Julie Mikos/Rancho La Puerta
Let your mind wander as far as your body will take you. Maybe a high-adventure rafting trip is right up your alley, or perhaps a long weekend of quiet contemplation at a monastery is your cup of (green) tea. Book yourself a week at a low-key spa, or just steal away from home for a day to relax and recharge. Here are five top picks for reflective vacations to soothe your spirit and explore your life.
Walk, Don't Run — To Discover Your Life's Path: You know how a walk can sometimes clear your head, making everything seem right all of a sudden? And you think, "Gee, sure am glad I didn't drive to the store." Make that fresh outlook last for days on a Backroads walking tour, which layers a camaraderie of like-minded spirits (yes, you're back in camp, but with adults) over hand-picked nature trails with nary a shopping mall in sight—plus leaders who turn "gee" moments into A+ experiences. A six-day tour of Nova Scotia, one of Canada's most scenic Atlantic provinces, takes you along coastal trails, past well-worn lighthouses, and into paintbox-pretty fishing villages. There's even a cruise to the "Ovens," age-old sea caves along the coastline (from $2,598 per person, double, with lodging and almost all meals.) Lobster dinner is a given and included in the price.
Discover the Spa that Started the Food & Fitness Revolution: Everybody understands that a week at a spa is good for body and soul, an ideal sojourn for reflection and taking care of yourself. But finding the right spa isn't so easy. You want top-notch staff and facilities but no pretention. Rancho La Puerta, just over the California border in Mexico (you're met at the San Diego airport and whisked to the spa in private buses) ticks all boxes and is one of the spa world's top values. The spa, which dates from 1940, is serious about getting you into shape, starting with a pre-breakfast hike on the sacred mountain, Kuchumaa. Try African dance, enjoy guided meditation, or sign up for a cooking class preparing produce from the Ranch's organic garden. Or just wander the Ranch's extensive grounds, blooming with buds and fragrant with the scent of rosemary; what better place to consider the next chapter of your life. Saturday-to-Saturday program starts at $3,050 per person, double, including hikes, fitness classes and meals.
See the Grand Canyon From the Bottom Up: If you're a type A type, and even the hardiest hikes at Rancho La Puerta won't pump you up enough to calm you down, then you need not spa water but white water — a rafting adventure that will have you shrieking louder than you did on your first roller-coaster ride. The classic place to experience such a thrill: the Grand Canyon. Your adrenaline may rise by day, but there's plenty of time for contemplation every evening in camp on the sandy banks of the Colorado River. And scaring yourself is a good way to bust the boundaries of your comfort zone. OARS, a company that's been guiding people on rivers and along coastlines since just after the Civil War (yes, we call that experienced), has trips running from 5 to 18 days (from $2,329 per person), no experience necessary. Groups are small; food is healthy and delicious. You'll have a barrel — or at least a raft — of fun.
Listen to the Sound of One Mind Thinking: If the idea of whitewater rafting has you frightened already, let's tone things down. We can offer you simple accommodations, with a shared bath and a communal shower down the hall, fresh-from-the-garden vegetarian meals and no pressure to do anything that terrifies you. At Green Gulch Farm, an outpost of the San Francisco Zen Center that lies in the glorious mountains of Marin County 10 miles north of the city, your job is first and foremost to meditate and get into the groove. You can also join workshops in the gardens, which extend down a steep valley all the way to the Pacific; attend yoga classes; and listen to "Dharma Talks" on Sunday. Or just sit by yourself for hours. Guest Practice Retreats (held Sunday through Thursday; from $60 a day per person, three-night minimum with three meals per day).
Take a Drive Along Your Own Inner-State: Did someone say "car trip?" Don't panic. We're talking slow, leisurely, close-to-home, not "gotta make Tulsa by dusk," with no "are we there yet?" questions asked. On the right kind of car trip, you can set your mind free. Throw some favorite CDs into the car. Pack a book-on-tape and really give yourself the time to get into it, with no ringing phones or nagging guilt to short-circuit your thoughts. Ban all ideas of interstate travel; instead, lose yourself on a winding country road, hand-picking your own scenic outlooks. A stress-free excursion might be so close to home you've never thought about it before. Every state in America has a winery — yes, even Alaska. Circle that winery on the map, and go find it. Every place in America is layered with history. Find your Golden Spike of a monument, and bring back some kitschy souvenirs. No matter where you go, pull off the road an hour before hunger strikes to ask anyone on the street, in an antiques shop, or at the gas station, "Where's a good place to eat around here?" Stop at a farm stand to round up enough vegetables and homemade goodies to save yourself a trip to the supermarket when you get home. When you pull over at night, begin a journal, not just of the day you've had but the life you want. Go ahead, and share your inner-journey car trip with someone you trust and love.
Photos credits: Buddha at Green Gulch Zen Center; Credit: Edgar Callaert Yoga at Rancho La Puerta; Credit: Julie Mikos/Rancho La Puerta
Courtesy of Life Reimagined.