“So, are there any workout classes I just have to try while I’m here?” I asked my Croatian friend over chilled glasses of local white wine. We were on the patio at Villa Orsula, a boutique cliffside hotel in Dubrovnik, where I was visiting from New York City to write about the Dalmatian Coast as an increasingly popular tourist destination. I took a sip of my wine and watched the sun dip slowly into the Adriatic Sea as it painted the sky—and the city’s famed Walls of Dubrovnik—a light pinkish orange. “I bet you guys have some amazing sunset yoga classes with views like this,” I sighed.
“Workout classes?” Zrinka asked with a sweet laugh. “Workout classes aren’t as popular here in Dubrovnik as they are in New York, my dear,” she continued in her enviable European accent. “Why would I go to a class when I have the sea right here in my backyard, every day?” She gestured toward the vast Adriatic Sea below, as if to say, “Look! It’s the gym!”
Yes, like many twenty- and thirty-something New Yorkers, I’d officially succumbed to the healthy living craze. I was happily forking over 40 bucks for a SoulCycle class, even though I knew, deep down, that I couldn’t afford it. I was regularly dropping $10 on kale salads, $12 if I added extra avocado, even though I knew I could make them myself for far cheaper. I’d been convincing myself that I was “investing in myself” by signing up for a $36 Barry’s Bootcamp class, even though I knew I could just run in the park near my apartment and then come home and lift weights by my window and it would be kind of sort of roughly the same thing.
I was doing all of those things anyway, though—and doing them without really thinking about it all that much—because they were everywhere, so easy, so in my face. Then I was mentally justifying my actions by telling myself that it was all worth it. But was it?
One of the best parts about traveling is that it gives you the ability to see how other people live. It sounds so obvious, that statement, like of course that’s what happens when you travel. But take a moment to really think about it: When you see how other people live, it’s easier to examine the way you live by comparison. As a travel writer, I’ve been fortunate to get the chance to observe my life from afar quite often, and that’s exactly what I did on that fateful Croatia trip.
In Dubrovnik, wellness is so woven into Zrinka’s life, she doesn’t even talk about it. Why would she? She just is well. She told me that she and many people she knows go swimming in the Adriatic Sea most days after work—not because they should, but because they do. And do you want to know what she eats for dinner on the regular? Grilled fish and chard. That is one of the healthiest meals you can eat, ever, and she eats it often. In fact, Zrinka told me that people along the Dalmatian Coast eat so much grilled fish and chard, they are often referred to as the Chard People.
Of course, it’s easier to eat a healthy, fresh, sea-to-table diet when you live right on the sea. I get that. And I know that many people eat local because it can be more affordable, or it’s for necessity, not necessarily because they’re trying to “be well.” So in many ways, trying to draw a comparison between beach life and concrete jungle life is a bit futile, as location so often shapes the way we operate. That said, the real takeaway for me wasn’t so much that I needed to replicate the Dalmatian life at home in NYC—it was that maybe I didn’t need to try so hard in general, and that perhaps I could look for more organic ways to weave wellness into my days.
Let’s begin with Jamaica. My fiancé and I are in love with the Blue Mountains there, partly because we love those reggae vibes, but mostly because we always feel so fresh and in tune with ourselves and the world while we’re up there surrounded by trees. We’ve gone a couple times now, and we always stay in a small family-owned guesthouse called Jah B’s, run by a Rastafari named—you guessed it—Jah B. Jah B follows an Ital diet, which is a way of cooking developed by Rastafaris that uses fresh produce and tries to avoid processed foods and additives. Most Ital food is vegan, though not all; it depends on how strictly you adhere to the diet. Jah B follows it strictly, so he only serves plant-based food to his guests. He also grows all of his food himself. And it is delicious.
Meanwhile, in NYC, going out to eat vegan food is such a trendy scene that I would actually rather…not. I love plant-based food—shout to Jah B’s rice and peas—but here in the city, I tend to avoid restaurants that market the sh*t out of their vegan-ness with highly Instagrammable neon signs, each one hoping to out-vegan the next. To me, the message those restaurants are sending is clear: You are making a great choice for your body, and we won’t let you—or your social media followers—forget that fact while you’re here.
Now, to be fair, I’m sure the owners of those places have their reasons for stocking up on enough photogenic potted succulents to draw a do-it-for-the-gram crowd (I’d guess that soaring rent prices and mad competition might have something to do with it). And I’m sure that Jah B has his reasons for operating as he does, too. But whatever lies behind his decisions, what seems clear to me as a repeat guest is that, to Jah B, wellness is not a thing to be sold. It is just how he lives his life.
“Your body is all you have, so nourish it wisely,” he told us one morning as he was tending to the vegetables in his garden. He then emphasized how lucky we all are to even have bodies, which is why it’s our duty to protect them by living as healthy a life as we can. Speaking with him, it was easy to forget that there is, in fact, any other way to live at all.
It was also a great reminder that underneath all of the “good vibes only” memes and the strategically-placed avocado toasts, underneath all of the Lululemon everything and the smoothie bowls and the kale (the kale!), lies an urgent and paramount message: Our bodies are precious. And it’s on us, all of us, no matter where we live or what we do, to not take them for granted. After all, wellness may be trendy right now, but it is not a trend. It is as perennial as the sun, and we owe it to ourselves to make decisions that help our bodies be the healthiest they can be.
Another local who helped me see beyond the New York City wellness bubble was Teddy, my tour guide on my once-in-a-lifetime hike to Machu Picchu in Peru. I was there to report on Mountain Lodges of Peru, a tour operator that offers lodge-to-lodge treks through the Andes Mountains. During my trip, Teddy told me that the mountains give him life, and, as such, he doesn’t let a day go by without spending as much time in them as humanly possible.
Teddy’s entire lifestyle, from his daily mountain excursions to his diet—he eats lots of quinoa, sweet potatoes, and ceviche, all mainstays of a Peruvian diet—is the very definition of wellness. Yet he didn’t market himself as a wellness tour guide. He was just Teddy. And even though it’s his job to be in nature, and I can’t speak about what drove him to become a mountain guide, his respect for Mother Earth was infectious. He made me want to make more of an effort to weave the outdoors into my primarily glass-and-asphalt life. Maybe, instead of spending $36 to do a bootcamp class next to the park, I should just take a walk in the park. For free.
These lotions and potions and other such wellness bubble surroundings are artifacts of luxury, not prerequisites for living a healthy life. We don’t have to shell out loads of cash to look and feel our best. We can simply walk more, bike more, swim more, cook more, breathe more. Just be more.
That’s what I’m reminded of when I travel to places where these amenities are not a central focus—or not even available to many people there (as is often the case anywhere other than a booming Western metropolis like mine—including elsewhere in my own country). I know that the ability to travel around the world gleaning wisdom from various communities and people is an incredible privilege, and I appreciate that I even have juice bars and boutique fitness classes to go to in the first place—and the disposable income to choose to spend or not spend while I’m there. And I understand that the Zrinkas and the Jah Bs and and Teddys of the world may not even be able to view their wellness lifestyles as a choice, as I can.
But the truth is, these are choices I have the privilege to make—and with my newfound perspective, I’m choosing to make them. Ever since that life-changing Croatia trip, I’ve cut way back on what I used to consider my wellness “necessities,” though I’ll be the first to admit I still splurge here and there. I’ve stopped buying expensive green smoothies, for the most part, and I try to do more yoga at home now. I also make a point to spend more time outside connecting with nature where I can—yes, even in the middle of Brooklyn or Manhattan—whether it’s going on a run through the park before work, or simply leaving my office building on my lunch break to sit on a bench under a tree instead of busting out yet another sad desk salad.
But mostly, I’ve developed a little voice in my head—I call it my travel voice—that simply knows better. This is the voice that’s always on the outside looking in, the one that’s seen firsthand how others do it, and knows there is another way. So I check in with my travel voice every now and then: Do you approve of this quintessentially New York thing I am about to do? Do you approve of this quintessentially New York purchase I am about to make? More often than not, the answer is no. And so I hold back.
But when it comes to travel, the answer is always yes. I just returned from another trip to Croatia, this time with my fiancé, where I was again reminded that wellness can actually be pretty simple. We swam, we ate fresh food, we soaked up the salt air, and we both returned home feeling healthier than we did when we left—no gym required.
Source : Self