One of my favorite things about being self-employed is how much easier it has become to establish and stick with a wellness routine that really works for me. Designing my day allows me to pay careful attention to my sleep schedule, stress levels, and productivity rhythms, how diet and exercise affect my work, and to remember how important balance (and taking a vacation) is for my overall happiness. I recently traveled to Israel to find inspiration and was blown away by how healthy I felt after spending a week eating fresh food, exploring the desert, and floating in the sea. Here’s what I found most impressive — and will forever recommend to fellow wellness lovers.
1. The healthy food will blow your mind. I found it easier to eat healthy food in Israel than I have anywhere else in my travels, including countries like Italy, Greece, and Spain. I started each day with a heaping plate of salad — yes, salad! — at breakfast. I got instant heart eyes when I wandered down to the buffet on the first morning and found a garden-like spread (think beets, avocado, greens, local oils, and whole grains) along with eggs, cheeses, fish, and muesli or granola. This filling morning fare made it easy for me to fuel up for the day.
The afternoon was always all about hummus; homemade varieties with olive oil and extra chickpeas are everywhere, and big bowls (to enjoy as an entree!) come with pita bread and chopped, colorful veggies for dipping. Dinnertime choices were often meat, fish, and whole grains like farro. People swear by the Mediterranean Diet for its health benefits and I can see why. My digestion while traveling was never better.
2. Tea is a tradition (and it made me feel amazing). Israel is a mix of rich culture and global traditions, including those from Africa and the Middle East. I quickly discovered that many of the local cultures have tea throughout the day, which was a welcome change from coffee. I was especially impressed with Bedouin tea, which we were served several times. A small cup of this super-sweet drink gave me a quick energy boost, and it tasted like sipping on a dessert. Those looking to go sans sugar will likely love sipping on tea with dried fruit in it, or halitot, which is infused tea that comes without leaves.
Pro tip: Tea ingredients are sometimes imported (Israel has a rich history of spice-route trade), but blends are often prepared locally. I loved scoping out the vibrant spices and almost overwhelming variety of dried fruits to bring home; they’re easy to find in local shops and at Israeli markets.
3. Dairy-free and vegan food is always available. One of the first things I noticed (and felt grateful for) on my first day in Israel was how easy it was to eat dairy-free; the country is often referred to as the vegan capital of the world, and an estimated five percent of the population has completely ditched animal goods in their daily diet. After doing a bit more research, I found that the reasons behind the rise in Israeli veganism include desired health improvement, concerns about animal cruelty and the environment, religious reasons, and a younger population that’s less inclined to follow traditional eating patterns and loves to try trends.
Some fun foodie facts: Tel Aviv, a thriving metro, is home to 400 vegan restaurants. Domino’s launched their first vegan pizza in Israel in 2013, and Ben Jerry’s rolled out vegan ice cream in Israel before making it available anywhere else in the world.
4. There are tons of unique options for outdoor exercise. No matter what you like to do, there are seemingly endless opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors with a hike, parasail, visit to the sea grottos, bicycle ride, rappelling off cliffs, cave or canyon exploration, or a swim. Summer temperatures can be a scorcher in the desert, but winter and spring are ideal for experiencing nature at a comfortable 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the specific location and time of year.
5. You can enjoy yoga with beautiful and diverse backdrops. People around the world love yoga, but where else can you practice in the desert or in front of the sea, maybe even on the same day? The country’s rise in yoga popularity has produced boutique city studios, desert retreats and workshops, seaside classes, and even training centers for certification.
6. Israel is home to a natural healing hotspot. The lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea sits 1,300 feet below sea level and is one of the globe’s most revered healing destinations, drawing millions of visitors each year. The salty water has a mix of minerals including magnesium, potassium, and calcium and can help heal troublesome skin conditions. While I don’t have any persistent skin issues, I was dumbfounded by how much the oily-feeling water softened my already smooth skin. Even more, floating was relaxing and cathartic experience in itself, a welcome break while on a whirlwind international adventure. A person can lay in pretty much any position in the Dead Sea and surface right to the top for as long as they want to, all while taking in the sunshine and being surrounded by jaw-dropping views of the Negev Desert. It’s restoring in every way, shape, and form.
Naturally, I couldn’t leave without taking home some Dead Sea souvenirs. My new soaps, salts, mud, and creams from the Premier shop are still working wonders at home — and I’m relieved to know that they’re available online when I run out.
7. Israeli spa culture is the real deal. If floating in the Dead Sea doesn’t leave you feeling totally renewed (or your itinerary has room for an extra experience), a trip to a top-notch Israeli spa is something worth putting on your list. Jerusalem is known for its holy history, of course, but it’s also home to some of the country’s best spas and wellness experiences too. Award-winning Akasha Spa (inside the posh Mamilla Hotel) sits just outside of the old city walls and offers luxe treatments in an immersive, contemporary, and relaxing setting. Spa-goers rave about Akasha Magic, a signature experience designed to encourage “life energy flow” with a massage, bath, and cupping combo.
8. There’s a wellness retreat for all types. From hotel spa packages to desert meditation and hippie-style, community-focused hideaways, Israel has emerged as the perfect place to reconnect with nature or get in touch with your deeper self. Weekly yoga workshops, spiritual fasting, ecological resort programs, peace academy, and festivals are all easy to uncover, many with ongoing dates and regularly planned happenings. For a country that’s just under 300 miles long, there’s certainly no shortage of feel-good things to get into.
(Photo via Getty)