2022 was a YEAR, and I ended it feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. I knew that, for my own mental health, I couldn’t go on like this. I felt I needed to take a pause and reset my expectations on myself and my life.
So, ofc, I started researching retreats in Bali. After all, it’s dubbed “Island of the Gods.” And if there’s one place on Planet Earth where I could find some peace within, I figured it must be there. I landed on Goddess Retreats, an all-female, seven-day retreat in Ubud that the reviews touted as the “eat, pray, love experience”— equal parts culture, self-care, and spirituality. And honestly, I was really craving some eating, some praying, and some self-loving.
And so started my journey.
I invited two dear friends along, Michelle Scanga (you may remember her as an OG Pooshie) and Juliet Angus (my very last roomie ever and one of my favorite American expats). Although we traveled as a trio, the retreat is perfect for a solo experience too. In fact, the other four women were all embarking on this adventure alone.
After 25-plus hours of traveling and a traffic-jammed ride from the airport, we turned down an unassuming narrow road and entered a magical property surrounded by lush rice fields. My first impression of the Goddess Retreat’s property was that I could finally exhale.
As Juliet said, “It’s like a giant hug for your soul.”
There’s a sacred temple on the property we could visit to lay an offering, pray, or simply read a book. I swear, the magical energy we felt every time we entered the oversized wooden doors of the retreat can be partially attributed to this special space, along with the kindest staff we have ever met.
Every need was catered to with a loving smile and an inviting energy that made our stay that much more exceptional. The rooms were minimal and chic with air conditioned bedrooms. (My villa had a private pool and a giant kitchen/living room. I wanted to move in!)
The common space had a pool, a yoga area, a sauna and cold plunge, and a large table where the group came together for all of our meals. Speaking of meals, the food was some of the best I’ve ever had. I chose the plant-based option, Michelle chose meat and fish, and Juliet opted for pescatarian.
The in-house chef created spectacular, Balinese-inspired dishes with fresh fruits and vegetables from the permaculture garden that surrounded the property. No two meals were ever the same, so we were able to sample a plethora of different plates and flavors. We actually had the opportunity to forage and pick papayas, basil, mint, apples, and a variety of other farm-to-table offerings that went directly into our meals and drinks (including blue pea tea—read all about it here.)
The retreat included unlimited spa services (seriously), from mani pedis to hot stone massages to hair masks. And that was just the beginning.
We also enjoyed a two-hour body healing session with a Balinese healer (who looked at my palm and assured me multiple times that yes, I will get married), an hour-and-a-half energy healing session, daily yoga (including restorative and vinyasa flow), and a one-hour sound healing at the Pyramids of Chi inside a pyramid.
Cultural outings led us to Instagrammable Ubud moments like the swing over rice paddies, the monkey forest, a walk to one of Bali’s most famous waterfalls, and a visit to Pura Tirta Tawar. There, we experienced a water purification ritual in the holy water and a blessing in the ornate, magnificent outdoor temple. Truly, one of the most moving moments of my trip.
Part of the retreat is a Bliss Day where we chose from a variety of additional cultural and spiritual activities such as a Balinese cooking class and a bike tour through rural villages and rice paddy fields.
IS THIS HEAVEN?! It sure felt like it.
Juliet, Michelle, and I embarked on the bike tour where we visited the compound of a Balinese family and even stopped for a snack in front of some cool, off-the-beaten-path temples and ruins, a la Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.
Of course, we had to explore the town of Ubud and do some shopping where wicker bags, hats, and crochet-everything were aplenty. We even tasted local fare at a delicious restaurant called Herb Library. Another night, we ventured over to The Four Seasons Ubud for drinks and dinner and met a Dutch woman with a drone. She offered to take the obligatory aerial video from the rooftop terrace (IYKYK).
But every evening, when we walked through the doors into the retreat’s property (which we had now dubbed “the womb”), past the plethora of offerings, it was as though all stress and anxiety just melted away. I can’t express enough how much this experience made my spirit smile, and it was exactly the reset I craved.
After magical Ubud, we drove to a surf town on the southern tip of Bali called Uluwatu. We stayed in a magnificent, mid-century-esque house at the local stomping ground known as Uluwatu Surf Villas. The town is full of expats, mostly from Australia, and pro surfers searching for an easier way of life. The Uluwatu Surf Villas is within walking distance of one of the most famous surf spots in Bali. But even from the top of the cliff, the views were stellar. Mala, the hotel’s restaurant, had the best kimchi rolls I’ve ever tasted. Drool-worthy.
And the sunset? Nothing short of celestial with its pink and purple sky.
One evening, we ventured to the famed Uluwatu Temple to watch a Balinese Kecak and Fire Dance show consisting of 50 men chanting and dancing in a theatrical performance. It was truly an event to marvel at.
We finished our final night in Bali with dinner in town at Alchemy, the coolest vegan restaurant with the best live music I’ve heard in ages. There was such a vibe, we ended up staying until closing (which was quite early, around 9:30 to 10:00 pm).
The following day was a rainy one, and it was also the day of our departure. I joked that Bali didn’t want us to leave. But alas—our eat, pray, self-love, and surf (although none of us actually surfed) trip had come to an end.
What I learned from Bali and its gorgeous, kind people is that happiness is simple at its core. Made, a local village priest and one of our drivers at Goddess Retreats, taught me more about life in 30 minutes than the last 3 years of self-help books and therapy.
I asked him if he believes in heaven and hell and his response was, “From what I understand, heaven is here on earth, and so is hell.”
Damn. That schooled me.
Other Made nuggets of wisdom included, “Do now and do good,” which I believe meant “Be present and be a good person.” He also enlightened us on his idea of happiness. I’m paraphrasing here, but it was something along the lines of this:
When it comes to happiness (a search many of us find ourselves in Bali to discover), the key elements are healthy relationships—this can be toward ourselves, nature, and others—and meaning. Are we living a meaningful life? Are we giving back? Are we fulfilling our purpose?
These are the questions that plague me late at night when my “monkey mind” races, and I can’t seem to get myself to sleep.
Made explained the four goals of life, known as puruṣārtha (which translates to the objective of man) in Hinduism:
Dharma – leading a righteous and just life
Artha – material items and success
Kama – the pursuit of pleasure, including love
Moksha – the ultimate freedom and spiritual enlightenment
I left Bali for Los Angeles feeling restored, refreshed, and energized. All of life’s most pressing questions seemed so tangible now. I am here to be happy. Happiness comes from a healthy body and mind and living a just, kind life.
Nothing—and I mean NOTHING—is worth agitating the core reason for being placed on this earth at this time. Enjoy the little things. Smile at everyone who crosses your path. And live as though your body is borrowed but your soul is with you forever.
If you plan to visit Bali, I highly suggest going inland first to Ubud before finishing your trip with a jaunt at the beach. You’ll get the best of what Bali has to offer—spirituality, mystical temples, and then white sand next to turquoise water.
We visited Bali during what is considered the rainy season, which naturally means less tourists and more rain. But honestly, it was so hot and humid, I couldn’t imagine being there without a daily rain shower. It felt refreshing and cleansing, which seemed to reflect the Balinese essence.
Besides an umbrella, attire was basically that of any tropical locale, perhaps a bit less fancy.
Lots of swimsuits because, yes, the sun still comes out almost daily during the rainy season, and there are plenty of opportunities to sunbathe. Airy cover-ups (we all wore Show Me Your Mumu button-downs as cover-ups that doubled as a light reprieve from the daily late afternoon/ evening rains). We wore yoga gear, some breezy dresses, a pair of closed-toe shoes for biking and hiking, sandals, sarongs, and a few “nighttime” outfits—although this isn’t mandatory as the entire island is pretty low key.
But you know—photo opps.
What beauty prods to pack:
I never did my hair and only wore makeup on two occasions. Otherwise, it was all about sunscreen and clean skincare for that no-makeup, glow-from-within vacation look. (I opted for Cacaye’s cleansing oil and fermented oil to keep my skin healthy and glowing. This, in conjunction with the humidity, was like a facial every single day!)
Shop our looks below
Shop our looks below
Shop our looks below
Shop each piece on Sarah: Rothy’s Sneaker ($119); J.Crew Straw Hat ($70); White Vintage Ray-Bans ($199); Rosanna Mini Dress ($129); Show Me Your Mumu Top ($138); Cuyana Panama Hat ($128); J.Crew Summer Straw Hat ($45)
Shop each piece on Juliet:
Poupette St Barth Satin Kaftan ($331); Juliet Sunglasses ($165); Show Me Your Mumu Button Down Shirt ($138); Net-A-Porter Maxi Dress ($875); Cuyana Panama Hat ($118)
Shop each piece on Michelle:
Splits59 Biker Shorts ($68); Splits59 Cami Top ($48); Oseree Mini Dress ($456); Show Me Your Mumu Button Down Shirt ($138); Emma Mulholland On Holiday Bikini Top ($40); Emma Mulholland On Holiday Bikini Bottom ($40); Juillet Bikini Top ($68)
Shop each piece: Oseree Lumière Two Piece ($207); Show Me Your Mumu Mini Slip Dress ($148); Free People Shirt ($58); Triangl Vinca Marty Bikini ($89); Triangl Maia Cefa Bikini ($99); With Jean Mimi Dress ($169); Free People Set ($108); Monday Swimwear St. Tropez Sarong ($55)
*This post was sponsored by Goddess Retreats, Uluwatu Surf Villas, Show Me Your Mumu and Cacaye