Spiritual Retreats on an Around the World Trip

Even though a round the world trip is one of the most amazing life experiences you’ll have, it isn’t all fun, games, and relaxation. Taking time off requires that you plan ahead. From quitting your job, selling your house, your car, or other belongings, you will have to tie up loose ends before you even embark on your trip. The trip itself, too, necessitates that you think before you act; you’ll have to look into ticket prices, accommodation rates, health insurance, visas, and numerous other practical issues before you go.

Once you are actually on the road, the challenges continue. The extent to which you have to continue planning practical aspects such as flights will depend on how far you planned ahead initially. Similarly, depending on your financial situation, you’ll be faced with fewer or more economic preoccupations both before and during your trip. In fact, many long-term travelers work as they go along. Last but not least, chances are that if you are traveling on a budget, you will moreover have to deal with noisy hostels, dirty bathrooms, potential food poisoning threats, further health issues, and more.

Though the experience will be life-changing and amazing, contrary to popular belief, long-term travel is not one big, long vacation. All in all, it can take a toll on your body. A mental or spiritual retreat can provide a healthy break from these challenges, allowing you to rejuvenate. A retreat can even allow you to keep traveling longer as you get back on the road re-energized. In fact, the reflections you undergo during your retreat might even lead you to change your travel plans, making your RTW trip a more enriching experience as a whole.

Retreats: a brief history

Retreats have their origins in religion. “If we call a retreat a series of days passed in solitude and consecrated to practices of asceticism, in particular to prayer and penance, it is as old as Christianity,” the Catholic Encyclopedia writes. “Without referring to the customs of the Prophets of the Old Testament, the forty days which Jesus Christ passed in the desert after His baptism is an example which has found many imitators in all ages of the Church.” Similarly, Buddhism, which is said to have come about in northern India in the 5th century B.C.E, “traces its origin to Siddhartha Gautama [who] attained an enlightened state of being that marked the end of attachments (and therefore suffering), and ultimately, upon his death, release from the cycle of rebirth (samsara),” according to the Patheos Library.

In the modern world, the reasons for which people go on retreats may vary. While some people continue to embark on retreats for religious and spiritual purposes, others seek more of an escape from the quotidian stresses of work and life back home. Further reasons may include the need for reflection and isolation, which is often difficult to achieve in one’s everyday routine. The opportunity to travel and experience a different destination may be a reason for going on a retreat in and of itself.

This increased interest in retreats is reflected in popular culture. Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love, for example, recounts the story of a female protagonist enlightened in an Indian ashram. Stories like Gilbert’s are not only successful as books but are moreover turned into Hollywood films (in this case featuring Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem). But movie screens aren’t the only place in which retreats are popular. Yoga, for example, is gaining popularity among baseball players, as the Washington Times reports. In fact, yoga has even become important for kids with disabilities.

What kind of retreat is right for me?

When you start looking into a retreat, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Type of retreat. Do you want to go on a spiritual or mental retreat?
  • Day-to-day routine. What will your day-to-day routine be like? Are there activities, such as yoga or meditation involved?
  • Instructors. Will there be qualified instructors to help you reach enlightenment?
  • Facilities/Services. What kinds of facilities or services are provided? Think hot water, showers, laundry, electricity, accommodation, food, etc.
  • Degree of isolation. While some retreats will require that you isolate yourself completely, others are based on group interaction.
  • Duration. Some programs require that you stay a certain length, while others are flexible. Inquire about whether you can stay longer or drop out early.
  • Destination. Is destination important to you? Many yoga practitioners, for example, will prefer India over any other country. Rural destinations are also usually more popular due to the peace and quiet they offer.
  • Cost. There are retreats of all kinds, from free programs to the most luxurious ones.
  • Post-retreat. No need to decide just yet what you plan to do right after your retreat, but do come prepared. You wouldn’t want to end up without any money, stranded at an isolated facility with no way of getting back home.

Planning 101

Essentially, there are two ways to go about planning a retreat:

  1. Making a booking or reservation through an already established retreat
  2. Putting it together yourself.

As is the case with any kind of program abroad (be it study, volunteer, or work abroad), going through an organization has its advantages and disadvantages. Usually, going through an organization will incur higher costs, as you will have to pay the organization for their services. In return, however, you have a support network that can guide you to and around the destination, as well as take you through the retreat as a whole. If you decide to put a retreat together yourself, you will have to do a lot more planning.

Going with the flow

Especially if it is your first time going on a retreat, you might find it easier to go with an organized program. The structure that programs provide will ensure that you have people there to help you if you need them. Qualified instructors, too, can bring you closer to rejuvenation and enlightenment than if you tried to get there on your own. Some possible options include:

  • Vipassana, one of India’s oldest meditation techniques, prides itself as being a “way of self-transformation through self-observation,” based “on the deep interconnection between mind and body.” Vipassana courses are 10 days long and offered at no cost at centers worldwide. Be sure to reserve your spot in advance; spaces fill up fast.
  • Yoga. Sites such as Yogafinder.com or Yogaholidays.net will help you find yoga retreats worldwide. You can search by retreats and retreat centers.
  • Spiritual tours, meditation retreats, and pilgrimages are listed through the Association of Spiritual Retreats at spiritualretreats.com. For the Top 10 Meditation Retreats selected by Travel+Leisure, click here.
  • Religious retreats are also listed at findthedivine.com.

Doing it your way

By creating your very own spiritual retreat, you can adapt it specifically to your needs. Here are some ideas to get started:

  • Seek solitude. Find a destination that will allow you to be by yourself. Rural areas with pleasant natural surroundings are particularly calming.
  • Choose accommodation. Depending on your preferences and budget, the place you stay will vary. While some can afford a luxurious spa, others will prefer to camp alongside a river, waking up to the chirping of birds. In either case, look into whether the location will be safe.
  • Meditate on your own. If you have never meditated before, this might seem a bit difficult. In that case, Psychic Michele Knight recommends that you at least be mindful. “As much as possible, try and be in one place at any one time,” she writes.
  • Bring soothing music. Meditative music or sounds can be helpful in centering your focus. Try Holosync, for example.
  • Stay offline. Checking emails multiple times per day is said to increase stress. Give yourself a break from the computer, smartphone, TV and other technological devices. Focus on yourself and your goals instead.
  • Drink and eat healthy. Vipassana retreats, for example, only allow you to have vegetarian foods. You don’t have to stick to fruits and vegetables, but giving your body a detox by eating more healthy foods can help you rejuvenate your energies.

Coping with the challenges

A retreat isn’t always as rosy as it sounds. At some ashrams, for example, you are not allowed to speak to anyone. Similarly, focusing on yourself can bring out problems that you otherwise hide. You might find yourself crying, desperate, and otherwise overwhelmed. Again, especially if this is your first retreat, you might consider going through an organized program so that you have qualified staff to fall back on.

Come back a better person

Having faced these challenges and looked within yourself, you will grow as a person. Long-term travel is a unique opportunity to reflect more closely on who you are and who you want to be. It is a chance to immerse yourself in different situations and think about your perception of the world, and your place in it. By coming to accept yourself, you can begin a new life, relaxed and full of joy and happiness.

Check out the following articles and resources about spiritual retreats:


Every week, on “Round the World Wednesday” we share tips for planning, budgeting and selecting a route, plus advice on where to go and what to see and do all around the world.
Photo Credits: h.koppdelaney, Beni Ishaque Luthor, AlicePopkorn, AlicePopkorn.