“It’s not a vacation; it’s a [fill-in-the-blank].”

Retreat. Immersion. Intensive. Course. Experience. Journey.

I have both heard and spoken these words many times, as a participant in and leader of transformational experiences. And yet, add as many intentions and buzzwords as you want, a retreat is still a vacation. My participants want time to rest, restore, and play. I can’t blame them; when I’m a participant, I want the same thing.

So how do we balance it, these twin needs for deep inner work and light-hearted adventure? I expect that’s a question I’ll be considering for many years to come. However, I believe I have already hit on a few critical factors.

Whether you’re looking to bring some transformation to your vacation, or some vacation to your transformational experience, consider these 7 suggestions:

  1. Connect with nature. It is imperative to connect with the natural space—the actual physical place—in which your journey will proceed. Take off your shoes when you arrive, and feel your bare feet on the earth. Say hello to a tree (seriously, try it!). Ask permission, and/or give thanks to the ecosystem allowing you to join it for a time. Take a walk through the forest, or meditate by the river. Your entire experience will likely feel more grounded and integrated if you take time to connect with the natural environment at your destination.
  2. Nourish your body. I don’t know about you, but I certainly do my best work—inner and outer—when my body is well. Sleep plenty. Eat whole, local, nourishing foods. Listen to your body’s requests for rest, movement, and fuel. Then, honor those requests. When your basic needs are met, you can focus on the serious work of transformation. But…
  3. Don’t take it too seriously. Pack your sense of humor, and remember to keep it all in perspective. Even when it’s hard, even when everything is going wrong, there are reasons to smile. Besides, it’s just a vacation! Enjoy the adventure.
  4. Lean into discomfort. There is a juicy place, where comfort ends and discomfort begins, called the learning zone. This is where the magic of transformation happens. Go too far, and you hit the panic zone—fight or flight, survival mode, not at all conducive to learning. Not far enough, and you’ll get what you’ve always gotten, doing what you’ve always done. Seek that elusive middle way.
  5. Look for local culture. The cultural environment of our destination is just as important as the natural one. Make a point of learning a few words of the local language, asking questions about unique local practices or beliefs, and learning about the people who make the place you are visiting so special. Even if you’re in a remote retreat center, this is possible! Talk to everyone—taxi drivers, staff on site, children playing nearby—and you’ll manage just fine.
  6. Keep it conscious. Alignment is key. Seek out venues, experiences, and co-travelers that are in alignment with your values and intentions. Eco-villages, conscious communities, and ecological retreat centers that walk their talk with regenerative lifestyles, governance, and business are ideal settings for aligned transformation.
  7. Slow down. The “slowness factor” is another key element of both vacations and transformational experiences. Take time to let new information settle, tune into your process, and really see and relish the place you are visiting. You’ll miss all the best things—including your own transformation—if you hurry through them.

Remember: It’s an art, not a science. Your perfect recipe of these and other elements will be unique to you!


Ready for a transformational vacation? NuMundo is uniting all of these essentials in our second annual NuLiving Experience, February 2-12, 2020 in Costa Rica:

Experience the NuMundo lifestyle with ten days (or five) of co-living and play in the Costa Rican jungle. Escape winter for a strong dose of sun, saltwater, and fresh, wild air. Start your day with yoga, community, and nourishing organic meals, with plenty of time after to just do you. Live without apologies.

We’ll take care of the plans, the vibe, and the tribe. You bring you.

Learn more here.

Toby Israel is a vagabond and storyteller with a metaphorical closet full of hats. She is a creative facilitator,…