Whether you have undergone different types of emotional or physical trauma, or simply need a break from a stressful busy life, ‘healing holidays’ – also referred to as wellbeing holidays or wellness retreats – can be hugely beneficial. 

With myriad varieties available, ranging from detox and weight loss programs to holistic healing, wellness for couples and even anti-aging, there’s something for everyone who needs to relax and recharge. According to Stella Photi, founder of travel agency Wellbeing Escapes, the demand for healing holidays is growing. She launched her company in 2005 with a view to making wellness travel more accessible and put together a wide range of extensively researched holidays.

A woman in an outdoor pool in Italy, looks on over an icy forest. A light mist is over the water
Demand for holidays with a focus on wellbeing has risen in the last decade © Healing Holidays

“I started Wellbeing Escapes more than 15 years ago and many people didn’t know what the word ‘wellbeing’ meant, and how a wellbeing escape differed to a spa break with a manicure and a glass of Champagne - not that there is anything wrong with that type of break,” she says.

“A wellbeing holiday is more than a bit of relaxation but one that addresses how to maximize your state of health and happiness. It is an opportunity to take some time out from your day-to-day life to reset and more importantly learn how to adjust your lifestyle so that you can maintain the state when you return.” 

As people are learning and becoming more proactive and intentional about leading a healthy and happy life, they also seek to learn and experience more of what they can do to get them there when they are on holiday. 

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A woman poses for yoga with assistance from her instructor, in Thailand
Into yoga or meditation? Tailor your trip to include them © Healing Holidays

Tailored healing 

According to Photi, yoga, fitness and detox holidays have always been popular, but she has seen an increase in demand for ones that include a bit of everything, as well as retreats that offer a range of classes, lectures and treatments in a natural setting. That way, guests can tailor their holiday to suit their needs.

Over the last couple of years, she’s witnessed a rise in demand for ‘emotional healing’, to address anxiety, high levels of stress and help in making big decisions in life.

When it comes to the most popular destinations, Photi says that unsurprisingly, India and Thailand rank highly as these are places where there is abundant sunshine and where wellness is embedded into the culture.

In Europe, Portugal, Spain and Greece are favored choices because of the climate and because some wonderful retreats are housed there. 

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Deck chairs under umbrellas are next to an outdoor pool in Thailand
Spas like this one in Thailand are hugely popular © Healing Holidays

Ensuring beneficial experience 

Frances Geoghegan is the founder of spa and wellness specialist tour operator Healing Holidays.

“Retreats that help with fixing your issues are the most in-demand – retreats that help with sleep, with emotional healing or those that allow us to stop and take a step back,” she says.

“Our big hitters are properties like Vana (in India) who set the programs only after an in-depth consultation is done on arrival. Also, Chiva Som and Kamalaya (both in Thailand) help people get perspective.” Geoghegan is not surprised that the interest in therapeutic breaks has grown in recent times.

“We are besieged with all sorts of challenges in the modern world - not enough time for yourself, poor work-life balance, social media competitiveness, constant pressure to look better whilst burning the candle at both ends. The list is never-ending,” she says.

Benefits that some of her customers have reported include that their sleeping and eating habits have drastically improved and that they have lost weight and feel mentally stronger, but she stresses it depends on what they went on retreat for.  

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A woman sits by a campfire on the beach in the Dominican Republic at dusk
Many travelers swear by wellness holidays and go once a year © Wellbeing Retreats

Some time out 

Taking time out of life to focus on herself and resetting her batteries were on Jackie Thomas’ agenda when she first approached Wellbeing Escapes to find her ideal healing holiday. She discovered her dream getaway at a retreat in Koh Samui in Thailand, a place she returns to for two weeks every year.

“I was looking for a yoga-centric break where there was a community table to meet like-minded souls. I also wanted peace, calm and healthy food,” the 58-year-old from Kent explains. Her day in Koh Samui typically begins with a swim and yoga, followed by a huge breakfast. She then takes time to read, relax, sleep and look at the beautiful views.

Man standing in a towering bamboo forest near Kyoto, Japan
Taking a moment to let the wonder of nature inspire in a bamboo grove © Matteo Colombo / Getty Images

Every day she has one treatment, often a massage to one part of the body, and usually visits the steam room. “I try hard not to be too busy, that’s part of the treatment. The day always ends with a healthy supper with no booze and a very early night,” she says.

Outlining the benefits her wellness break brings her, she adds: “It’s hard to describe how giving your body and mind the time to totally relax and unwind has the most long-lasting incredible feeling. The parasympathetic nervous system kicks in for true relaxation” and adds that “finding my well-being break has enhanced my life. I’m so glad I was brave enough to do it.” 

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A young, happy Black man on the beach
Give yourself time and space to disconnect from your normal routine © Kseniya Starkova / Getty Images

Preparing for recovery 

Thomas recommends healing holidays for anyone wanting let something different into their lives.

However, she stresses that there is no point in going if you want to use your phone all day. Should you decide to book some healing time away for yourself, the expert advice is you need to start the prep work even before your getaway.

“Try not to get yourself in a frenzy with everything that needs to be done before you go as your cortisol levels will spike,” suggests Stella Photi. “What this means is that you may crash from exhaustion when you arrive at your destination or even get sick.” 

She also advises people to try and eat a clean diet before they go, by gradually reducing or cutting out sugar, alcohol and coffee and increasing their intake of fresh vegetables and fruit. Most wellbeing holidays have very healthy menus, so if travelers are not used to eating well they may suffer from the dreaded ‘detox crash’.

By the ocea, a woman is overlooking a spread of health foods on a table. She is wearing a white shirt and blue pants
It's important to try and ween off bad food before your trip © Wellbeing Retreats

Budget-friendly wellness travel 

Although it sounds expensive, Photi states that you don’t have to have similarly deep pockets to book a wellness holiday. “There is a growing number of super-luxe wellness retreats that get a lot of media attention and I think this gives sticker shock to people who then get the impression that all wellness holidays are at this price point. My guiding vision is to make this type of holiday accessible and we strive to do that and have options for all budgets,” she says. 

And according to Healing Holiday’s Frances Geoghegan, you don’t have to book month-long sojourns to reap the benefits of taking a therapeutic break.

“The more time you give, the more you will get out of it, not unlike most things in life. But a simple few days away from it all will certainly give some short-term solutions,” she says. 

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Safety recommendations and restrictions during a pandemic can change rapidly. Lonely Planet recommends that travelers always check with local authorities for up-to-date guidance before traveling during Covid-19.

This article was first published February 2020 and updated March 2022

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