You know the insane drill. The glorious airport experience at any of the New York City airports. That epic road trip adventure from Germany to Montenegro, or New Jersey to Florida. That too-early morning flight that’s just an hour, but somehow still takes up your whole day. That fancy cruise in the all-so-sunny Caribbean that you’ve looked forward to for a year, now with even more kids (and drunk tourists). Or even that train ride across India, or Burma, where entire families – and livestock – are sharing your tiny bunk-bedded cabin, whilst cooking with an open fire.
It’s not health-oriented fun, first class or no class. But the worst part of traveling in the skies isn’t that TSA is an absolute pain, or that you might be dragged off an airline for who knows what. And the woeful portion of the road trip isn’t your sister’s girlfriend’s mixtape on the stereo. And the most terrible thing on the cruise isn’t the plethora of alcohol, that’s somehow free. Nope.
It’s the fact that it’s virtually impossible to travel when you’re remotely interested in wellness.
The wellness travel industry professes to be doing everything in their power to make experiences “healthier” and “better for you.” They even have trade shows, symposiums and many many panels to discuss all of this at length. But please show us the results, real scientific studies that demonstrate that all this wellness know-how and money (nearly $4 trillion according to the Global Wellness Institute) are actually making us travel for the better.
And whilst we’re at it, wake up in Las Vegas after a Cher concert and tell me how well you do finding healthy, non-GMO, real food? Or stop somewhere near where Mister Johnny Cash grew up in Arkansas and find me something that grew in the earth? A carrot even.
Because what you’re putting your body through at jet stream speeds, on city-sized ships, and tiny metal tins on wheels, isn’t good for you. Nor in mass hotel chains and oddly unregulated strip malls (Where you can’t get fruit, but definitely a gun. And no abortion either, but a semi-automatic killing machine is available). No matter how you skin this thing, wellness travel is still in its infancy.
The Romans lived well. They hardly traveled in the end — the sex-filled steam baths appealed more. The seafarers from Portugal and Viking lands traveled a lot, but look what happened to them: scurvy, rot and decay and maybe throw in some syphilis. The British took their own boiled and starched food, so they could remain pale, but alive. The Polynesian tribes and Amazonian people made sure to pack interesting proteins, and long life healthy root options for their journeys. But let’s be fair, they didn’t go terribly far. Even Genghis Khan struggled to get his wellness routine down from his tiny horse across the Gobi Desert.
The food at 30,000 feet is nuked to obliterate all nutrients. And why are the airlines simply not improving on this? A salad made by a famous Michelin star chef (for the six seats in the First Class Suites right up front, or upstairs) doesn’t quite mean the food is now “healthy”. And just because one terminal at Newark airport has a couple of so-so restaurants, does not mean we’re now able to travel healthy. That buffet on your cruise ship isn’t the freshest ingredients, even if they absolutely promise you that. And note that some cruise ship-goers are eating their burritos in the hot tubs (for better digestion of not-such-great food, I can only assume).
So how do we answer this age-old question: How can we simply travel better?
Wellness travel has turned into this major, shiny and fancy industry; they keep telling us in every travel marketing pitch. But where is it?
You’d think the airlines could offer us more than a yoga stretch video for our flights. And that every gas stop across America could cut back on selling soda, and offer a few locally sourced health food options. Or that the cruise ship could offer more than just a gym and some stretch classes. We also definitely need more than a hotel gym down in a dark windowless basement to stay in our health routines. Steve Jeanes, an Intuitive Healer who has worked with the Aman Resorts brand for years, said to me a couple of years ago, “People are tired of simply being pampered and having their egos stroked – they want love, sincerity and someone to fight for them to become the best version of themselves.”
And because the Internet is too full, it offers too much fake news for anyone to really sift through this space we call wellness travel. Of course, there are some incredible spas, and hotels with spas that are now offering more than just pampering and another massage. Four Seasons in Los Angeles spearheaded that for the brand. And there is the finest spa resort in America, Rancho Valencia, where the holistic experience is the finest that money can buy — from spa, to transformational healing, to the food and the invited speakers coaching you to a better life.
In fact, Linden Schaffer, founder of Pravassa, who is herself a wellness travel guru, says “We tend to be overscheduled in our daily lives, therefore being completely unscheduled on vacation feels like we’re wasting time. Wellness travel has filled that gap by offering varying levels of activity, all of which focus on well-being in ways that can be customized to your lifestyle.” So there is certainly more of an awareness and the wave is building. Come, let’s ride this please. I have a willing audience for all of you wellness seekers in the industry.
According to Erika Parrilla, Clinic Operations Manager at SHA Wellness Clinic in Spain, most people come to SHA because of a need to improve some aspect of physical health. She once told me about a new trend where people come to reach some spiritual and mental strength. It has everything to do with confidence, to control stress levels, control weaknesses, to know more about themselves and reconnect with their inner self. But as Parrilla explained, people don’t just come to do this for a limited time, they are now interested in “achieving spiritual, mental and physical stability over time” especially after they leave the premises.
The select few are doing things better than ever. But it’s the glut in the middle, which takes up the majority of the industry, that isn’t evolving fast enough. I am calling on the bigger industry to take this seriously. There is a willing audience waiting to be transformed, not just placated with nonsense. It’s a braver new world of changing not just our bodies but also our minds and perhaps even our entire beings — the elite seem to be invested in doing it, but everyone needs to heed this and react.
Now I can sleep at night. Well, after I take my melatonin, do some stretches and stand on my head for a few minutes.