As The Lost Girls, Jen, Amanda and I have vowed to take a vacation together every year for the rest of our lives to shake things up and break free from our daily routines. Sometimes we can get away for only a long weekend to San Francisco, while other times we’re lucky enough to be able to explore far-flung places such as Borneo. The common theme running through all of our getaways is that we choose destinations and activities that reveal something new to us about ourselves and about the world around us.
While there’s nothing wrong with simply vegging out on a beach, choosing vacations that push your boundaries can be life-changing; they can alter your worldview, pointing you in a new direction or helping you uncover hidden passions. Check out these 7 trip ideas for 2013 that will recharge your spirit, put you on a healthier path or teach you a new skill.
Say goodbye to deprivation diets and religiously counting calories: The Never Diet Again! workshop offered 4 times a year at Mohonk Mountain House teaches you how to make mindful eating choices that lead to lasting weight loss. Nina Smiley, Ph.D., author of The Three Minute Meditator, walks you through mediation and visualization techniques that help you to not only gain control over your eating but also to live a healthier, more present life. It’s easy to fit in fitness during the retreat; the all-inclusive “Victorian castle” is built on a mountaintop among 26,000 acres of preserves, granting you access to snowshoeing in the winter and hiking in the summer. The spa offers specially designed wellness options, such as the Attainable Sleep Treatment, which combines a massage using calming essential oil blends of organic lavandin and clary sage with a Dead Sea salt soak -- all in a hydrotherapy tub to ease you into dreamland.
Some destinations not only allow you the space to reflect but also offer programs that can help you discover hidden talents -- and put you on a path to wellness. The experiential resort Travaasa Austin is one of those places. In addition to signing up for private life-coaching sessions, you can also try guided adventures (such as the outdoor challenge course or geocaching); culinary classes (such as juicing); cultural encounters (such as vision boarding or happiness-booster journaling); fitness classes (such as heart yoga); and wellness workshops (such as gratitude meditation). Or you can simply chill out with an energy-balancing and healing spa treatment or admire the serene resort setting among 210 acres of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve overlooking Lake Travis.
Time spent in the great outdoors can recharge you and remind you how to live more in the moment. Dunton Hot Springs, a romantic old mining town nestled in a valley just across from Telluride and surrounded by the Colorado Rockies, is an adventurer’s wonderland. The rugged canyons, sprawling desert and bubbling hot springs serve as an ideal backdrop for outdoor activities of all kinds. Step off the grid and try heli-skiing, mountaineering or ice climbing in the backcountry of the San Juan Mountains. Cast your line for cutthroat, rainbows, brown trout, and brook trout with almost a mile and a half of private fly fishing water in the West Fork of the Dolores River. Spot elk and waterfalls while horseback riding through the Lizard Head Wilderness Area, and stop for a picnic lunch in flower-filled meadow.
Your vacation can directly impact a child’s life when you choose to spend it volunteering. Village Volunteers is an American-based organization that connects travelers directly with people in need, such as the kids of sex workers living in the New Light shelters in one of India’s oldest red-light districts, in Kolkata. Some of the ways you might make a difference is by coaching kids in sports, teaching blog writing, raising awareness about HIV or sharing your own special talents in areas such as dance, cooking or crafts. If you’d like to help prevent another generation of kids from going into prostitution but can’t make it to India, consider donating to Airline Ambassadors, a nonprofit that’s helping to fight sex trafficking around the world.
If you’re really looking to get off the map, Easter Island is more than 2,000 miles away from the nearest population centers of Chile and Tahiti -- making it one of the most isolated places on Earth. That’s why the presence of hundreds of massive stone monoliths, known as Moais, are such a mystery. Sign up for a tour with the sustainable travel company Adventure Life and you’ll visit the crater Rano Raraku, where the statues were supposedly carved from volcanic rock, as well as the ceremonial village of Orongo where you’ll get a view of the bizarre "bird man" petroglyphs on the cliffs across the way. The debate remains as to whether the enormous statues littering the island were created by some ancient inhabitants or transported here by aliens (yes, really). One thing’s for sure, you’ll have witnessed one of the world’s greatest mysteries.
If you’ve ever dreamed of space travel, try splurging on an astronaut-training program in Moscow through the adventure travel company MIR. Besides watching the launching and then the docking of the Soyuz-International Space Station at Mission Control Center, you’ll also get to ride on the world’s largest centrifuge (essentially a long arm with a capsule on one end where the cosmonaut trainee sits), take a zero-gravity simulation flight and don a spacesuit while learning to do things such as open and close the hatches of a typical spacecraft.
Have you ever wanted to get up close and personal with the animal kingdom Crocodile-Hunter style -- minus the danger part? An Aqua Expedition can take you deep into one of the Amazon’s most well-preserved refuges for wildlife called the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. As you glide down the river, you’ll spy pink dolphins swimming, alligators sunning and boa constrictors hanging from jungle limbs. Park rangers lead you on expeditions through the rainforest in search of howler monkeys, neon-colored parrots, 3-toed sloths, and, possibly, the rare black jaguar.