Wellness Tourism: Retreat to Advance

Use your vacation, or mini vacation, as the ultimate opportunity to recharge and refocus

Wellness Tourism: Retreat to Advance
Wellness tourism puts the focus on health and self-renewal—and business is booming.(oleksboiko/Shutterstock)
Amy Denney

At the end of July, Kristen Campbell announced that she would be hosting her first beach yoga retreat in October. In a week, it was fully booked.

Campbell, owner of Cushing Yoga + Barre in Oklahoma, has attended dozens of wellness events and has regularly incorporated a specific schedule of retreating into her own lifestyle quarterly, weekly, and even daily. She has previously co-led retreats, but this will be the first one she hosts on her own.

At the retreat, Campbell will offer the types of activities that have been healing in her own life—yoga, relaxing in the sun, sunset meditations, high-energy workouts, loud game nights, and a sense of playfulness and joy.

“As an entrepreneur, I think it’s super important to get out of our normal rhythms,” Campbell said. “It’s highly effective for me personally to remove myself and recharge.”

There’s a shift taking place in wellness right now, according to the Global Wellness Institute (GWI), a nonprofit that provides global insight into the industry. The barometer for self-care has been moving away from pampering and escapism and toward self-preservation and survival, which might explain why wellness tourism is predicted to grow at a rate faster than other segments of wellness through 2025.

“The multitude of stressors unleashed by the pandemic have brought a profound shift in how we view self-care,” according to a GWI report accompanying the data. “The pandemic has revealed the multidimensional and omnipresent nature of wellness. For our survival and for our sanity, wellness is no longer something that we do for an hour a day, a few times a month, or only when we are on vacation; it is an essential focus to be embedded in our daily lives and priorities.”

The nonprofit Give Hope, Fight Poverty (GHFP) is planning a women’s retreat later this year in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) in southern Africa that will include yoga, meditation, dance parties, safaris, and play. It’s a departure from the group's usual trips, which normally include a lot of labor—something that’s better done by locals seeking employment, the organization says.

This new experience will involve relationship-building between the orphaned children served by GHFP and the aging population that typically goes on the trips. Both groups will benefit from working on personal wellness in a small group setting.

“While some like to get their hands dirty, it’s really unnecessary," Annie Todt, founder of GHFP, said. "The only thing we can’t hire locals for (which provides jobs) is us forming relationships with the kids, learning about them, gaining their trust.

"So even though a retreat type luxury trip may seem selfish to some, it’s really beneficial for the kids and the organization as a whole.”

Living by Design

While not everyone can afford an overseas wellness experience, anyone can benefit from a lifestyle of wellness retreats—even with no budget at all.

Two definitions of retreat are “a place of peace, quiet, privacy, and security” and “a period of seclusion, retirement, or solitude.” In a way, wellness tourists are positioning themselves to learn more about what makes them function best. Many habits and routines can get you to this goal.

In a 2015 article in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, experts gathered advice for health care providers to offer patients to orchestrate healthier environments in day-to-day living. Some of those tips include:
  • Get outside and walk.
  • Sit and relax in green space.
  • Take a moment to reflect on highlights of your day.
  • Practice gratitude for the events and people that bring joy and support to your life.
  • Get to know resources in your community and workplace that help with wellness.
  • Be the architect of your own environment.
  • Surround yourself with positive relationships, information, and books that promote your own resilience, optimism, and healthy relationships.
Campbell describes wellness tourism as similar to weightlifting. It requires intention, discipline, and occasional soreness. Emotional health, she says, can be nurtured like a muscle that benefits from periods of exertion and recovery. In this part of her life, she's leaning into recovery.

Over the past 18 months, Campbell has attended 16 funerals, including many for people very close to her. Through it all, she has continued to honor her need to retreat.

“Faith isn’t a given to me. It’s a muscle. It’s something I had to work hard at,” she said. “I believe that’s a factor to my overall well-being.”

The foundation of wellness that Campbell has built up since the time her three children were very young has allowed her to weather the storms of life.

The sage advice to rest while her kids were napping, rather than to use those hours to tackle to-do lists, is a rhythm she’s maintained in the years since.

What Would Feed My Soul?

A high-energy fitness instructor, Campbell begins her day with classes at 5 a.m. By 1 p.m., she’s already worked a full day. She takes the time from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. daily to do whatever she wants. That sets her up to be in the best state of mind for when her children get home from school.

These daily “retreats” are vital for appreciating life, Campbell says, explaining that she wants her traveling retreats to enhance her life but not cause her to dislike the day-to-day rhythm of life.

“I want to tour the world to enhance my well-being but not to escape life,” she said.

Not long ago, Campbell realized she had a habit of asking her yoga students to consider their needs during meditation. She’s since discovered that wants are just as important.

“I never asked what they want, never gave them permission. Need is survival mode. Want is thriving,” she said.

For the wellness tourist, the want question is vital. You must get honest about what you need and what you want, which could be the same thing but often aren't.

Campbell knows that trips to the spa don't revitalize her. She needs and desires time outdoors in nature, time in the community, experiences of local culture, and times of high energy.

When she co-led a retreat to Mexico, it helped her refine what she enjoys. Participants ate plant-based foods that were prepared for them. They also went snorkeling and kayaking, spent time on the beach, and attended cultural workshops. But there was also a lot of free time built into the schedule during which Campbell could spend in solitude.

“I’m constantly going to the next thing in my real life,” she said. “I think I need a break from having to be somewhere at a certain time.”

Use What You Already Have

Campbell tries to set up a series of mini-retreats each week in her schedule. It requires planning, discipline, and preparation.
These are practical tips she offers:
  • Make sure you have two days off of work, preferably consecutively. Because Campbell teaches fitness on Saturday, she takes every Monday off. There’s no teaching, no phone calls, and no people unless she wants to be around them.
  • Prepare your food or meals in advance to create more margin in your day.
  • Once a month, retreat somewhere for 24 hours. For her, this is usually her mother-in-law’s house nearby.
  • Once a quarter, get away for the weekend. She usually enjoys this sacred time with her husband.
  • Plan these trips away with your calendar and pocketbook—and maybe a map if you're planning to drive. Check out retreat centers around your home, national parks, and other free or affordable spaces.
  • For daily retreating, turn off your phone and computer for two hours a day and do what you want to do—anything that restores joy and energy to your life.
Campbell, who is a Christian, points to Jesus as her example for retreats, as Jesus would often depart from large crowds to recharge, pray in solitude, and even sleep on a boat during a storm.

Putting it on your planner is the easy part, she said. “The hardest part is practicing it. Start small. Do a digital detox on a weekend.”

Amy Denney is a health reporter for The Epoch Times. Amy has a master’s degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield and has won several awards for investigative and health reporting. She covers the microbiome, new treatments, and integrative wellness.