Paradise? This looks like hell to me

Ah, paradise. It's all about swaying palm trees and white sand beaches. It's exclusive mountain lodges set high in the snow-capped alps. It's 5am wake-up calls and raw carrot for breakfast. It's exercise three times a day and then a kale juice for dinner. It's dead silence for two weeks and no TV.

Wait, what? That's not paradise. That's hell. That's the kind of thing you're put through when you're being punished for something. The sort of experience you'd do anything to get away from when you're going on holidays. Right? 

Not really. As crazy as it sounds – to me, at least – the things I mentioned above are now legitimate holiday experiences. People are paying good money, lots and lots of good money, for the privilege of going through hell in a really nice place.

You get the sandy beaches and the mountain retreats, but you also get the early mornings and punishing exercise regimens.

What gives? Travel used to be purely about indulgence. That's the very nature of the activity, surely. It's a privilege, something you save for in order to spoil yourself. You get away from the humdrum of your daily life and spend every day sleeping in until midday, gorging yourself on five-course meals, drinking more than anyone probably should and coming home with excess baggage around the love-handle area.

That's what travel used to be all about. Especially if you only had a short time away. Especially if you were stressed at home. 

But that's apparently all changed. I have friends now who go to Bali for a week and spend all of their time at a yoga retreat, getting limber while enjoying healthy snacks and staying off the booze. I know someone else who went to Sri Lanka recently to do the same thing.

Another mate went to a Vipassana meditation retreat in India, a place that didn't allow him to talk or communicate with the outside world, or even make eye contact with the other detainees – sorry, guests – for a full 10 days. Someone else went to the South Island of New Zealand to get up at the crack of dawn to go hiking each day and then come home to a spread of raw vegetables.

Another friend, meanwhile, went the whole hog and visited a "detox resort" in Thailand, spending 10 days avoiding all things poisonous and fun in order to get her long-suffering liver back into shape.    

Advertisement

All of these things, apparently, count as taking a holiday. They're the new rich people's privilege: the chance to go to a beautiful location and suffer in the name of making yourself into a healthy, more rounded (or possibly less round) person. 

You might say this is just an extension of existing trends, that these holidays are no different to people who go on cycling trips overseas, or walking trips, or even travel centred on food. But those holidays provide travellers with a way of combining their favoured exercise or passion with experiencing the country they're visiting. These new holidays are different. You're not going to do much sight-seeing while downward-dogging on a yoga mat. You're not going to experience much of a culture while drinking kale smoothies on your detox plan. 

These are not trips for travel, but trips to achieve an end. It wouldn't matter where they were based. A beautiful view probably helps to persuade yourself that the colossal amount of money you spent was all worth it, but really, you could be doing this stuff in a warehouse in Bankstown and you'd get to the same conclusion.

OK, maybe that's going a bit far. I can see that location has some importance, that a tranquil setting is part of the de-stressing that comes with yoga, or hiking, or staring mutely at a wall, or whatever it is you guys are into. 

But it doesn't sound like a fun way to travel to me. In fact it doesn't sound like travel at all. It sounds like punishment. 

This is another of those "each to their own" scenarios. To me it sounds like a huge waste to travel all the way to Sri Lanka and spend your entire holiday at a yoga camp run by a couple of hippies from San Diego. It seems a shame to go all the way to Thailand to drink vegetable juice and shudder your way through the DTs when you could be hoeing into street food and bottled beer in Bangkok. 

Travellers do some strange things, and one person's paradise is the next person's idea of pain. But that's fine. You guys stick to your yoga retreats and detox centres, and I'll go for the dingy hostels and the cheap beer. Paradise found, for all of us.

b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

See also: Meet the flexible stars of Instagram
See also: The retreat that is a perfect place to heal

Comments