If I told you that there was a business conference held at an adult summer camp, would you think I was crazy or be very excited?
Enter Camp Indie, the world’s most fun conference, according to the website. I might be biased, and I haven’t been to all the conferences in the world, but look, I agree. I’m going to do what I normally do, and write up my camp experience like I do with other trips, but first, I want to talk a little bit about camp itself and the story behind me attending. If you’re not interested in the sappy, slightly pretentious, and a little nostalgic-y post… well, this probably isn’t for you, but you can skip down a bit for just the actual experience.
Here’s the thing. I’ve been to conventions and conferences by myself. I know it’s going to be fine. I’m good at making friends. That said, I still don’t love walking into a room where I don’t know anyone and trying to figure out how and where to insert myself into a conversation. Part of that issue was alleviated by showing up to camp with Callie and then immediately becoming friends with her and Lauren, and part of it was alleviated by knowing several people from Leap Year and Location Indie… but really, it wasn’t even an issue. At no point during the entire weekend did I feel that dread of where to sit, who to talk to, and how to not look like I was awkwardly standing alone. In fact, even the time I had kind of planned to spend by myself (Saturday morning, by the lake, with a cup of coffee), I didn’t. I had coffee under the white tent with some lovely folks instead of going off by myself, and then went down to the lake to watch the water aerobics class and was joined by Leslie, who also had no interest in getting in the water. I was really only alone to shower and sleep, and I’m not complaining for a second. I absolutely do not have an issue with spending time with people instead of by myself. It’s more so a testament to just how fantastic and inviting everyone was, and how that fostered the environment of welcoming people to the table (literally and figuratively).
I feel like everyone I’ve tried to tell about camp just can’t get it. I keep saying, oh everyone was so lovely, it was so fun, it was really the best time… but that doesn’t get the point across. There was an immediate connection, an immediate feeling of comfort, of belonging. These were my people.
I’ve been to conventions enough of times to know that “con friends” aren’t always “real life friends” – I tried to date a con friend once and wow did that go wonky really quickly once real life came back – but this felt very different. We weren’t getting along simply because we were at the same place at the same time. There were talks of hopes and dreams and plans. There was cheering for people quitting their jobs and chasing their goals and having breakthroughs about what was next for them.
Am I getting ahead of myself? Maybe. Okay, quick background break. Camp Indie is a conference (held at a summer camp) by Location Indie, which is a community of people who love to travel, work remotely, and live wherever they want (or some combination of those). I first joined back in March of 2017, which, if you know me well, was during my very first tax season. I was immediately aware that working in an office was not something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was coming off of a season of not working or being in school (but was instead helping take care of my mom, who was fighting cancer) (she’s fine now!), and before that, had done five years of under grad (double major) and grad school (MBA), and I was straight up not thrilled about my six day work weeks from January – April and then my one week of vacation time a year… and LI seemed like the perfect place to be.
Naturally, I didn’t actually take full advantage of the community I had joined, because it was tax season, and I was overwhelmed, and also because I kind of felt like I didn’t know what I was doing and couldn’t really do much on my own when I had JUST started my accounting career. (Note to anyone in my shoes: you’re smarter than you think, have skills you don’t realize, and you don’t have to stick to the thing you did in school.) I thought for sure that maybe someday I could do what these awesome people were doing and work remotely, but for now, I kind of just wanted to hang out with them. It was great.
I just went and looked it up. I dropped out of LI in August of 2018. I remember doing so partly because I didn’t feel like I belonged there, with my location dependent job, minimal travel lifestyle, and major depression. (This was on me. No one in LI made me feel like this.) I hated my job, I hated my life, and I didn’t have the energy or brainpower to think about doing any kind of side business that might one day become a real job.
I bought the Paradise Pack in April of 2019 on a whim. I was just recovering from losing 6 pounds due to stress (I started at 98, so it was really not great), and the Paradise Pack seemed like a good idea. (I’d bought one year’s pack before and enjoyed it.) I went on vacation at the very start of May 2019, realized that I needed travel in my life in order to stay sane, came back to the job I hated, had my dad yell at me (in the nicest way) asking what I was going to do about hating my job… and then I re-joined Location Indie that month. I switched jobs to one that wasn’t as terrible mid-2019, did Leap Year in early 2020, and then I switched jobs again to a fully remote job in November of 2020.
I learned that it wasn’t about going from one extreme (location dependent office job) to the other (fully LI, working for myself). There could be a process. There could be a journey. There could be multiple steps. When I bought my ticket to Camp Indie, I wasn’t working remotely. I wasn’t even really feeling like I needed to leave my job at the time. I had four weeks of vacation time, and I hadn’t yet realized that my new boss (hired after me, in between me and my former, lovely boss) was a crazy micro-manager. I just knew that Camp Indie was going to be full of people who were where I wanted to be or were also heading that way, and I wanted to be with them.
So, back to camp.
Camp felt extra special after the dumpster fire that was 2020. There was chaos and upheaval and change… and yet, there we were, in the middle of somewhere Connecticut (but the prettiest middle of somewhere I’ve ever been). We made it. It was a conference, and it was camp, and it was a celebration. It was a sign of hope, that this life is possible and attainable. There were people at all the stages of the journey to whatever their goals were, and it was so refreshing to see so many people looking at the options and deciding to make their own rules.
While I’m talking about how great Camp Indie was, I also have to say: camp is not for everyone. It’s just not. There are tons of people who would not love this community, or who would go and not understand why I had such a great time. You don’t need to be location independent, you don’t need to work remotely, you don’t need to want to own your own business, and you don’t need to want to travel… but if you don’t like ANY of those things, I don’t think you’ll like it. If your office job is your entire world, then Camp Indie might be too much of a culture shock. If you want to do your job and then go home and watch TV, rinse and repeat for the rest of your life, this is not for you. If you’re a jerk who thinks you’re better than everyone else, how the heck did you find me and what are you doing here, but also, this camp is not for you. If you think that you have to get a college degree to have a successful life, this is not for you.
On the flip side, if you read through that list and the opposite of everything applied to you… trust me: come to Camp Indie. This is where you belong.
And that’s what it’s all about, in the end. Finding where you belong and the people that you belong with. The people that inspire you, the people that encourage you, the people that cheer you on.
We had to commit, out loud, to doing one thing that will move us closer to the triangle of freedom. I’m pretty sure that we’ll be asked at next year’s camp if we did the thing… and there’s no way on Earth that I want to have to say no to that.
Here’s the journal style write up of the camp. Quick note that I absolutely didn’t take all of these photos… some are taken from the group google drive. Note to self for next year: take more pictures! (I kind of focused on insta stories this year, which was fun, but ack, photos, oops.)
A few days before camp, someone posted in the camp facebook group about needing a ride to camp – post-camp travel was sorted – and since she was getting to the airport a little bit before me, I figured this was the person to offer a ride to. I wouldn’t have to worry about what time she needed to get back to the airport (my return flight was a little tight, and I didn’t want anyone to feel rushed to leave on my account), and I wouldn’t have to drive alone. Turns out, this was the best decision, because we basically became best friends right away. Now I know that pretty much anyone I could have ridden with would have been great, but becoming friends with Callie was a GREAT start to camp.
Google maps gave us some wild directions and definitely didn’t know that some roads existed, but it was otherwise very enjoyable. Callie and I got into Kent just before camp opened, so we stopped into a bookstore (naturally) and took a walk before actually heading to camp. We got there, drove up to the loop, and checked in. Club Getaway was fantastic and had the whole thing down pat; they gave us our room numbers (right next to each other, thanks to fate and also Stephanie), took our luggage, and sent us back down the hill with the car. From there, we tried to walk up the hill but ended up getting picked up by the camp shuttle van. Honestly, it was probably a good thing because I think I would have been out of breath by the time we got to the top (gotta work on that for next year), plus, we got a really cool tour of part of the camp that I didn’t end up going to for the rest of the time there, since our cabin wasn’t on that side.
In some order that I don’t exactly remember, we dropped the rest of our stuff in our cabins, met up with Lauren (who had the third room in our cabin), got our name tags, schedules, and wrist bands indicating we were cool with hugs, got hugs and alcohol, and talked to a bunch of people… all before dinner. Then dinner came, family style, along with the information that everything on the table (minus the bread) was gluten free. I was impressed then and continued to be impressed all weekend with how accommodating Club Getaway was with the gluten free diet. I think I maybe ate better than I do at home. I brought a whole bunch of snacks and didn’t touch any of them.
At dinner, Jason and Trav gave us the camp commandments: 1. have fun, 2. challenge yourself at camp this weekend to do one thing everyday that scares you, and 3. commit to one thing that’s going to get you closer to the triangle of freedom (which is freedom of time, location, and money). We also got to hear Jeff Harry speak about rediscovering your play and how important it is to keep play – whatever that is to you – at the center of what you do. Jeff talked about how “play” looks different for everyone, which really hit home. I keep telling people that all of my hobbies are somehow business related things, but it’s fun for me. It felt like Jeff was giving me permission to keep “playing”, even if it looked like work to someone else.
Then it was time for karaoke, which, as someone who only sings badly, is always fun to watch and never something I participate in. (I kinda feel like I want to go to a voice teacher and be like, help me learn one good karaoke song that I can do without sucking. Think they’d go for that?) There was also a fire pit going outside, and there was an open bar, so it was such a chill night with a bunch of new friends. I ended up going to bed around 11:30 or so… it was a long day. I could hear the party going on much later, so next year I fully intend to schedule my travel plans so I’m not exhausted by the end of the first night.
Saturday morning brought tea and coffee set up at 7:30, with water aerobics down by the lake or a hike that left at 7:45. I was too cold to actually do water aerobics, but I’m also not much for hiking in converse, so I had planned to go sit down by the lake and watch the water aerobics and stare at the lake in general. It was chilly for me, but the grassy area had five million bugs (I used a ton of bug spray and I don’t think I got any bites, but I don’t like things flying around my face), so I ended up sitting on the floating dock thing that went out into the lake. It was gorgeous and I got a chance to talk with a new friend who also wasn’t getting in the water.
Next up was breakfast (again with the great gluten free options… I took zero food pictures over the weekend, so add that to the list of things to do next year) and then a talk from Trudi Lebron on freedom, liberation, and equality centered business. It was so. dang. good. I love her energy and attitude and all around way of addressing something that is, for a lot of people, a bit uncomfortable to talk about. Something that really stood out for me was her answer to a question about a university accepting students that weren’t as qualified in an effort to increase diversity. Trudi’s answer: that was lazy recruiting. And you know what? Mind. Blown. Of COURSE that’s the answer. Of course there are tons of top talent of all kinds, and it’s the university’s responsibility to find those people and encourage them to apply, instead of just accepting someone literally based on the color of their skin (or whatever the diversification attempt is). Her answer was so quick and so simple, but so often missed by so many “smart” people.
Next up was Vanessa Tharp, our camp director, who is also a whole host of other things. Her talk was ‘how to plan a kick ass 2022’ and let me tell you, she came in hot. We got a ton of questions to ask ourselves (and the people at our table) in order to figure out what we wanted, how to get there, and what to do when we got stuck. She told us that we had the answers to these questions, and that was a moment where I actually had to sit there and realize that there wasn’t a magic wand anyone could wave or a secret to success… it was literally figuring out my life, getting it down on paper, and DOING IT. There’s also something really motivating about seeing these things written down, so the next time I’m dragging and uninterested in doing everything, I can just go back to this list and pick one of the things that I KNOW makes me feel better (instead of having to try and come up with it right then).
The only mandatory thing of camp was the group photo. There was also a drone. There was a lot of sun, a lot of laughing, and a lot of waving at a drone that seemed to disappear over the lake (it came back but I definitely thought it was just lost at some point. Clearly I don’t know how drones work).
We were then instructed to get some sunscreen, because it was time for inner genius breath work magic with Jacob Sokol. I switched out of my sweater and jeans into shorts and a t-shirt, skipped the sunscreen (and luckily didn’t burn), and then headed back out. Breathwork was something I’d honestly never considered before, because I don’t breathe very well (or very consistently… I think it’s a stress thing where I just kind of forget to breathe), and I’m not 100% sure I did it right, but it was an experience. So many emotions. I definitely needed a minute to just kind of sit and think afterwards, which wasn’t something I totally expected. I’ll absolutely try it again soon, and I highly recommend looking into Jacob’s work.
Then it was lunch, which meant food, friends, and so much conversation. Every single chance I had to talk to someone new was a fantastic experience and I wish I could capture the feelings that camp brought out and keep them handy for days that just kind of suck.
We had a quick version of camp olympics, involving a watermelon eating contest, a team cheer, a conga line dance, and an inflatable horse race. It was a fun time to be silly and really felt like camp should.
We had “free time” next, so it was a beeline to the water with a quick detour for changing into swimsuits and applying sunscreen to my shoulders. Callie and I set off in a canoe, fought against the waves from the boat, and got a pretty solid arm workout (maybe not for someone who, you know, regularly works out… but definitely for me). It was a gorgeous day and I’m really glad we decided to give it a try.
We then actually got in the water, which was absolutely cold in my South Texas opinion, and joined a group of people hanging (literally) out on and around these large floating… things? Obstacle course items? I’m not entirely sure what they are, but you can see them in the pictures above. We sat on them, hung off them, laid across them… and just talked. I need to make sure it’s understood that the talking was such a highlight. Yeah, you can talk to people all the time, but it was so freaking great being around such cool people, having these great conversations about camp, travel, life, work, anything and everything. Someone brought a bunch of beers out to the lake, put them in a floating thing, and pushed them over… it was hilarious.
Eventually, Callie and I made the decision to get back into the water fully (RIP to my totally dry shoulders) in order to get out, and headed over to the lakeside bar area. One jack and coke and a margarita later, and we chose to sit down for a minute instead of going to explore the rest of the camp. We either joined people or were joined by people, but either way, we had a whole group there, doing – you guessed it – more talking. No one should be surprised at this point. You give me 60+ people to talk to and I AM GOING TO. It was so fascinating hearing about how everyone ended up at camp. Since we didn’t have camp in 2020 like we were supposed to, it’s wild to me that I had my ticket before some of the people there even knew it existed… but I’m so glad it worked out the way it did. (Like, yeah, I’d rather that the whole chaos of 2020 didn’t happen… but there were some good outcomes.)
After a while, I had to bail on the conversation to actually go get ready for the 80s dance party. I know myself and my hair, and I knew that it needed a minute to look how I wanted it to. That was pretty much the only time I spent alone aside from the actual sleeping time, and yeah, if I could have snapped my fingers to get ready and kept chatting, I absolutely would have done so.
Dinner came with a great talk from Jason Moore on the power of transitions. It was so important to hear and talk about how things are changing in life and business, and how that’s a GOOD thing. There’s so much value in recognizing what changes you’re making on purpose and what changes you aren’t, but how they can all benefit you and what you can do because of them.
And then… the 80s dance party. So many costumes. So much music. All the dancing. Plenty of alcohol (and I don’t think anyone got crazy or ridiculous, so that’s even better). The dance party was held at the bar area by the lake, so there was a deck outside with the bar and the dancing and music inside. It was nice to be able to escape the music for a while and go have a conversation on the deck/patio area. Every conference or convention should have a dance party. That’s my official stance on the subject.
Around 1:45am, I was done. I knew I had an early morning and a long day of airplanes, so for the first time in my life, I didn’t go to a bonfire when it was available. (Again, travel plans for next year will be made around my camp sleep schedule and not the other way around.)
Sunday morning was a little slow. I didn’t go to the polar bear plunge (no real surprise there), but I did go up to breakfast around 8:30. We started the morning with a talk on managing your finances with Nora Dunn. Someone mentioned to me later that they were surprised that it was as interesting as it was, so A+ Nora, on making money not boring! It was super important, though, because she traveled full time for twelve years and that’s not something that can be done vacation style unless you’re swimming in money. She talked about how full time travel is NOT the same as a vacation, and that’s really the only way it can be sustainable. She also gave a bunch of tips and mindset shifts, got meta, and all around gave everyone a great perspective on travel as a lifestyle.
Next was defeating the dip with Travis Sherry. This was such a good topic to touch on because it’s going to happen to everyone. There’s always going to be a moment when the motivation, momentum, energy, or ideas just dip and it’s so much easier to just stop than it is to fight through and keep going. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard Trav speak on this before, but it’s always such a good reminder that no one is alone in this and that even people who I deem as super successful still have to work through it.
We did a camp tradition, bloody mary bingo… which was blackout bingo with music instead of numbers. I ended up collecting like five different cards since most people ended up chatting instead of playing. By the end of the hour, the lovely camp staffers/DJs grabbed my card to finish out the set list so we could safely end the game. Make friends with the people in charge, y’all. They’re usually so fun. Also – morning dance parties are the best thing ever.
I meant to go pack then, but instead I met people I hadn’t met yet and chatted to them for ages. That’s a running theme here, but look, I wasn’t about to NOT talk to someone new. I did have to dash away to actually pack at some point, and since I knew there was a pretty good chance that I wouldn’t make my connection in DFW, I had to be a little more strategic on what I was actually packing instead of just throwing everything into my checked bag. Camp awards were hilarious and made up, but it was such a great start to what I’m sure will be a fun tradition. Here’s a list of the awards, which I took from my instagram stories (hence the tagged usernames).
Let me tell you that I absolutely did not want to leave. I think if I’d known that my flight was even more delayed than the original delay, I probably wouldn’t have hustled… but we did have to be out of there by like 3:30 or 4 or something, so it’s not like I left super early. Still, finding the people I needed to hug and say goodbye to was an adventure in itself. That said, it speaks to what I’ve tried to put into words this entire post – I made friends. I hugged more people goodbye than I did hello, and that’s one sign of a successful weekend.
I was on my own on the drive back to the airport, and it was mostly uneventful. I rolled the windows down, turned the music up, and followed a different google recommended path than I’d taken on the way there. I did have connection issues as I got closer, so like an idiot, I cancelled the directions to try and pull up specific directions to the car drop… and then couldn’t get the map at all… but I was close enough to the airport to follow the signs to the rental car drop. (Such a rookie mistake – google maps are downloadable!)
Everything went smoothly until I tried to print my bag tag… and the system wouldn’t let me. I went to the counter to explain that I intended to try and run for my flight… and that’s when I was told that we’d been delayed again and I’d get to DFW after the flight to Corpus had taken off. That resulted in a hotel voucher for Dallas and extra time in Hartford. That, in turn, meant that I got to meet up with Callie and Lauren and get some extra post-camp friend time in.
The flight itself was mostly uneventful. I was sitting next to this older, European couple that annoyed the living daylights out of me (who turns their overhead light on and then goes to sleep?) but mostly, I just processed camp, read, and played a game on my phone. It was about midnight by the time I got to the hotel, and I got up and out in time for the 6:15am shuttle. It was way too early for my flight, but since the couple that I made friends with on the shuttle the night before were on the morning one, I decided to get off the shuttle at terminal C with them instead of terminal E. I figured that I liked the C terminal, they had a starbucks, and I had time to take the train. Starbucks turned into getting chick-fil-a hash browns (I got in line and it didn’t move until they opened at 7, at which point I realized that there was a mobile order code… so I did, ducked out of line, and had my hash browns before the regular line had moved more than one person).
Then, I opened instagram to find that my friend Sarah from NerdCon: Stories had replied to my DFW Starbucks story. She was in the airport also, and I had time… so yes, I took the train around the airport to terminal A to go hug her and chat for like 20 or 30 minutes. It amazes me that I could find a friend in an airport at 7am, but I love that about my life.
Camp Indie 2021 will always hold a place in my heart. Hopefully there will be many more years, and many more friends, and I’d never want to make anyone feel like they weren’t just as welcome because they weren’t there the first year… but I know that the first people I hug at the next Camp Indie will be the people I met at this one. I’m looking forward to talking to people online, in LI, and over zoom, but I really can’t wait for the next time we’re all in the same place.