Designer Vaca | Part I

Grab a cup of tea, coffee, or a glass of wine — this post is one of my longer ones. If you’re not interested in reading the whole post, skip to the bottom, where you’ll catch some highlights of the trip. Happy Reading!


Last week I flew into Palm Springs to embark on my first Designer Vaca*. I’d booked months and months ago, and the trip crept up on me - I had a moment of terror on the plane (and a few days before) - wondering what the hell I was getting myself into. Being an introvert, the idea of going to a conference where I knew no one and then spending five days with complete strangers was definitely anxiety inducing!

If you haven’t heard of Designer Vaca, it’a an anti-conference for women graphic and web designers to come together to “dream, relax, collaborate, share experiences, and learn from each other”. The conference runs for three-ish** days, The Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, and there was plenty of time to relax and sit by the pool (turns out, this is just what I needed).

Arriving a few hours before my roomies, I took the opportunity to have some quiet time by the pool, read my book and get acquainted with the pool-side cocktails that were on offer. Having a few hours alone, to sit and relax, was HEAVEN.

Wednesday night was spent mingling at the welcome cocktail party, and making new friends. My fan-girl moments started pretty much straight away; spotting Shauna of Nubby Twiglet, Mica of May Designs and plenty of familiar instagram handles (we had our handles on our name tags). Recognizing someone from their instagram handle is a strange experience; it often felt like I was meeting an old friend, but…I didn’t know them.

I reconginzed Lisa, of, from her insta handle. I’ve always admired her brush lettering — she has such a confident stroke, not to mention a beautifully curated feed (check out some of her work here). We hit it off straight away, and spent plenty of time together over the next few days.

Thursday kicked-off with mimosas (yes!), followed by guest speakers, pool time and a break out session. I won’t go into a play-by-play of everything that happened (you’d be here all day), but speakers over the few days included Arian Simone (of Fearless Magazine), Kathleen Shannon (Braid Creative and Being Boss Podcast), Mica (May Designs), key note speaker Sarah Dubbeldam (founder of Darling Magazine) and Gala Darling.

I had a few moments of feeling completely out of the loop having no idea who the speakers were (way to make me feel kinda old!). I reminded myself, that this is why I go to things like this, to stay in the loop! AND to get myself out of my comfort zone. SO IMPORTANT. And, when you don’t know what you’re in for, it allows you to go in with an open mind, and be surprised (I LOVE surprises).

While I gained a lot of insight from all the speakers, it was the break out session I truly enjoyed. In our groups, we discussed topics/questions that were chosen from a list that we contributed to the previous night. It was great to chat about relevant topics and issues that come up for us all and hear how our we all approach it. Honestly, this information was so valuable — I could have spent the whole few days of the conference chatting about these topics.

It highlighted for me that I do have an incredible network, both here in Vancouver and back in Australia, of incredibly strong, talented women. I hadn’t ever taken the moment to stop and think about this. Chatting to a few women at Designer Vaca, and learning that they DIDN’T have much of a network, blew my mind. I completely took it for granted that I was surrounded by my wonderful network of women.

The conference ended on Friday, with a few optional sessions in the morning. I decided to go to Gala’s “Mindset Ritual”, which was all about mindfulness and gratitude. Having worked for lululemon for a number of years, this wasn’t new to me. However, it was a good reminder, and I always enjoy hearing the different ways people practice gratitude. Since returning from Palm Springs, I dug out my gratitude journal that dates back to 2011 (!!) and have been scribbling thoughts down each morning. A lot has come up for me on this since returning home…definitely worth it’s own blog post!

All in all, I had a blast. Just taking the time to travel somewhere new, get out of my comfort zone (and my head) is always a positive. It was a good reminder to keep attending conferences/workshops/etc., and anything that keeps me on my toes and pushing that comfort zone. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in our own little world and think that we don’t need to expand our minds or our network.

I also didn’t expect so much to come up for me in the week following Designer Vaca. I felt like I got clear on what my future holds (career wise), which feels amazing! I also felt like I was able to focus that post-conference energy and plan how I’m going to make the magic happen!


Connecting with so many amazing women!! Special shout out to Brooke, Adrienne, Julie, Lisa, Linsey, Elle, Melissa and Lucy.

Mica May — I’ve been a fan of hers for I don’t know how long, and it was so incredible to not only hear her speak, but have it be so relaxed and informal. Having the opportunity to chat to her one on one was a HUGE highlight for me.

Gala Darling — Her session on mindfulness and gratitude was the reminder that I didn’t know I needed! And her outfit was seriously amazing. Not sure how she survived in a PVC dress in the desert heat!

Pool time, duh.


Oh boy, there were A LOT of learnings. Most of these came upon my reflection of the five days away, and not necessarily things speakers said, etc.

Have confidence. You can do it. People are running successful business on less talent experience than you. I don’t mean to make it sound like these ladies aren’t talented, they are! I guess what I’m trying to get at, is that I’ve always seen myself as needing to improve at things before I start. I had a lightbulb moment that I have everything I need! Experience and talent. I just need the confidence.

Cut the crap. Drop things that don’t serve you, or help push you towards what you want to be doing and where you want to be. For me, I find it hard to say no (see setting boundaries below) and find myself taking on small jobs that don’t pay well and take all my time and energy.

Be grateful for the network and friendships you have around you. YOU DO have a wonderful network of caring, creative and talented friends.

Focus on your goal. Write it out. Rewrite it. Always keep it top of mind.

Self care. I use to see self care as selfish, but the time away reminded mean it really is a necessary practice. Especially for my mental health, taking time to exercise, , giving myself space to breathe, disconnect, reflect is HUGE. It inspires me. Taking care of me means I am a better person for my husband, family and friends.

Remember what inspires and revitalizes you. I’ve begun to final understand that self care leads to me often feeling inspired. Those times when I’m in the sunshine, travelling, meeting people, pushing myself out of your comfort zone, is when inspiration creeps in.

Set boundaries. It’s ok to say no. I struggle with this on almost a daily basis. Not being able to say no, because I don’t want to disappoint people. My counsellor said it best, “would you rather feel disappointed for 10min about saying no to someone, or feel long-lasting resent towards that person as a result of saying yes?”. I know what I’d rather chose!

VALUE you. You are worthy. Clients will see the same worth as you do; if you do things for cheap or undervalue yourself, they will also undervalue you. Hmm…yup. I totally do work for way less that I should. I undervalue myself and it shows in the jobs I bring in and how my clients view me.

Stay connected with other creative women, no matter how near or far. Connection matters. You don’t know what they can bring into your life. While staying with strangers terrified me, it was possibly the best thing I could do for myself. Chatting to women who deal with the same types of things I am dealing with, who more often that not were also introverts (WooHoo! Introverts unite!), and who genuinely cared and wanted to support each other in what we do. More than anything, this gave me the confidence and inspiration I needed. So much love to all the incredible women that attended.


Would I go again? I’ve flip-flopped back and forth on this answer. There were times during the conference, and straight after that I was set on not going back. It felt a bit pricey for what we got (keep in mind, I'm paying in CAD$, so that was a major reason for the pain in the pocket). It really would have been nice to have a few more meals covered, for $350 (especially when it’s really only one full day conference).

At the time of writing this, I’m still undecided. A few of us have spoken about doing our own get together next year, given that conversation with each other was what we really gained the most from. However, the networking opportunity to meet so many talented women from all over the world, was pretty awesome.

I DO recommend: taking a few days afterwards to see some sights with new friends. As much as it was out of my comfort zone, it was an incredible experience.

Things I would do differently next time: Stay for longer and do more exploring! If I do return, I would 100% stay the Friday night at The Ace. It seems a lot of attendees do, and it would have been great to have the extra time hanging by the pool.

Phew! It’s been a big few weeks, and I’m excited to wrap up the year and get going on new projects. I’m looking forward to writing more — another thing I forgot how much I enjoyed!

Were you at Designer Vaca? Or have you been below? Have any questions? Comment below, or email me. I’d love to chat!

Em xox

*fun fact: while "vaca" is short for vacation in English, it means cow in Spanish. Designer cow just doesn’t have the same ring to it 😂

**I say three-ish as it kicks off with a cocktail party Wednesday night, a full day Thursday, and a few sessions Friday morning.