In 2016, I got to attend the second-ever Restival, a six-day wellness retreat that caters to travelers with a hippie bend. There were nerve-melting sound baths, morning sun salutations, and, yes, some meals with cashew cheese (all meals are vegan friendly)—in addition to a lot of opportunities to connect with international travelers and foreign cultures while disconnecting from digital overload. Here's what I dug about it—and why you should consider booking your spot.
It’s tiny—and is staying that way
There are plenty of big festivals to escape to if you want to feel lost in a sea of like-minded people. Restival is not one of those. The founder capped attendance to 150 to limit ecological impact—I met open-minded travelers from Britain, New Zealand, Italy, Mexico, and all over the United States. It was a bit odd (and on you) if you didn’t know someone’s name by the end.
It’s a deep dive into a culture you probably don’t know about
The iteration I attended was held in Northern Arizona on Gateway Ranch, a Navajo-run site 40 miles north of Flagstaff on the edge of the reservation. With that came loads of opportunities to connect with Navajo families. Navajo folks hosted lectures and cultural workshops and sang by the campfire at night. And they didn’t retreat after those events, either—they were around during meals and otherwise, ready to talk about their life, our life, the pipeline, or simply hang out. Events that partner with tribes often feel forced, exploitative, or just plain awkward. But this one was a rare cultural exchange opportunity with American Indians in a relaxed, communal setting. Restivals have also taken place in far north Sweden in the land of the Saami people, and Morocco, among the Berber tribe. London, New York City, and Joshua Tree National Park will be home to some of this year's upcoming Restival events.
The treatments were next-level
While there, I had two treatments, which I can say without hyperbole were life-changing. The first was with a bodyworker from Death Valley named Karin Pine who helped chill out back and neck pain I’ve had the past couple years better than yoga and chiropractors combined.
And then there was the sweat lodge.
Before I came, the extent of my education on American Indian sweat lodges was a couple of strange dates with a Waldorf-educated dude, but I wanted to keep an open-mind. I remembered an episode of the Netflix series Grace and Frankie, wherein the crystal-clad Lily Tomlin demands tight-ass Jane Fonda say yes to any and everything for a day and thought why not?
What I hadn’t realized is just how small and dark the space would be, two important considerations for someone who carries anxiety meds on their person when on subways. Two of us and a Navajo elder crawled in, sat legs crossed, our heads tickling the roof of the hut. All I could think is how accomplished I would feel if I lasted a whole 10 minutes. I lasted three hours, in pitch-black darkness meditating on my life and things I want for it. It was one of the most terrifying and rewarding things I’ve done in recent travels, and I emerged basically beaming.
Nobody was on their phones
Restival is a digital detox. If you really, really wanted, they had an office you could access for Wi-Fi but otherwise there wasn’t a modicum of reception. Your iPhone was rendered mostly useless—just a camera to pull out for the painterly moves of the sun and moon (a neon orange harvest one, on our last night there). Which brings me to my last point.
The setting was sublime
The Restival I went to was in the Arizona Desert. (Have you been there?! It’s awesome.) Few states are full of more natural beauty: deep-red ombre rocks, mesa sunsets that leave you slack-jawed. While the event was partly about eliminating regrets, I left with one serious one: that I didn’t stick around to explore the Grand Canyon and all of the other beautiful stuff nearby. Deserts have been key locations for these retreats—the first one was in the Sahara—and although not all will take place in a desert as the movement grows, the May Restival in Joshua Tree promises some incredible landscapes.
A version of this originally appeared online in 2016; it has been updated with current information.