The theme for this year's wellness trends? A conscious uncoupling from the pixels and pings of the digital world. Post-pandemic, taking care of our mental and physical health has come into sharper focus, and we're collectively realising that there's a lot more we can do to optimise both equilibrium and longevity than switching our phones to silent. For many of us, travel is in itself a form of therapy, but the diverse line-up of experiences that go above and beyond the normal mood-boosting properties of a getaway to send us home happier and healthier has never been more diverse. From retreats aimed at helping us to prioritise pleasure to itineraries that take Google Maps out of the equation and make a pocket dictionary instrumental in communicating - plus some more extreme ones, such as adventuring completely off-grid in the footsteps of legendary explorers - this is our pick of the wellness paths to have on your radar for the year ahead.
2024's hottest wellness travel trends
Get that Fleabag episode out of your head: the kind of silent retreats making waves this year are less about keeping your mouth closed, more about escaping the ever-present noise of daily life. When was the last time you took a train and didn't listen to a Spotify playlist? Or went for a walk without piping a self-help podcast through your AirPods? Or even cooked dinner without something streaming on your laptop on the side? We thought so. Our lives echo with aural distraction, with sounds (and soundtracks) always playing in our ears, making silence truly golden. But, silence is proven to offer wellness benefits, helping us to manage stress, better process emotions and soothe anxiety, so it's no wonder we're increasingly seeking a little peace on our travels. What with the rise of silent walking tours, an increasing number of meditation retreats popping up, and the launch of initiatives such as Quiet Parks International, a non-profit that aims to preserve the low-decibel lushness of far-flung locations for the (quiet) enjoyment of travellers, we're calling it: 2024 is the year of silence.
Blue zone vacations
Expect to hear this buzzword a lot in the wellness space throughout 2024: longevity. In the quest for lifespan expansion, travellers are seeking inspiration from some of the world's longest-living humans. Perhaps it's a hangover from watching Netflix's Secrets of the Blue Zones, but taking notes on good living from the self-confident grannies of Okinawa or Greece's hedonistic Ikaria inhabitants will be top of list when planning wellness-focused travels this year. Want to know more? Take a gander through our list of the four hottest blue zones to visit for a health boost - long-life travel is set to be here for a while.
Sexual wellness experiences
You heard it here first: the secret to boosting your mental and physical health might lie in paying a little more attention to your sex life. Travel and sex are intermingling like never before, with a new generation of progressive retreats around the world helping travellers to reconnect with their mojo; city breakers taking to dating apps in search of locals' recommendations (with a little lovemaking on the side); and some of the world's top spas - such as the just-opened SHA Mexico in the Yucatán Peninsula - adding sexual health centres and gynaecology units to their kit list. Don't get the wrong idea, though. This is less about lovemaking and more about prioritising pleasure: Back To The Body retreats, for example, aim to improve self-confidence in travellers at their events in Italy, New York and Mexico, using bodywork sessions and intimacy coaching to encourage participants to embrace their desires and connect to their inner selves.
Paço da Glória, Portugal
The (admittedly icky) portmanteau "griefcation" describes an old drive behind journeys - travellers have sought solace in distant lands after losing loved ones for centuries - but this year, a growing number of retreats around the world are creating space for those dealing with loss to work through their emotions. Take Paço da Glória, a gothic, 18th-century manor house tucked into the verdant hills above Porto, which - when it's not hosting visitors as a tranquil summer rental - offers bereavement retreats to help individuals work through emotional loss, with owner Rebecca Illing, a death doula based in London, at the helm. Elsewhere, mental struggles are being catered for by retreats such as those run by Resurface, a surf therapy company that pairs riding the waves with therapy sessions and mindfulness practices to harness the healing power of the ocean.
Our quest for shut-eye is set to take us far and wide: sleep tourism is on the rise, from Aberdeen to Adelaide, as a good night's slumber becomes a top priority for travellers. Expect to see more hotels offering sleep concierge services - like those on offer at London's The Cadogan - and running snooze-enhancing retreats from industry experts, such as the 40-winks-guaranteed consultations on offer from Six Senses Ibiza's resident sleep doctor. It's not all weighted blankets and pillow sprays, either - at Lake Como's Grand Hotel Tremezzo, guests can indulge in an 11-minute spa treatment that utilises indigenous alpine herbs to promote deeper sleep, while London's Zedwell hotels offer air purifiers and cleverly created soundless rooms to lull restless travellers to sleep.
Unplugged cabins | Photo credit: Pasco Photography
Despite being digital natives, today's travel crowd isn't always looking for more bells and whistles: old-school, lo-fi adventures are having a moment, as travellers seek pared-back experiences far from their hyper-digital worlds. We're all logging off Instagram (and BeReal, and TikTok) in an attempt to rediscover the pre-digital wonder of exploring a city off-grid. Brands such as Unplugged are winding back the clock, offering digital detox cabins tucked in rambunctious rural locations, with lockboxes provided to store devices, while travel companies including US-brand FTLO are whipping up phone-free itineraries in Cuba, Mexico and Costa Rica, asking travellers to put away the iPhone and use old-school tools such as the maps, pocket dictionaries and alarm clocks provided each day. In Finland, the rugged island of Ulko-Tammio, in the country's Eastern Gulf, even announced that it was going phone-free last summer - an attempt to keep its beauty spots off social media and encourage visitors to enjoy the moment. Even independent travellers are switching tracks: expect to see more Polaroids and disposable cameras making appearances as the era of the selfie winds down.
The big rot
You know that feeling when you just… don't want to get out of bed? Us too. Luckily, there's a wellness travel trend for that. In 2024, we're done with those jam-packed itineraries and mile-a-minute explorations of every restaurant, bar, shop and park we've saved on Instagram in the run-up to our travels: we're on holiday to be on holiday, even if that means lolling in a beautiful hotel room all day. This year, "bed rotting" (a term coined on TikTok in 2023), the practice of not doing much, bar staying between the sheets for an extended period of time, is taking over travel. What's a day-long lie-in got to do with wellness? Growing evidence suggests that we're all feeling overwhelmed from our full-on lives and even fuller digital experiences - just take a flick through Jenny Odell's book How to Do Nothing - so a chance to log-out from it all and do, literally, nothing is as welcome a wellness retreat as a intense ayahuasca experience. And unlike a bit of home bed rotting, the holiday version means enjoying the full benefits of a hotel stay - whether that's in Paris, Rome or one of the year's hottest new hotel openings, you bet we'll be dialling for room service for all three meals.
Mental resilience challenges
Mind over matter is a discipline that many are set on mastering in 2024, and travel operators are stepping up to meet the growing demand by offering experiences aimed at improving our mental resilience. While what constitutes pushing yourself to the limit will vary greatly from person to person - for some, it might look like slogging it out to the end of their first 5km Parkrun; for others, more like completing a NASTAR Center training programme in readiness for snagging a spot on a commercial space flight - the benefits of doing so are not in doubt: building better mental resilience helps us bounce back from difficult circumstances with more ease. Ready to push yourself (far) out of your comfort zone? Shackleton Challenges expedition programme aims to enable people of all abilities to tough it out in some of the world's most spectacular and extreme environments. Its six-day Women's Polar Skills Challenge, for example, will see you ski-tour 16km into a pristine, snowy wilderness and camp out in sub-zero temperatures, while its week-long Mont Blanc Summit Challenge involves triumphing over Western Europe's highest peak, with an expert team on hand to prepare and guide you every step of the way. Stilling the mind in some of the most remote landscapes in the world? That's wellness with bragging rights.