5 Lessons I Learned on My First Wellness Retreat

I'm the kind of person who's always on the move. Most days start with me running to a workout and end with me foam rolling on my living room floor. So you can imagine that when I go on vacation, I look for some sort of escape that incorporates activities. Still, for years now, something has prevented me from pulling the trigger on a wellness retreat. With all of the promises of kumbaya vibes and endless amounts of yoga and green juice, the idea of a trip entirely dedicated to a zen sort of active just didn't jive well with me.

But then, I heard about the CamelBak Pursuit Series. The three-day program, which is a BYOT situation (that's bring your own tent, for newbies), is essentially 72 hours filled with every outdoor activity possible. Hiking, trail running, surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, mountain biking, kayaking, you name it, plus seminars on all things outdoors, including first aid, camp cooking, photography, and astronomy. It's not that the froufrou retreats didn't entice me a little, but as an avid runner and CrossFitter, the Pursuit Series felt true to my personality; it had that little extra edge I was looking for.

Would it be everything I'd hoped for? Would my camping skills be just as outstanding as they were circa that 2001 family vacation? There was only one way to find out. Here are five major lessons I learned from my first wellness weekend.

1. Fun things happen when you take risks.

The thing about spending 72 hours in the woods is that you're not entirely sure what to expect. Still, I went into the whole thing with an open mind and was pleasantly surprised by what happened when I let my guard down.

As much as I want to be a go-with-the-flow kind of lady, I like having a schedule and sticking to it. Lucky for me, we had a schedule for the weekend jam-packed with fit-ivities, but a lot of them were things outside of my normal. Trail running, something I've only dabbled in a few times, had me exhausted about four minutes into our first hill. Still, I felt proud every time I made it to a peak, even if I was cruising at an 11-minute pace. I couldn't believe it when I nailed Crow pose on a stand-up paddleboard (ab work, #FTW), and holy crap, riding a wave via surfboard was totally epic. Pushing outside of my comfort zone gave me an endorphin boost that lasted straight through late-night s'mores.

2. Not showering for three (OK, four) days isn't world-ending.

Body wipes and dry shampoo are glorious things. Yes, there were showers available to the participants, but I ended up in the ocean or a lake every evening right before dinnertime, which made me feel like I should embrace the whole "roughing it" thing in full force.

3. Disconnecting is golden.

I went into the weekend knowing that I wanted to put my phone down. Photos, sure. But Instagram? Facebook? Emails? See ya later. Lucky for me, the site of the event helped me stick to my mission. With extremely limited service, I was able to leave my phone behind most of the time and focus on what was happening around me. Disconnecting made me hyperaware of how much I'm truly on my phone on the regular. It also made me aware of how much time both me and my boyfriend typically spend on our phones when we're together. I made an effort to really take advantage of the time together. Listen more intently. Engage with people, even if we'd just met. Ask more questions. Overall, a more active approach to embracing my environment encouraged me to disconnect more often. In the few days since the wellness weekend, I've made an effort to keep my phone stashed when I'm commuting from point A to point B.

4. There is nothing better than not worrying about what you're wearing.

Confession: being a Spin instructor in my free time means I have to be pretty conscious of what I look like when I'm heading to my workout. You always want to look like you've got it together when you're encouraging people to reach their personal bests. In the woods, though, it's a whole other ballgame. I essentially wore the same Icebreaker t-shirt and Lululemon leggings the entire weekend without regrets (I have the tee's odor-resistant tech to thank). I also have the chill vibes of being outdoors to be grateful for. The whole weekend was about being comfortable in your own skin and celebrating what you're capable of. For me, it was a nice reminder that the right gear can help you do anything you set your mind to.

5. Hanging with like-minded people is bomb dot com.

I've been on my fair share of vacations where the people around me are, in a word, annoying. I distinctly remember one trip to the Bahamas where my friends and I would run into obnoxiously loud boozehounds by the pool every. single. day. I digress. The magic about wellness retreats is that everyone around you has a shared interest in being active. Instantly, whether you're biking in the woods or tackling your first wave, you have something in common. The ice is broken. Smiles are constant. That feeling of community is one that you don't get on a typical family vacation on the beach. That feeling of community is what would hands-down make me sign up for another wellness weekend, STAT.

Travel and expenses for the author were provided by OutsidePR for the purpose of writing this story.