The word “spa” may conjure up images of a mindless getaway—meditation, yoga, Pilates, hikes, healthy food in healthy portions, massages, facials, pedicures, manicures and whatever else can be shared with willing guests. And some also offer a menu of spiritual pursuits, from learning to accept loss to having your future read by a clairvoyant.
At the same time, it may suggest big dollars needed to afford such special treatments, often in a stunning location since outdoor greenery can be a healer of mind and body, we now know from scientific research. It’s not unheard of for a visit to cost upwards of $1,000 or $1,500 a day, with meals included but certain activities costing extra, from kayaking to aerial yoga, arts and crafts, healthy cooking demonstrations, acupuncture and such. And many spa resorts require a minimum stay of a week or at least several days. For those with smaller budgets, fortunately there are plenty of day spas that are an affordable indulgence. Whichever type of spa you choose, it is a worthwhile expense that cannot be measured totally by dollars and cents.
Going away can make you feel refreshed and think you escaped your daily grind, whether it’s alone for some me-time, or with gal pals, a coed pack or your adult children. Going with others and bonding is far from frivolous when you can walk in the woods together, take a hike and paint, do aerobic swims, tune up that rusty tennis swing and discover it’s not so rusty after all, eat all your meals without a cell phone buzzing by your side, which typically is banned, and have long, meaningful discussions without outside distractions of not only phone calls and texts but TV and sometimes newspapers.
If you can’t justify or afford this type of indulgence, the day spas give you a good taste and let you cherry-pick activities from a facial to massage, pedicure, makeup lessons, and have a healthy lunch, maybe, even with a glass of wine. You probably will leave feeling like a million dollars with your painted perky toes, sparkling nails or new skincare routine.
One destination spa that we know about offers a spa day where you can arrive at 8 a.m., enjoy multiple activities that are offered for free, one service that you pay for such as a private tennis lesson, plus a lovely healthy lunch. You must leave before dinner time, and all will set you back for less than $300, plus any service you signed up for and purchases you make. At least you’ve changed your usual routine, escaped and had fun.
No matter how mindless or expensive it may seem to you or anybody else—toss out notions of being judgmental. It’s no more mindless than heading off to play a round of golf (which, too, is expensive) or set of tennis at a club, taking a hike at a national park or rafting down a rushing stream.
You’ve done something different, maybe tried something new, learned something new, found out something new about yourself and maybe been with others you love or made new friends. I became friendly with a rabbi who was in many of my classes years ago at a favorite spa resort. It turns out that the rabbi, also an author (We Plan, God Laughs, and Thresholds, wrote the forward for my and Margaret’s last book, Suddenly Single after 50. We have stayed in touch and cheer each other on.
You should also switch your mindset and think positively about a spa getaway because occasional indulgences can be vital to add that special ingredient of joy to your life. In fact, at another spa visit, a clairvoyant shared with me that I needed to add more regular joy into my overcrowded life, which includes tending to my 99-year-old mom. I did—and do--by finding time now for a weekly watercolor class. And a very dear friend has invited me along for brief spa visits with her due to her membership at a favorite spa. I pay but she generously shares her membership discount, and I get to escape from work and helping to care for an aging parent. Friends since second grade, we have become even closer but when we’re spa-ing, we go our separate activity ways, then meet up for meals and an occasional lecture.
For many people—and me, the litmus test of how successful any visit is—no matter how short or long—is whether you hate to pack, leave and dream about returning.
10 tips to consider when you choose a spa destination or day visit
- Decide on the type of spa. Some were built purely as spas. Others are part of a hotel and may have a special wing or rooms where you can enjoy spa services. Try both kinds of places to see which is most appealing. You may like the feeling of a hotel better or you may like the spa resort, so the focus is completely on spa activities and services and healthy food.
- Decide on the spa resort’s culture. Will guests live in their Lululemon or chic activewear all day or are they inclined to go to less fancy no-branded clothing? Do they switch before dinner out of their sweats and dress in lovely pants and sweaters? Find out by asking friends if they’ve been or even resort personnel. For my first visit to my favorite spa resort, I brought multiple outfits and planned to put on makeup; by the second visit I was into the au natural look all the time and fresh Pilates pants and a top for mealtimes. I even brought fewer outfits since there was a washer and dryer in our room, and we wore big fluffy white robes we found in our rooms to the spa service sessions.
- Decide on the size. Some are very small and intimate, and you’re likely to talk to your activity mates or at least smile as you keep seeing the same folks. Others are much bigger and have more of a corporate feel.
- Decide on your budget. If you’re staying local, you may know how much it will cost. If leaving town, set a budget and then apportion it. Will there be enough money for airfare or just a car ride or train trip, which may determine how far away you go? Some spas may offer discounts related to various organizations i.e. AARP or Triple A, so ask in advance. Ask about tipping, too, in advance, so you know what your final bill may be; not all suggest tipping since it’s included in the price. But set a firm limit on the basic prices and then what extra service you can afford for a private tennis lesson, clairvoyant visit and so on.
- Decide on your timetable. Some visitors prefer to go for longer and spend less per day; others want total luxury and will do with fewer days to achieve the ultimate.
- Decide what activities are most important. Do you want athletics, what kind and in which season? Or, do you just want services such as facials and massages? One spa, now closed, used to focus on fabulous hikes in northern California. Some have exercise classes that are more high-gear than others, so know if your class is for beginners or advanced. You don’t want to feel you’re the worst in the class—memories of gym class in high school for me. If there are private lessons in whatever you want to do, decide if those are worth the extra cost. It’s also good to try something new, which you may like—or not. I tried yoga repeatedly and it’s just not for me since I kept looking at the clock, but the hikes were nirvana, especially a hike and paint. And recently, I became hooked on indoor pool activities.
- Decide about the importance of food. Some spas are only vegetarian; some offer meat and fish, too. Some offer mounds of healthy food—fabulous salad bars. Others serve very small portions to help you get healthy, but you also can ask for seconds or thirds. Wine often is not included, but you can bring bottles and sip in your room. Find out how many meals per day are included and look at menus to see if the food appeals. Some offer snacks such as little packs of nuts and raisins or fresh fruit and tea. Ask also how often meal choices are changed; it can get awfully boring when the same foods are presented day after day.
- Check if there are lectures. Exercising the brain can be very important, too. Some are known for their top guest speakers and talks related to health, spirituality and cooking. Look over programs before you sign up for a visit.
- See if there are evening programs. Some spas assume you just want to curl up in the evening with a book or watch TV—do they have TVs in rooms, in fact? Not all do. Some offer bingo or more lectures or massages at night. Again, it’s worth asking. Some are in a town where you may want to escape to see a play or movie, but most spa-goers want to stay on the “campus” and indulge in as much relaxation and activities as they can.
- Look at photos online of the facility. You want to be sure it appeals visually, both outdoors and indoors in the shared and private spaces. I wanted a nice locker room where I would change for swimming and take showers. Check if there are multiple buildings, and you need to go outside to get around, or if just one or several connected with indoor walkways.
Whichever place you choose, remember the key. You are going for a special visit, and you want to feel you’re entering a special sanctuary.