What is Wellness Travel

The Beginner’s Guide to Wellness Travel

Wellness travel is having a moment.

As a society we are stressed out, burnt out, and want exciting adventures in our lives to make up for it. We want to push ourselves and have a great time while doing it. Wellness travel is tapping into this societal shift.

More and more people are eating healthy and engaging in physical activity on a regular basis. Amidst news report about ever-growing obesity and disease rates, it has also become trendy to take care of yourself.  

At the same time, more and more people are traveling. Indulgent vacations laid out on a beach chair are still popular, but there is a rising desire to plan entire vacations around a physical activity such as running, cycling, yoga, surfing, hiking, etc.

These same travelers want healthy, nourishing meals made from local ingredients. They want to take care of themselves while on vacation, not over-indulge and feel guilty when they return. The wellness traveler wants to return from the trip feeling better than when they started.

But what does wellness travel mean?

What is Wellness Travel?

According to the Wellness Tourism Association, wellness travel is defined as “travel that allows the traveler to maintain, enhance, or kick-start a healthy lifestyle, and support or increase one’s sense of well-being.”

Wellness travel is intentionally planning a vacation around an experience that leads to optimal health and happiness. It is about making your trip an adventure, trying something new, or seeking a transformative experience.

Wellness travel can be a vacation planned around attending a surfing school, running in a marathon, a culinary experience, a yoga retreat, or a multi-day hiking trip. Wellness travel is simply planning a trip that focuses on a healthy and active lifestyle.

Wellness travel is not all about spa treatments or strict diet and fitness regimes. It is about making healthy food choices, moving your body more, and being mindful. It is pro-active self-care. Wellness travel is a way to enrich the mind, body, and soul.

Tips for a Successful Wellness Travel Experience

Wellness travel can take many forms and it is for beginners to experts.

If you have never taken a vacation planned around a physical activity, but really want to try it, just do it! Don’t be intimidated or scared. There are plenty of beginner trips and classes. You can take your first trip solo or with a partner/friend/family and choose an easy hiking trail. Wellness travel is about feeling good about yourself. Don’t let beginner status stop you.

For the expert weekend warrior, there are plenty of options to test your limits too. Sign up for a marathon or ultra-marathon on a tough course. Try your hand at a triathlon out of your comfort zone. Plan a multi-day backpacking trip in the mountains. Challenge yourself and feel good about it.

Wellness travelers usually fall into two categories:

  1. Those who want to maintain fitness and healthy eating while traveling.
  2. Those who want to break from their regular routine to try something new.

There really is something for everyone at every skill level and ability. One size does not fit all when it comes to wellness travel.

Common Questions About Wellness Travel

Where can I find wellness trips?

Wellness trips are available locally and abroad. You can choose to do a trip based around a specific type of activity—running, yoga, scuba diving, meditation, cooking, educational, surfing, hiking—the options are endless. Google “wellness travel” and several tour operators appear in the search results. You could also Google your preferred activity plus a keyword like “vacation”, “tour”, “retreat” or your destination. Try “yoga retreat” or “cycling in Spain”.

There are tour operators worldwide who will plan and schedule your trip or you can plan your own trip. Tour operators provide group and individual trips. As with most things in life, there are pros and cons to both. I recommend experiencing both—travel with a group and plan your own trips. As the saying goes, variety is the spice of life. You will have a very different experience traveling with a group versus traveling solo or with your partner/friend/family.

I once participated in a 5-day canoeing, camping, and writing trip down the Green River in Utah with one of my all-time favorite authors. We spent the day canoeing, had a writing lesson during lunch, and then had time to write in the late afternoon before reading our writing aloud after dinner. This experience would not have been possible without traveling with a group.

On the other hand, I have planned my own multi-day hiking trips through Ireland and England with my husband based on itineraries created by tour operators. I did the legwork—booking my own lodging, determining the route, etc.—but I used the itinerary on a tour operator’s web site for guidance. I didn’t mind the extra work and I was able to create my own customized agenda. There are numerous options available and probably many that you never knew even existed. Don’t be afraid to try to something new!

Is wellness travel expensive?

It doesn’t have to be!

Wellness travel often conjures up an image of a luxurious spa retreat in an exotic location or a weeklong strenuous stay at a health resort promising a new you. Both of those experiences tend to be pricey. If you want access to luxury accommodations and top-notch professionals, they come with a price tag.

But…wellness travel is so much more than going to a spa or health resort. Wellness travel includes any type of trip that involves physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual experiences. You can plan wellness travel that is as cheap or expensive as you like. You have unlimited options.

You can plan a wellness staycation in your own home at minimal cost.You can participate in wellness experiences in your local area, domestically, or internationally. Depending on what you do and where you go, the cost will vary.

You can plan your own wellness trip or you can work with a tour operator. Again, the price will vary but it does not have to be expensive. There is something for every budget. You can travel solo, with your partner/friend/family, or with a group of strangers. You can pick budget accommodations, a luxury resort, or somewhere in-between.

Wellness travel is about YOU and your health and happiness. You get to decide what will energize you, what adventures you experience, and where to find what you are looking for.

What can I expect on a wellness travel trip?

Wellness travel is all about experiencing life. Your trip is what you want it to be. A wellness trip could focus on healing or adventure. Maybe healing and adventure are intertwined emotions for you. Plan a trip that is meaningful to you and one that takes you out of your comfort zone to learn, grow, and see the world from a new perspective.

You can expect a trip that leaves you feeling accomplished, energized, rejuvenated, or balanced. It all depends on what type of wellness experiences you participate in during the trip. The key is to plan your trip around an experience that brings you physical, mental, emotional, and/or spiritual health and happiness.

What do you do at a wellness retreat?

A wellness retreat is awesome! You can expect to leave the retreat feeling better than when you started. You will be pushed out of your comfort zone at some point during the retreat. There will be time for quiet reflection, physical movement, and nourishing meals. Your days are structured but downtime is also included.

Most retreats offer a specific agenda for each day that provides both individual and group time. A significant portion will be devoted to the type of activity the retreat is designed to reflect, e.g. yoga, meditation, running. The retreat organizers will most likely schedule time for participants to explore other activities as well. For example, a yoga retreat in Costa Rica may offer surfing lessons, a cooking class, or an excursion into town for shopping one afternoon.

The yoga retreats I have attended included a morning meditation followed by breakfast, then a yoga philosophy lecture and discussion before yoga practice. Next was lunch, more yoga, and free time before dinner and an evening meditation. All meals were provided on-site and were made using local, fresh produce.

The canoe and writing retreat involved setting up/breaking down camp, gourmet meals cooked by the retreat organizers, mornings spent canoeing to the next stop, afternoons spent writing and exploring trails or swimming in the river, followed by an evening lecture from the author/writing instructor.

Retreats can be healing experiences and they can teach you how to be better at something or how to gain a new perspective. I learned a unique way to think about triangle pose at a yoga retrea—imagining yourself between two panes of glass. The memories of that retreat pop into my mind every time I do triangle pose even years later. At the writing retreat I learned how to use words to cause an emotional reaction to descriptions of the outdoors. A retreat should be a transformative experience whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual.

Can I plan my own wellness travel experience?  

Yes, you can. I have planned my own itineraries numerous times. The Internet is your BFF when it comes to planning wellness travel experiences, particularly Google and Pinterest.

Yes, Pinterest. We all know that Google is a search engine, but so is Pinterest. It is not a social media tool. Pinterest is the second most used search engine! Think about…you type in your keywords at the top of the page…healthy chicken recipes, for example…and within seconds tons of recipes pop up.

You can do the same when planning a trip. Type in your keywords and read the articles and blog posts that pop-up to find the most relevant items for your needs. You can even conveniently save the best articles into a board named after your destination or experience. I create boards and save pins to those boards for upcoming trips as well as wish-list trips.  

Another trick that I use when planning wellness trips based around a specific activity, such as a multi-day hiking trip, is to find tour operators offering a similar trip. They always have at least an abbreviated version of their proposed itinerary on their web site. This gives me ideas for expected daily hiking distance, lodging options, and frequently other nuggets of wisdom about the trail or area. I will then plan my own itinerary and make my own reservations using the guidelines they recommended.

Are there wellness retreats/experiences where I live?

Absolutely! No matter where you live, there are opportunities to learn, grow, and experience something new that opens up your mind, body, and/or spirit.

In a big city, you have access to a wide variety of experiences. Step out of your comfort zone and try something new. More than likely the local park offers a free yoga or boot camp-style class on certain days. Museums offer classes and behind-the-scenes tours. Visit a farmers market and cook a new, nutritious meal from a recipe you find online. Go for a walk, run, or bicycle ride through a new neighborhood.

In rural areas, at a minimum you have access to the great outdoors but I bet there are even more wellness experiences right at your fingertips if you go searching for them. Explore a nearby county or state park. Find a hiking trail and go out exploring in nature. Is there a farm co-op or general store offering fresh, local produce?

Google your area or search for your town on Pinterest. Big cities, small towns, and rural areas are all trying to grow their tourism industry. You will be amazed at what you learn!  

The Last Thing You Need to Know about Wellness Travel

Wellness travel is available to everyone at any budget. Get out, explore, and challenge yourself. You learn about yourself and your destination. It’s a win-win.

Where will your next wellness adventure take you? Let me know in the comments!

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