Industry experts share the world’s happiest destinations, plus how you can plan the best wellness trip for you.
With travel bans slowly lifting all over the world, health and safety is top of mind for travelers as they plan their next trip. And let’s face it, after the year we’ve weathered, wellness retreats sound pretty appealing right now. With health as our number one priority in every sense, we spoke with several wellness travel experts about what it means to travel well, plus how to find your own personal happy place.
Ask Yourself What You Need
What do we mean when we say “wellness travel”? According to Anne Dimon of the Wellness Tourism Association, the pillars are “healthy food options, access to nature, peace and quiet, a decent sleeping environment, and fitness activities.” But the most important thing to keep in mind is your own wellness goals. Consider the desired input and output of your wellness trip. What do you need coming into the trip and what do you want to create while you’re there? Whether it’s writing, art, or even just rest, it’s important to ask yourself what you need. Once you know that, it’ll be a lot easier to plan the kind of wellness trip you deserve.
Traveling for wellness doesn’t just mean expensive spa treatments and private resorts. In fact, some of the most revitalizing travel is free—out in nature. “Connecting with nature allows you to reconnect with yourself,” says Dimon, whose most memorable trip was to the Havasu Canyon in Arizona, with sublime views and incredible hiking. Across the board, all of our experts agree that access to nature is one of the most crucial parts about planning a wellness trip. “You are a better person when you’re tapped into nature and feel connected to the Earth,” says Annie Daly, author of Destination Wellness, who traveled in search of better-living advice from cultures around the world to write her book.
For fresh air: Reykjavik, Iceland. The country is known for its green energy efforts and has some of the cleanest air quality in the world—even the natural waters in Reykjavik proper are drinkable.
Terra & Tu, a wellness retreat organization, offers trips to Tuscany that give travelers a taste of the Italian way of life: embracing intuitive eating, spending time with loved ones, and living an overall balanced life. Finlay Bressler, the organization’s president, explains that Italians “don’t cut out ‘bad’ foods or skip dessert” and yet are ranked among the healthiest countries in the world year after year. “They live for the things they enjoy,” Bressler says. “Everything we’re doing is based around balance and finding a mix between cultural immersion and wellness.” Bressler invites us to expand our definition of wellness travel, away from commodified ideas of “drink these drinks, diet like this, do these exercises.”
For treating yourself: Visit the Saturnia Hot Springs of Tuscany, Italy, included in the itinerary when you travel with Terra & Tu (and is also free to visitors 24/7, 365 days a year).
Change Your Perspective
Nadine Kenney Johnstone, author and founder of WriteWELL Retreats, believes that sometimes getting away is the catalyst you need to get closer to the real you. “It’s not that we have to go somewhere to find ourselves; it’s about peeling away the moss that’s grown over our hearts,” she says. Traveling gives us the space we need to remember what’s missing. Johnstone’s best tip to aid with soul searching: journal every day of your trip so that you can look back on all you’ve accomplished, long after you’ve returned home.
For mind expansion: Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India, located in the heart of the Thar Desert. With nothing obstructing your view for miles, you’ll feel impossibly small in the best possible way.
Wellness is for Everyone
“Wellness isn’t for anyone if it isn’t for everyone,” writes Fariha Róisín in her upcoming book, Who Is Wellness For? Róisin explains that many retreats co-opt lessons from Black and Indigenous cultures, repackage them, and market them to white people at a premium. Another issue is that there aren’t enough retreats that consider the specific needs of travelers of color. “What the travel industry can do better is normalizing luxury travel among BIPOC,” says Christina Rice, founder of OMNoire, a social wellness platform for women of color that also hosts retreats.
Rice is helping women travelers of color to feel supported in wellness spaces. “When I was a yoga instructor, Black women would seek out my classes. That was a lightbulb moment for me: Black women need a space where they can feel seen and supported.” In addition to hosting retreats of her own design since 2017, Rice started a Retreat Academy to give other women of color the tools they need to lead their own retreats as Certified Retreat Leaders. Rice started the Academy because she’s a firm believer that wellness retreats should be individualized to your own personal needs. More retreat leaders means more options for travelers to find the retreat that’s right for them. As Rice puts it, “I’m building the AirBNB of luxury retreats for women of color—essentially a marketplace.”
For Rice, finding your happy place means conquering a fear and finding joy in your own bravery. “I started scuba diving to get over my fear of open bodies of water. Now I know that there’s nothing I cannot do, because I did the one thing that scared me the most. Choose one thing that you fear and really lean into it and honor it; you’re gonna find joy in that journey and that achievement.”
For conquering your fear of the unknown: Grenada—go scuba diving or hike up a mountain, then congratulate your own bravery!
Follow Your Senses
Johnstone invites you to ask yourself, “What am I yearning for on a sensory level?” If the city is your home, maybe what you’re missing is the feeling of an ocean breeze or the smell of fresh mountain air. Plan your wellness trip around filling the sensory void in your life. For example, Johnstone recently went on a wellness retreat in California, having left behind the frozen tundra of a wintry Illinois. “I saw hummingbirds, monarchs, mountains, ocean, flowers… These are things that I had not experienced over the four-and-a-half months of winter in Illinois. I realized that my senses just wanted to be ignited.”
For sensory overload: San Miguel de Allende. Mexico’s art and food scenes, Baroque architecture, and lively culture are all sure to ignite your senses.
Turn Your Brain Off
So you’ve booked the perfect wellness trip for yourself. Congratulations! And a warning: on the first day, you might notice some creeping thoughts that prevent you from getting any real rest. Should I check Slack? Is it selfish to disconnect from the world like this? How do I fit everything I want to do in this short trip? “Just because your body landed here doesn’t mean your brain will immediately catch up,” says Johnstone. It’s important to practice self-compassion when “productivity brain” strikes. One of the exercises Johnstone teaches her retreat guests is to imagine that their best friend is having these same feelings. If your best friend felt they didn’t deserve the chance to unwind, you’d be the first to encourage them to be present and enjoy the ride. Why not show that same kindness to yourself?
For a restful getaway: Fiji, for its natural wonders and off-the-grid feel.