Two years ago I was very unhappy with my job. I used tools and languages that did not excite me and worked on projects that I was not interested in. Reading Chad Fowler's book, The Passionate Programmer book did not help me much either. I reevaluated my life and I realized I can't spend 8 hours a day doing something I am not passionate about.
I was willing to go part time, work only 3 days a week and use 2 days to visit other companies. My wife supported me as she saw how unhappy I was when I got home from work every day. It never happened: I was able to score a Ruby job and I did not have to go to extreme measures to find happiness.
Later on I planned taking 4 months off and not work at all. I wanted to dedicate my time off to learning, visiting companies in western Europe, working on open source software and spending some time with my family back in Europe. Since I am the only person in my family who gets a paycheck, the 4 months off did not fly so well with my significant other.
I planned on visiting Hashrocket for a few days in Jacksonville, FL early March, but unfortunately that did not happen.
After playing so much with the idea I felt I was ready. I was willing to take unpaid leave for 4 days just to visit companies this fall.
Two people helped me to get in touch with the companies I visited there: Corey Haines and Michael "Doc" Norton. I worked together with Corey at a large insurance corporation and I think we met sometime in 2006. Doc led the studio side of LeanDog up until recently. So yes, I did know both of them. But not knowing them would not have stopped me, I was ready to reach out to the companies as well but I figured doing someone the intro for me would help me.
Not knowing Corey should not stop you, go ahead and ping the companies you're interested in visiting. If they reject your visiting idea I am sure the place is not worth checking out.
I have attended a couple of Coderetreats already. It's a fantastic way to get to know other developers and learn from it. The experience of visiting companies is different. The developers were up against real tasks, against real dedlines and could not afford throwing their code away after every pomodoro session. Both Coderetreats and visiting companies are great, the experience you get out of the latter is different and I think that's the key here: you learn something else.