The well-traveled guide to 2018
As wellness enters the mainstream, the tourism industry is doubling down on ways travelers can take their healthy habits on the road. And we're not just talking about hotel gyms and in-room massages; destinations around the globe are including cutting-edge treatments, holistic practices, and even mystical modalities (hello, shamanic healing) in their offerings. Whether you're seeking a really good sweat or want to experience truly restful sleep, here are five emerging wellness trends that will have you feeling good—no matter where you go.
Shamanic Healing Leaves the Fringe
The peaceful cenote-side digs at Chablé Resort
It's not just people backpacking through South America who are raving about shamanic ceremonies; today, some of the most elevated spa programs in the world are incorporating the ancient practice into their menus for next-level healing.
The Yucatán Peninsula's recently opened Chablé Resort (built around a cenote, a natural sinkhole believed by the Mayans to be a sacred power source) brought in a shaman to devise its wellness treatments, which include janzu water massages and temazcal (or Mayan sweat lodge) ceremonies alongside more Western-style facials and body work—all performed by therapists clad in linen jumpsuits from Mexico City–based designer Bianca Bejos. “What makes shamanism such a powerful wellness tool is that it's rooted in nature," says Chablé's spa director, Carmelina Montelongo. “The main reaction from our guests to shamanic treatments is curiosity at the beginning and the feeling of surprise by the end, when they discover another way of life and guidance to go back to the original form of all things."
A singing bowl treatment at Faena Hotel Miami Beach
Stateside, the Tierra Santa Healing House at Faena Hotel Miami Beach also consulted with a shaman while drawing up its wellness menu. The brightly decorated 22,000-square-foot sanctuary offers palo santo and singing bowl treatments and a fully appointed wet spa whose centerpiece is a göbek taşi—a raised platform common in Turkish baths—made of Amazonite stone.
For a complete energy reboot, book a session with Jon Rasmussen, the resident shaman at Post Ranch Inn. Drums, feathers, and chanting abound, yes, but the mystical tools he uses differ depending on the “journey." No matter the implements on hand, don't be surprised if your 90 minutes ends with a tear-filled breakthrough—or just the uncanny feeling that an invisible weight's been lifted off your shoulders.
The healing waters at Chablé
Art Therapy Gets Its Due
Art therapy has long been deployed as a tool for stress relief, but you no longer have to fit your brushes and easel into your suitcase to experience it when you're away from home. In addition to its artist-designed rooms and a gallery space programmed by Ryerson University's School of Image Arts, Toronto's Gladstone Hotel offers watercolor and coloring workshops—as well as the longest-running life drawing class in the city, led by Walt Ruston every Wednesday night. (He's been hosting the class for 30 years.)
At Brooklyn's cityWell, a boutique bathhouse spanning the first floor of a charming brownstone building, visitors are encouraged to spend their downtime between steam-room sessions and dips in the outdoor tub putting colored pencil to paper in one of the adult coloring books stacked next to fashion magazines.
This pastime isn't exclusive to hipsters, either; the Mandarin Oriental's digital wellness program, developed with the help of the Mayo Clinic, includes coloring sheets in select spa relaxation rooms, with the goal of getting guests to spend less time on their phones pre- and post-facial. In cities like Las Vegas, where distractions abound, it's a serene yet nonetheless entertaining respite. “Holistic benefits include a still and calm mind," says Jennifer Lynn, the senior director of spa and wellness for the Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas. “These mindful exercises in which we focus our attention inward help us to stop the mental chatter and create space for clearheaded thoughts."
Silence Is the New Luxury
Eremito, a wellness "monastery" in Umbria
With the constant buzz of work meetings, subway chatter, and phone notifications, travelers are increasingly seeking out experiences that help block out all the noise—from the literal to the digital.
Villa Stephanie in the German spa town Baden-Baden (less than two hours from Frankfurt) recently introduced what's been dubbed a “kill switch," allowing exhausted visitors to turn off the internet in their room with the press of a button. “As noise pollution is a modern thing, there's a growing demand for places that offer quiet reflection," says Bärbel Göhner, the resort's head of communications. “Silence is a constant companion at Villa Stephanie."
Other than at check-in and while ordering at the restaurant, the only sound you'll hear at Silent Spa at Therme Laa, located about an hour outside Vienna, is running water. The recently opened space discourages guests from small talk while soaking in its dramatic pools.
And for a truly noise-free experience, book a stay at a wellness “monastery" like Eremito in Umbria, Italy. The getaway takes its code of silence quite seriously, swapping out religious prayer (the property is, in fact, a former monastery) for meditation, yoga, and hikes through its 7,000 acres. The austere, stone-walled buildings may tempt you to whip out your phone to post mid-contemplation photos on Instagram, but don't bother—there's no Wi-Fi or phone signal on the premises. Luckily, a 2013 Duke University study found that two hours of silence a day boost cell development in the region of the brain related to memory, so your mental snapshot of the restful vacation will actually be even more vivid.
Eremito's austere interior
A Good Night's Sleep Goes Next Level
A room at the Six Senses Douro Valley in Portugal
It's not just your waking hours that can be optimized. An increasing number of destinations are focusing on sleep time as a way to maximize wellness, and with the CDC estimating that one in three Americans don't get enough sleep (and 50 to 70 million struggle with some kind of disorder), the programs on offer go way beyond your typical turn-down service.
At many Six Senses locations, including in the Douro Valley, Portugal, guests looking to fine-tune their zzz's can take a pre-visit online questionnaire developed by renowned clinical psychologist Dr. Michael J. Breus, which not only entitles them to an individual assessment (with spa treatment suggestions included) but also to a dedicated Sleep Ambassador who preps their room and checks in daily to provide support in case, say, their handmade lambswool mattress isn't quite right. The aim is to impart habits that can be replicated anywhere—even if you live on the noisiest of streets. “It's impossible to help others toward wellness goals without having sleep be a critical factor," says Dr. Breus. “We wanted to help people learn how to get [truly amazing] sleep when at home or during other travel."
Similarly, the Rest & Renew program at New York City's The Benjamin proffers a curated range of pillows (selected according to preferred sleep position) and access to a support team 24/7, and all Conrad Hotel & Resorts guests can avail themselves of an extensive pillow menu.
If you're truly looking to reset your nighttime habits, however, opt for a multiday sleep retreat at one of the locations of U.K. luxury spa-hotel Champneys. Between the treatment sessions and aromatherapy massages, good sleep habits just might be the souvenir you take back with you.
Sauna Spaces Get Dramatic
Helsinki's newly opened Löyly sauna complex
The health benefits of sauna—from moderating blood pressure to reducing the risk of Alzheimer's—are impressive, but the sweat-inducing spaces themselves are now providing the real “wow" factor.
In Finland, where it's estimated that there are 3.3 million saunas for a population of just 5.5 million, Löyly stands out for its breathtaking, undulating structure, perched on the edge of the Baltic Sea in Helsinki. Behind the wooden slats—all made from sustainable materials in what is the country's first FSC-certified building—are three different saunas, a Scandinavian minimalist-chic relaxation room, a restaurant that serves locally sourced dishes like reindeer fillet and roasted celeriac soup, and a swimming area to cool off in the sea itself. (Despite its modern appearances, Löyly sticks to local tradition in winter and drills a hole in the ice for year-round dips.) “All Finns have a sauna at home, however, up until now, tourists visiting Helsinki haven't really been able to experience a true, traditional Finnish sauna with all of the key elements," says Jasper Pääkkönen, an actor who, along with parliament member Antero Vartia, opened Löyly in 2016. “Our modest aim was to build the mother of all saunas, kind of like a flagship of what is so extremely important to all Finns."
Not to be outdone, the Norwegians offer a place to reboot your lymphatic system while soaking up the local arts scene with Salt, a nomadic, 54,000-square-foot installation that is stationed in Oslo through October 2018 (the island of Sandhornøya, located north of the Arctic Circle, was its previous home). The largest of the A-frame buildings, inspired by traditional fish-drying racks and designed by Sami Rintala, holds drop-in hours on the weekend—but if the mere thought of going shirtless beside 99 strangers is enough to make you sweat, you can book a two-hour private session in one of the other smaller sauna spaces. No matter where you sit, you'll enjoy direct views of the city's famed opera house.
And it's not only Scandinavia that has a lock on impressive thermotherapy spaces. Nordik Spa-Nature, just 20 minutes north of Ottawa, Ontario, boasts seven dry saunas, two wet steam saunas, and four cold plunge pools on its sprawling, often snow-covered property.
Löyly's chic and sustainable wooden slat design
Canada's largest city spreads out along the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario, and it's a dynamic, multicultural and inclusive experience like almost no other place on earth. Not only is Toronto a thriving living city,it's also become one of the world's truly must-visit destinations. Regularly ranked as one of the greatest places to live, Toronto is the cultural center of the country and home to the biggest events, the most pro sports and the greatest concentration of theaters and restaurants.
Recent decades have seen regular multi-million-dollar upgrades to the city's public spaces, with a slew of great museums, iconic architecture and the redevelopment of the now glittering lakefront adding to the city's appeal.
Add in an ever-growing number of world-class hotels, upbeat nightlife that runs from dusk until dawn and a vibrant and diverse culinary scene influenced by the eclectic makeup of the city's people. Bright and bustling, cosmopolitan and cultured, unpredictable and energetic, Toronto has become one of the greatest cities on earth.
What you see and where you go will depend on the length of your stay. A week is good, longer is better. But even a long weekend will give you a taste of 'The Six' — one of the city's many nicknames, reworked recently as 'The 6ix' by one of its most famous sons, Drake.
However long you stay, you can't hope to see it all. So, consider what follows a starting point for your first visit…
City Hall, Toronto
The checklist sites
No visit to The Six can be considered complete without ticking off several of Toronto's true heavyweight sights. All of the following are in or within easy reach of the city's compact, walk-able and very vibrant center.
The CN Tower is unmissable in every sense, a vast freestanding spire that looks down upon the city and takes its place as one of the 'Seven Wonders of the Modern World'. Head up for the city's best 360-degree views, or get your heart racing on the EdgeWalk — a journey around the circumference of the tower's main pod, 116 stories high and tethered by a harness.
Back on solid ground, Ripley's Aquarium is almost right next door to the CN Tower and is home to 16,000 aquatic animals and the Dangerous Lagoon. A moving sidewalk that whisks you through a long tunnel surrounded by sharks and stingrays is guaranteed to make your heart race all over again.
Also close to the CN Tower is the Rogers Center, home to Canada's only baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays. Visit on game day for the full experience, or take the stadium tour to go behind the scenes and through closed doors.
In a city of so many museums and galleries, the Royal Ontario Museum stands out. Not just because it's home to a world-class collection of 13 million artworks, cultural objects and natural history specimens, but as much because it hosts exciting Friday night events that include dance, drink and top DJs.
Two other must ticks include the Art Gallery of Ontario, which houses 95,000 works of art and is free for visitors under 25, and the Hockey Hall of Fame, which taps into Canada's national obsession in stunning depth.
Art Gallery of Ontario
Casa Loma is a must-visit Gothic castle in the heart of the city. North America's only castle is filled with artworks and treasures from Canada and beyond, but its big pull is the network of hidden tunnels to explore as they stretch out beneath the city.
Toronto's multi-cultural makeup is visible all across the city but reflected best in its remarkable culinary scene (see Where to eat and drink). The city's 'fresh and local' mantra is perfectly showcased at St. Lawrence Market, one of the world's greatest food experiences. Pay it a visit and grab a peameal bacon sandwich — a Canadian staple invented in Toronto and now considered the city's signature dish.
St. Lawrence Market
Afterwards, walk off the calories by wandering the historic cobblestone and car-free Distillery District. Once a vast whiskey distillery and an important spot during prohibition, historians mention that even Al Capone would visit the Distillery to load alcohol destined for the States . This iconic landmark now distils creativity within the 19th century buildings now home to hip restaurants, bars, independent boutique stores, galleries and theaters. Visit in December for the Toronto Christmas Market.
Finally, don't even think about returning home without having had a picture taken with your head poking through an 'O' of the multicolored, 3D Toronto sign at City Hall — the most Insta-worthy location in a city of so many. You'll need to head there early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
If you stay long enough, take a ferry and hop across to Toronto Islands, a chain of 15 small islands in Lake Ontario just south of the mainland. They're home to beaches, a theme park and a breathtaking view of the city's skyline and will very happily fill a full day of your stay.
The bucket list
You absolutely cannot leave Toronto without having witnessed the power of the Niagara Falls and its hypnotic mist up close. Trying to visit the Falls from the States is a trip on its own, but it's almost non-optional when you're less than two hours away in Toronto. Take the trip, buy the T-shirt and tick off one of the world's must-see sights.
Explore like a local
Away from the sleek, gleaming towers of downtown lie many of Toronto's less obvious but no less essential attractions. West Queen West is Toronto's hippest neighborhood and artistic heart, a one-mile strip of very chic galleries, stores, restaurants and boutique hotels. Kensington Market is a fantastically chaotic neighborhood and perhaps the best example of the city's famous multiculturalism. It's not a market as the name implies, but a collection of independent shops, vintage boutiques, art spaces, cafés, bars and restaurants from every corner of the globe.
The Bata Shoe Museum is one of the city's quirkiest collections, an unexpectedly fascinating exhibit that retraces the 4,500-year history of footwear. And as you wander the city, you can't fail to notice that Toronto's walls are alive with graffiti. Take a free 90-minute walking tour through the back alleys of Queen Street West and down Graffiti Alley to gain a better understanding of the city's street art scene. If you visit during the sunnier months, escape the hustle by heading just east of the center to High Park, the green heart of the city where forests, walking trails, picnic spots and even a zoo await you. Ideal to unwind after a long day of urban adventures.
When to go With the sun shining, May through October is a great time to visit, but the city is alive through all four seasons. The Spring and Autumn months are ideal as the humidity and visitor numbers are lighter, while Toronto comes alive through the colder months through a wide array of winter celebrations. One of the most spectacular is the Aurora Winter Festival, a six-week celebration that sees the Ontario Place, West Island transformed into four mystical worlds. Whichever season you choose, plan to stay for at least five nights to get a true flavor of the city.
Toronto skyline view
Where to stay To be at the heart of most of the attractions you'll want to see, aim for downtown. One of the best options is the Marriott City Center, not only because it's located right next to the CN Tower but also because it's attached to the iconic Rogers Center where the Toronto Blue Jays play and countless concerts and popular events are held.
Toronto Blue Jay stadium
Opt for a Stadium room and you'll look out onto the field. If you want to experience Toronto's non-stop nightlife, the Entertainment District is the place to be. If you're looking for a luxury experience, discover Canada's first St. Regis hotel in the heart of downtown.
Where to eat and drink Nowhere is Toronto's incredible diversity more evident than in its food scene — taste Toronto and you're tasting the world. The city is brimming with restaurants and cafés serving everything from high-end fine dining to comfort food from an informal neighborhood joint — plus every option imaginable in between.
For fine dining, consider Alo, Canis and Edulis. Book a table at Canoe, Lavelle, The One Eighty or 360 at the CN Tower and you're guaranteeing a view as spectacular as the food. Or experience the city's remarkable fusion food at DaiLo (French-Cantonese), El Catrin (Mexican-French) and the unexpected mashup of Rasta Pasta (Jamaican-Italian).
The above suggestions don't even scratch the surface of a food scene to rival any city on earth, with options to suit every taste and any budget.
How to get around Toronto is perfect to explore on foot or via a growing network of cycle routes. For a quicker journey, buy a Presto card to use the TTC, Toronto's subway, streetcar and bus system.
How to get there Fly into Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) with United and you're around 15 miles west of the city center. The most comfortable route in is via the Union Pearson Express, which runs every 15 minutes and gets you downtown in 25 minutes ($13).The TTC is a cheaper option at under $5, but it can take an hour and a half and involves a number of transfers, while a taxi will take around 30 minutes and cost $45.
United flies to Toronto from numerous U.S. cities including our Hub city locations. Book your trip via united.com or by downloading the United app.
Around the web
Following the devastating wildfires in Australia and powerful earthquakes that shook Puerto Rico last week, we're taking action to make a global impact through our international partnerships as well as nonprofit organizations Afya Foundation and ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency).
Helping Puerto Rico recover from earthquakes
Last week, Puerto Rico was hit with a 5.2 magnitude earthquake, following a 6.4 magnitude earthquake it experienced just days before. The island has been experiencing hundreds of smaller quakes during the past few weeks.
These earthquakes destroyed crucial infrastructure and left 4,000 people sleeping outside or in shelters after losing their homes. We've donated $50,000 to our partner charity organization Airlink and through them, we've helped transport disaster relief experts and medical supplies for residents, as well as tents and blankets for those who have lost their homes. Funding will go towards organizations within Airlink's partner network, which includes Habitat for Humanity, Mercy Corps and Americares, to help with relief efforts and long-term recovery.
Australian wildfire relief efforts
Our efforts to help Australia have inspired others to make their own positive impact. In addition to teaming up with Ellen DeGeneres to donate $250,000 and launching a fundraising campaign with GlobalGiving to benefit those impacted by the devastating wildfires in the country known for its open spaces and wildlife, our cargo team is helping to send more than 600 pounds of medical supplies to treat injured animals in the region.
Helping us send these supplies is the Afya Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit that seeks to improve global health by collecting surplus medical supplies and delivering them to parts of the world where they are most needed. Through Airlink, the Afya Foundation will send more than $18,000 worth of materials that will be used to treat animals injured in the Australian fires.
These medical supplies will fly to Melbourne (MEL) and delivered to The Rescue Collective. This Australian organization is currently focused on treating the massive population of wildlife, such as koalas, kangaroos, and birds, that have had their habitats destroyed by the recent wildfires. The supplies being sent include wound dressings, gloves, catheters, syringes and other items that are unused but would otherwise be disposed of.
By working together, we can continue to make a global impact and help those affected by natural disasters to rebuild and restore their lives
Australia needs our help as wildfires continue to devastate the continent that's beloved by locals and travelers alike. In times like these, the world gets a little smaller and we all have a responsibility to do what we can.
On Monday, The Ellen DeGeneres Show announced a campaign to raise $5 million to aid in relief efforts. When we heard about Ellen's effort, we immediately reached out to see how we could help.
Today, we're committing $250,000 toward Ellen's campaign so we can offer support now and help with rebuilding. For more on The Ellen DeGeneres Show efforts and to donate yourself, you can visit www.gofundme.com/f/ellenaustraliafund
We're also matching donations made to the Australian Wildfire Relief Fund, created by GlobalGiving's Disaster Recovery Network. This fund will support immediate relief efforts for people impacted by the fires in the form of emergency supplies like food, water and medicine. Funds will also go toward long-term recovery assistance, helping residents recover and rebuild. United will match up to $50,000 USD in donations, and MileagePlus® members who donate $50 or more will receive up to 1,000 award miles from United. Donate to GlobalGiving.
Please note: Donations made toward GlobalGiving's fund are only eligible for the MileagePlus miles match.
In addition to helping with fundraising, we're staying in touch with our employees and customers in Australia. Together, we'll help keep Australia a beautiful place to live and visit in the years to come.