In 2007, Princeton economist Alan Krueger published the results of a research study in his paper called “Are We Having More Fun Yet?” Not surprisingly, most Americans answered, “No.” According to the study, despite social and economic progress over the last 50 years, we have spent less time doing what we love. Human beings are, by nature, playful and curious about the world, yet, we have reduced experiences that offer opportunities for play, exploration and meaning. Placing ourselves into an unfamiliar environment helps us to discover something new about the world, about others, and about ourselves.
New experiences not only influence our mood and perspective, but also have an overreaching impact on our health. The Global Wellness Institute recently reported that 86 percent of people who travel have a more positive outlook on life, while 89 percent were able to release stress. Stress has become a leading factor and cause of accelerated aging and illness. The institute also found that mainstream medicine’s lack of solutions for the rise of some chronic diseases and lifestyle illnesses, such as asthma, obesity and depression have motivated more people to turn to travel for better health. In fact, the travel sector aptly named “wellness tourism” is growing twice as fast as any other market; its value estimated at an astounding $3.4 trillion, vs. the $1 trillion pharmaceutical industry.
Travel experiences that are centered on stress reduction and rejuvenation, and that incorporate a menu of opportunities from spiritual connection and cultural engagement to physical activity and food education are not difficult to find. Many tour agencies, spa resorts and travel destinations around the world are answering the demand for meaningful experiences in replacement of mindless entertainment.
Destinations That Inspire
India has long been a popular travel destination for tourists seeking mindfulness and spiritual growth. From The Beatles to Oprah Winfrey many have made the pilgrimage to Rishikesh (www.rishikeshtourism.in), which lies between the great Himalayas and the holy river Ganges. People come to Rishikesh to learn about the ancient arts of yoga and meditation, as well as the practice of traditional Indian medicine, known as, Ayurveda or "science of life." Here, travelers can explore on their own or by tour guide, but however one chooses to experience this sacred place, Rishikesh is certain to have a transformative effect.
An inspiring space to bridge the gap between body, mind, and spirit is in the world’s most bio-diverse country — Ecuador. Amazon Andes Sky (www.amazonandessky.com) runs meditation and yoga retreats that don’t just offer instructional yoga and guided meditation, but an immersion into nature, the local culture, and the opportunity for exploration into “your inner landscapes with depth and focus.”
In northeastern Arizona within the bounds of the great Navajo Nation, the Canyon de Chelly National Monument embodies a richness of historical and spiritual importance. An estimated 2700 archaeological sites are contained within its many canyons, including the well-preserved Anasazi ruins. It is a magical and spiritual place where both the Navajo and Hopi nations have made their sacred journeys for more than a thousand years. Travelers seeking inner reflection and solitude can explore the unique red-rock along a single public hiking trail. Other trails are closed to non-natives due to the area’s spiritual significance to Native Americans. However, travelers have the opportunity to hire a Navajo guide (www.canyondechellytours.com) who not only provides a gateway into the sacred canyons, but also shares the fascinating history of the canyons and the ancestral Pueblo (Anasazi), Hopi and Navajo peoples.
Fresh and natural foods are therapy for the soul on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, and so is the magnificent landscape. The Olympic Coast Culinary Loop (www.olympicculinaryloop.com) captures the diverse blend of flavors and scenery of the communities it encapsulates. Indigenous ingredients, artisan foods and local sea fare tell the stories of each village, town, and berth — the kind of stories that travelers bring home and share with others. With Olympic National Park (www.olympicnationalparks.com) at its center, the peninsula is a myriad of lush rain forests, glacier-carved canyons and high mountain ridges. The Hall of Mosses trailhead is a doorway into the world of the Hoh Rainforest where time has no presence. The trail drifts through the mist and within the reaches of old-growth trees wrapped in moss. Perched beneath the canopy, birds sing an ancient song that seems in harmony with the streaming rivers. In this place, every step forward fills a new space never encountered in the same way, and likely, never again.
Travel doesn’t have to be complicated, long, or even far from home. What’s important is to unplug and step away long enough to recharge and revitalize. When we return, the journey doesn’t end, it transforms; we feel inspired to do better and be better, to push through the limits of possibility to become healthier and happier…to become our greatest selves.