Do you visit spas when you travel? How do you save money and still enjoy your visit?
We’re planning a huge, crazy, quick round-the-world trip in November and I've previously talked about how I will be incorporating some slow travel in the middle of our very fast paced trip. It might sound a bit counter-intuitive, but I'm actually going to plan for some relaxation days. Yep. Planned relaxation. I really know how to live it up!
One of the things I'm hoping to do is spend some time in spas. Like many people, I feel pretty confident about tracking down deals in my own city, but paying for spa services while you travel can easily use up a lot of money in a short amount of time, so I found it necessary to look into ways I can both save money and get the best possible experience.
1.) Get some money back.
Many extended insurance programs cover a portion of registered massage therapy costs. Check with your provider to see if they will cover you out of country. In any case, you will need to get a receipt with your practitioners’ registration number. A registered massage therapist will also give you greater value for your money. They go beyond relaxation and tension relief and can help heal damaged muscles and tissue, enhance sports performance, and carry out assisted stretches to enhance flexibility. A bonus tip: figure out the cost per minute of the massage. For reasons I can’t explain, a 45 or 75 minute massage usually works out to be cheaper per minute than a 30 or 60 minute massage.
2.) Pretend to be a teenager.
At my local spa, the “teen” facial is 30 minutes and is identical to the regular 60 minute facial – just without the hand/arm/neck rub and the “custom” skin assessment. If it’s scrub, mask, peel, extraction, hydration you want, you can get it for 30% less if you’re willing to give up a hand massage. There are also teen or “express” manicures and pedicures that do the same thing, just with less pampering time.
3.) Do some of the work yourself.
I cannot paint my nails evenly if my life depends on it. But I can scrub, buff, file, apply a mask, cuticle oil, etc…. So I find I get my best value for just paying for a polish change in between periodic pedicures and manicures. Likewise, if you can paint your nails just fine (lucky you!) but have some challenging feet, ask if you can skip the polish application in lieu of a paraffin wrap or extra treatment.
4.) Show up early.
Most spas will offer you tea or coffee and have a wonderfully relaxing atmosphere, stocked with great magazines. So show up 20 minutes early, take the time to drink some tea, read, relax, and unwind. For extra crafty points: Show up late on a Friday afternoon. There is a good chances a bottle of wine is going around!
5.) Stay late.
Many spas, especially larger ones or those in hotels, allow you to enjoy their saunas, whirlpools, steam baths, gym facilities and so on with just one paid treatment. Take the time to enjoy the amenities that come with your treatment and you can easily double your amount of time at the spa without changing the price at all.
6.) Get in the know.
Have a few places that you like? Why not like their Facebook page and follow them on Twitter? Sign up for their mailing list and look through their website to learn about customer appreciation events, discount days, even birthday clubs. Many spas have customer appreciation month during their least busy time. This past November, one of my favourites here in Ottawa offered 20% off any service, $5 eyebrow waxes, and buy 2- get 1 free product purchases, along with prize draws, free appetizers, chocolate, and wine. I saved nearly $40 in fees and taxes off my services and got lots of treats – it was a great deal!
7.) Get something unique (but not a “signature”).
A lot of spas will advertise their “signature” package or service, but it’s really nothing unique or special. It’s more likely to be their most expensive items grouped together. Price out the components individually to see if you really get any added value and if you really want to get all that the package includes. (I don’t consider a “spa” lunch as a great value – it’s usually just salad and yogurt!) If might be cheaper and more enjoyable to build your own combo. Search for something unique that you cannot get at your home spa. Some Oahu spas offer rice and sake facials inspired by Japanese visitors – I would love to try one of these on our next trip!
8.) Add something on (or take it away).
Not quite a package, but often you can add on a service for very little extra cost, like an eyebrow wax, a paraffin foot wrap, or a hair wash and blow dry. I think these extras can add great value for a traveler – you will feel so much more polished and pulled together! Groomed brows and hair can really make you feel and look like you've got it together! I would only say to beware of eye and lip facial treatments. Often, these are added at a cost of $20-$50 and, often you are not on the receiving end of anything special, just the more gentle application of regular products. Find out exactly what these ambiguous add-ons entails!
9.) You get what you pay for.
In our home city we all likely have a cheapie mall manicure stands we occasionally frequent for quick and basic services. Be careful searching for the same thing in a foreign country – the prices might be cheap, but you are going in blind, with no information on hygiene standards. This might not be the best way to save your money.
10.) Avoid overpaying.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, avoid overpaying for spa services by getting your massage or treatment in your hotel room or on the beach. Sounds ultra-romantic and relaxing, but you will pay a huge premium. Personally, I would rather spend that extra money on an upgraded, in-spa service, and not be seen having a stranger rub my naked body in public!
11.) Try the juniors.
You can also save money by getting your services from a junior staff member. This is especially true of junior hair stylists, when you see the price list as “starting from” instead of a firm number. I would feel totally comfortable using a junior staff member for hair trims and blowouts, basic manicures, pedicures, body scrubs. After all, the staff member is of course trained and certified, just starting out. Maybe they've been working in the field for years and are just new to the business. I would be more willing to invest in a more senior staff service for tricky procedures – anything involving the removal of body hair or use of sharp implements applies! If it’s services you need and you don’t care about relaxation, consider visiting a local school of esthetics and being a demo-model for students. I've done this a few times for haircuts and have had both good and so-so results – it’s all about your comfort level.
12.) Hotel smarts.
You might not have enough loyalty points to get a free hotel room, but maybe you can get a discounted hotel spa package instead. Or avoid your hotel altogether – you might not be able to afford a room in the 5 star hotel, but their spa might be only slightly more expensive than the one where you are staying – and you could potentially get a much more luxurious experience. If you’re crafty, call customer service before your treatment to get complimentary parking, then spend a bit of extra time enjoying the other amenities in and around the hotel.
13.) Or... Forget the hotel!
These days, spas are located in some pretty incredible locations – everything from rain forest lodges to the top floor of skyscrapers. If this kind of location appeals to you (and you might be paying to visit a similar attraction anyway), consider using one of these off beat locations. It’s guaranteed to be a memorable experience!
14.) Remember to protect your safety.
As mentioned, hygienic standards can vary greatly in different countries. Price and service is a distant second to clean, sanitized, certified facilities. Undertaking a more significant makeover in the form of chemical peels, injectables, fillers, and surgical procedures requires serious research and must be undertaken with great caution, no matter how attractive the price. You also need to safeguard your comfort. The middle of a vacation is probably not the best time to get your first bikini wax or facial with serious extractions. Chances are your skin will be angry for a few days afterwards – and there’s nothing relaxing about that!
15.) Make the time to include relaxation into your travel and vacation plans.
I’m the kind of person who likes to be on the go and it’s been hard to find the balance between relaxing and feeling like I’m wasting precious travel time. I’m hoping some registered massage therapy will help me relax after all the time I’ll spend cramped in economy class!
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