Being on the road the past few weeks visiting all of the Christian Retreats Network properties has really got me thinking about how far groups travel for a retreat. An average for groups is 1 to 3 hour travel time. As a planner, there are so many factors that go into making the decision as to where to hold your retreat. What kind of amenities do they offer? How much does it cost? What does the food taste like? But possibly one of the most important questions you should be asking is “How far away is it?”.
Let’s face it, some trips are just not feasible. Distance is a key part of traveling. Travel expenses must be a line in your budget, and therefore can play a key role in making the location decision. Aside from the cost, there are so many other things to consider when choosing how far to go. In order to help you make that decision, here’s a few questions to ask:
How many guests are you bringing? The size of the group has a big influence on what kind of transportation you need, such as bus, vans, carpooling or everyone finds their own ride. For a closer venue, everyone figuring out their own ride is fine, but not everyone can drive or find a ride for a 3 hour away trip. Make sure to consider getting everyone there when setting a registration limit. The planner must know how everyone is getting there.
What is your group type? Adults are a lot easier to find rides for, because they can probably drive themselves if need be. Taking a youth group means that you will not only have to figure out how to get kids there, but also who is going to drive. If parents need to drop them off at the venue, it’s best to keep the retreat close. For those taking a bus, piling everyone in and hitting the road for a couple of hours is no big deal.
How much will travel cost? Retreats can already be a stretch for some people’s budget. Adding a large travel expense on top of that could force them to lose out on the amazing experience a retreat could have brought them. Make sure to look for the most economical way to travel. Think about gas prices and possibly borrowing/renting a bus or other group vehicle.
How long is the retreat? There is a simple mathematical projection that incorporates distance and length of stay. For example, a 4 hour, one-way trip for a 16 hour retreat means that the time it takes to travel is half of your retreat time (8 hours of which will be spent asleep). Consider a closer venue for a shorter retreat. When going for longer (like a week), you can justify the time spent a little more traveling.
Is there such a thing as too close? While some guests may be deterred by a great distance, there can also be harm in not going far enough. Aside from the feel of separation that is intended for a retreat, the drawback of meeting close to home is the increased likelihood that participants will arrive late, leave early, or be interrupted by day-to-day demands. This is especially true for parents with separation anxiety from their kids. Pull everyone far enough away that leaving isn’t exactly an option. The point is to get them away to focus on the purpose of the retreat.
In the end, it comes down to how far you are willing to go for the experience. The perfect venue for your event is not defined by how far away it is from your church. What you need to be asking is this: Is the value of the experience for your guests worth the time and money it takes to get there (and home)?