Found it, Tried it, Loved it: My First Nomad Retreat

What Simona Bali thought when taking her first real coworking retreat in San Diego.

Published on
June 27, 2018

Simona Bali is a marketer, formerly with CocaCola & RB, event crafter at Protohack, and an entrepreneur in the making. Follow her on Medium and Twitter @simonabali

Did it ever happen to you as a child to watch some cool kids play a game you didn’t know how to play? It looked like something you would really love, but you felt like an outsider, not knowing the rules or how to get involved.

That was me with the digital nomad game. For the last few years, I have been observing it from afar: cool entrepreneurs and freelancers that found their freedom by doing remote work. Sounded like my type of people, but to them, I was just another soul-selling careerist throwing the days away in a 9 to 5 job.

And it was true — until a year ago when I decided to quit my job and find the freedom and the people I’ve been longing for. Took the beaten path of Southeast Asia for a few months and then decided to take a one-way ticket to the place where all the magic happens — San Francisco and the well-known Silicon Valley.

Finding my people and a new meaning to the word ‘retreat’

The Valley inspired me. People living their dreams, innovators disrupting industries and communities that obsessively give back to their members. Digital nomads come here to find inspiration and the next idea for a one-of-a-kind side project.

After spending years in an office where achievement was often confused by many with the next promotion, I wanted to meet my type of crazy. Networking events, meetups, coworking spaces, hacker houses — tried to do it all.

In my pursuit, I attended a #futureofwork event organized by a new startup launching in San Francisco. This is how I got introduced to Mangrove — a community of passionate tech freelancers and entrepreneurs that aim to develop a new way of working by focusing on collaboration and personal fulfillment. They might not be the first ones working towards this goal, but their passion on stage, emphasis on values and inspiring future plans made me connect instantly to their mission.

Also, as a marketer, I couldn’t help to obsess over their thoughtful choice of name: a mangrove is an ecosystem with strong, deep roots, attractive to a diverse range of organisms. In this case, the roots are their values and their quest to build a community around them.

I was hungry to know more, so a few days later I met Adrien and the team in a cozy coliving place in a hip SF neighborhood. After an hour of startup stories, freelance advice and retreat memories, I went home that evening utterly excited to be joining their San Diego retreat in December.

When I said I am off to a retreat, my friends thought I was going on holiday to unproductively lay around all day. I couldn’t blame them, before buying into this concept, I didn’t think any productive work goes well with a beautiful location next to the beach.

But it does, and that is how I discovered the new meaning of the word retreat — it is now called workation (work + vacation = love).

This is what our retreat/workation really entailed:

The Who and Why: A bunch of 12 interesting and passionate people, working on their own stuff while having fun, learning from each other, sharing interesting concepts and projects, and ultimately even starting to create new things together.


Our home and family for the week

Where: The location added to the magic of it — a beautiful coliving house in a small coastal town in Southern California. Our hosts were Outsite, a 500 Startups alumni who wants us to live, work and play in beautiful locations (they go as exotic as Puerto Rico or Costa Rica, check them out at )

One week, plenty of action, inspiration and things to remember

I loved the lifestyle, the diverse, adventurous, smart and interesting group that I met. I would do it all over again for the…

People that get you: Discovering the lives, projects, work and aspirations of my newly-found tribe, was by far the highlight of the week. It helped a lot to also have a more structured approach to sharing and getting to know each other with daily pairings. Was both efficient and stress-relieving for the more introverted ones.

Insights and ideas: I found my week with Mangrove ideal for getting new ideas and perspectives on my projects. I also gathered plenty of tips on growth hacking, networking in Silicon Valley and finding work as a freelancer. On top of that, I now have a long list of new movies to watch, events to try, books to read, apps to test (Black mirror, Daybreakers or No26 anyone?)

Good eats: Lazy evenings with Uber eats, filled with great burritos, burgers, and truffle fries. On most days though, we had a bit of teamwork going on. Breakfasts and dinners brought us together to test our cooking abilities, some more impressive than others. Apparently, there is a good reason why French cuisine is considered one of the best — skilled chefs and finger-licking recipes.

Partying: Can you have a retreat without some good ol’ partying? Obviously not. Drinks and desserts in Gaslamp District in San Diego, homecoming parties in Encinitas’ best bars, and a goodbye Christmas party thrown by our friends at Outsite where we met some new happy faces.

Surfing: Our little town, Encinitas, is one of the best surf spots on the West coast, so there was plenty of action, lessons or surf-watching (according to capabilities and willingness to get wet).


The balcony attached to Outsite San Diego's co-working space - what a view!

Brain food: In between work, surf, food and good times we did a roundup of brain teasers used around the Valley. Anyone keen to know how to pin down poison bottles by killing mice or how to count time with unevenly burning ropes? I also filled up on some great Tim Ferriss advice from his new Tools of Titans book. And let’s not forget about the interesting chats on lucid dreaming and VR.

If you feel the need for fresh ideas, interesting people, and exciting projects and want to get involved in the development of an amazing community — you might want to meet Mangrove (literally, at

And the best is yet to come — big plans are coming our way and exciting projects to put our mark on. Our slack channel is proof of how vibrant this community is: growth, design, development, data science, books, future projects, knowledge sharing and exciting plans for future retreats. I am looking forward to sharing the great things to come.

Do I recommend it? Hell yeah!

If you are still on the fence if you should go wild and join a retreat, bootcamp or workation, consider these 4 reasons on why you should go for it:

Back to school feeling. There is something magical, adventurous and uplifting in spending a week around fun and interesting strangers — it’s like summer camp for adults (PS: you might not feel like an adult, but you totally are one)

Connection. As we grow up, rare are the opportunities to meet a group of interesting people and have meaningful interactions, while isolated from the noise of real life. With our busy schedules, getting the time and opportunity to nourish relationships is tough. Sharing the same roof day in and day out can easily turn similarly-minded strangers into friends for life and partners in crime (read: business).

Community. Humans are creatures who crave a sense of belonging and community. We want to bring positive change, build innovative things and be surrounded by people on a similar journey with ours. As a digital nomad, freelancer or entrepreneur your support network is crucial in helping you achieve goals and keeping you accountable and inspired. It is easy to feel as an outsider when traveling the world and working remotely are not on everyone’s schedule. Therefore, finding ‘your type of crazy’ is probably the single most important argument for taking part in one of these retreat experiences.


Co-working, Co-living, Co-mmunity

Learning & sharing. Did it ever happen to you to read something or have a conversation with someone and a brilliant idea to come to your mind? Something transformative and game-changing that never crossed your mind before? Imagine that — every single day. Bouncing ideas with designers, developers, growth marketers, entrepreneurs is extremely valuable and alters the way you approach projects or even life itself. Doing it over beers, in a hot tub — priceless.

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