America's Healthiest Vacations

Sewall House

Some people dream of touring ancient ruins, modern cities or the great art museums of the world.

Sarah Damsky, a 30-year-old social worker now living in London, loves doing all those things on vacation, but often returns exhausted.

So when Damsky went on a yoga retreat to Vieques, Puerto Rico, she found she was "refreshed" and better able to tackle her everyday life.

Damsky is among a group of travelers who don't just look to sit on the beach -- although there can be plenty of that too -- but to be active and learn something new and healthy while on vacation. Some women on her trip converted to vegetarianism after enjoying a week of well-prepared meatless meals. (Damsky was already one.) Most travelers returned with new friends and new knowledge that they have since incorporated into their everyday lives.

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"You come back from the yoga retreats refreshed," she said, adding that she learned, for instance, "the benefits of taking 15 minutes to meditate in the morning before checking Facebook."

Heath-focused trips can teach travelers how to relax, how to eat better or even lose weight.

Trip operators say that people today are seeking more out of their vacations. They aren't just looking for that postcard-perfect picture but also a life-changing experience, something to better themselves when they are back home or in the office.

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There are countless yoga retreats from the mountains to the Caribbean to Mexico. But Sidney Pinkerton, manager of 7 Centers Yoga Arts in Sedona, Ariz., says there is nothing quite like the desert.

She calls Sedona "a very magical place" and has seen a "tremendous increase" in the number of people looking for retreats. (Her 30-day programs tend to focus more on people looking to earn their instructor certifications, although there are shorter classes available.)

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"People are looking at their lives through a different lens these days and looking for things that are not just good for them but good for the planet," Pinkerton said. "Nature is the best soother and can help put things back in perspective."

Donna Sewall Davidge owns Sewall House Yoga Retreat in Maine with her husband Kent Bonham, the chef and resident musician.

For 13 years they have been mixing yoga instructions with hikes, bicycling and kayaking from their 1865 bed and breakfast. Part of their job involves teaching meditation and yoga techniques. But they also offer three very healthy vegetarian meals a day.

"People often think vegetarian has to be complicated or boring," she said.

Rates range from $135 to $210 a night, depending on one's length of stay and the number of people in a room.

Davidge said a lot of their success has to do with the setting. The house, which belonged to her great-grandfather, sits on the edge of a state park. It hosted a young Theodore Roosevelt.

People who are changing careers or have recently lost a job will often come to such retreats to gain perspective, she said. One woman came to Sewall House after leaving a job in publishing. She now works at an orphanage in Cambodia.

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