“Always seeking inspiration and self-awareness,” is how Melisse Gelula describes her travel style, but the same could probably be said of how she moves through life. The Co-Founder of award-winning media company Well+Good is one of the USA’s most sought-after wellness experts, and she was named one of the ‘9 Most Creative Entrepreneurs’ by Inc. Magazine. Her latest project, The Well+Good Cookbook, is a fit foodie’s dream, featuring more than a hundred recipes from wellness luminaries like Marie Kondo and Venus Williams. We chat with Melisse about her favourite destinations, discuss the quirkiest wellness therapies she’s tried, and find out how she disconnects when she’s on a retreat.
What’s your favourite kind of destination? I really love forests — tropical rainforests, evergreen forests, it doesn’t matter. For me, it’s about the feeling of being totally surrounded by nature, and the perspective you get on a hike with towering trees around you. This summer my spouse Tif and I hit the hiking bucket list—we hiked to Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan, Mount Abang in Bali, and a gorgeous ocean trail in Noosa, Australia.
When it comes to wellness retreats, what are you looking for? I ask a lot from a wellness retreat! I’ve been lucky to visit great places around the world for Well+Good and before that, for Luxury SpaFinder Magazine, where I reported on spa and wellness destinations. I am definitely a tough customer. These days I gravitate toward places that have created a really special wellness experience so I can go deep, ideally set in a place that oozes in natural beauty. What I’ve realised through curating great wellness experiences is it’s about the people who bring the retreat and the philosophy behind it to life. You can’t always judge by the price tag of a retreat. One hack I have is to ask to see actual dining menus and fitness schedules when they’re not available online, because next-level healthy food and really great fitness are important to me, especially as someone who has access to these things at home New York City. Finding the two together is tough—fine dining still wins out at a lot of places. Add in some PhD-level healing or bodywork treatments, and some innovative mental wellness practices, and I’m in heaven.
Managing our phone use is a practice for us all now. I have literally had to remind myself, “Your job this afternoon is to sit on the beach and stare at the waves!”Melisse Gelula
Which wellness retreats you’ve visited really stand out to you? Some of my favourites are The Ranch Malibu in California, Kamalaya in Koh Samui, The Retreat by Taryn Toomey (she hosts them in different locations around North America and the Caribbean), and Well+Good Retreats, of course. This year we’ve held them all at Miraval spas in Tucson and Austin. I also have a special place in my heart for Rancho La Puerta, in Mexico.
Which wellness retreat or destination is on your bucket list for 2020? I’m dying to go to Japan for the onsen, anywhere in Scandinavia, and places where there are long-standing cultural wellness traditions and practices. Vana in India and Aro Hā in New Zealand are on my list, too. They sound like really forward-thinking programmes.
What are your wellness retreat travel essentials? My travel essentials… making this list, I see that I really need to get better at paring back! Drunk Elephant Sunscreen, Josh Rosebrook Hydration Accelerator, W3LL People Bronzer Stick, Yogi Tea Licorice-Mint, and a really good lip balm. I really lean hard on my Solomon trail runners, Michi high-waisted leggings, and Athleta denim, which has this built-in stretch for plane travel. I love Birkenstocks — I always wear the same one-strap Madrid style, but I have them in white and black. I will pack a few dresses for dinner, choosing fabrics that don’t wrinkle whenever possible, and a look I’m really loving for days in hot places is my Beyond Yoga black romper (it’s great for long-waisted ladies) that I wear with a black-and-white kimono that I recently got in Sydney.
What’s your go-to travel style? I bring a few favourite things and wear them on repeat! A dress from Humanoid and white linen muscle tees got a lot of play this summer.
When you’re on holiday, what are your rules to make sure you really disconnect from work? I try to be really clear about when I’m working and when I’m disconnecting before I go away—this really helps when you’re used to being connected all the time. I’ll designate times for myself to check-in, check email or finish some work; otherwise, I leave my phone in the safe or shut off all push notifications for the rest of the time. If I find I’m reaching for my phone when I’ve set these parameters for myself, it becomes really crystal clear how I’m falling into a bad habit, and worse, using my phone for distraction when I’m on a precious vacation. Managing our phone use is a practice for us all now. I have literally had to remind myself, “Your job this afternoon is to sit on the beach and stare at the waves!”
What’s the weirdest activity or therapy you’ve ever tried in the name of wellness? Reporting on spas means I’ve tried all kinds of therapies and treatments, some out-there and awesome, and some just, well, out-there. There was a cathartic screaming exercise that I did in the US that involved beating a giant piece of foam with a tennis racket. Very 1970s. In Paris, I got one of those plaster facial masks that covered my whole face, eyebrows and all. I was afraid they were going to rip off when she removed it. Many years ago at Caneel Bay in the Virgin Islands, a friend and I did tuning-fork therapy (it uses vibration and sound frequency for healing), and afterwards, she could see distances without her glasses on! Overall, I’m typically very game for trying pretty much anything—and it’s amazing how many have things that used to be the domain of spas but have become mainstream.
What I’ve realised through curating great wellness experiences is it’s about the people who bring the retreat and the philosophy behind it to life.Melisse Gelula
When you can’t get away, how do you retreat at home? We have a quiet place outside New York City in the Catskills, and going there is a retreat for me. We go to farmers market and cook, repot plants, do yoga, go for a run, and just read and rest. We’re surrounded by trees and are endlessly visited by deer who think our yard is their buffet.
What are your favourite spots in NYC to retreat? There’s a lot of options. The Well just opened in New York City, and I’m a member, so that’s a wonderful new urban retreat for me. It’s an unbelievable integrated concept, with functional medicine and TCM experts practising there, plus health coaches, a healthy cafe, a reflexology lounge and treatments, plus steam room and stunning meditation room. My favourite workouts currently are The Class by Taryn Toomey (I’m an OG there) and Forward Space, which is an incredible hip-hop-inspired dance cardio workout. I love Two Hands in Tribeca (Australian cafe) and ABCV in Union Square.