Journey Forth Solo and wellness adventures on the rise

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It was a simple question that was part of the advanced yoga instructor training that Dani Yarusso was studying: What can you do for the community?

What could Yarusso do for her community? It wasn’t as if this was the first time that she had pondered this. The Towson alumna had studied anthropology, traveled to Thailand for a study abroad and had made friends with whom she remains close to this day. Community was important to her. But in her job as a junior loan officer, a job that wasn’t as fulfilling as she had hoped, she wasn’t sure she could make much of an impact.

Yarusso, who was in her early 20s, pitched the idea of a yoga retreat in Costa Rica, a concept she penciled through with some “paper napkin planning” and then put into place with a $500 deposit, the only money she had. Seventeen women signed up, many of whom were her friends and yoga students. Sixteen of them were older than Yarusso.

Dani Yarusso, photo by David Stuck

“I was praying a volcano would erupt and I wouldn’t have to go,” she says. But the trip went well, and Yarusso earned enough money to put down the deposit for a second trip, this time to Greece. By the start of 2019, she had led 12 wellness trips around the world through her company, Arrow Retreats. So far, women have been her primary travelers, which doesn’t surprise her.

“Women are trending now,” Yarusso says. “Solo travel is big, and women like it because no one has the same time off as their friends or family.”

Indeed, one in four travelers is a solo traveler, according the U.S. Travel Association, which tracks travel patterns within this country for its Domestic Travel Market Report, and of all solo travelers, 53 percent are women. Some of these solo explorers are actually traveling for business or to see family, but many are enjoying a leisure trip.

Some who book a trip through Arrow Retreats find planning to be overwhelming and like Yarusso’s attention to details. (Each day has a color theme, for example, and a special party marks the end of the journey.) Most don’t know each other before they embark on self-discovery in India or Croatia.

“By the end, the whole group is like a group of best friends,” she says.

Anywhere from 10 to 20 women go; many are new to yoga, which has evolved to become one entry point for these journeys but certainly not the only activity. Plus, the yoga is more about “the mindset than the physical practice,” Yarusso says. And much like the question that led her to create Arrow Retreats, she asks trip participants, “Who do you want to become?”

“Often, a trip leads to changes in their life,” she says, which doesn’t surprise her. “They love themselves more.” In fact, some find love after they return home; others find new careers.

A typical trip day starts with an hour of yoga, a conversation with a discussion partner and journaling to build affirmation, “which is very yoga, I know,” Yarusso says. “But the rest of the day is pure adventure and pure fun.” Each retreat sees two to three returning participants; the average participant is in her 30s, but travelers have ranged in age from 20 to 60. The cost usually comes in under $3,000 not including travel, which means the final cost is less than $4,000. That was important to Yarusso, who wanted to volunteer globally after college, “but I didn’t have $5,000.”

The bigger trend
The popularity of these journeys doesn’t surprise Yajin Wang, a marketing professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business who studies branding, luxury consumerism and the roots of modern behavior. Experience is the new symbol of status, she says, and social media backs this up.

When an Instagram user posts a photo of her brand new Louis Vuitton bag, for example, Wang says she is likely to earn fewer likes for that post than for a photo of her adventurous trip, in part because it’s seen as bragging. But also anyone can buy an expensive handbag, she continues, but travel takes time and knowledge. Trips to rare places with limited access, such as the South Pole, convey savvy because the traveler is journeying somewhere that not everyone can go.

Today’s shoppers are “sophisticated consumers” who incorporate experience into their lifestyle. In addition to trips, that also includes enjoying gourmet food and good wine. While the consumption of luxury goods can be evenly divided between men and women consumers, “who is buying them” may begin to shift, Wang says.

Consider fine jewelry, a luxury item that was often purchased by a man for a wife or girlfriend, and its advertisements often showed a couple to “convey the perfect gift.” Jewelry upstart Light Box, which sells lab-created diamonds, launched into the market with a promotion campaign that did not feature any men, sending a message that their product is one that women can buy for their mothers, daughters and even themselves.

“Women are having more buying power now,” Wang says.

Her colleague Rebecca Ratner, also a marketing professor at the University of Maryland, agrees that for female consumers are speaking up and pursuing different activities. “I think that the #MeToo movement revealed a strong desire of women to stand up and be heard,” she says. “There was some of this reflected in the Lean In ideas proposed by Sheryl Sandberg, but the #MeToo movement suggested an even stronger desire to be taken seriously and not treated as lesser than men. Activities that bring women together and build their skills together tap into this need.”

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