Rodrigo Duran is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. His work has appeared in CityLab and Curbed. He was previously a fellow at AtlanticLIVE.
A startup is betting that young city-dwellers need to unwind in the least urban place imaginable.
In a secluded area of New York’s Catskills Mountains, there’s a small campsite that promises a full escape. The woods seem to continue forever in all directions, and aside from the occasional hiker, there’s no one to be seen. For the visitors who are here, a few tiny-home cabins offer just the bare necessities.
It’s an attractive spot for nature lovers, and perhaps even more so for visitors from New York City, with their reputation for fast-paced, overstressed lifestyles. That’s exactly what Getaway, the startup behind this campsite, wants to help them with.
The chance for a short retreat to nature is what attracted Yumi Matsuo, a photographer who wanted to flee the city for a weekend. She discovered the campsite after the company liked her photos on Instagram. When she arrived, she found that most people she met on the campsite actually lived within a 30-mile radius of her Brooklyn apartment. “Every single person who was there was a New Yorker,” Matsuo says.
Similar scenes have popped up in forest areas outside Boston and Washington, D.C. Getaway, which started in Massachusetts, occupies 80 acres of the forests with boxy, wood paneled cabins within a couple-hours’ drive from each city. It’s betting that young city-dwellers want to unwind in the least urban place imaginable.
“When you’re there, you can’t necessarily see the next cabin over,” Matsuo says. “When you’re inside of the cabins, it really feels remote.”
Getaway takes the tiny-house trend and pares it down even further, fitting just the essentials into 150 square feet: shower, kitchen, bed, and plenty of windows to see the forest. The houses aren’t far apart, but each gets one acre to itself, plus its own private view of the forest. The lodging itself is the destination. “We ended up with a perfect piece of hardware on which to escape to nature,” Getaway co-founder Jon Staff says.
The barebones layout means visitors don’t have to spend time settling in. In a typical unit for two, the first thing you’d notice is a wall-sized window right above the bed. The bed itself takes up about a third of the room. Next to that is the bathroom; the shower is elevated so it doesn’t drain out into the kitchen a few steps away.
A reservation comes with a guide for low-tech activities meant to optimize relaxation, as well as a box to lock up your cellphone during the visit. The chance to disconnect is what got the attention of Tracy Ann Koch, a then Massachusetts-based social media manager who went to Getaway’s New Hampshire location in August 2016 to “turn off from social media.” In the time since, she’s become an advocate for the experience. “I’ve referred about a half-dozen old co-workers, once as a wedding gift for the newlywed couple last year,” she says.
Getaway certainly didn’t invent the idea to create tiny-home escapes in the woods. But what sets it apart is the near-obsessive execution of relaxation, says Dan Stokols, a research professor of psychology and urban planning at University of California, Irvine, and author of “Social Ecology in the Digital Age.” By managing so many outside factors, Stokols says, visitors get something essential to de-stressing: the perception that they’re totally in control of everything around them.
“Going out to nature can be a very rewarding experience, but not in overwhelming natural areas,” he says. Stokols recommends a vacation that offers a new environment punctuated with spectacular or unusual moments, “like if you were walking through the woods and saw a flight of geese.”
The health benefits of trees on urban life are well documented. Whether its a national park or a small plot in a city, greenery provides “a place where people can restore their batteries,” Stokols says. “Just living on the side of an apartment building that faces a public park can improve someone’s quality of life.”
He says stress comes from the feeling of always being online. For some people this leads to emotional atrophy—a condition that hinders people’s ability to read nonverbal cues and negotiate conflict. “When you’re working and get interrupted 14 to 15 times a day by notifications and emails, it switches your focus and fragmentation of attention,” Stokols says.
That helps explains why cities have been a good foil for Getaway—and Staff acknowledges that.
“We see ourselves enabling city living,” he says. “We want to make sure people can spend time in both places.”
With a warm reception so far, and with how little time it takes to build a Getaway, it’s possible to imagine them appearing in forests of more major cities to come. There’s one thing Staff doesn’t expect to see on the campsites: corporate retreats. When companies reach out to Getaway, “we tell them, ‘Why don’t you send your three hardest working [employees] instead?’”