Personal trainer Dara Hart of Dogpound leads guests through a morning HiiT session on a deserted Thai beach.
Joanna Rentz/Courtesy of Free People Escapes

Spoiler alert: it was not nearly as easy-breezy as their fashions. 

Marisa Meltzer
April 20, 2018

The best way to get over jet lag is by working out. I learned this firsthand, after flying 24 hours to reach Phuket, Thailand, where I then boarded a 40-foot catamaran for a weeklong wellness cruise in the Andaman Sea.

I wasn’t alone. There were four other women, all in their 20s and 30s, on this retreat run by FP Escapes, the two-year-old tour operator arm of a popular clothing company. Free People targets millennial women (think boho-floral blouses and ripped denim), and these wellness-themed small-group trips do the same. They happen every three months, with the dates released just two months before departure; past Escapes have ranged from a multi-day hike in Peru to a surf camp in Nicaragua. But no matter where in the world they take place, clean eating, daily workouts, and bonding with like-minded travelers are part of the routine.

For my trip, Free People had partnered with the Brooklyn-based Sailing Collective, another outfitter that embraces the millennial mind-set. The four-year-old company offers charter and group sails that are meant to feel like laid-back, mobile parties at sea. The crew consisted of Lilly Cardenas, our flaxen-haired captain; London-based chef Katja Tausig; and personal trainer Dara Hart, who works with several Victoria’s Secret Angels at the famous Manhattan boxing gym, Dogpound. Free People added little upgrades to the boat’s décor, such as below-deck rugs in the shape of watermelons, cups from India, and a water bottle turned floral centerpiece with the phrase Always believe in yourself written across it. The double-occupancy cabins were cozy but comfortable.

Captain Lilly Cardenas navigates the catamaran through the Andaman Sea.
Joanna Rentz/Courtesy of Free People Escapes

Bright and early our first full day, when I might otherwise be succumbing to the 12-hour time difference with naps and carbohydrates, Cardenas sailed past towering, castle-like limestone formations to a deserted stretch of beach. There, Hart led us through an hour-long boot camp of burpees, boxing drills, ab crunches, and “crabs,” a move that involved walking up and down the beach with rubber workout bands around our ankles, calves, or knees. Hart smiled the whole time, hardly skipping a beat as she exercised along with us. I, on the other hand, grunted and chugged water. When Cardenas came by in a dinghy to pick us up, I felt like a castaway who had been rescued at last.

We came back to a massive brunch of coconut sticky rice with mango, pineapple, and tiny sweet bananas; homemade granola and yogurt; and vermicelli noodle salad with mint and cucumbers. The beauty of kicking off the trip this way was that my mind wasn’t in a jet-lagged fog. I felt bright and energetic, and spent the rest of the day getting to know everyone. Bonding happens fast when you’re sharing a cabin with a stranger (and if you prefer to bunk alone, be sure to submit a request in advance). My fellow travelers included a semiprofessional snowboarder from L.A., a furniture maker and yoga enthusiast from Chicago, and a publicist from Brooklyn. They were the kind of independent women who had aged out of the backpacker scene, but would have been restless staying in a luxury hotel.

Anchoring near Kho Phi Phi, in the Phi Phi Islands.
Joanna Rentz/Courtesy of Free People Escapes

Tausig observed that our group was not hung up on documenting every moment on social media, a habit she’s seen plague way too many travelers. While I’ll cop to taking shots of myself in a hammock or walking among twisted roots of mangroves, photo ops were definitely not the reason I’d come. With eight women let loose on the high seas, there was something of a jovial girl-gang vibe and purpose to the voyage. A Russian guy in a boat called Not@Work asked Cardenas one afternoon where our male representation was. “We don’t have any,” she said and laughed a little wildly.

A stop at the Floating Village Island.
Joanna Rentz/Courtesy of Free People Escapes

We all fell into a rhythm of the strenuous morning workouts, one of which was so difficult that at least one woman threw up. Sure, I sometimes wished for more easygoing downward dogs and shoulder stands instead of suicide sprints and push-ups. But I also told myself that Hart was a pro — I was here to follow her lead. And when the cool down involved swimming in the Andaman and a mid-morning spread of frittatas or turmeric porridge, I had something to look forward to. In the afternoons, we visited places like the caves in Koh Hong Phang Nga, filled with stalactites and hundreds of bats. We also took trips to various lagoons, where we could dive right off the boat and see tropical fish in every hue of the rainbow.

A guest sunbathes on the deck, post-workout.
Joanna Rentz/Courtesy of Free People Escapes

On our last night, Hart led us through a trippy kundalini yoga class of breath work and meditation. As Tausig served us grilled pumpkin and spicy soup for dinner, talk turned to gratitude. “What are you most thankful for right now?” Hart asked. It was the sort of conversation that might ordinarily feel contrived, but not after a week of traveling with women who were reading books like You Are a Badass. This was my new family unit. “Thank you for checking your egos at the door,” Cardenas said, as we made our way around the table giving thanks.

“Are we all okay with getting up early for one last workout?” Hart asked. I groaned internally, but agreed that another hour of suffering through squats would be a good idea before my flight to New York. I arrived home tired and thrilled to take a long shower, but I already missed my lavishly prepared tropical fruit plates and my gang of lady pirates.

FP Escapes weeklong wellness retreats are approximately $3,000 per person, all-inclusive; for a full schedule of upcoming retreats, visit freepeople.com/fpescapes/. Sailing Collective group sailings start at $2,400 per person, all-inclusive, double occupancy. For upcoming sailings, visit sailingcollective.com.

This content was produced with assistance from FP Escapes.

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