Finding My Zen At An All-Inclusive

My article is in the Globe and Mail travel section. I have written for many incredible publications, but this gave me a particular writer’s high. Writer’s highs are very dangerous. It is what keeps us sad souls working even though it is probably advisable to do something else.

Here is the article, in case you aren’t in Canada or don’t have the chance to pick up a paper today.


Ten years ago, I worked in the travel industry. At the time, I judged two types of people: those who didn’t renew their passports and those who went on all-inclusive vacations.

I was a travel snob who had her ideas of what “real travel” meant and most people, in my opinion, weren’t doing it. This meant that life needed to come in and teach me a lesson.

My lesson began when I left the travel industry to go into the not-so lucrative professions of writing and yoga teaching.

My travel was once paid for with an expense account. Now I found ways to get to countries where my money would stretch with the tenacity of yoga pants. I found that making less meant that I had to work more. I found that doing what I loved meant that I didn’t get much of a break. (Self-employed people have the worst bosses and I was no exception.)

Enter the all-inclusive. These resorts often gave the best deals and I could teach yoga while I was away to save a few extra bucks. That is how I found myself in a lounge chair with a fruity drink in my hand.

Hating myself, of course.

My new life was different. Rather than capitalizing on free time to make up for work that didn’t impassion me, I had work that challenged me enough to be endlessly interesting. I had new (and shorter) vacations but I needed to find my Zen in the midst of an all-inclusive vacation, a humbling space for a “real traveller.”

All-inclusives may seem like easy places to get centred and calm. They often have sand and palm trees swaying in the breeze. They have activities and food that will wrangle with the planner in you. They also have booze. Too much booze. (This is not to knock the power of a good cocktail, as I think a sunset and an alcoholic beverage are an even better pairing than peanut butter and jelly.)

However, all-inclusives are also filled with people who have no interest in seeing the real world. Some don’t want to know the reality of life beyond the palm trees. Often, I was convinced I was the only worldly one in the room.

We go through our days judging other people and ourselves, labelling things as “good” and “bad.” All-inclusives could have closed my world down, or I could look beyond my haughty bubble and see that everyone has a story. Some people need to escape. Some people need to plug in.

No one is wrong.

During my second all-inclusive getaway, I was more aware of my inner travel dictator. I didn’t like her much because she couldn’t relax at all and just let people be.

All-inclusives surround you with people, some who will be just like you (therefore annoying you) and some who are nothing like you (therefore annoying you). All of these people are good teachers. The relentless loop of Bob Marley’s One Love and day-drinkers will also make you realize how much alone time you need to feel connected, not only to your body and mind, but to everyone around you.

On an all-inclusive vacation (or any vacation for that matter), try to do nothing. Try not to read or to drink a cocktail or to look busy. Sometimes we are so busy looking busy that we never get vacation time, even when we have a sandy paradise staring right back at us.

I used my all-inclusive time to check in to see how drawn I felt to do everything. Parts of me wanted to scuba dive and windsurf and have tequila for breakfast. Sometimes those parts won, but other times, I sat on a beach chair and watched the waves. It was the same soundtrack as my yoga classes in the city. Waves drew out. Waves came back in. I did nothing and I didn’t time my nothing. I let my nothing be for as long as it wanted. If a whole afternoon went by, I allowed myself to view this time as just as successful as “doing” something.

All-inclusives could have been a continuation of my busy life. We all have busy lives. We need to do the work of stopping and – even at an all-inclusive – get to the important task of idling the day away.

3 thoughts on “Finding My Zen At An All-Inclusive

  1. Antoinette D. Mazol says:

    Hi Courtney, left several messages on your email about Monday. Thought maybe you’re away.
    I have an issue with yoga at my place – having some work done and not completed yet. Is
    there another place we can meet?


  2. Blythe Liebgott says:

    I just read this article from one year ago. This is really good food for thought for me right now, particularly about how being judgemental is bringing us/me down. The insight really helps in advance of my annual visit to my family, whose modus operandi is different from mine. Let’s characterize it this way: they are ‘all inclusive’ to my ‘real traveler’. I need to let them just be… themselves. Thanks for this.


    • courtneysunday says:

      Ha! It’s so easy to be judge-y when you are a seasoned world traveller. I have to curb this tendency all the time!


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