Designer Vaca is taking a break for 2017, but will be back next year. Here's why you should attend, based on my experience in 2016.
I don’t know about you guys, but I love the idea of conferences. I love packing my suitcase with sketchbooks, pens, my laptop, some fresh professional outfits, and making ambitious plans for my off time in whatever city I happen to be visiting. The only problem is traditional conferences, while giving my brain a break from the daily office hustle, are often more exhausting than they are refreshing. There’s so much information to take in. The sessions are long, the breaks are short. There’s so many people to meet in your fleeting free moments. Everything has to be ON for the entire day, from breakfast to happy hour and you return home feeling completely depleted.
That’s why when my friend Klare recommended Designer Vaca as an “unconference” at a panel I was attending, I felt my spirit perk up. All ladies in design? Casual, inspirational sessions with pool time in between? Opportunities to meet like-minded people? It seemed too good to be true!
It was too good to be true that year, 2015 — I got the memo too late, because that year’s Designer Vaca was already sold out. I put my name on the waitlist, fingers forever crossed that I would get in, but didn’t make the cut. So I promised myself I would register the first day it opened that next year.
Flash forward to 2016. Designer Vaca registration opens and like I promised myself, I’m on the website registering immediately. FINALLY, I was going to see what all the hype was about, and if it didn’t seem worth my time, I wouldn’t need to attend again. But I had to know.
Holy moly, Designer Vaca was everything I’d dreamed and more! I had so much fun meeting women from all over the country, in all kinds of design fields, with all kinds of backgrounds. One thing, however, united us — we all cared deeply about creating great things when we’re on, and relaxing like hell when we’re off. So if you’ve been on the fence about attending Designer Vaca, I’m here to smooth over your hesitancies.
After "climbing" (riding up) a mountain.
1. MAKE FOREVER CONNECTIONS.
I have a feeling I’m going to be connected to these ladies for a long time, and the connections started before I even got to the hotel! I made a friend in the Palm Springs airport bathroom while primping after my flight (side note: weirdest/coolest airport ever!) and we shared an uber to the hotel. I immediately grabbed brunch with my new friend and her DV roommate at the Parker Hotel, which had the most eclectic decor I’ve ever seen, and from there we hopped over to ride a tram to the top of a mountain. We were still hours away from the first DV event, and we’d already bonded with selfies, cocktails, and borderline hiking.
From there, the connections only grew. I started to immediately follow each person I met on Instagram, as a helpful way ofremembering names & faces (because you’ll meet quite a few awesome ladies). It’s no pressure, you keep up with everyone’s awesome photos from the trip, and you have at least one connection to that person for life! Or at least until Instagram falls out of favor (*knocks on wood*).
2. BREATHE IN SOME FRESH AIR.
I had never been to the California desert before, but my goodness is it strikingly beautiful. If you fly into Palm Springs airport, you’ve GOT to get a window seat to ooh and aah at rock formations, windmills, and mountains. Desert valleys are absolutely crazy looking, and as someone who’s from a more temperate/forest climate, it was refreshing to stare at some unique nature. There’s so much to do around the area in your off time, too! Only a few hours after flying in, I took a tram to the top of a 8,600 ft high mountain. It was a 40 degree difference up there and of course I was in shorts & flip flops but my goodness, I felt ALIVE. Supposedly, we humans will spend up to 90% of our lives indoors…we aren’t made for that much stale recycled air! So make sure to pencil in a hike, a bike ride, or a tram ride to make the most of your fresh air time.
3. GET HELLA MOTIVATED.
The speakers at the sessions focused less on the nitty gritty design details, and more on how to build yourself up to stay motivated and curate your success. It was refreshing to listen to and provided excellent material for sketch noting (which I got to take in our new May Designs sketchbooks!). I found my brain feeling refreshed after taking in the information, as opposed to scrambling to make sense of everything I’d just heard. I was so inspired that immediately on my flight back, I whipped out my laptop to write this post.
4. BUILD YOUR SUPPORT NETWORK.
This goes back to making forever connections, but I also know that these girls have my back. Now that I have faces to accompany the names from our DV Facebook Group, I’ll be able to support these women and they’ll be able to support me.
My favorite part of the weekend came after our first session, when we broke into small discussion groups (a thing I normally dread) that were unusually open, honest, and unassuming. We talked clients, expectations, boundaries, work life balance, bosses, and off time. The moderator made sure everyone got a chance to talk, and since we were half in house/half freelance, we kept the conversation balanced and relatively generic so everyone could relate. I happened to end up in a group with some ladies I’d met the night before, so when I hung out with them again later that day, we were able to keep the conversation going. But we didn’t need to talk shop all the time! It was a nice balance of whatever-the-heck-we-wanted and work talk.
5. BE YOUR GOOFY SELF.
On the first night, I had a bit of social anxiety because I showed up to this weekend knowing no one, so I walked up to people with the super smooth introduction of, “Hey, I’m Katelyn. I’m awkward. HOW ARE YOU GUYS?” And they simply introduced themselves back and got me in on the conversation like it wasn’t a thing. We vibed immediately. It was refreshing to just be myself, and have women support that.
A few other goofy gems from the weekend: the speakers & hosts always started sessions with a spontaneous dance party to songs by Ludacris and Bruno Mars.
On the last night, a huge group of girls jumped in the pool together. Afterwards, they wrapped up in towels and hung out by the fire pit, making s’mores.
At one point during our group dinner on the second night, my seat mates started a drinking game for the keynote speech — drink every time your “tribe” is mentioned, or there’s a reference to “hustling.” Life is nothing if you can’t laugh at yourself.
Yes, it is I.
Katelyn. Captain of the Unicorn Floaty. Mother of Pool Excursions. Breaker of Curfews. You get the idea...
6. RIDE A UNICORN FLOATY. OR A PIZZA FLOATY. OR A PRETZEL FLOATY. OR A SWAN FLOATY.
I don’t feel like I need much to defend this point, but it’s important to mention that the floaty game at the Ace Swim Club is on point. I finally achieved my dream of riding a unicorn, and I’m never looking back.
7. TRULY DISCONNECT FROM THE OFFICE.
This one is somewhat dependent on your work culture and your phone signal, but I found myself more free from the office than I’ve ever been at a “real” conference. I turned off my Slack notifications. The wifi at the Ace Hotel sucks (being honest here), so I really only popped on the internet to tweet something from the sessions or Instagram the vibes at #DesignerVaca. I wasn’t browsing my email every 5 minutes like I usually do. Besides, the ladies at Designer Vaca were so inspiring and authentic, I was genuinely enjoying my conversations, instead of browsing my phone or laptop. It’s so freeing to get away from your screens for awhile.
8. REFRESH YOUR STYLE.
I don’t know about y’all, but it’s easy to feel like a unicorn in a sea of sad ponies in DC. I don’t usually have so many stylish ladies surrounding me, baffling me with their stellar fashion choices, typeface tastes, and Instagram composition tactics. I got to admire in awe the stye of women from all over the country and from six international locales! Some people say fashion is silly, but I’m a true believer that personal style is a reflection of yourself and should make you feel like your best self. It was so wonderful to see a widely varied group of design-savvy women.