Elizabeth’s Gilbert best -selling book, Eat, Pray, Love shares her journey around the world where she spent four months eating in Italy, four months praying in India, and four months falling in love in Bali. This book, which also stars Julia Roberts in the 2010 movie, has inspired people over the last decade to travel the world, not only to recharge but to learn more about themselves. Gilbert’s work sparked a flame within my soul when I read it in college, a decade ago. It was one of the many books that inspired me to move to Italy, Israel, then India. That was my own eat, pray, love experience. The side effects of such a journey is why I believe the travel and retreat industry is booming today. Because people don’t just want a getaway with rest and nice food — they are seeking a mindfulness vacation to truly heal and reconnect with themselves and learn a new skill they can bring back home with them like meditation, scuba diving, yoga, or cooking.
Have you ever taken a moment to ask yourself: Who am I without my regular habits and routine schedule? This is a profound place to start. Sure, vacations are nice, however there is a new wave of travel focused on more than just relaxation. In fact, for the last decade I have led retreats around the world. My clients have meditated with me in caves in Israel, swam in Cenotes in Mexico, prayed in Indian Ashrams, and enjoyed relaxing massages after a day of surfing in Costa Rica.
And I have a theory… When you remove yourself from your everyday life, miracles happen. For some of my clients and friends, miracles look like:
- Reconnection to the best version of self.
- Learning a new skill that supports their day-to-day lives.
- A healing moment that offers reflection, clarity, and letting go.
An interesting 2021 APA Work and Well-being Survey of 1,501 U.S. adult workers found that “79% of employees had experienced work-related stress in the month before the survey.” Which is likely why you’re hearing of so many companies around the US encouraging employees to take vacations. But here’s the interesting thing: Since the pandemic, many people are opting for more immersive retreat-based experiences as opposed to typical rest-filled vacations. Globe News Wire even claims the wellness tourism market size is predicted to surpass US$ 1,672.6 billion by 2030.
“I travel to embody a version of myself that I find harder to access in my day to day life — I’m more curious, more open-minded, more confident, and braver when I’m traveling alone,” says Anna Silberstein, a yoga teacher and human resources manager based in San Francisco. This embodiment, or connection to self, is a theme amongst travelers based on patterns I have seen with my clients. Salvadorian retreat leader and yoga mindfulness teacher Kimmy Duenas continues with why connection is so important, particularly in this post-COVID era. “I also travel to connect to humanity. By immersing myself in new cultures and spaces I tap into what makes us human again, something that can so easily be forgotten in our daily routines.”
That said, connection looks different for many people. Elizabeth Su shares that she felt sad and lonely at the height of the anti-Asian hate crimes in 2021. Su and her husband were living nomadically at that time and decided to head to LA on a whim to connect with the Asian community there. “There was such a large Asian community and everyone was so welcoming,” shares Su. “I caught up in person with friends I’d met online through Asian American Girl Club, tried every boba spot, and my heart was so full.”
Connection and healing merge together when you travel. A decade ago, when I was in my early twenties I was dedicated to finding resources to help me with my anxiety. It was an under-the-skin feeling-state that loomed like a shadow in the back of my mind, peaking in and out of my days with great force. As an avid self-help book lover, I learned that yoga, meditation, and a healthful diet could be powerful tools to shift my anxiety.
I was already super deep on my spiritual path and had plans to live in India after spending half the year in Israel. While in India, I lived in many different ashrams and spiritual centers, studied in many sacred yogic lineages and mixed and matched the practices that resonated with me to heal my anxiety. The tools I learned all those years ago, mostly active meditation, have contributed in supporting myself and hundreds of my clients to heal their anxiety. These are practices I had to journey around the world for and immerse myself in to learn this new skill, which I would inevitably pass on to my own clients.
One of my most favorite questions to ask my community on social media and while at in-person retreats is, “what does your heart desire?” It may sound like a simple question, however, when you live life constantly in motion from one thing to the next, your response might be vague, in fact you may not even know the answer. Sarah Persitz, spiritual coach and solo traveler shares, “There is something powerful when we take ourselves outside of our routine environment. It gives us permission to check in with our deepest desires.” People need space to connect to their desires and dreams. Travel invites in that opportunity.
Like connection, healing looks different for every person. While traveling in Mexico, nomad and inner child healer, Michelle Pepper, partook in a thousand-year-old Temazcal Ceremony. Also known as a sweat lodge, this ritual invites participants to sit in a cave-like hut with hot volcanic rocks heating the hut to extreme temperatures, sometimes reaching 100+ Fahrenheit. Pepper took this time to heal some rage within her body. “In this pitch black room, surrounded by 40 strangers I let myself scream my guts out. I had no idea how much rage I had built up in my system. Ancient rage. Rage for society, rage against myself, rage against my childhood, rage against humanity,” shares Pepper.
Learning a new skill is a wonderful thing, however learning more about yourself is truly one of the most profound side effects of travel. Special education teacher and Chicagoian, Pamela Hochwert speaks about her most recent trip to Israel to broaden her horizons, get out of her comfort zone, and learn more about who she is as a person. Hochwert shares, “After living and working in the same city my whole life, I want to learn who I am when I branch out of these familiar settings.” She learned that leaving her routine was actually liberating, the freedom of not knowing where she was going to eat each meal and invited a new sense of freedom into her day. She found a new love for spontaneity and loved the version of herself she spent time with while traveling.
A side effect that I have seen post retreat with my clients is the feeling-state of connecting with the best version of self. This version of self needs space to re-emerge. On retreats, when held by a supportive container, after sharing mornings filled with meditation, mindful movement, and nourishing meals, this more connected state is reborn. “I’m able to tap into the best version of myself, someone who I often wish I could be: an explorer, a wanderer, a curious mind,” shares Caroline Schwartz, a therapist based in Chicago. Schwartz has a trip booked to New Zealand coming up where she hopes to live in an inspired state and break the sometimes monotony of normal life.
As summer shifts into fall, it is a wonderful time to get in those last moment weekend trips or start planning for the winter travel ahead. As the travel industry continues to shift, keep in mind heal, connect, meditate as the learnings and new skills you uncover while traveling could be the support you need to feel good in your everyday life.