The room was so cool and quiet and the bed so comfortable that I overslept, waking with only 10 minutes to throw on my yoga clothes, grab a handful of berries, a bottle of water and head down to the open-air studio by the beach.
I didn’t even think about skipping the morning yoga class, despite having to rush there. Somehow, after a lifetime of trying, there was just no way I was going to miss that outdoor yoga class I planned to attend at the Rixos Bab al Bahr, on Ras Al Khaimah’s Marjan Island. Instead of giving myself a break and snoozing lazily only to regret it later, I realized that I’m now firmly “one of those people” I never used to understand: the sort who actually likes to be active on holiday.
Even more transformative, not once during my stay at the Rixos did I take advantage of the resort’s “all you can drink” package, standard for all guests. (Which surely would have contributed to the missed yoga class). I didn’t even want to join the other adults taking advantage, clutching their adult beverages by the pool. Nor did I eat my weight in deep-fried food or indulge in dessert while I was there, waving away the bloating and heaviness as temporary and telling myself that I’d be back at a healthy regime by Monday, as I have through all previous decades of my life.
I’m not sure why or how so many of us came to associate holiday time as a license for gorging and lounging with reckless abandon. I guess for me, it started back in my university days and a trip to Cancun, Mexico. It was one long party there, that’s for sure, without so much as a short walk to a local ruin. The ensuing years were much the same, with weeks spent overindulging in a variety of exotic locales. Coming from Canada, it would be a few years before I made it to Europe. And it was on my first trip there, in 2001, that I realized how good it felt to walk all day, how possible it was to sample the local food lightly and sparingly, knowing I was on a budget and had another big day of sightseeing was ahead, and how lovely it was to return home and to work after three weeks lighter, both mentally and physically refreshed, and not in need of a detox.
I’ve long been a “healthy” person, one who liked good, whole food and regular exercise. Yet is was a lifestyle that I sandwiched in between unhealthy vacations and many less-than-wholesome weekends. I started experimenting with a different way in 2010, when I went to a two-week yoga retreat to Ulpotha in Sri Lanka, which coincidentally was the last time I went a whole day without seeing my phone). A few years later I spent a week on a detox – exercising and relaxing from sunrise to sunset – at Chiva Som in Thailand. Shortly after it was Ananda Spa in the Himalayas. All three getaways were utterly transformative, and after Ananda, I vowed it was going to be different.
And as time has gone on, I’m now seeking out active holidays where I can push myself further and further. Just like a person who was overweight doesn’t realize how much easier life can be when some of those pounds come off — and I’ve had this experience too — you don’t realize how much better an active vacation is until you’ve been able to experience it.
Now I don’t even want to have an unhealthy week or even weekend: It’s just crossed over in to the “unfun” category. The pain — even of eating heavy food and lots of sugar, not to mention mood-lowering alcohol — is not longer worth the recovery time.
People might be surprised that I’m using Rixos — a brand more synonymous with partying than most — as an example of a healthy option. But it’s one of the only resorts in the country that offers a full daily roster of fitness classes, including spinning, boxing, weights and a very popular noon Zumba class in the pool, so it’s actually well-suited to healthy-minded travelers. Every one of the restaurants offers healthy options for meals, too, and we navigated this quite happily during our stay. Lunch was a light and crisp margarita pizza paired with a caprese salad for lunch at Olive, slow-cooked octopus with sweet potato puree, caper salsa and sea fennel and marinated sea bass with artichoke tartare for dinner at Sea See. At the fresh and full Turkish breakfast the next morning, my second helping of warm Simit dipped in honey was — as it should be — entirely guilt-free. I’m not the only person interested in an active holiday, either: the 650-room, all-inclusive resort is revamping itself as a destination for active guests, and boosting the sustainability across its operations, too.
Last autumn I attended a physical and mental detox weekend in Ras Al Khaimah, which included a very challenging five-hour morning hike. That was the impetus for my most recent – and toughest – active holiday to date: Six days with Intrepid Travel spent hiking the gorgeous Turkish coastline along the Lycian Way.
In the past this kind of thing would have been my nightmare: eight hours per day of hot and rocky hiking, much of it uphill. And during the first two days, there were more than a few moments where I found myself fantasizing about lying down on a beach somewhere. But by the third day, there was no turning back. I now count that time, in Turkey’s stunning scenery, with other adventurous, athletic types, with breaks swimming in the chilly, turquoise waters with mountains and islands all around, as among the best in my life.
I know that I used to sneer at people like me, which is why I understand those who act like I’d opted to spend a week at a gulag when I tell them about my Turkey trip.
That’s okay, because when I waited in Istanbul for my connecting flight back home to Abu Dhabi, rather than being exhausted and full-of-dread, I can only describe my mood as euphoric. Excited about getting back to regular life, and rejuvenated mind, body and soul? That’s my kind of post-holiday vibration.
Ann Marie McQueen
Ann Marie McQueen is the founding editor-in-chief of Livehealthy and host of The Livehealthy Podcast. She is a veteran Canadian digital journalist who has worked in North America and the Middle East. Her past roles include features editor for The National, trends writer and columnist for the Canadian newspaper chain Sun Media, and correspondent for CBC Radio.