Surprises about staying in a small off-the-grid cabin in the woods

The author booked a two-night stay at Joseph, one of the small off-the-grid cabins built and managed by Unyoked.
Maria Nouwen / Insider

  • I recently booked a two-night stay at a small, off-the-grid cabin in the British countryside.
  • Although I’ve written about tiny houses for years, this was my first time staying in one myself.
  • I booked the accommodation with Unyoked, which has 100 off-the-grid cabins in Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

I recently booked a two-night stay at a small, off-the-grid cabin in the British countryside, which promises visitors a peaceful escape from the “anxiety” of modern life.

The author lives in London and moves to New York City.
Maria Nouwen / Insider

Months ago, I came across an ad on my Instagram for a small off-the-grid cabin run by a company called Unyoked, founded six years ago by Australian twin brothers Cameron and Chris Grant.

As most of us do when we see a new ad on social media, I was skeptical at first. But in the end, I decided to jump in and click on it.

Fast forward to September, and I found myself about two hours outside of London and staying at Joseph, one of more than 100 quaint cabins run by Unyoked in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

Located in the green hills of the UK’s South Downs National Park, this cabin promises an escape from the “busyness” and “worries” of modern life for around $192 per night.

As someone who has always been drawn to cities, I was curious to see how I would handle the off-grid lifestyle.

The cabin is located less than two hours from London.
Maria Nouwen / Insider

I grew up just outside of London and previously lived in Boston. In October, I will return across the Atlantic to New York City, which is as wonderfully active and lively as city life.

But the hustle and bustle of city life is something I’ve gotten used to over the years – and I’d go so far as to say I thrive on it. Although it is exhausting, I have always been drawn to the colorful chaos of cities and the electric energy of the people who live in them.

So, as much as I was interested in the idea of ​​disconnecting and living off the grid, I wasn’t quite sure how to handle being away from the hustle and bustle of London.

Another big aspect that intrigued me was how it handled the small size of the cabin. Although I’ve written about small living spaces for years, I’ve never tried the lifestyle myself.

After staying in the cabin for two days, it’s safe to say that a number of things surprised me – take a look.

Joseph, the cabin I stayed in, is approximately 161 square feet and is built from sustainably sourced materials.

The cabin was reserved for a two-night stay.
Maria Nouwen / Insider

According to an Unyoked representative, the cabin measures approximately 6 x 2.5 meters, making it approximately 161 square feet.

In keeping with the company’s sustainable ethos, the materials used to build the cabin—thermal exterior cladding, plywood, bespoke oak joinery, and brass tapware—are mostly sourced locally.

But what struck me when I first saw it was how elegant and luxurious the little house looked from the outside — the polar opposite of the image often associated with a cabin in the woods.

I was shocked by how the location of the cabin made me feel like I had been transported to a tropical country.

The cabin is located 164 feet from where the author parked the car.
Maria Nouwen / Insider

Even though the cabin was located only 50 feet from where I parked my car, it made me feel like I had somehow been transported from England to a tropical paradise.

Located on the side of a rolling hill, the small house has a small wooden porch surrounded by green plants, trees and vines.

In the morning, as the light mist covered the horizon and the birds chirped, I could almost fool myself into thinking I was in the middle of a rainforest rather than the British countryside.

I was surprised by how spacious the cabin was inside.

Unyoked interior.
Maria Nouwen / Insider

As a lifestyle reporter, I read and talk with people who live in tiny homes who have developed brilliant ways to create a sense of spaciousness, like a Knoxville father who raised his daughter in a tiny house that featured foldable furniture and storage space underneath stairs.

However, my biggest hesitation about tiny living has always been whether homes are cramped and claustrophobic.

With that in mind, I was surprised that I felt the opposite during my stay in the cabin. Even though the kitchen, dining area, and bed were in one room, the space was so open and spacious that I could imagine myself returning at some point with a friend or family member.

One important way the cabin created this sense of space was the number of windows. In general, the main living space had five, including a door that could be used as a window.

The light and connection to the outdoors, facilitated by the windows, helped make the space appear more spacious than it actually was.

Even though the kitchen was steps away from the bed, the smell of the meals I cooked didn’t linger into the night.

The kitchen is right next to the bed.
Maria Nouwen / Insider

I made two proper meals during my stay at Joseph’s: pesto pasta, sausage, potatoes, and green beans, which I partially cooked outside using a cast-iron skillet over the fire.

However, the smell of spices and cooked ingredients didn’t linger in the cabin or bother me at night when I was trying to sleep, which surprised me considering the galley was just steps from the bed.

The kitchen didn’t have a dishwasher, and I was surprised that I didn’t miss the appliance at all.

The author did not miss the lack of a dishwasher.
Maria Nouwen / Insider

The cabin kitchen has a sink, gas stove and drying rack. The appliance I quickly realized didn’t come with it was a dishwasher.

When I noticed there was no dishwasher, it took me back to the frustration I felt during my senior year of college when I lived in an apartment with three other people that didn’t have a dishwasher. I remember the nights when my roommates and I would bicker over who did the dishes and longed for a dishwasher to solve the problem for us.

However, when I was staying alone in the cabin, I realized that I didn’t miss having a dishwasher at all. After preparing each meal, it only took a few minutes to shower and the cleaning process was actually kind of relaxing.

As someone currently looking for an apartment in New York City, as much as I would love to have a dishwasher, this experience surprised me because it left me open to the possibility of living without one.

The bathroom, hidden behind a pocket door, looked surprisingly luxurious despite being somewhat simple.

The bathroom was spacious and elegant.
Maria Nouwen / Insider

The shower’s copper paint and dark colors gave it a luxury appeal when in reality the finishes were relatively basic. These design features are things I will definitely keep in mind if I do a home remodel in the future.

During the stay, Unyoked provided fresh towels and plenty of toilet paper, shower gel, hand soap and toilet scent spray.

Speaking of the toilet, I was surprised by the lack of smell even though it was not built with running water.

The cabin is equipped with a composting toilet.
Maria Nouwen / Insider

In keeping with Unyoked’s sustainable ethos, the cabin came equipped with a composting toilet, the first of its kind I’ve ever seen.

Fortunately, the Unyoked team has provided a toilet manual in the bathroom to inform guests of how it works.

From the outside, the toilet looks ordinary but when you open the lid, you don’t see any running water but rather a deep hole covered in wood chips.

As a composting toilet, any waste that comes in is composted. After each trip to the bathroom, the guide advises sprinkling a scoop of wood chips to “speed up the composting process.”

Without running water, I was skeptical whether the cabin would start to smell, but I was relieved to find that it didn’t exist at all.

I was surprised that one of my favorite features in the cabin was the radio, which I rarely listen to in my daily life.

The author listened to the radio non-stop during his stay.
Maria Nouwen / Insider

The only times I listen to the radio these days is when I’m driving and forgot to bring a cable with me to connect my phone to the built-in speakers — and when I have a cable, I tend to switch between listening to music I’ve downloaded or podcasts.

But I was surprised by how much I loved listening to the in-cabin radio. Being alone, hearing the voices of radio announcers was a great way to feel connected to the world.

I also liked the feeling of not knowing what songs will play next, which is something I don’t really feel when I’m listening to my own music, even in shuffle mode.

Don’t get me wrong, there were bugs in the cabin, but not nearly as many as I expected.

There were fewer errors than expected.
Maria Nouwen / Insider

During the day, I barely noticed any bugs in and around the cabin. I ate my meals outside, which attracted a fly or two, but no more than I regularly ate outdoors in the city.

The only times I felt noticeably more insects were at night because they were attracted to the bedside reading light. But as soon as the lights were turned off, the insects were gone too.

At night, the cabin was incredibly hot but during the day it was quite breezy.

The cabin was hot at night but cold during the day.
Maria Nouwen / Insider

I made the rookie mistake of booking my stay at Unyoked during an unseasonably warm week in September in the UK.

With temperatures reaching 86 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s safe to say it gets pretty hot in the cabin, and it’s designed with materials that keep it nice and warm in cold weather.

But as the nighttime temperatures rose, I was surprised by how breezy the days were when temperatures were much higher. During the day, I kept the windows open to help with air circulation when I was outside reading or walking, which helped it be cooler when I returned.

As I prepared to head back to the city, I was surprised at how I could see myself coming back for another cabin stay in the future.

The author was ready to return to the city.
Maria Nouwen / Insider

When it was time to check out, I was all ready to head back to the city.

As much as the Unyoked team created a cozy little cabin, I missed the familiarity of London, my home, my family, and my friends.

However, I was surprised by how I could definitely see myself choosing to book a small cabin stay for a short getaway from the city rather than booking an Airbnb or hotel in the future.

I loved the sustainable aspect of the trip, how it left me feeling independent and creative, and how even though it was very simple, I didn’t feel like the cabin was lacking anything important.

The only thing I need to keep in mind next time is to book when the temperatures are less hot, so I’ll be able to appreciate the comfort of the cabin to the fullest.

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