When Jules Hunt, a New York City-based blogger at Om & The City, was seeking a destination without distractions, she chose Coco Loco, a beachside resort in Nicaragua. She spent a month there getting her yoga certification, and everything seemed to slow down.
The traffic jams consisted of cows crowding the shore instead of cabs in the streets. There wasn’t Wi-Fi on every corner, and the limited access forced her to unplug from technology. She focused instead on her mind and body — eating healthy farm-to-table meals, teaching English to local children, and practicing yoga to the sound of the waves.
“When you give your brain space to think without the distraction of technology, then you open your mind up to more creative possibilities,” Hunt says. “You can really start to dig in to who you are.”
Hunt’s experience is an example of what’s possible with wellness travel — vacations designed to help travelers maintain or improve their well-being. The primary goal is self-care, be it physical, mental, emotional, spiritual or all of the above. Here’s how to know if it might be the right kind of vacation for you.
Wellness travel: Possibilities and benefits
A wellness vacation can take many forms. Itineraries might include classes or other personalized components such as healthy eating, fitness and meditation. It can be as intensive or as casual as you like. You can choose which elements to include, or you can go all in.
Moreover, wellness travel isn’t limited to luxury retreats for big spenders. Affordable options such as surfing or yoga wellness retreats in rustic destinations are available, according to Beth McGroarty, research director at the Global Wellness Institute, a nonprofit organization for the wellness industry.
Vacationers are certainly taking advantage. Travelers made 691 million wellness trips in 2015, which was 104.4 million more trips than in 2013, according to a 2017 report by the Global Wellness Institute.
While there are few studies on the effects of wellness travel, at least some evidence hints at possible benefits. A 2017 study — “Do Wellness Tourists Get Well?” by RMIT University in Australia — had a relatively small sample size, but it suggested that a one-week retreat with components such as education, therapy, fitness and a plant-based diet could potentially improve weight, blood pressure and psychological health. Participants also maintained results six weeks after their retreat.
Wellness elements to consider
People who choose this type of vacation either want wellness as the main focus or they want a wellness component built into their schedule, says Stacy Luks, travel advisor and owner of Flourish Travel.
Consider which wellness elements appeal to you:
Unplug from technology
If you want a break from constant notifications and information overload from devices, you can choose a hotel that helps you unplug.
“One trend is that people are actually going off the grid,” McGroarty says. “I think people are just overwhelmed by the noise of life and the digital connections. They are actually choosing destinations that offer no Wi-Fi.”
The Museflower Retreat and Spa in Chiang Rai, Thailand, for example, encourages guests to unplug. It offers Wi-Fi only in public areas like the lobby, restaurant and pool lounge, but its website recommends that guests “turn off their electronic gadgets as much as possible during your stay to fully enjoy and engage in the natural surroundings and the present moment.”
Learn something new
Wellness trips can include educational components that allow you to learn from chefs, fitness instructors or other experts.
While staying at the Miraval Resort and Spa in Tucson, Arizona, Luks tried the Equine Experience. She had to get a horse to follow her in a ring without touching it or making eye contact.
“It’s kind of like holding a mirror up to yourself and how the world sees you because you become aware of how your outward body language is interpreted by the outside world,” Luks says.
Eventually, through trial and error, Luks says she got the horse to follow her. She says she realized that this exercise can have applications in how you conduct the relationships in your life.
A wellness trip can put you on the path to better health or take your fitness goals to the next level, and it doesn’t necessarily require a trip to an exclusive resort. More major hotel brands are incorporating healthy eating and exercise into their stays.
Some Hyatt hotels, for example, partnered with the wellness-focused company Be Well in 2016 to offer guests additional healthful options, including room amenities, expanded menu and fitness offerings, and more. And some Starwood hotel locations offer fitness classes and in-room exercise equipment.
You can also choose a retreat or similar property that helps you get healthier. Just remember: Diving into new activities like cycling or yoga can be an adventure, but for the best experience, verify that classes are beginner-friendly. Work up to your goals and give yourself the best chance to succeed.
Massages and beauty treatments are longtime favorites in the wellness industry. For instance, Rancho La Puerta, founded in 1940, is a luxury fitness and spa retreat based in Tecate, Mexico. It offers a wide range of treatments to pamper yourself, including four-hand massages, hot stone massages, facials and wraps.
Of course, such a vacation may not be cheap. At Rancho La Puerta, a one-week stay can cost about $629 per night or more per person — well over $4,000.
For more affordable options, consider casting an even wider net. The Rio Perdido hotel in Costa Rica, for example, has lower rates — a stay there can cost $290 per night, depending on the season — and it also offers different types of massages and facials.
TAKE A DiY approach
Wellness travel doesn’t always have to be about adventure, exploration or setting new goals. Consider what offers you peace or joy right now, and bring it along so you can incorporate it into your trip.
If you’re into yoga, pack your mat. If you value meditation, prayer or even simply a good night’s sleep, bring your calming candles, soothing incense or comfiest pillow — whatever wellness components that help clear your mind of everyday worries.
Is wellness travel right for you?
If you value your health or you’re trying to adopt better habits, a wellness vacation might offer the time to learn practical tools for prioritizing self-care in the chaos of everyday life.
Travel advisors can match you with a wellness trip tailored to your goals, and in some cases they can even save you money.
However you book your wellness travel, keep your needs and goals front of mind. The benefits could last well beyond your vacation.