean, mozzarella, cheddar, brie, and more
  • Vegetable-like foods: carrots, beets, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, snow peas, artichoke, broccoli, edamame, sprouts, celery, olives, mushrooms, corn, and more
  • Fruit-like foods: apples, strawberries, oranges, grapes, mandarin oranges
  • Toppings: croutons, walnuts, crunchy noodles, tortilla strips, wontons, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, peanuts, dried cranberries, and more
  • Dressings: oil, vinegar, lemon juice, peppercorn, ranch, Caesar, blue cheese, thousand island, carrot ginger, honey Dijon, Italian, sesame ginger, raspberry vinaigrette, and more

Once you have a better idea of what can possibly show up in front of you, you can figure out how to use the pieces to the best of your ability.

Ask Around

This is one that probably isn’t normal, but I started asking people what they put in their salads. Back in 2013, my co-workers thought I was weird. Now they’ve just accepted that this is how I function. I even created little graphics that I could search for and use while at the salad bar. (These are definitely my own personal most searched blog post through the years.) My go-to salad is Salad Bar Option #3.


The amount of times I’ve considered standing at the end of a salad bar and conducting a study just to understand how people put things together is incredible. All of that said, I would really love if you commented below with what your go-to salad is. I’m always looking for new suggestions. My three go-to salads these days are some combination of the following ingredients in each individual salad:

  • My Italian-Influence Choice: Arugala, pasta, roasted red peppers, cucumbers, black olives, broccoli, egg, chick peas, mozzarella, avocado, croutons, and italian dressing
  • My Mexican-Influence Choice: Iceberg lettuce, cheddar cheese, black beans, corn, chick peas, tomatoes, avocado, tortilla chips, and ranch dressing
  • My Asian-Influence Choice: Mixed greens, edamame, tofu, chick peas, snow peas, broccoli, sunflower seeds, avocado, and sesame ginger dressing

Know Your Options

There are some salad options you might have that you weren’t considering before you started this process. I can’t guarantee that your salad bar will have these options, but they’re definitely worth looking into:

  • Salad dressing on the side
  • Bread on the side
  • Getting your salad chopped

These options are specific to certain delis and salad bars, but they’re worth asking about just in case you have more options than you really know.

8 Tips for Mastering the Salad Bar

And with that, I’d love to share with you my top tips for building an excellent salad. Some from me, some from my co-workers, and all from experience.

  1. Choose a basic salad and modify it – this way you don’t end up with anything too crazy.
  2. Make it colorful – this helps bring together complementary flavors.
  3. Think about adding “pairs” of ingredients you know go together. For example, beets and goat cheese; feta, avocado, and tomato; and cranberries and blue cheese.
  4. Don’t forget the crunch – it will keep your mouth entertained.
  5. Don’t forget the cheese – you’ll be sad later.
  6. Don’t forget the spices/topping flavors – salt, pepper, sricacha, or lemon juice can totally bring a little something to the finished product.
  7. Add in a protein – this is what will keep you full.
  8. Avocado is almost never a bad idea.

Once you get to learn the salad bar better, you’ll be able to build even better salads to help nourish you throughout the day. And as one co-worker said, “kale changed my life,” so don’t be afraid to try new things, you never know what will happen.

Did you learn anything? Do you have any tips I don’t know yet? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below. Also, apparently the search engine optimization keyword research tools tell me that there aren’t good options that relate to “navigating a salad bar,” which might mean I’m the only weirdo. I’m okay with that.

Currently Vol. 11

Chrystina Noel Currently Vol 11

Actually doing a Currently post on a Sunday night over here. Almost feeling like I’m on top of my game for the week. We’ll see how long this lasts. It’s been another fast-paced week. (What else is new?) I have a feeling everything’s going to be complete chaos until April 24. Good chaos. (Is that any better than saying busy. Good busy? Unclear.) Anyway, here’s what I’m currently up to these days:

Enjoying some days off. Last week I had Monday off as the end of my Lady Summit Project trip and Friday off as the beginning of Burlington trip. Not a bad way to do a week. (That said, Ben and I both definitely worked for 5+ hours on Friday from a hotel room. #lifeofaconsultant)

Drinking all the tea and all the beer in Vermont. In terms of tea, I tried lots of chai, I had a delicious rooibos matcha tea (pictured above) and sat in a tea ceremony area, and had lots of cups of regular tea. We also drove up to The Alchemist to try some Heady Topper (spoiler alert: if you don’t like IPAs, you won’t like this), spent some time at Zero Gravity (their branding is on point) and Queen City (HIGHLY recommend, these guys were my favorite).

Treating myself to real maple syrup, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream straight from the factory, and a kahlua- and frangelico-spiked hot chocolate.

Inspired by all the great food I’ve been trying. I know want to try to make a cherry and scallions reduction compote to put on cheese and homemade crackers (also to have with cheese).

Anxiously awaiting our podcast coming out. Technically, it was uploaded to iTunes on April 1, but they apparently have to review and approve it? I’ll keep you all posted. We’re interviewing our first guest tomorrow and I can’t wait to share it with y’all.

Catching up with lots of friends this week. I finally caught up on birthday cards and snail mail on Monday. I had a phone call with Taylor Wednesday, stayed at Jess’ house on Thursday night, and a coffee date in Burlington with a friend from 6th grade. So good to talk to people who you share part of your soul with.

Overwhelmed by my schedule this week already. It’s one of those weeks where you have something really fun and cool planned for everyday. It’ll be great, I promise.

Trying to remember to take photos of me and Ben. I don’t actually have that many, and we usually look like weirdo-faces in the photos.

How was your week? How was your weekend? I hope you did something wonderful.