Each month, The Fine Line features a special guest — a woman who embraces her age and lives life to the fullest. This month: Erica Gragg, 46-year-old founder of wellness-travel company Escape to Shape. Always on the go and so passionate about travel and healthy living that she brought them together in a unique profession, Gragg inspires us in many ways. We think she will inspire you, too.
Lean and leggy, with flowing red mermaid hair and pale, luminous skin, Erica Gragg looks like Botticelli’s Venus. And, in a way, the travel guru is a goddess — an R&R deity of sorts, guiding followers down a path of cultural discovery and self-exploration through curated fitness vacations all over the globe. Though her company, Escape to Shape, falls on the higher end of the luxury scale, Gragg herself is very much down to earth.
Gragg founded Escape to Shape in 2007, after establishing Bikini Boot Camp in Tulum, Mexico, five years prior. Getting people to feel the burn — not a sunburn, but the kind brought on by hundreds of tiny arm circles — on a gorgeous beach in Central America is what led Gragg to realize that she wanted to combine her background in fitness with her passion for travel. She met her partner in business and life, Francesco Anchisi, in Tulum, and together they now host a dozen or so trips per year to locations such as Bhutan and Nicaragua.
Each Escape to Shape vacation is a week long and typically includes a workout and a fitness-related excursion per day. It also includes accommodations that aren’t just lush, they are special. Think: hand-picked villas and darling beach bungalows. There are also chef-prepared meals, cultural outings, and plenty of downtime to rest and reflect. “We curate the entire experience. We have personally scouted and vetted everything we offer, so that when you arrive all you have to do is unpack,” Gragg says. “A lot of the women who travel with us are type A or have families, and they don’t want to waste time and money on something mediocre. They want something wonderful!”
And something wonderful is exactly what they get.
Gragg and Anchisi spend weeks at each location making sure that when guests arrive, adventures go off without a hitch. “I’ve built a business off being able to accomplish something that others can’t,” Gragg says. What she means is that if you want the experience of a lifetime, like a yoga class at a Cambodian temple, or boot camp on the ancient walls of Cartagena, or a picnic at the bottom of a tiger’s nest in Bhutan, then she’s your gal.
When The Fine Line catches up with Gragg, she is in Marrakech, Morocco, where her fifth trip of 2017 is coming to a close. We wanted to know how her — and her guests’ — attitudes about fitness and wellness have changed since she launched her business 10 years ago. Here’s what she said.
TFL: How has your attitude about health and wellness evolved as you’ve grown older?
EG: I realize now that wellness is a lifestyle, and a balanced life is about moderation. I am not as rigid as I used to be, not as hard on myself and much more forgiving. When I was younger, I was neurotic about exercise, and it took the fun out of it. Frankly, it also took the healthy out of it. Now if I skip a workout, I don’t worry about it. I realize it’s about the quality of the workout and not the quantity. I used to have this attitude that if I didn’t sweat and burn tons of calories during a workout, then it wasn’t worth it. I never would have appreciated a deep yoga practice, such as yin yoga in my 20s. I was all about the power yoga class and nothing in between. As I’ve gotten older, I am honoring my body more, listening to my body more. I realize that sometimes the effort is in the not doing. I am much kinder to myself now. But I still love a sweaty vinyasa class!
TFL: Has your attitude about travel changed as well?
EG: I was always curious about the world, and I always wanted to travel, but it wasn’t until the past 10 years that I realized that travel is the best education. I hear people say, “I would love to go back to school,” but the world has become my education. I can pursue and discover so much firsthand. I truly believe that if everyone had the desire and ability to travel, we would have far less racism, less hatred, and ultimately less fear.
TFL: What observations have you made about your guests in the last 10 years?
EG: Our guests are more open today, not just in terms of where they are willing to travel, but also in the types of classes they will try. Through the years we have offered a variety of boutique fitness classes, such as Physique 57, as well as yoga and Pilates. Here in Marrakech this week we are offering some fun and effective fitness classes, such as Sexy Sculpt, Skinny Jeans, and Hard Core. These classes are new for almost everyone in the room, but the attitude is of excitement to try something new. There used to be more resistance, like “I don’t do circuit training; I only do yoga.” But now there is a greater sense of openness and understanding that trying something new is how you challenge your body, and it’s exciting to see people embracing different workouts.
TFL: You’re still rocking long locks, bikinis, and knee-high boots, and we see no signs of your letting go of your youthful look. What do you say to women who think they’re too old for long hair or hiking up a mountain?
EG: I truly believe that you are only as old as you feel and allow yourself to be. I hope to be forever youthful in my approach to life — it’s essential! It’s what keeps me curious and makes my soul sing. I hope that when I am 80 I am still rocking the hair and the boots.
I strive to maintain my sense of playfulness and youthfulness. So many people live by a set of rules that have been imposed upon them. Travel has afforded me the opportunity to realize that there is more than one way to look at life, and that we can create our own rules. I have always loved to not only live, but color, outside the lines, to beat my own drum and encourage others to do the same — to let go of all the layers of who they think they are and discover who they really are when all the labels and rules have been peeled away and to fearlessly claim what’s really true about themselves.
To learn more about Erica Gragg and her awesome travel company, go to escapetoshape.com.