There used to be two main modes of being. You were either working or on vacation. Other than trustafarians gallivanting the world on permanent backpacking adventures, there was little in between the states of ‘at work’ and ‘on holiday.’ Now, though, there’s a new type of ‘holiday’ that’s growing in popularity all around the world.
Think the only acceptable WhatsApp status’ are ‘in a meeting’ and ‘in the Greek islands’? Think again. There’s a new travel trend sweeping the world and it’s not about sightseeing, adventuring, digital nomad-ing or even partying.
It’s about being still. This new “type of time,” as Unyoked co-founder Cam Grant put it recently while speaking exclusively with DMARGE, has risen up in response to the unhinged busyness of modern life.
Though the movement has been stirring for quite some time, the pandemic has given it a boost, with more and more people realising there’s more to life than working 9-5, ordering UberEats and becoming one with your sofa.
This “new type of time” involves taking shorter breaks more regularly, in order to decompress from urban stresses, reconnect with yourself, feel the awe of nature, find inspiration and be back in the office a couple of days later.
You might think this sounds a bit happy clappy, but it’s not just us (and companies who have a vested interest in spouting it) saying it. The late Anthony Bourdain once made a similar observation (admittedly, about Paris, but please, bear with us).
“The absolute worst thing to do when you come to Paris is plan too much. Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame, Arc de Triomphe, stand in line for hours to experience what everybody says you have to. Me? I like to take it easy in Paris, especially if I’m only in town for a few days.”
The same point was made by an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald. The author wrote: “rather than liberating us, the existence of too much choice – of jeans, of cars, or places to visit – can result in analysis paralysis and decision fatigue.”
If this sounds like something you can get your credit card behind (and trust us, compared to camping, it isn’t cheap), this new kind of escape (or “new type of time”) could involve staying in one of a company like Unyoked’s cabins. Or it could also be done by finding a Tiny House on Airbnb. You also, though it’s a slightly different thing, could book a campsite on Hipcamp (a privatised version of camping where you don’t have to deal with other campers) or a van on Camplify (where you can rent a luxuriously kitted out camper van for a few days) to achieve a similar effect.
The key idea behind the phenomenon is urban escapism – but without having to go too far, and without the worry that things might not go perfectly. Traditional camping, for instance, is a much cheaper alternative to this. When traditional camping, for instance, you might pay $6 (or perhaps $24) for a night in a campsite in a national park near whatever city you live in (staying at an Unyoked property, by comparison, is more like a couple of hundred a night).
The problem with traditional camping is that if you’re not an experienced camper, you might have a miserable time if the weather is poor. Also, depending on which city you live in, you might have to drive a long way to get to a national park (and all the good campsites are often booked out a long way in advance). Another disadvantage to traditional camping, if you are trying to find peace and solitude, is that public campsites are often full of people. Not to mention: you probably don’t have a Koala mattress in your tent…
This brings us to the new phenomenon of unhitching yourself from civilisation, on demand, in relative luxury and at a price (a price, it should be noted, that many people, in increasing numbers, are willing to pay). Enter: Unyoked. DMARGE recently had a chat with Unyoked co-founder Cam Grant, who is one of the industry leaders in this new space, to get his thoughts.
“My twin brother Chris and I are the co-founders of Unyoked,” Cam explained. “We started about 5 years ago now, we lived around Australia and moved a whole bunch as kids because of our dad’s job, but nature was one of the only constants. We were always outdoors growing up and in uni, like many Australians, we’d go overseas quite extensively.”
“We went on trips to Nepal, Sumatra; places that were a bit further away and kind of off the grid.”
Cam also shared how he used to drive up the coast for 8 hours with mates to go camping and found that it was an experience he’d “come back from feeling a bit different.” Fast forward a bit and Cam was working in the Commonwealth Bank’s strategy department and his brother was working at General Assembly. During this time, they realised doing short trips benefitted them both personally and professionally. As Cam put it to DMARGE: “You feel guilty for going away so you [most people] only do it once a year and when you do you stack so much stuff into it that you’re more stressed when you come back.”
“Then you go through these hectic periods at work where you are not seeing anyone and are not doing anything. Then you just come home and eat UberEats and watch Netflix. There are so many negative cycles people catch themselves in.”
When he and his brother would go through these times, Cam told DMARGE they would be “on like page 10 of Airbnb looking for this thing that didn’t exist – that kind of trip that’s in the middle of nowhere, where on a Wednesday night we can go on Thursday and be back in the office for a Friday. We wanted to tap out, switch off and recharge; so we kind of just decided to create it.”
“We would always have cabin porn in those days – spreadsheets and cabin porn.”
They were basically looking for a little cabin nestled in a forest. Something that would inspire you with awe, or just get you back to basics. It also had to be somewhere you could get to easily. And so Unyoked was born.
As Cam explained: “We realised properties like that are generally in national parks.” This was a problem because national parks are “hard to access” and the government tends to be really slow at handing out approval for doing anything in these areas (if you get it at all).
The solution? Find private property owners, and convince them of the Unyoked mission. As Cam explained: “Then we realised there’s all this land within two hours of all these major cities that have these beautiful spots. That’s how we hacked the land side.”
“We found two friends – an architect and a builder – and started tinkering. Everyone we spoke to had the same need, looking for this thing that wasn’t there. We knew we were onto something fairly early, then launched in March 2017. We shut down Concrete Playground’s page for 20 mins. That was a big moment where we were like: ‘Ok, this has got legs.’ Since then it’s been a bit of a journey on that same path.”
Cam and his brother were on a mission to help people understand the scientific benefits of nature and then provide a way for people to connect to it “on demand.” He told us a good analogy is Headspace (the meditation app). The brothers plan to do “what they [Headspace] did for meditation for the outdoors.”
“A lot of people already kind of get it, but there’s this huge amount of people that recently have been realising, ‘Shit I should look after myself. I should switch off and be closer to nature.’ We [Unyoked] want to be the ones that help them understand the ‘when, why and how.’”
So, what does Unyoked look like then? Cam explained to DMARGE that “each cabin is pretty similar but the geography and landscape are different.” There are two types of Unyoked cabins, with some being chosen for their awe-inspiring properties (these “vast landscaped” cabins are about 3 hours away from major cities) and others being simpler but closer.
As for the cabins themselves, they are basically tiny houses of one single room with a gas burner, a fridge, a composting toilet, a hot shower, solar power and a bed. There’s no Wi-Fi or TV but there are things like yoga mats, Penguin classic books, board games and cocktail-making kits.
Cam told DMARGE: “There is tonnes of research on what awe does for you – it gives you a sense of perspective, makes you feel closer to other people, there’s so much. We’re just gradually helping people realise.”
Cam also chatted to DMARGE about that much thrown-around buzzword ‘sustainability.’ He told us he believes there is no point in teaching people the benefits of nature if they aren’t looking after it too: “We build all the cabins in our facility beforehand and they’re just towed in. The whole concept and long-term aim is that by helping people understand the benefits of nature they’ll have a greater appreciation of our landscape and protect it for future generations.”
“We make sure our whole operation is minimal footprint, [we can go up] goat tracks and little hills and things, but we don’t touch the environment. All these people [the land owners on the properties where Unyoked cabins get put] generally had a favourite spot they would go to on the property and had this immersive quality, but they either didn’t do anything with it or they didn’t have the money to build their own thing or they just couldn’t access it. But they have this desire to open it up for other people.”
Cam also credits part of the success of Unyoked to the skyrocketing of the sharing economy, which “was already quite evolved” when Unyoked came into existence. That said, the concept of people booking accommodation where they basically want to be left alone has still been a novel idea for some property owners, with some asking Cam “don’t they [the guests] want to know about the antique store?”
At the moment there are some 60 Unyoked properties, with the company operating primarily on Australia’s Eastern Seaboard, and with options also in Perth, Adelaide, Tasmania, Queensland, Melbourne, Auckland and (most recently) Europe.
This expansion has come alongside “this global cultural trend of people living and working more flexibly” Cam told us. “Instead of saying you’re busy, people actually make time now to focus on their mental health and wellbeing and people have an increased appreciation for the natural world now.”
“Covid was hard but this was the silver lining; the market has grown so deep because everyone gets it and is looking for this kind of thing.”
The three key benefits Unyoked sells itself on are recharging your batteries (studies show spending time in nature can reduce your cortisol levels and destress you), boosting your creativity (Cam told us being out in nature for 2 days can increase your creative problem-solving skill by up to 50%) and giving you a better sense of perspective (nature is – literally – awesome).
“We don’t see it as a holiday – there’s a new type of time; not just leisure and work… something in the middle.”
Looking to the future, Cam told DMARGE he sees Unyoked fulfilling a purpose beyond just holidays, seeing it as something where meditation and the “health and wellness” fitness type spaces collide: “That [new type of] time is now growing as a category in people’s minds and they are putting a value to it. That’s why we’ve seen so many people come mid-week. We’ve booked out like 90% every single week since it was launched.”
“People are realising working isn’t just sitting in an office and plugging away. Your mind actually works differently – you can be creative in different environments and productive in different environments. It’s more of a flow, so we’re seeing a lot more people coming to work from the cabins rather than just switch off – so [they] do a little on the laptop, go for a walk, come back, write notes etc. It’s moving away from just creatives and freelancers into people who are sitting in the office and in strategy and things like that.”
There you have it. Could it officially be time to f**k off only holidaying for two weeks of the year in hotels? As for us, we certainly think it’s worth a try…