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Wellness Vacations: Hype or Healing? [Trends, Benefits, Destinations]

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Lori Zaino
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Lori Zaino

Senior Content Contributor

59 Published Articles

Countries Visited: 58U.S. States Visited: 40

Lori is an intrepid traveler who loves creating itineraries that exude “luxe on a budget.” She’s written for CNN, NBC, The Infatuation, and more, and loves to muse about points-fueled trips to Sri Lan...
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Jessica Merritt

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A long-time points and miles student, Jessica is the former Personal Finance Managing Editor at U.S. News and World Report and is passionate about helping consumers fund their travels for as little ca...
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Keri Stooksbury


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With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now editor-in-chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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We’ve all been there: a rough few months, mounting work stress, constantly catching colds and flu, or forever trying to drop those last few pounds or quit smoking. Ask anyone if they’d love a few extra hours of sleep; the answer is usually a resounding yes. Stress can wear you down, and self-care measures such as Dry January, meditation apps, or online fitness platforms are no longer just a novelty but the norm. We could all use a bit of healing these days.

Wellness may mean different things to different people. According to Pfizer, “Wellness is the act of practicing healthy habits on a daily basis to attain better physical and mental health outcomes.” Still, that definition is vague. Is wellness about nutrition? Fitness? Spirituality? Sleep? Lifestyle? Work/life balance?

For you, wellness might include wellness travel. But like the entire concept of wellness, wellness travel is tough to place in a box.

Wellness travel isn’t new, it’s just trending. In fact, 76% of people worldwide said that they would spend more to travel in a way that improves their well-being, according to a survey by American Express. In this post, we’ll dig into what wellness travel is — which might not be as obvious as you’d think — why it’s trending, where and how to do it, and if it’s right for you.

We spoke to John O’Sullivan, the General Manager of the brand-new Naviva, a Four Seasons Resort, Punta Mita, México, to understand more about wellness travel and how luxury brands interpret it. We also talked to a few Upgraded Points contributors, from newbies to seasoned wellness travelers, to understand more about how and why wellness travel is merging with “regular” travel.

What Is Wellness Travel?

Wellness is tough to define, but the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “the quality or state of being in good health, especially as an actively sought goal.”

If wellness is a goal, then wellness travel could mean actively choosing a trip, destination, or activities during a trip that benefit your well-being.

Wellness Travel Isn’t Medical Travel

While it’s complicated to define wellness tourism, it’s definitely not medical tourism. Medical tourism is traveling to receive treatment or diagnosis reactive to illness. On the other hand, wellness tourism is about maintaining or improving health or encouraging a healthier lifestyle, according to the Global Wellness Institute.

Difference Between Wellness Medical Tourism
Wellness travel and medical travel aren’t the same thing. Image Credit: Global Wellness Institute

Wellness Travel Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All

Intense detox programs, boot camps on Miami Beach, ashrams in India, or fancy yoga retreats may come to mind when considering wellness travel. But wellness travel doesn’t have to fit into the strict parameters of what social media or society tells us the “typical” wellness vacation is — or what it once was in the past.

Wellness travel could just be travel in whatever way best benefits you. This removes the pressure, as you don’t have to skip that beach cocktail or work out every day (though you can if you want). Instead, just travel in a way that makes you feel good.

This may just mean traveling in a relaxing, indulgent, peaceful, or exciting way, like sleeping for 10 hours each night, hiking Mount Everest, eating whatever it is you want, doing a full digital detox, or taking a golf getaway. Likewise, it could mean hitting up Thailand’s full moon party and staying out until sunrise, eating vegan in Indonesia, watching TikTok videos to your heart’s content by the hotel pool, or combining all of the above. And isn’t that what travel is all about anyway — taking the time to choose how and where you spend your time?

What Wellness Travel Means by Country

Wellness according to different countries
What would a wellness activity be for you? According to this survey, it varies by country of residence. Image Credit: American Express

According to the American Express survey, top wellness travel activities differ by country and culture. For example, U.S. respondents noted exercise and the outdoors as top wellness activities. So, this may mean that wellness travel could be glamping, camping, or hiking in a national park.

In Japan, respondents noted cooking and travel as wellness activities, meaning any trip could be considered a wellness experience. Still, perhaps a cooking course in Thailand or truffle hunting in Italy might be especially beneficial. For Mexico, listening to music topped the list, where perhaps a getaway to hear a concert would be the right fit. Those from the U.K. prioritized walking, which clearly calls for doing the Camino de Santiago.

Really, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what you love to do — wellness travel is based around whatever makes you feel good, inside and out. So, why does it seem like wellness travel is only becoming mainstream now?

Wellness travel isn’t new, it’s just trending. People have gone on spa-themed getaways and yoga retreats for decades. But these days, the concept and offerings of wellness travel have expanded. There’s now a way for everyone to enjoy wellness when traveling.

But why is wellness travel so much more popular now? One could argue that the increased offerings and expanded definition of wellness travel or tourism only happened in response to increased interest.

The rise in popularity of wellness travel may be because we’re more stressed, exhausted, and overwhelmed by digital devices than ever (social media is connected to a decline in mental health). And let’s not forget that the COVID-19 pandemic took a massive toll on mental health worldwide. A 2022 American Psychology Association report showed a “battered American psyche,” while NBC News reported in 2023 that after years of pandemic, war, and inflation, Americans are “besieged by stress.”

The solution? Apparently, it’s wellness travel.

While we realize it may seem shortsighted to think vacations can cure the state of mental health in America, they certainly can’t hurt.

But why the shift? Sure, inflation’s got us down, but why now? According to a study by Accenture, wellness travel isn’t new. Still, people are starting to see wellness as an essential part of life, travel, and spending … an investment in themselves that’s non-negotiable.

One of 15 luxury tents at Naviva
Naviva is located in nature. Image Credit: Naviva, a Four Seasons Resort, Punta Mita, México

John O’Sullivan, General Manager of Naviva, a Four Seasons Resort, Punta Mita, México, a luxurious, nature-inspired journey created by Four Seasons, finds that COVID-19 was a catalyst for wellness travel exploding in popularity. “Before, you went on vacation once or twice a year. [Now, thanks to remote work], people realize they can live and travel in a completely different way.”

Remember in the early 2000s, when it seemed like everyone in Hollywood was touting the spiritual benefits of ayahuasca? These days, wellness experiences have expanded beyond those traditional Swiss spas, Costa Rican surf breaks, Balinese yoga retreats, and shamanic ayahuasca highs to include the more opulent options, wackier experiences, and alcohol (or lack thereof).

And one of the biggest and most accessible industry trends (especially apt for wellness travels newbies) is tacking on just an added dose of wellness to your hotel stay. Here are a few trends to consider regarding wellness vacations in 2023.

Luxury Wellness Travel

Out of 11,000 respondents, 39% of higher-income respondents have already booked a luxury trip or wellness retreat in the next year. In contrast, just 21% of millennials plan to take a wellness retreat in 2023, according to the above study by Accenture.

O’Sullivan has seen luxury wellness travel grow in popularity, as people seem more willing than ever to spend money on features such as “space and nature,” which can benefit mental health. For example, Naviva’s property offers a sprawling 48 acres of forest and coastal property with just 15 luxury tents and private plunge pools.

If you’re ready to splurge, this is just one of the many upscale, sustainable, and thoughtful wellness experiences you can have worldwide. Other options include Miraval Resorts, which falls under the Hyatt umbrella, or detox and fitness retreats like Canyon Ranch and brands like SHA and Chiva Som, among others.

Upgraded Points contributor Katie Seemann is a repeat visitor to Miraval properties. In fact, it’s helped evolve her personal outlook on luxury travel.

Tyringham Cobble Hike from Miraval Berkshires
A hike near Miraval Berkshires. Image Credit: Katie Seemann

“Getting all dressed up and going to a fancy restaurant for an elaborate meal with caviar and Champagne may sound luxurious, but it’s not my thing. I’ve realized there’s so much luxury in taking a few days to focus on your own health and well-being,” Seemann explains. “I realized that part of the luxury of these types of resorts is the time and space to really focus on the present moment, which is incredibly hard in our day-to-day lives.”

Hot Tip:

Quirky Wellness Travel

Thinking outside the box regarding wellness travel is becoming increasingly popular.

A study by Expedia,, and VRBO on 2023 travel trends showed a “new wave of interest in wellness retreats, with 46% of travelers open to wellness breaks — the quirkier, the better.” Results specifically mentioned puppy yoga, forest bathing, laughter therapy, fruit harvesting, and more.

This year is the perfect time to test new, interesting, or wacky activities as offerings have expanded. Discover goat yoga, sound healing, full digital detoxes, hammams, silent retreats, chakra cleanses, gem therapy, Reiki, and beyond.

I can personally attest to some of the benefits of stepping out of my comfort zone when it comes to wellness on a recent trip. Being thoroughly scrubbed down in a Moroccan hammam by an elderly local dumping buckets of water over me seemed extremely awkward initially. However, my skin felt like butter afterward, and my mind was surprisingly clear.

Seemann can also speak to testing out more unique experiences. “I’ve done equine therapy activities in the past at Miraval Arizona. For this trip to Miraval Berkshires, I entered the Vibrational Sound Chamber, a special room with very few right angles to enhance sounds. Our guide played his collection of Nepalese singing bowls while leading us through a meditation. It was very relaxing,” she recalled.

Wellness Doesn’t Have To Be Unique, but Your Destination Could Be

Bhutan Spirit Santucary entrance
The Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary encourages contemplation. Image Credit: Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary

Weird wellness activities not for you? That’s okay, too.

Before visiting Bhutan, Upgraded Points contributor Ryan Smith had never stayed at a wellness resort. He found many treatments and mantras just a little too eccentric for his taste.

But quirky doesn’t have to mean weird. It can mean thinking outside the box regarding wellness or opting for a unique destination. In his quest to visit every country worldwide, he chose to stay at the Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary, part of Small Luxury Hotels of the World and a participating World of Hyatt hotel. This property’s remote, far-flung location and themes like contemplation really helped Smith relax.

Sober-curious vs. Alcohol-inspired Wellness

There’s never been a better time to leave alcohol in the dust (or, on the other end of the spectrum, go full speed ahead when it comes to booze). From wine-themed cruises or organizing your own alcohol-themed vacation, such as heading to Tequila, Mexico, to learn more about the liquor or brewery hopping in Belgium, dedicating a trip to drinking can be wellness for some.

But so can sober-themed travel, as many travel organizations now exist where travelers can enjoy trips, tours, and activities that are centered around experiences that don’t involve alcohol.

Hotel Wellness Offerings

Hotels that never really had a large focus on wellness are jumping on the trend, offering guests bite-sized opportunities to tack a bit of wellness onto their stay beyond just the hotel spa or tired fitness center.


Kimpton Hotels has been an industry leader in wellness amenities, offering wellness perks like in-room yoga mats and on-demand yoga and Pilates for more than a decade.


Hilton has jumped on the wellness boat with its Hilton x Peloton partnership, working to add Peloton bikes to all U.S., Canada, Germany, and U.K. Hilton hotels. And Peloton’s website has its own hotel finder where you can figure out if there’s a hotel with Peloton bikes in your chosen destination.


Perfecting the art of sleep is another form of wellness hotels that seem determined to master. Traditional sleep amenities include the Westin Heavenly Bed or Sheraton Sweet Sleeper Bed. Contemporary snooze-oriented options, from dedicated pillow menus to sleep programs like the ones offered at many Six Senses properties, are some ways hotels are helping guests get better shut-eye when on vacation, which sounds pretty dreamy.

Woman stretching in bed
Improving your sleep can help your mental and physical health. Image Credit: Bruno Mars via Unsplash

And some hotels, like the Bellagio, MGM Grand, and the JW Marriott Tampa, even feature StayWell by Delos rooms, which use science and technology to create a complete wellness experience and stay, from in-room air purifiers to Deepak Chopra meditations, aromatherapy, and mood lighting.

Other Types of Wellness Vacations To Take

Besides the aforementioned wellness travel concepts that are currently trending, there’s nothing wrong with a more traditional type of wellness travel. Some of the most typical types of wellness travel are the following:

  • Ayurveda retreats
  • Detox retreats
  • Fitness retreats
  • Health wellness retreats
  • Mental health wellness retreats
  • Mindfulness retreats
  • Spa wellness retreats
  • Spiritual wellness retreats
  • Sustainable wellness retreats
  • Weekend wellness retreats
  • Wellness cruises
  • Yoga wellness retreats
Bottom Line:

Whether it’s salt therapy, spa treatments, or boot camp, wellness travel in all its forms, from traditional to weird, from all-inclusive to simply taking a yoga class on your next vacation, seems here to stay.

Wellness Travel Benefits

We’re not doctors, so we’re not going to regurgitate much medical information here, but do you know that relaxed, happy sensation you feel on vacation? The one that almost always disappears the second your plane lands or when you check your email inbox after arriving home? While there are no guarantees, it seems like the benefits of wellness travel may stick around slightly longer.

According to the National Library of Medicine, a study showed that the health and habits of travelers measured both before and after a wellness vacation showed significant health improvements 1 week post-travel and 6 weeks post-travel.

Additional benefits of wellness travel may include weight loss, healthier diet and fitness habits, improved mental health, more clarity, heightened memory, a sense of relaxation or rejuvenation, high confidence levels, happier moods, elimination of toxins, healthier aging, better immunity, and more.

Just know it’s not an exact science. Wellness travel depends on so many things, and your results will likely vary between wellness travel with a few Peloton rides, a 2-week yoga experience, a silent retreat, or a cycling trip.

Habits generally take at least 60 days to build, which means unless you’re on vacation for at least 2 months, you may not come home a lifelong Peloton rider or yogi. But if you’re simply continuing or enhancing your at-home wellness routines while on vacation, you may notice better results. And, of course, learning about new ways to help you age gracefully, grow mentally, take care of your body, and be happier during wellness travel may stick with you even after you get back to the grind of everyday life.

Wellness Travel May Benefit Your Mental Health

The mental benefits of wellness travel may be why people are so invested in it. Smith noted feeling much calmer when he left his wellness hotel. His wife even noticed he seemed more relaxed post-trip. “I’ve tried to remember some of the things I learned at the retreat now that I’m back to my normal life: Take time to focus on myself, and don’t get stressed about things beyond my control,” he said.

Seemann also touted the long-lasting mental health benefits from her most recent visit to Miraval Berkshires. “I was definitely totally zenned out from my stay at Miraval Berkshires. Since I’ve been home, I’ve been meditating more (not a lot, but more than I used to), using some tips from one of the classes I took at Miraval, and really trying to be more mindful of how I spend my time and energy,” she said.

Best Wellness Travel Destinations

Bathers in the Blue Lagoon
Iceland’s Blue Lagoon is a popular wellness destination. Image Credit: Benjamin Rascoe via Unsplash

Some of the most coveted destinations for wellness holidays are places where guests can enjoy nature, space, or unique healing rituals. Popular destinations for wellness include India, Bali, Mexico, Moab, Thailand, and Guatemala.

However, as alternative treatments, therapies, and wellness breaks are trending, so are alternative destinations. According to the previously referenced study by Expedia, VRBO, and, the U.S. was one of the most popular wellness destinations in 2022. Gen Z is leading the pack toward more alternative spots, heading to destinations such as Norway, Turkey, Switzerland, Iceland, and Sri Lanka to boost wellness in 2023.

You could also consider a spot really off the beaten path, like Bhutan. In Smith’s experience, the uniqueness of the property and location was what really caught his eye and encouraged him to try a wellness break in the first place.

Hot Tip:

On a budget? You may be able to book certain wellness hotels using points. Consider getting a co-branded hotel credit card to bulk up on hotel points, which may afford you a free stay.

How To Incorporate Wellness Into Your Next Vacation

Don’t have the time (or money, points, or interest) for a vacation entirely dedicated to wellness? It’s okay. There are plenty of ways to incorporate wellness into a vacation that won’t completely take over your next city break or beach experience.

Do a Brief (Or Massive) Digital Detox

Take a break from the digital world for a few hours or days. According to the Cleveland Clinic, research shows this can be good for your sleep, relationships, and mood. But it can be especially beneficial when on vacation, as you can really take in those new and exciting experiences without distraction, truly enjoying them.

Get Outdoors

Research from the University of Minnesota showed that nature makes us happy and positively affects our physical state, lowering blood pressure, stress, and heart rate. O’Sullivan explained that one of the reasons Naviva is so healing and inspiring is because of its location in the midst of a forest overlooking the ocean. The resort doesn’t take from nature; it melds right in. It’s a “symphony of natural and intuitive wellness where nature and life intersect,” he told Upgraded Points.

Walking, cycling, hiking, and even days relaxing on the beach all count as enjoying the great outdoors.

Hit the Spa or Take a Fitness Class

Upgraded Points contributor Chris Hassan and his wife often schedule exercise activities when planning their vacations from the start. “We work out pretty regularly at home, and getting back after a trip and not having to catch up on our ‘losses’ is a big motivator. We’ll always hit the hotel gym, walk vs. Uber when possible, and plan activities like hiking/biking, etc. when it fits in with our vacation schedule.”

Trying a new type of wellness activity that connects to your destination is a fun to way experience the culture while getting active at the same time. For example, try a Thai massage in Thailand, capoeira in Brazil, or a flamenco class in Spain. This allows you to focus on your wellness and learn about and participate in the cultural aspects of your destination.

What To Look For in a Hotel Gym

The fitness center at the Park Hyatt Tokyo features incredible views
Work out to a view at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. Image Credit: Park Hyatt Tokyo

Planning to use the hotel gym? Keep that in mind when booking your hotel. Some hotels don’t even have photos of their gyms, so it’s best to head to a hotel that makes that gym a focus (or at least hasn’t forgotten about it).

Hassan suggests looking for hotel gyms with “updated equipment, natural light, and complimentary water,” all perks that make hotel gyms a little more exciting. You may also want to consider a resort or hotel that offers fitness classes.

Some may enjoy a workout better if it comes with views. Some of our favorite hotel fitness centers are The Ritz Carlton Tenerife, Abama, where part of the gym is outdoors overlooking the ocean, and the Club On The Park fitness center in the Park Hyatt Toyko which offers incredible views of Toyko’s glittering skyline.

Hot Tip:

Forgot your fitness gear? Some hotel gyms, such as the one at the Four Seasons Lanai in Hawaii, offer complimentary use of fitness gear (shirts, shorts, and sneakers) upon request.

What To Look For in a Hotel Spa

If you know you want to experience a spa treatment or spa day at your hotel, look for information about the spa when selecting your accommodation. Many hotel spas put their services online so you can get an idea of the offerings and what they charge. If you’re on a budget, it may be worth looking outside the hotel for your spa experience.

For example, in a destination like Thailand, you can find affordable Thai massages and spa experiences outside your hotel for a fraction of the price. However, if you’re looking for a hotel to enjoy the spa, it’s essential to check out the offerings beforehand. Also, check to see if a special spa pool, Jacuzzi, steam room, sauna, or hydrotherapy options are available.

Final Thoughts: Are Wellness Vacations Hype or Healing?

Woman meditating
Picking the right trip for you is the key to wellness travel. Image Credit: Jared Rice via Unsplash

Since wellness travel doesn’t have a clear definition, a wellness vacation can be whatever benefits you. If you stick to what boosts your well-being, ideally, you should feel calmer, more relaxed, or happier post-vacation.

However, if you decide to go on a yoga retreat but don’t really like yoga, it could go either way. Or, going on a silent retreat with your 4 best friends may be a recipe for disaster. Going camping in nature when you hate insects and the woods probably won’t “heal” you, either.

The best way to interpret wellness travel is to stay true to yourself, your needs, and your travel ideals. Don’t expect wellness travel to “cure” you. Wellness tourism is a way to enrich your travel and well-being, help you feel more connected to yourself and nature, encourage healthy habits, or relax your mind and body … not solve all your problems. With these tips in mind, you should be able to organize a wellness retreat, or at least add a small dose of wellness into your next vacation, and come home feeling fabulous.

For further reading, take a look at our guide on wellness retreats for women.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is wellness tourism?

Wellness tourism is traveling for the benefit of your own well-being. This could mean taking a specific wellness retreat, like a yoga, meditation, or spiritual retreat, doing fitness, traveling to a wellness destination, staying at a spa, or simply incorporating some activities that can benefit your well-being, like massage or fitness class, into your travel plans.

Why is wellness travel trending?

People are more stressed out than ever, especially due to the pandemic, inflation, war, and other concerns. Wellness travel can help benefit mental and physical health. Wellness is also seen as more of a necessity or part of lifestyle maintenance, and more people are willing to spend money on wellness activities, including travel.

What do people do at wellness retreats?

People can do various activities at wellness retreats, from regular to wacky. You can do yoga or other fitness activities, meditate, get outdoors, detox from digital devices, eat nutritious food, enjoy nature, consult with nutrition or fitness professionals, spend time alone or with friends and family, and more.

Why is travel healing?

Travel can be healing, whether you’re focusing on wellness or not. Travel is an escape from everyday life and reality, offering new experiences and a new outlook. Being away from work, home, and the grind, enjoying nature or a new place, offers many physical and mental health benefits.

Lori Zaino's image

About Lori Zaino

Lori is an intrepid traveler who loves creating itineraries that exude “luxe on a budget.” She’s written for CNN, NBC, The Infatuation, and more, and loves to muse about points-fueled trips to Sri Lanka, Sicily, and Myanmar.

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