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What is it really like to move your family to a foreign country? What does it take to leave your friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors for any amount of time longer than a typical 1 – 2 week vacation? Where do you go? How do you find a place to live? What does it feel like once you get there? How do you establish a new normal? I don’t know what it was/will/would be like for you and your family, but I can share what it has been like for ours.

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Last summer, we bought an old RV for $12,000 so we could take a month long road trip to the Pacific Northwest. This summer, we sold that RV for $14,000. I’ll share more details about the RV itself next week, but the trip was a big one for us so we wanted to recap that...

The Importance of Me Time

I left Michael and the kids for a week. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Let’s start with this. I LOVE my family. Michael and my kiddos (currently 2 and 4) are what bring me the greatest joy. They are fun, funny, loving, and the most fulfilling part of this life of mine. They are also incredibly draining. They all need attention, food, supplies, and a structure to proceed through each day. Yes, to a certain extent, this includes Michael. Obviously, he is a fully functioning and self-sufficient adult, but I still take the lead on all of the above for our family as a whole.

It’s exhausting. And I KNOW I have a situation that is much easier than most. I am not employed and can fully focus my energy on my family. Michael is not employed full time and even when he is working, he’s in the house and available to help as needed.

Michael and I have also already put a lot of thought into planning out what our ideal day to day looks like. This includes alone time carved out for each of us to choose how to spend our time. So, for all intents and purposes, I have more opportunities to “fill my cup” than most.

But it just isn’t enough.

I’ve finally decided that it’s okay for me to feel that way. And if I do, I bet sooo many other people do too.

So about 6 months ago when our good friends in Portland shared that they would be having twins this summer, I instantly said I’d fly out to help them after they were born. Michael and I had already talked about including yearly solo trips into our ideal day, week, month, year plan. So, I was quick to make the offer and he was right there with a smile fully supporting the suggestion.

My Portland Me Time

My friends have a separate apartment in their basement that they rent out on Airbnb, so I knew that my accommodations would be covered. I would have access to their car while there, so really I just needed to get myself a flight and pay for food when there. (I’m sure they would have happily fed me, but the whole point of me flying out there was to help them, which included preparing meals and extras to freeze).

When I told others about my upcoming trip without my family, I first said how excited I was to see my friends and snuggle their little babies. Which I was. But I was also really looking forward to the two hour flight when I would be alone with no one to care for but myself. Just me, a book, and no squiggly bodies.

I guess Michael heard me share this enough times that he realized my solo trip was going to be great, but maybe not rejuvenating. After all, besides holding cute babies, I planned only to cook, clean, and do yard work for my friends. Happily so. Doing other people’s work usually feels less like work when it’s done in the spirit of service. But still.

So after at least a week of Michael encouraging me to extend my trip, I finally looked into Airbnb options within a two hour drive of Portland. I found a cute little cabin along a creek just west of Corvallis, and extended my stay by three nights (thanks, Southwest, for not charging change fees!).

It doesn’t escape me that Michael is a super supportive and loving husband. He’s awesome.

I had such a great time with my friends and their sweet little babies in Portland. They already had a routine established that had them upstairs from about 9pm – 9am each day. That left me with time to do a little clean up from the day, but otherwise, I’d head down to the basement apartment and completely chill. That usually looked like some Coconut Bliss ice cream and episodes of The Good Doctor.

Two babies, two arms, no biggie!

Two babies, two arms, no biggie!

My days with them included holding/feeding babies, preparing meals, organizing kitchen cabinets, moving mulch, and joining them for their daily evening walk around the neighborhood. We even managed to squeeze in a beer at the local pub in between feedings.

After those lovely days with them, I picked up a rental car and drove to my cabin. It was basically perfect. Small and cozy, but with a giant deck overlooking moss-covered trees above the sound of a creek running just below.

Just sitting in on a rock in the middle of a perfect creek on a perfect summer day.

Just sitting in on a rock in the middle of a perfect creek on a perfect summer day.

Looking up on the trail to the top of Mary’s Peak. I was blissfully alone for most of the 3 hours.

Looking up on the trail to the top of Mary’s Peak. I was blissfully alone for most of the 3 hours.

I had two full days to myself. I used one of them to do a 3 hour hike just a couple miles up the road at a place called Mary’s Peak. For over an hour, I made the steady uphill climb through stands of huge Douglas Fir completely alone with nothing but my breath and thoughts. That, and the whirring of what must have been hundreds of thousands of insect wings. The forest was completely abuzz on that warm, sunny day.

The next day I drove approximately 45 minutes through stunning scenery until I arrived at the town of Waldport on the coast. From there, I drove north along the 101 and ultimately hunkered down on the beach at Seal Rock state park.

It was nice and cool on the coast... I was grateful to have some beach time without any scorching sun.

It was nice and cool on the coast… I was grateful to have some beach time without any scorching sun.

Evenings back at the cabin included a glass of wine (a bottle was kindly provided by the Airbnb owners), and FaceTime with my sweet family.

Back at home throughout all of this, Michael had fully embraced the opportunity to focus on his kids. Each day with them was filled with some sort of fun activity like a walk to the park or fun in the splash pad followed by some Ben & Jerry’s. He even took on the task of potty training our two year old, taking her to buy her first “big girl” underwear. That was sort of like the cherry on top of what was already a truly delicious sundae.

Michael sketched out the beginnings of this plan before I left and kept it updated throughout the week. I think he thought I would think they would do nothing but watch t.v. and eat junk food. They definitely did plenty of those two things, but lots of other great stuff too!

Michael sketched out the beginnings of this plan before I left to organize their week and kept it updated throughout their time together.

Some of the daddy-time fun including sticking pasta to noses.

Some of the daddy-time fun including sticking pasta to noses.

Ice cream break after some hard work at the local splash pad.

Ice cream break after some hard work at the local splash pad.

I came home feeling completely renewed, full (figuratively and literally… I ate a lot of ice cream), and incredibly grateful for my life and family.

Day 1 included LOTS of juice. But, I came home to a two-year-old who no longer needs diapers. Yes!

Day 1 included LOTS of juice. But, I came home to a two-year-old who no longer needs diapers. Yes!

So I now officially feel this is something EVERYONE should do. Everyone should get some real, honest to goodness, ME TIME — uninterrupted by daily responsibilities and expectations.

It should be as mandatory as paying taxes. And I’m not thinking this should just be for parents. Single people and couples without kids deserve it too.

This is what I think this mandatory (but affordable) yearly Me Retreat (MeTreat?) can and should look like:

1. Leave your home

It does not need to include a flight. It could be an hour or two down the road from where you live. It could be camping, a sweet little rental, or a suite-type hotel room. Look for off season (middle of the week) deals to make it more affordable. Honestly, it could be in the same town, if you’re a one car household like we are and you don’t have a way to get somewhere without leaving your partner without a vehicle.

It’s key to actually leave your house. Otherwise, your “retreat” will likely look like a household project (or guilt for not working on the endless to-do list we all harbor). There’s nothing wrong with concentrated times to work on those things, but that is notthe purpose of this particular alone time.

2. Prepare your own meals

Don’t use the retreat as an excuse to eat out for every meal. Just get yourself some simple groceries and eat those. Going out for every meal gets really expensive (and usually pretty unhealthy). The cabin I stayed at only had a fridge, sink, hot plate, microwave, and outdoor grill, but no stove. I had a veggie burger and microwaved potato one night, pasta marinara with fresh spinach and grilled cauliflower the next.

The last night I had leftover pasta and a veggie burger.In the mornings, I just microwaved some rolled oats and added fresh blueberries. For lunch, I had a sandwich, fresh fruit, and used granola bars and fruit as snacks. The hosts provided the coffee, which was really essential to my lazy morning contentment.

There’s a very tasty veggie burger behind that tasty potato, both heated in the microwave. Plus, wine.

There’s a very tasty veggie burger behind that tasty potato, both heated in the microwave. Plus, wine.

3. Choose a place that is beautiful

This may not seem as crucial to someone who doesn’t think of themselves as a “nature lover”, but I still think it is. There has to be a beautiful view from where you’re staying or it needs to be easily accessed.

I used to work for an organization that built outdoor classrooms for low-income, urban schools. The research is out there. Nature is good for the brain. The cabin I stayed at was encompassed in green. Time spent sitting out there was nourishing – even if I was just reading the newsfeed on my phone.

Yep, this would do.

Yep, this will do.

4. Do whatever you want

If you want to sleep until 11am., go for it. If you want to spend hours staring at a t.v. screen, do it. If a pint of ice cream is on your list of priorities, umm, yep. Don’t judge yourself. When else do you get to do whatever you want whenever you want? With that said, I think it would help to do things that are authentically good for your mind and body as long as you enjoy doing them.

5. Release any guilt

It might be hard to feel okay about setting your normal life aside for a bit. As a mother of two small children, this was huge for me. Honestly, what helped was reminding myself how many times Michael has been able to leave over the past 5 years since we started the process of having children.

He has taken more business and personal interest (FinCon) trips over the years than I can count. Parenting aside, I wish I had considered this idea of a yearly me retreat long before we even had kids. And, even though Michael has taken more trips away from home than I have, I still think he needs some yearly solo time as much as I do.

If you’ve already done something like this, tell me about it… I’m looking for ideas for next year! If you haven’t, go for it!




  1. Jill M Franzel

    Hi Ellen! I met you at the MMM gathering this last weekend. It was great to chat with you and I came here looking for your blog but have not yet stumbled across it. I think I’ve seen it as the name sounded familiar but no luck poking around.

    I love this post and some me time is definitely on the horizon for me. I’m not very good at “down time” as I prefer to be busy doing something most of the time. Sometimes I wonder if I’m not avoiding my own thoughts. 🙂

    • Ellen

      Hi Jill! Thanks so much for commenting here – I really enjoyed speaking with you too and after that night unsuccessfully tried to see if I could message you via the Meetup app. I hope we cross paths again soon. Maybe we can swap some solo time stories. I’m not one to just sit and do nothing either, but I do enjoy it when I let myself… MUCH easier for me if I’m not in my own home where the to-do list is never ending. 🙂

  2. Jaime @ Keep Thrifty

    I love this. Chris and I have been talking about this for me as well. Winters are hard for me, so getting away to a sunny place a bit more often would be beneficial. I’m going to visit my niece (almost 22 years old) in Arizona this winter. I’ve never traveled by myself so I’m excited and nervous.

    I was also thinking about another idea – a Thrifty girls getaway. What if some of us FI ladies plan a frugal trip together! We get to hangout, have fun, and relax…..thoughts?

    • Ellen

      Hi Jaime! I’d be interested in a ladies hangout… and maybe we could even provide the destination if we get ourselves settled in Costa Rica by this coming winter. Either way, I can’t say enough about how helpful that solo time was for me and I think it’s something we should all prioritize. Enjoy that trip to Arizona… you deserve it!

  3. Frugal Professor

    Great post. Favorite part: Saturday @ Noon is specifically reserved for Daniel Tiger.

    • Ellen

      Thanks! I really appreciate that you noticed that detail… I guess Leo had a fever that day, hence the extra screen time. But, Michael probably could have also written right next to it, “aka, a little extra quiet time for Daddy”. : )



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