It’s not all downward dogs or practising the path to enlightenment. Wellness travel and yoga retreats are surprisingly less stringent and boring than the title suggests. We love this travel style – and for reasons you might not expect too.

Wellness travel is the fastest growing travel sector in recent years. Evolving from being affordable only to an elite market of either the body conscious or the wealthy, into a market of millennials, intrepid travellers, middle aged folk and everyday people. You could say that wellness travel doesn’t discriminate. It invites, welcomes, honours and embraces.

My first wellness travel experience was a yoga retreat in Goa, India. At the time, the choice to go was purely a good excuse to visit a destination which had long been on the bucket list while combining an opportunity to meet a friend half way around the World from our respective homelands (she in England, and I in New Zealand).

Truth is, the experience offered much more than an excuse to explore new territory with a mate. Not long after returning from India, I’d booked another retreat to a new destination elsewhere.

wellness travel & yoga retreats

You see, what the retreat offered wasn’t about becoming better at yoga. Before the retreat I’d passed yoga off as a form of exercise that is too slow and tedious to engage my mind. The idea of 2 sessions a day for 9 days as per the retreat’s schedule seemed simply absurd. As it happened though, the retreat went beyond yoga.Wellness travel and yoga retreats are a subconscious way of exploring a destination and getting to know the people, culture and environment on a deeper level to what a typical tourist experiences.

The Goa yoga retreat was held on a beach that I’d otherwise have no idea how to get to. Then I was able to explore the area with any, all, or none, of the retreat participants any time I wanted to.

A schedule meant I could keep on top of holiday exercise if I wanted, or pass It off to visit the next beach, cruise the local market, swim in the ocean, or find a beachside bar to sink a local beer at. The choice was entirely mine.A few lessons were learnt on this retreat:

  1. Retreats have a schedule but the schedule is not something participants are bound to.
  2. Wellness travel and retreats tend to have a relationship with the non touristy side of a destination. For an explorer, that’s added value right there.
  3. Retreats are often held in destinations that are best travelled to with people, yet obscure enough that your mates prefer not to join you.
  4. Other people who go on retreats are interesting. They come from all over the globe, with their own story. In fact, many of them are very likeable people.

This last point was a revelation for me actually.

I guess you could say that I had expected other people on retreats to be a bit dorky. People who had no mates of their own to travel with, or people who I would struggle to relate with. In writing this though, It seems so obvious this was never going to be the case.Shortly after returning from the Goa retreat (having become more nimble, and deeply enjoying the 2 yoga sessions per day) a seemingly mythical destination called Tulum kept popping up in conversations.

The context of Tulum was often “if you enjoyed the Goa yoga retreat you should check out this place”. Apparently Tulum is an entire village devoted to eco-living and yoga, on the Caribbean coastline. Tulum certainly intrigued me.

wellness travel & yoga retreats

A few google searches later and I was utterly infatuated by Tulum. I booked a yoga retreat to participate in a few months later.Tulum was never going to be a place I would ordinarily travel to alone. As much as Mexico sat on the bucket list, for a female solo traveller there was an element of safety that factored into weather or not I’d actually go. Combine that with the expense involved in travelling to Mexico from New Zealand and the whole idea of visiting seemed unlikely. When a retreat is booked though, the effort seems to permeate into one hassle free, pre-paid package.

When I say retreats attract interesting people, the Tulum retreat owned that statement.

Staying in the room next to mine was a German traveller who I formed a friendship with. Kristina had a dream one night that was so vivid it encouraged her to book a plane ticket, travelling to a specific set of destinations in a specific order. The very next day she booked the trip that included Tulum, which is how she had come to be in the room beside mine.

wellness travel & yoga retreats

Kristina was a fascinating person and we spent each day outside of the yoga schedule exploring Tulum, snorkelling in Cenotes, riding bikes around Mexican boutiques, sipping margaritas and eating tacos beachside. We enjoyed exploring together so much so that Kristina very nearly had me change my own travel plans to accompany her to her next destination, Holbox.Yet had I booked a trip to Tulum without attending a retreat, would I have found similar ways to connect with new people? Learn about Mexican locals at the taco bar? Explore the local area accompanied by a fascinating soul?

Wellness travel and retreats are never about replacing freedom with a schedule. They’re never about replacing fun with a systematic approach to forming new habits. They’re never about buddying up with people you’re not connecting with. By contrast, retreats and wellness travel are a way to explore a destination with an activity and wellness schedule that you can participate in if you choose, connect with others if you choose, and explore local culture.One of our favourite wellness travel partners is G Adventures because they go beyond the norm by imbedding ways for the local community of those places they visit, to benefit. We think that’s the best kind of wellness for both the traveller (who gets to reach the belly of the culture) and the locals (who gain opportunities to improve their way of life).