Women, Wellness & Wellies: Unwinding With Campervan Retreats

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Sara Ottley is Campervan Retreats’ creator and a passionate VW owner whose aim is to create wellbeing retreats that offer a chance to escape ‘normal life’ and spend time in one’s own beloved campervan with other like-minded souls.

Her journey began more than 15 years ago when she left the fire service to pursue a career in the health and wellness sector. Over the years, she developed a deep love for yoga, and as a result, a more rounded approach to health and fitness emerged, focusing more on wellness and happiness rather than just “fitness.” 

She became a health and lifestyle coach and qualified as a yoga teacher to enable her to support her clients further. Three gorgeous kids later, she was ready for a change of direction. They wanted more adventures as a family, so she managed to persuade her husband Neil into investing in a VW Campervan. This is when ‘Bruno’ the campervan joined her family in February 2022.

The idea of Campervan Retreats came to Sara when she was daydreaming about how wonderful it would be to escape on her own with Bruno—no kids, no dog, no husband, no hassles. Campervan Retreats offers a self-catering solution for women to enjoy energizing activities in the most beautiful UK locations.

The focus is on fun and female connection with a variety of activities such as yoga, walking, SUP, paddle-board yoga, mindfulness, sociable crafting circles, drumming circles, foraging, sound therapy, hiking, and wild swimming. 

We connected with Sara at her home in Maidstone, Kent, to learn more about her unique retreats.

Wander: tell us your story! How did you come to be a creator of wellness retreats?

Sara: As a busy mom of three, I have been working within the health and wellbeing industry since 2006; during that time, I built and sold a successful London-based personal training business and delivered large boot camps, wellbeing events and Vinyasa yoga classes. 

Campervan Retreats evolved from my love of bringing like-minded people together in the pursuit of adventure, friendship and self-care. I realized that the thing I would love to do the most was jump in my own campervan and wave goodbye to the madness of home life for a few days to find peace, tranquillity, exercise and personal development.

But where would I go alone? I thought there must be other campervan owners who felt the same, so in Spring 2022, Campervan Retreats was born. 

Campervan Retreats offers female van owners a wonderful space to relax and unwind in nature in the most beautiful locations around the U.K. The wellness retreat atmosphere is welcoming, warm and fun-filled. We focus on wellbeing and happiness, which runs through the core of all we do.

Solo or with friends, this is a time to connect and share, find space to breathe and let go of the stress and worries, finding a real connection with yourself and with the other like-minded ladies on each retreat. 

Can you tell us more about the philosophy or values that drive campervan retreats and how they shape the overall experience?

The core values are all based around nature, personal growth, and unwinding from the stresses and strains of everyday life. My main goal is for each and every woman who attends to leave feeling happier, healthier, and more empowered than they did when they arrived. 

What sets campervan retreats apart?

The idea of Campervan Retreats for women evolved from a lifelong passion for VW campervans, spending time in nature and bringing women together to live happier, healthier lives.

The events offer women a chance to escape a busy life for a couple of nights away to revive and enjoy their own van feeling safe and secure with other similar souls around them. The retreats offer a mix of girl talk, wellness workshops and movement-based sessions and activities, plus some free time to enjoy solo time and nature. 

How do you select and curate the locations where campervan retreats are situated? What factors do you consider in choosing these destinations?

I have to take quite a lot into consideration when seeking out ideal locations as we need to have good access for the campervans to safely spread out and park up with great views for every van attending, peace and quiet away from any road noise, and also a comfortable communal space to come together.

It’s great being able to look nationwide, as I have women across the UK coming along. People often contact me with suggestions of secret gems they have visited or know already, so that is a great help.  

What is your favourite retreat destination?

My favourite retreat destination overseas is Crete. The Island is beautiful, the terrain offers something for everyone, the people are generous and welcoming, the sea is warm and clear, and the food is fresh and mouthwatering.

My favourite Campervan Retreat location in the UK is our private Lake venue in East Sussex, where we get to paddleboard directly from the terrace.

What have been the biggest learnings or surprises so far? 

The biggest surprise so far is how many people rebook! Women with campervans often feel nervous about travelling or going it alone, so coming along on my retreats offers them time in their own beloved vans but in the safety of a group of like-minded women.

I’ve also learnt how absolutely exhausting it can be to deliver a full weekend retreat! I sleep like a baby afterwards, always with a big smile on my face. 

Where do you see wellness retreats heading?

I think retreats are becoming more accessible and niche; they don’t have to be just about vegan food, yoga, or meditation. I believe it is essential to combine interests outside of wellbeing to allow people to come together with like-minded individuals. 

Visit campervanretreats.co.uk to learn more.

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