Given that going on retreat is often an expensive business, i've started to consider an alternative.
I think beginners need to go on sitting retreats in order to learn from experienced teachers. however once you have a solid grounding in the essentials of buddhism and feel confident in your meditation practice, i think the idea of doing retreat in the way that the buddha's followers did in his day would be an interesting and profound alternative.
I know many people would be afraid of doing something like this but i am a traveller and have done most of my travelling alone. These days i do it on a bicycle so i'm even more independent and when i go into the outback of Australia i enjoy a very simple lifestyle. So it seems obvious to me that the next step is to go on foot, reduce my belongings, narrow my experiences (don't go chasing down tourists sites perhaps) and spend my time in meditation, rather than letting my mind wander to all sorts of other time zones and flights of fancy.
I'm going on a short cycling trip later this year. A month around central Australia. Of course i will visit the sites, that's the point. But i will endeavour to meditate more, keep my mind totally in the present (i am very prone on these journeys to letting it wander into the future) and keep my kit more simple than usual.
I dont' think i can bring myself to leave my camera behind but i will leave my laptop behind this time. I also don't take an ipod and have given up on books as i never get time to read them anyway on tour. I'm not intending this trip to be a retreat as such but i am going on a retreat soon after.
In future years, i would like to do wandering retreat as if i were a homeless monk in the buddha's day. I would take few clothes, just enough money to eat enough for energy and a minimum of everything else a comb, a facewasher, toothbrush, (no soap, shampoo etc)sturdy shoes. I would sleep under a tree or in the open. I think i will probably make one concession and take a small camera though i probably shouldn't.
I"d like to do this in india as well as here in Australia. I"ve been to india a few times and i don't think i would feel uncomfortable about it there. But it would be important to have my own money and not to beg from locals.
I would like to start a trend. I think it would be great to know that other people were doing this sort of thing around the world as an alternative to the organised retreats.
I mentioned it to one woman at my local buddhist centre last night and to my surprise she thought it was a good idea. (she didn't seem like the type who could or would do such a thing but i guess i underestimated her.)
The advantage of doing this over a sitting retreat at a centre is that you really have to confront many of your fears and i think this would make you much braver and stronger and take you much closer to enlightenment.