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Life & Travel

After Solo Travel Burnout, A Group Retreat In Luxury Was The Return To Sisterhood I Needed

Solo travel has been gaining in popularity among Black women for years, with many choosing to do adventures alone for various reasons. In fact, 70 percent of women, overall, enjoy solo trips. We've even shifted the landscape of travel trends and offerings, with hotels, resorts, and travel agents offering the "perfect" solo travel packages or lists of the "best places for solo travel."


I've been in a solo travel season for about seven years now, venturing out alone to see the world. I'd welcomed the solitude after years of family members flaking, showing disinterest, or simply not being able to afford to travel. It was also just what I needed after a few rough and utterly traumatic years of toxic relationships, major betrayals, and lackluster reciprocity from so-called friends.

I also fell in love during that period and was in a long-distance relationship, so I'd often solo travel to meet up with bae.

But like anything you go hard at for a long period of time, burnout soon comes knocking, and I'd recently been yearning to finally get back into connection with other women, sharing memories and experiences in a group versus just by myself.

There's something very isolating and lonely in solo traveling, and as much as I love my man, I began craving sisterhood and friendship with other women.

When I got the opportunity to experience the Fab Body Retreat—an experience for women, by women—hosted at the luxurious all-inclusive Sonesta Ocean Point Resort in St. Maarten, I more than jumped. The fitness and wellness retreat, launched by Deanna Robinson, a health and wellness advocate and entrepreneur, turned out to be just what I needed. I not only got the chance to visit an island I'd never been to but I had fun with a great group of Black women professionals and entrepreneurs.

I was able to process through the trauma, bitterness, and hurt I'd felt and get past the long-standing apprehensions I'd had about connecting personally with other women.

Janell Hazelwood for xoNecole

A 'Royal' Introduction And Networking 

The first night, we enjoyed a "Royal Dinner" where we all wore blue under the night stars and with the ocean as our backdrop. We all got a chance to introduce ourselves and enjoy Caribbean dishes including marinated snapper, rice and peas, stewed meats, and other assorted side dishes.

Mia Benjamin/@socialbymjh

Janell Hazelwood for xoNecole

Fitness And Fun

Initially, I was a bit apprehensive about the fitness part, as I'd been struggling to lose the same 20 lbs for the last two years. To be honest, I wasn't excited about wearing a bikini around other women, nor was I looking forward to working out at the wee hours of the morning. But I'd made a pact with myself to open up and show up. And that, I did.

The whole theme of the retreat was "Elevation," so it was important for me to look past my hangups and stretch myself to get back on track with connection, timeliness, and openness.

Bright and early on the resort's beach, we had morning workouts, strengthening our core and incorporating cardio. These workouts were scheduled into almost every day of the 4-day retreat, and it was surprisingly fun. Some of the activities were perfect for team-building and competition, reviving my love of sport and recreation. Deanna, Sihnuu Hetep, yoga practitioner and educator, Rachel Martin, co-founder of Morph Transformation Center, and M'Balia Rucker led the retreat fitness activities, adding dance and other interactive elements and making working out more enjoyable. And, of course, getting the energy from the sun and sea was a plus.

It was energizing. To see women of all shapes, ages, sizes, and levels of fitness, and to be affirmed in that diversity of capabilities was empowering and renewed my sense of optimism about restarting my wellness journey to get back into more healthy eating and exercise habits.

We also enjoyed a luxe yacht party, where we cruised the beautiful waters of St. Maarten, enjoying a special Caribbean meal of curry chicken, rice, salad, assorted juices, and unlimited mimosas. The vibes were chill, and many of us enjoyed a dip in the water or snorkeling, while others preferred chatting while sunbathing and reflecting.

I met sisters who'd traveled from Bowie, Maryland who reminded me of my own beloved aunts: one, a vibrant and accomplished saxophonist named Sharon Thomas, and another, Iris Lattimore, founder of Lattimore's Funnel Cakes. They each told me of their own experiences of traveling the world together, visiting every Caribbean island, and holding dear their sister bond, spread between their extended family in the Washington D.C.-Maryland-Virginia (DMV) area.

Janell Hazelwood for xoNecole

Slumber And Pool Parties

The itinerary also included a slumber party, where we all wore our pajamas and sat on pillows and lounge chairs amid soothing blue tones. There were small bites available, and panelists, including licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Alicia Hodge and entrepreneurs Zakia Blain (CEO of apparel line FBF Body), Brittney Carter (founder, B. Carter Solutions), and Natalie Nicole Smith (founder, the NNAgency Inc., and NNBody), sharing their phenomenal personal experiences with loss, renewal, and growth, very fitting for the theme of the night.

I was able to open up and safely release my trauma of feeling hurt by past misunderstandings. I truly gained a sense of support from the women in the room who could relate. The environment was very respectful, and the vibes made me feel like I was among family. One common theme among all of us, from diverse industries, life experiences, and parts of the U.S., was resilience and a belief in the dynamic power of women supporting women. It was refreshing to connect with like-minded, down-to-earth individuals who are all about pouring into other women.

We also shared small Caribbean bites, coffee, and tea to complement the night's questions and confessions. Deanna urged us all to tap into how we might be elevating beyond our fears, past traumas, and even a few current challenges, which women openly shared as well in the safe space.

Janell Hazelwood for xoNecole

The final night was all about pool fun, where we played volleyball, enjoyed a DJ spinning Caribbean and Top 100 hits and live entertainment by carnival-inspired performers, and got to enjoy the night air. We all were able to simply enjoy one another's company and get one last dance and dip in the pool in before it would be time to wake up early for a final morning workout and the transportation (also included with the retreat's amenities) to catch our flights back home.

While this was a wellness retreat, there was a special mix of enjoyment where you could partake in the open bar if you wanted to or drink fresh juices and water. It didn't feel like I was forced into an extreme version of "wellness" or "fitness" and I could pace myself in order to find the right sort of balance for me.

Backdrop Of All-Inclusive Luxury

One huge part about the trip that I loved was, after years of attending conferences in the backdrop of paradise and feeling like I never got a chance to actually enjoy the environment, there was a great balance between scheduled activities and free time to develop deeper, more personal connections with self and members of the group, an intergenerational community of women ages 30 to 65.

The 130-suite adults-only “resort within a resort” has four pools (including a Seascape pool with a swim-up bar), four bars, and three restaurants, including the signature Azul restaurant, which was my favorite. It had its own private beach and a fresh-water pool that afforded me cliff-side views of the ocean.

The 24-hour room service was divine, and you could work out on your own with a view of the grounds from the state-of-the-art fitness center, open-air well-being area, and private cabanas. The resort also offered nightly entertainment to enjoy with the group and a gaming emporium, Casino Royale.

I was also able to enjoy a meal (from a local spot within walking distance outside of the resort) of curry goat and roti, one of my favorite dishes reflective of my love of Trinidadian food. The community there, from the hospitality professionals at the resort to the vacationers, was diverse. I met people from Guyana, Trinidad, Jamaica, and Europe in the short time I was there.

Sonesta Ocean Point Resort, St. Maarten

Sonesta Ocean Point Resort, St. Maarten

This retreat not only reminded me that sister bonds are necessary, but it allowed me to see that the past can be left there and that the present is full of opportunities to meet new, amazing women. The Fab Body Retreat was a manifestation of the founder's commitment to women's empowerment and love and was reflected in her efforts to include Black- and women-owned businesses in everything, including her gift bags (featuring items from brands Mela Vitamins, Mischo Beauty, and Vigor Roots) and contract women-owned vendors (IV Event Rentals).

It was the perfect boost of positivity and affirmation I needed to continue in my journey to heal and reconnect with the beauty of Black women's kinship and connective force.

For more information on the next Fab Body Retreat, visit their website or follow them on Instagram @fabbodyretreat.

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Featured image by Alvaro Medina Jurado/Getty Images

 

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