A trend is often not much more than a speck of plausibility wrapped in a cloud of marketing candy floss, and never has that been more true than with the ‘staycation’.
Not that there’s anything wrong with enjoying sights and attractions that are there on your doorstep. Go right ahead.
But, please, let’s stop pretending this is where we genuinely want to be during our time off.
The fact is, after two years of pandemic-related lockdowns and the subsequent work-from-home non-utopia many of us find ourselves in, ‘staycay’ is now more trigger word than treat.
Instead, holidaymakers are flinging themselves to the opposite end of the travel spectrum: The retreat.
Of course, retreats themselves are nothing new. They have been going on within spiritual and religious communities since the dawn of time, but where they were once niche, they’re now firmly positioned in the mainstream.
Having mushroomed to encompass countless other areas of life, the concept of the retreat is reshaping the travel landscape and moving the humble holiday into an opportunity for personal growth and rejuvenation.
Popular retreat topics include yoga, cookery, painting and surfing. Photo: Getty
The premise is simple: To take yourself away from everyday life (staycations included), in order to focus intently on a specific topic – from knitting, to menopause awareness, to golf – usually with a view to self-care and personal development.
“For anyone looking to implement a change in their life, a retreat is an excellent kickstart, whether you’re keen to approach wellness differently, or to learn a new skill that strikes you as fulfilling,” says Mandi Gunsberger, founder of Sydney-based Nourish Travel.
The company’s current offerings include a yoga retreat led by Kate Kendall of Flow Athletic, and a writing residential with Australian novelist Lisa Heidke. Both run over six nights in the rolling hills of Tuscany, where guests stay in a heritage farmhouse set amid lavender fields and olive groves. Everything is scheduled, including daily workshops, meals and down time.
Podere Macchione, near Siena, is the idyllic location for Nourish Travel’s retreats.
“By removing the stress of the daily grind, guests are able to really immerse themselves in the experience,” Gunsberger says. “All those parts of your mind that are usually busy wrangling work, groceries or dental check-ups can focus instead on the here and now, and soak it all up. In a world obsessed with multi-tasking, that’s incredibly liberating.”
Having said that, simply spending the money doesn’t guarantee success.
“Giving yourself an opportunity like this is a real privilege, in terms of being able to learn from experts. But that’s just the start. Beyond that, you only get out as much as you put in.”
Here are her tips for making the most out of any retreat.
Highlight the ‘retreat’ element
Take the time to flag your trip as a priority – to friends, family and colleagues.
Make it clear that you are unavailable – and if that isn’t feasible, set boundaries as to when you can be contacted.
“It’s so important that people give you the space you need to be fully present in the experience, without distractions,” Gunsberger says.
Also, forget feeling selfish about it.
According to Booking.com‘s 2024 Travel Predictions Report, 50 per cent of parents plan to travel alone this year, dropping the kids and their partners to prioritise themselves.
Don’t skip the prep
Read all the information, arrive well prepared and everything else is looked after for you so you can simply give in to the process.
“Be willing to try new activities, meet people and explore different aspects of yourself,” Gunsberger says.
“This openness can lead to personal growth and self-discovery – but it can really help to be away from our everyday personas, in order to give ourselves permission to do that.”
This, too, is backed up by the Booking.com report, which found that 61 per cent of us enjoy the anonymity of travel, and the chance to recreate ourselves.
Enjoy the human connection
With modern life dominated by virtual interactions, there’s a growing nostalgia for authentic human connections and meaningful conversations.
Retreats offer a rare opportunity to forge bonds with like-minded individuals, united by a shared pursuit.
“Again, it’s worth reminding yourself to be open to that,” Gunsberger says. “Engage in conversations, share experiences and build connections. The sense of community can enhance your overall wellbeing.”
Mealtimes are an opportunity for guests to connect. Photo: Getty
Don’t be afraid to go it alone
A retreat is the ideal way to broaden your horizons without any need for a sidekick.
In fact, 75 per cent of Nourish guests are solo travellers.
“People are more comfortable with the idea of travelling solo on retreats, knowing they’ll meet others from all over the world who share their interest – whether it’s archery, cooking or drawing. There’s already a common bond.”
Commit to the ongoing journey
Believe it or not, you won’t emerge from the retreat a fully-formed expert.
“Consider how you can integrate the lessons and practices from the retreat into your daily life,” Gunsberger advises.
“Identify sustainable changes you can make to continue the positive impact of the retreat, long after it ends.”