“Getaway is naturally about socially distancing,” said Jon Staff, who founded the company with his Harvard pal, Pete Davis. “No part of the business was about hanging out with other people.”
The mod cabins are built for our current reality, even though they date from a simpler time: 2015. Staff and Davis, who has since left the company, created the retreat for overworked urbanites tethered to technology. Turns out the pro-nature, anti-social model is a perfect fit for a global health crisis, too.
While hotels struggle to recover — occupancy rates are still under 50 percent — Getaway is thriving. The company, which operates the cabins at 12 locations in nine states, reported a 99 percent occupancy rate in July and August and a 260 percent spike in bookings from May through July. Most of the outposts are more than 90 percent full through October; the Shenandoah Valley property, where I recently stayed, is at 99.8 percent.
The Getaway colonies are no more than a two-hour drive from such major urban centers as D.C., New York, Dallas and Los Angeles — a common round-trip commute for many city folk. Each property contains about 30 to 50 structures on double-digit acres of sylvan land. The company plans to open No. 13, in New York’s Adirondacks, by the end of this year as well as expand some outposts. For example, the Virginia property will unveil nine two-person cabins and two four-person accommodations on Dec. 21.
“Quiet time in nature should be part of a wellness routine, like meditation or yoga,” Staff told me after my visit. “If you’re stressed out, you should be able to pull a rip cord and be sitting at a campfire.”
To be sure, dropping out and into nature is not a novel concept. Take Henry David Thoreau, whose transcendent ruminations sit on every Getaway bookshelf. The Virginia property is near Shenandoah National Park, where Depression-era President Herbert Hoover escaped the stress of the White House at his Brown House. The park rents cabins, though many are not as isolated or self-sufficient as the tiny houses. My cabin at Skyland resort shared a wall with strangers, and with no cooking facilities, I had to venture out for meals. I also had to wait in several lines: to pick up and drop off my key, report the leaky sink and order my free cup of coffee, consolation for the resort’s decision to remove the coffee makers.
The Getaway in Stanardsville, Va., is only 100 miles from D.C., but my journey there took several months. I first booked two nights for late March at the pre-inflation price of $99 a night, which included a free future night’s stay. (I am wistful for before-the-virus deals. You’ll see why in a few sentences.) Weeks before my trip, I had to cancel because of the emerging health crisis. Months later, I tried again. In early July, I checked the booking calendar and found one available date at the end of the month. I pounced on it, but someone with quicker mouse reflexes grabbed it. I looked at August and saw one opening on a Thursday night. I nabbed the house, paying $341 for one human and one dog. (When I asked Staff about the price increase, he said the company was capping rates at $299. I reminded him about the taxes, which push the price into the mid-$300s.)
Check-in time is a firm 3 p.m. The company texts the cabin name and code to unlock the door no more than a half-hour beforehand. (I received my details at 2:36 p.m.) The staff asks guests to not enter any earlier, in accordance with their stringent cleaning process. They did, however, send me a map of the Getaway neighborhood in advance, so I could find my cabin and learn the names of my neighbors. I was staying in Hank, and my neighbors were Felix, Lenore, Caroll, Shirley and Forrest. The structures are named after the grandparents of employees and special guests; Hank is the granddad of one of the cabin builders.
The 34 houses resembled upscale trailers for Keebler elves. They were bark-brown and rectangular, with two wheels anchored to the earth. In the side yard, a picnic table and Adirondack chairs formed a crescent around a fire pit. A bin labeled “campfire kit” contained bundles of logs and kindling, which cost $6.50 and $2, respectively. To ensure privacy, the company placed the fire pits away from neighbors’ prying eyes. From my seat by the fire, I could not see Felix’s blaze, and I imagine the reverse held true for Hank.
Inside, eastern white pine covered nearly every inch of the 142-square-foot space; I felt as if I were inside the hollow of a tree. The layout is intuitive and ingenious, a jigsaw puzzle of architectural design: There’s a bathroom with a toilet and shower; a kitchen with a two-burner stove, mini-fridge and sink (for teeth-brushing and dishwashing); a table and chair; and, up a few steps, a queen-size bed dressed in crisp, white linens. The entire wall by the bed is consumed by a picture window framing a not-so-still life of the forest.
I brought my own food but didn’t need to. A pantry drawer came stocked with rustic-gourmand provisions, including Amy’s tomato soup, a pound of Allegra penne rigate, Bob’s Red Mill organic oatmeal, mao feng green tea bags by Teapigs and Kuju coffee pods. Prices ranged from 50 cents (hot chocolate) to $7.50 (pasta sauce), hardly the minibar markup of traditional hotel rooms. As a welcome gift, the staff left me a s’mores kit and, for Siena, dog treats with the same flavor profile.
Since the pandemic, some members of the hospitality industry have been pitching their accommodations as an office-away-from-home. Getaway is proposing the opposite: “This is a sacred place where you do no work,” Staff said. To remove any temptations, the cabins do not come with WiFi, and a lockbox encourages guests to stash their gadgets for their stay. (Those without discipline might need a vault with a closure stronger than a clasp. Maybe a lock controlled by Oz-like staff?) For music, I streamed tunes from the old-fashioned radio.
Siena and I set out to explore the 80-acre property, an uncluttered setting with a few winding roads and groves of trees. I saw guests at ease: two boys swinging in a hammock, a dad roasting hot dogs for his daughter, a Siberian husky sitting as still as a garden gnome. I glanced but didn’t engage. We jagged left to a network of interlocking nature trails. We ran into a couple with their dog. “This is like King’s Dominion for the pups,” the owner remarked from the opposite side of the creek, as the dogs sniffed their approval. On our way back to our cabin, I noticed a man on a cellphone, but the loud chatter of insects drowned him out.
Back at the house, Siena climbed into bed, and I considered activities amenable to self-isolation and tech-deprivation. “We encourage you to not do very much,” Staff said. “Be inside your cabin. Be outside your cabin. Do nothing at all.”
I perused the little library, selected “Getting Away” by the Getaway co-founder and told Siena to make some room. The book came out in June, but Staff clearly wrote it before the pandemic. In the introduction, he addresses the perils of another era: “The digital age has left us unbalanced.” He recommends 75 ways to regain your equilibrium, advice that is as relevant today as it was in February. I started with the section titled “Balance Yourself.” He suggested writing in a gratitude journal, meditating for five minutes a day and turning off your push notifications. Before I knew it, I was practicing Lesson No. 4: sleep.
In the morning, I received a text apologizing for being the bearer of bad news: We would have to vacate by 11 a.m. Hank needed to get ready for the next group of guests who might be seeking balance or maybe just a good, long snooze in the forest.
If you go
Where to stay
2010 Madison Rd.,
The tiny houses are open year-round and come with a private bathroom with a hot shower, full kitchen and fire pit (wood costs extra). Bring your food or raid the pantry, which offers such staples as pasta, soup, oatmeal, coffee, tea and beef jerky, for a charge.
No WiFi, though at the Virginia property, my cellphone service was strong. (In the event of a bad connection, each cabin comes with a red phone.) Rates range from $199 to $299, depending on the season. Add $40 for pets.