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Stephanie Durst

Westbury, New York Travel Agent

Transformational and Wellness Travel

The transformational potential of travel became clear to me soon after the trauma of 9/11 in a meeting with the director of a Miraval Spa. We were talking about the life-changing potential of travel and particularly wellness vacations. Coming on the heels of the chaos, devastation and stress everyone was feeling after the September 11 attacks, it really hit home. And because I have health issues, it’s been very important to take care of myself.

I began visiting destination spas, which are interesting in terms of transformational travel because they cater to luxury travelers who want to push the envelope or work on issues, weight, addictions or just bettering themselves. Miraval and Canyon Ranch are the best known, but there are wonderful spas around the world, and finding the right fit is really important.

In many places, cultural and indigenous influences help drive the experience. For example, India is about vegetarian food, meditation and yoga as well as the gentle spirit of the people. In Europe, there is a spa in Spain with a severe diet while in Italy, the focus is on great food and wine as well as the natural mineral baths, water therapy, and getting outside and hiking in the fresh air.

In Thailand, it is more about massage. The therapists are so well trained and gentle. The cuisine will be local and healthy, and you learn to use spices to make it delicious. Thailand is also very spiritual, although in a more subtle way than India, where meditation can be an intense part of the experience.

Even in the U.S., there can be cultural influences. For example, at Miraval in Arizona, there are treatments that are indigenous to the desert climate and they bring in a Native American spirituality. Canyon Ranch, on the other hand, is for Type A people who want to work out hard; unlike Miraval, there’s no alcohol, although both offer great, healthy cuisine.

As a spa specialist, I often go on training familiarization trips where we learn about treatments and how to put together programs based on what our clients are telling us. For example, there are programs for people in remission from cancer, for those who just want to veg or have a fun girlfriend getaway. Sometimes the spa is secondary to exploring a great city or place, so an intense program that could bring up emotions might not be desirable. 

I’ve learned that I really have to listen carefully to help my clients find the right spa and program for their needs.  I have a BA in psychology and I love that in a way, I am able to combine my love for helping people with my career in travel.  

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