One of the best ways a solo traveler can relax on the road is to treat herself (or himself) to a spa day. I have to admit, I’ve only done this a handful of times. I usually have excuses why I can’t, like “I’ve only got a week in this city, and there’s too much to see to waste time in a spa” or “It’s too expensive, I really can’t afford it this trip”. This summer, I rediscovered just how important spa time can be for busy people on vacation. There’s nothing like a massage, facial or body scrub to make a body feel special.
But if you’ve never been to a spa before, you might be nervous about what to expect. It’s always easier to try new things like this if you have a buddy who can show you the ropes. What’s a solo traveler to do? First, know that you’re not alone. Everyone is nervous the first time. Some of us are still nervous after the fifth time. (And by “some of us” I mean me.)
Last week, I read the most wonderfully honest blog post about going to a spa. Pam MacNaughtan, of Savoire Faire Abroad, wrote about her very first spa experience (“I’m a Spa Virgin”) and why she hadn’t ever had a spa treatment before. I was really touched reading her story, and I could also relate to it. Whether or not your insecurities are the same as Pam’s, the truth is, many of us are insecure about new experiences that render us vulnerable.
Like getting naked in front of a bunch of strangers.
Women, in particular, often have body image issues. (Thanks, Hollywood and the modeling industry for our lack of self-esteem. Jerks.) I’m not completely comfortable getting naked in front of strangers either, but that’s not what causes my “spa nerves”.
I grew up poor in rural Vermont—in other words, a real country bumpkin. To this day, I’m nervous in new social situations because I’m always afraid I’m going to embarrass myself with what I don’t know. (I would probably die of nervousness if I had to attend a black tie event.) When I was growing up, I thought spas were for rich socialites. Today, I realize they’re a wonderful way to pamper yourself if you can afford a splurge. But deep down inside, I still imagine that everyone there is richer than me.
The spa still feels like a foreign country to me—one where I don’t speak the language and am constantly worried I’m going to commit a cultural faux-pas. Will I be the only person wearing a swimsuit in the whirlpool? Will I show my inexperience by visiting the sauna and the salt room in the wrong order? (Is there an order?) Will everyone start whispering amongst themselves “She’s a pretender. She’s not one of us”?
I remember my first spa experience vividly. It was at the Bellagio Spa in Las Vegas. Sitting in the lounge area, naked under my bathrobe, was only marginally better than sitting in a medical office waiting area before a mammogram. At least the robe was fluffy and soft. (Medical offices, take note.) But I tried very hard to act nonchalant about the whole thing. I didn’t want anyone to know this was my first time.
A slight woman with short, curly hair sat next to me. She had a delightful Australian accent. Turning to me, she struck up a conversation. Her opening line was:
“This is your first time, isn’t it?”
I was horrified. I hadn’t had time to do anything except strip naked, put on a robe, and sit in the lounge, and already, I’d given myself away! How was that possible?
“Yes, it is,” I admitted sheepishly. “How could you tell?”
She was maddeningly vague about how she knew. “Oh, I could just tell. It’s my first time, too.”
My body sagged with relief. She turned out to be really nice. It was her first time to Las Vegas. We chatted for a bit until I was called away for my treatment. (Which was divine, by the way. I fell asleep during my massage.)
But I’ve remembered that encounter ever since. Somehow, she knew I was a newbie, but I had no idea she was. So you never know, when you’re at a spa, about the people around you. Insecure about your body? Nervous about your first massage? They might be, too—no matter how cool they try to play it.
When we’re naked—even if it’s under a robe—we’re all a bit more vulnerable. It puts us on common ground, no matter what our socio-economic background is or what our perceptions of our bodies are.
For the record, I’ve seen women of all ages and body types at the spas I’ve visited. You are generally free to wear a bathing suit or not in the facilities, it’s up to you (but it’s always good to ask, just to make sure). You do usually have to strip completely for the massage, but you are left alone long enough to slip out of your robe and between the sheets on the massage bed. I’ve found massage therapists to be very understanding about modesty (at least, in the U.S.).
Let’s face it, ladies, if you’ve ever had a pap smear (and I hope you have, because they can save your life), this is a walk in the park compared to that.
Having a spa day is an experience every woman should have at least once in her life. Not everyone can afford that splurge, of course, but if you can, you shouldn’t deprive yourself due to fear or nervousness. Be honest upfront with the spa staff. Let them know it’s your first time and ask questions. They hear that all the time. They’ll walk you through everything.
After all, the whole purpose of the spa is to help you relax. If you allow them to, they’ll help make that happen. And you’ll be so glad you did it.