I have always loved to travel, so when I began teaching yoga, I naturally also wanted to lead yoga retreats. Yoga retreats are a great way to share what you love and explore either a brand new place or take participants to your favorite location. They present a beautiful opportunity to bring a group of like-minded people to one destination.
I’ve been on quite a few retreats and I’ve led many of my own. My love for yoga has taken me to Mexico, India, Costa Rica, Peru, Morocco, Dominica, Cambodia, and the list goes on. On paper and on my social media, these experiences might look like they were cleanly executed, smoothly operated, drama-free experiences. The reality is that there were a few stomach viruses, hospital visits, robberies, and missed flights.
On the other end of that, there were plenty of smiles, new friendships, adventures, opportunities for growth, unforgettable moments, breathtaking sights, once in a lifetime experiences, bucket list cross-offs, and so many more positive memories than difficult ones. Looking back, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t change the majority of anything I did. However, there are definitely some major things that I wish I’d done differently, or known about beforehand.
I couldn’t get out of bed for twelve hours straight
Before the start of one retreat, I arrived a few days before the rest of the participants were scheduled to get there. I like to do this so I can get acclimated to the area and learn about certain shops or restaurants. I was staying in a really mellow surf town near the beach and got to know some of the locals. They had mentioned that there was a really bad stomach virus going around and almost everyone in the area was out for a few days at a time with it. I didn’t pay too much attention because I’d never gotten sick in a tropical place before and honestly believed I was somehow immune to whatever was going around.
The next night, I woke up drenched in sweat and realized that I was in fact not immune to what was going around. I’ll spare the details, but it was really bad. Luckily, I had access to fresh coconut water and I also had activated charcoal tablets. I also didn’t have to be anywhere for a day or two, so I had time to allow the virus to pass through me.
A stomach virus, or anything that prevents you from functioning properly, may be unavoidable when you’re on a yoga retreat. You can be prepared for whatever may manifest by:
- Researching local pharmacies near your location in advance
- Packing items like activated charcoal or Imodium
- Talking to locals about how they stay healthy and vibrant
- Exploring local shops with natural remedies
- Arriving a little earlier to adjust to the area
You can’t predict sickness or how anyone will react to local food or water, but you can try your best to be prepared for the worst
My then boyfriend (now ex) had to be rushed to the hospital
This may sound like a no-brainer for some of you, but I had to learn about the importance of travelers insurance the hard way. When I was co-leading another retreat, my boyfriend at the time was on the retreat as a participant. He insisted on getting travelers insurance before we left and I honestly didn’t understand why. I’d already traveled to so many places in the world and I never needed it for anything.
On the retreat, we had a mountain biking adventure scheduled for the participants. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and everyone was really excited. About halfway through the excursion, my then-boyfriend fell off his bike and was injured really badly. Since we were in the mountains, it took a while to get him to a hospital. When we did, he was fully taken care of and all expenses were covered by his travelers insurance.
Whether you’re on an adventure-focused retreat or a leisurely getaway at a resort, it’s important to be prepared for any type of accident by:
- Requiring all participants to obtain travelers insurance. It’s really affordable and it’ll cover most hospital stays, medication, and so much more
- Consider co-leading the retreat with another person in case someone has to travel with an injured participant
- Research where all hospitals or medical centers are located before you arrive
- Make sure all participants sign a liability waiver
- Talk to your point of contact at your destination about the pros and cons of including certain activities
- No one wants to think about someone getting hurt and needing medical attention, but it’s much better to be prepared and informed should something happen
I barely missed an armed robbery
You can be in one of the safest cities in the world and still experience crime. This specific retreat was a little “off the beaten path” and a short bike ride away from some secluded beaches and cute cafes. On some retreats, there may be free time where nothing is scheduled and you have an opportunity to leave the group and go off on your own. One night, a few participants went out to explore the beach but I was too tired and decided to stay in.
Two of the people came back telling the group they were robbed at gunpoint and their wallets, phones, and passports were stolen. Everyone was okay and their passports were recovered, but no one wants to experience something like that on a yoga retreat!
Some big safety rules that I follow when traveling alone and also when bringing groups of people on retreats are:
- Never carry anything valuable with you and leave all important items in your locations safe or with someone who is staying at the retreat center
- Don’t assume that quiet and secluded spots are safe because they’re in a touristy area
- Make copies of your passport, drivers license, and any other important documents in case any of them are lost or stolen
- Encourage participants to stay with the group
- Create a “Things To Know” document for your participants and include safety information about the area
We don’t live in a perfect world, but you can create a safe environment for your retreat if you provide the right information and encourage your participants to stay safe.
I lost my wallet at the airport
I used to pride myself on being incredibly organized and being a really smart traveler. I’d never lost anything in another country and I’d always been really efficient at every airport I’d ever been to. When I was boarding my flight back home, I reached into my bag for my wallet only to realize it wasn’t there.
Despite getting to the airport three hours early, there were a ton of delays at check-in and throughout each security checkpoint. I thought I was going to miss my flight, but I made it to the gate right on time. I was out of breath, sweaty, and not the way I wanted to feel post-yoga retreat when I realized my wallet was gone. I’d left it at one of the security checkpoints and luckily, the pilot told me I had time to run and get it.
You, or your retreat participants, can be organized and still misplace or lose something. Airport stress, crowded marketplaces, new cities, and outdoor adventures can cause anyone to feel really frazzled. Some tips to avoid losing important things are:
- Try not to carry too many bags and encourage your participants to pack light
- Have a designated place for items like your wallet, passport, and boarding passes
- Arrive as early as you can to your scheduled flights and any excursions
- Tell someone you trust where you have your valuables
- Remind participants that they’re responsible for their own personal belongings, but be prepared to help if someone loses something important. You may have to talk to airport security or hotel managers
I wouldn’t have left my wallet like that if I had a specific spot for it and if I were a little more calm. A lot of unnecessary travel anxiety can be avoided if you prepare, stay organized, and arrive early.
Remember to have fun
The biggest mistake I’ve ever made on a yoga retreat was forgetting to take some deep breaths and have a good time. It’s easy to get caught up in logistics, everyone’s unique needs, jetlag, and everything else that comes with traveling. As a yoga retreat leader, I always want everyone to have a good time and I want everything to run as smoothly as possible. Sometimes things go as planned, and sometimes they don’t.
Yoga has taught me to take any mishaps and figure out how to switch gears and make it work. I’ve learned to prepare but not be too attached to plans. I’ve also learned that I need to let go of expectations and enjoy my time when things run smoothly. The opportunity to travel and practice yoga in beautiful places is truly a gift and I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!
— Written by our 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training mentor and Ayurveda Coach, Lisa Bermudez