Spiritual Road Tripping

by Becca Hensley

ABOVE: Amangiri

A road trip can be an adventure, and an inner journey

The car doors slammed closed. I’d just exited the hospital with my first newborn baby. My husband and I had awkwardly strapped him into his car seat. Now, in darkness, for a moment, the three of us sat quietly. The baby, sleeping, didn’t know it, but my husband and I were immensely alarmed. We had no idea what would come next.

“What do we do now?” he asked.
“Start the engine,” I suggested. 
He did, and we drove into the night, a 20-minute trek that was our baby’s first road trip. That jaunt home embodied so many of the reasons I still love to travel by car. In this case, like all road trippers, we leapt into life, pursuing an unknown route, which would likely include myriad wrong turns, detours and dead-ends. Our destination, a vague concept of guiding a child to adulthood, would be less important than the day-to-day adventure. Unskilled parents, we would be spontaneous, make poor decisions, be intuitive, break routines, develop new habits and veer far out of our comfort zone. But, we’d learn as we went. We’d bond, become a team, open our minds to new ways of thinking, experience profound gratitude and make countless memories. As Jack Kerouac wrote: “But no matter, the road is life.”

Since then, we’ve made a habit of road trips. We’ve driven from Texas to Montana, Paris to Vienna, Florida to New Mexico, Zurich to Rome, San Diego to Seattle, Laredo to Mexico City—and everywhere in between. We’ve done it with three kids, two dogs, just the two of us, random combinations of the crew, even alone. We’ve taken dirt roads, run out of gas, slept in cabins and barns, lolled about in presidential suites, stumbled on rare finds not recorded in guidebooks, hiked mountains, eaten local specialties, soaked in hot springs, been massaged with locally made elixirs, met new friends and disconnected from technology. We’ve been luxe and we’ve been lowly. We’ve loved and we’ve fought; we’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve admonished and we’ve supported. Road trips aren’t for the cowardly. They require a willingness to shift something.

A road trip can heal a schism, and it can ignite a fire that never fades. What’s most magical, though, about road tripping is how it nudges places within, stretches and pounds them, as a massage plies the muscles. Sojourns in a car demand more than steering and gas pedaling; they thrive on inner (call it: spiritual) participation.

You don’t have to dig deep into your soul to maneuver a vehicle down Route 66. But, what you’ll find out there on the road is that something begins to happen to you, something that starts as a tickle, an awakened nerve that makes you want to lean in. From a wellness perspective, the driving vacation acts as a tonic for your spirit, urging it into deeper realms. With a map (or GPS) in hand, a course in mind and a vehicle to transport you, the venture evokes excitement for the unknown; it offers the possibility for something undiscovered; and it triggers gratefulness because all the new things you’ve found along the way serve to shake you up, and make you think. They show contrast you need for the sort of perspective that leads to happiness and harmony.

Further, there’s the Zen of it. As landscapes flutter by, as music plays and conversations happen, a meditative mood becomes the order of the day. Your senses seem heightened as you focus on details—colorful leaves on trees, distinctive aromas carried by the wind, the tastes of new foods, the sounds of sonorous bells ringing or wheels crunching gravel. This celebration of the ordinary points out that beauty is always around you. On a road trip, the world’s gifts are palpable and healing. The process of driving, the fact that you can stop or go as you please, the reality of embracing new surroundings, now frees you to walk your own path resolutely, to appreciate what you have. As you ramble, these new experiences become threads in the tapestry that defines you. In a word, a road trip translates to sustenance—soulful sustenance, if one can use two. In The Year of Pleasures, Elizabeth Berg put it this way: “Now, on this road trip, my mind seemed to un-crinkle, to breathe, to present to itself a cure for a disease it had not, until now, known it had.”

What follows is a short list of some meanderer-tested trips, and some spas to reward and enhance your efforts along the way.


The Grand Circle

For many, it isn’t a road trip unless you are headed to a national park. Embark on this jaw-dropping passage, which takes you mostly into the state of Utah, with some traversing through Arizona and Nevada, as well. Expect to visit Arches, Canyonlands, Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks on this varied extravaganza of nature’s magnificence. Start and end in Las Vegas, and throw in Death Valley National Park (slightly off circle) for good measure.

Where to Repose + Refuel
Amangiri
Four hours from Las Vegas, set amid a saffron landscape, lacy slot canyons and spooky boulders, this desert resort is an architectural marvel, designed to fade into the terrain. Base here to visit a variety of the national parks (Bryce Canyon is just two and a half hours away), or stopover for the oasis-like atmosphere of its spa and stargazing-oriented suites.

Treatment to Get
The Desert Calm, a two-hour experience, which extracts desert dust with a Red Sedona Clay Wrap, and hydrates with a moisturizing massage and Oxygen Facial. amangiri.com


Pacific Coast Highway

Just try to keep your eyes on the road on this famed excursion, which brandishes startling coastal vistas. It starts in Orange County’s Dana Point, finishing some 650 miles later in San Francisco. Pass through redwood forests, rural vineyards, bedazzling urbanscapes and funky beach towns. Find buzzy crescents of sand, ideal for a surfing or picnic break, hiking trails, state parks and Spanish colonial monuments. Highlights include Big Sur, Carmel-by-Sea, Muir Beach Overlook and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Where to Repose + Refuel
Belmond El Encanto
Take a few days off to explore hip Santa Barbara, an outpost of gourmet hotspots—including an Urban Wine Trail. Plan what remains of your sojourn from the porch of your casita at El Encanto, a heritage property with a nostalgic vibe. Beloved by Hollywood’s Silver Screen crowd, the hotel crowns a garden-enlivened promontory, which prodigiously frames the Pacific Ocean and its Channel Islands. Rest up around the infinity pool, in your capacious tub or in the spa.

Treatment to Get
Try a Tranquility Pro-Sleep Ritual to ensure a good night sleep, before you continue your journey. belmond.com


Route 66

“Get your kicks on Route 66,” crooned Chuck Berry. His song ensures the perfect mood music soundtrack for this historic ramble, which rolls for 2,448 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles. First forged in 1926, the road evolved over time to be Interstate 40, but remnants of the original street flank the course, sometimes taking drivers right into charming Main Streets and amongst postcard perfect terrain. Don’t miss Tucumcari, New Mexico’s spit of mother road, where old school motor inns and retro neon lights deliver you into another era. Teepee-style motels and places like Petrified Forest National Park seal the deal.

Pre-Drive Repose
Langham Hotel, Chicago
Start your drive in a city defined by exemplary architecture. Occupying part of a Mies Van Der Rohe skyscraper, the Langham, adorned with art by contemporary favorites, such as William Wegman, keeps the great Bauhaus architect’s fingerprints in tact with elements such as Van Der Rohe reproduction sofas, among other touches. Prepare your mind, body and spirit for the long haul at the hotel’s Chuan Spa, located on the 4th floor. The transporting Chinese-themed haven has built a menu around the five elements.

Treatment to Get
With the Chicago Signature Escape (5 Wu Xing Elements In-One), take two hours to yield to acupressure with heated wooden Chinese bamboo reeds and a clove oil balm, followed by a slathering with Chuan’s signature mud. langhamhotels.com


Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway

Just two hours from New York City, this serpentine passage wriggles through forests, beside lakes and creeks, amid farmland, and up inclines for 52 miles. A setting that has inspired artists and writers for centuries, known for its ethereal light, it comprises picturesque hamlets, villages, wooden bridges, ski areas and wilderness expanses. With hiking trails, fishing spots, golf courses and bike paths, it draws active types, as well as culinary aficionados for its farm produce, distilleries and breweries.

Where to Repose + Refuel
Emerson Resort & Spa
Catch the Byway after a good night’s sleep at Emerson Resort & Spa, located in Mt. Tremper, just 15 minutes from Olive, one of the highlighted towns on the route. Named after poet and writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, the rustic-chic hideaway follows the philosopher’s lead by lionizing the meditative aspects of nature. Recently redone, it imparts a cozy mood, with classic regional furnishings—including knotted wood pieces and local artwork. The restaurant, Woodnotes Grille, serves the Hudson Valley’s bounty, while the hotel’s spa takes inspiration from the solace of the setting.

Treatment to Get
Choose the spa’s classic Relaxation Massage, 
optionally enhanced to quash aching muscles with 
CBD cream. emersonresort.com

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