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Two hoteliers say come to grips with aging: Travel Weekly

Ernie Weissman

Ernie Weissman

Ponce de Leon traveled from Spain to Florida in search of the legendary Fountain of Youth. From that point on, travel, health and longevity were linked.

Silicon Valley billionaires are spending money on anti-aging research, which begs the question for the rest of us: Is the goal prolonging life, or improving quality of life?

Most people would agree that time spent traveling is thought to be highly valuable – so why spend thousands of dollars to leave your normal life behind?

In a recent video call, Chip Conley asked, “How can we reframe our relationship with aging?” Connelly became the in-house mentor to Airbnb’s founders after rising to fame as the founder of Joie de Vivre Hotels (now integrated into JdV by Hyatt).

But Conley, 63, had a tough time in his late 40s and underwent a transformation of sorts, one that had a happy ending. “My 50s were my favorite decade ever,” he said.

Although he was the mentor at Airbnb, its co-founder, Brian Chesky, helped him redefine himself. Chesky called him the “Modern Sheikh,” and although Connelly did not like the moniker at first, Chesky defined it the way he liked: The Modern Sheikh is someone who is as curious as he is wise. It’s not about sanctification. It’s about importance.

Conley, who lives in Baja California Sur, Mexico, wanted to share the ideas he felt changed his life. While on the run, he had an epiphany (he calls it “baja-aha”): “Why aren’t there schools of middle-life wisdom? If people are living longer, what do we do to help them, say, from 45 to 65, to reimagine their adult lives and recreate Hire her?

This led him to found his current project, The Modern Elder Academya resort that started in Baja and now has a second campus outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico

Six and a half years later, the academy has had 5,000 people from 48 countries attend its courses. Previous guest faculty have included Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, and essayist Pico Iyer, who is scheduled to lead the session in July.

Conley is not alone in the field of regenerative retreat. Also on the video call was his current guest faculty member, musician/activist/hotelier Michael Franti, former frontman of the band Spearhead. Although the details were very different, he had been on a similar journey to Conley’s, and had come to similar conclusions.

Franti said his early songs were angry, but as his career developed, he found, like Connelly, that he became happier as he got older. Although he still tours as a musician, he has established a resort in Bali, Soulshine Spa & Wellness.

“My whole life has been about trying to make music that lets people know that it’s okay to be different, and that it’s okay to be the person you are,” Franti said. “And it doesn’t stop once you reach a certain age. In fact, even at 58, things are getting better and better for me. Our hotel in Bali is a place where people can be amazed and excited, no matter what age they are.”

His philosophy extends equally to his concerts and hotels. “When I get to where I am at my age, it gives people permission to be their age,” he said.

It seems that worry about aging is no longer limited to the elderly. “I know it seems strange for a 25-year-old to come to Modern Elder Academy, but one-sixth of the people who come are millennials,” Conley said. “Seventy-five percent are between the ages of 45 and 65.”

Franti described his clients as being “in their early 30s to 80s.” He offers week-long retreats, which may be in music, writing, or an aspect of wellness. There are Soulrocker retreats where he performs three nights a week. “Playing is as important as processing,” he said. “We’re not a monastic place where you go and sit on a rock and meditate for eight hours.”

Rather, it’s a place “for people who just say ‘I need a break’ but want to go somewhere with intention. They’re bound to have something happen at our place because we built it to be that way.”

Franti summed up why people choose to attend one of his or Conley’s retreats: They’re for “people who go traveling not just because they want to take great photos for Instagram but because they want to connect more deeply with each other,” he said. Others and they want to hit the reset button on life, and that’s what we’re really focused on.

The backlash against the travel that is his highest aspiration has been a great Instagram post for a long time, and I’d be surprised if the formula that Connelly and Franti came up with, separately, doesn’t gain traction. Without quality of life, what is the importance of longevity?

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