Spa breaks have always been a great way of escaping the stresses of the modern world, but these days your options go far beyond heading to the nicest hotel in town for a day of pampering. Destinations around the world have tailored tours dedicated entirely to the art of relaxation, usually based on centuries-old traditions and practices.
From the unique massage styles of Thailand and India to Turkish baths, Scandinavian saunas, and the natural hot springs found everywhere from Taiwan to Costa Rica, spa experiences offer a fascinating insight into a country’s culture and attitude towards health. The deep state of relaxation, contentment, and wellbeing is a nice added bonus.
Where to Go
Countries around the world have cultivated wellness traditions in many different ways, meaning a spa trip will look very different depending on where you’re headed.
Ayurveda is a form of alternative medicine that's thousands of years old and still practiced by many across the Indian subcontinent. Ayurvedic tourism has boomed in recent years, offering traditional spa and massage therapies in combination with other soul- and body-enriching activities like yoga and meditation.
Book your Indian Ayurvedic tour during the dry season between November and March, or head to the cooler mountains in the north if you want to visit during the summer.
There is an average of one sauna per household in Finland, and that’s because the sauna is considered a necessary aspect of wellbeing to the Finns. Saunas are everywhere throughout the country, but the best are set against the backdrop of the country’s stunning lakes, forests, and fjords.
Visit in the freezing winter months for the most spectacular snowy sights, and don’t forget to end your sauna as the locals do -- with a dip into the icy waters.
Costa Rica’s beautiful landscapes and laid-back attitude to life have long made it a destination for relaxation, and a spa and wellness industry has sprouted throughout the country as a result. Stay in a remote eco-lodge or seaside resort, combining activities like hiking, horseback riding, and diving with relaxing mud baths and natural hot springs.
January to March is the best time to visit for lower rainfall, but the months of July and June are great for smaller crowds and better deals.
Planning Your Trip
What to Look for in a Spa Tour
The contents of a spa tour will vary depending on where you go -- some countries have plenty of saunas and hot springs, while others focus on massage and relaxation therapies. For a well-rounded experience, look for a spa tour that offers variety so you don’t get bored too quickly.
Many spa tours are part of an overall trend in wellness travel and as a result will incorporate other health-based activities. Healthy, vegetarian cuisine is a common aspect of wellness tours, as are yoga, meditation, nature hikes, and bans on technology. If you want something more flexible, opt for tours focused around luxury spa resorts, which are more likely to leave you to your own devices.
Average Spa Tour Cost & Length
The duration of most spa trips ranges between 4 and 7 days, but shorter and longer options are available. As a general rule, longer tours will tend to incorporate more activities like city sightseeing or hiking, or will cover a few different spa destinations. Shorter ones will be based around staying in one place and fully enjoying the local facilities.
Because spa tours are often luxury experiences, costs tend to be on the higher end of the spectrum. You can expect to pay $750-$1,500 for most 4-6 day trips, with more luxurious options ranging closer to $2,500. Cheaper options are available if you know where to look. For example, a spa tour in Finland can be over double the cost of a similar offering in a nearby country like Estonia, Latvia, or Poland.
Packing Tips & Gear Rental
The only thing you need to bring on a spa tour is a swimsuit (preferably a few) -- and even this will depend on the local attitude towards nudity. Beyond that, it will depend on what other activities the trip is likely to involve. For instance, you may need comfortable clothing for hikes and activities if you're going to be based in nature, but you'll want nicer outfits for evenings in an upscale spa resort.
You are unlikely to need any specific gear on a spa trip. If your tour includes any activities that involve specialist gear, this will most likely be provided, but optional activities will often incur an extra charge for gear rental. If you have any doubts, get in touch with the tour organizer.
The purpose of spa trips is complete relaxation, so leave work and the usual stresses at home. Many lodges and resorts specifically ban or confiscate laptops, tablets, and mobile phones, and many don’t have wifi. Even if you are going somewhere that isn’t as strict, leaving your technology behind is the best way to truly get the most out of your spa trip.
Many countries have spa customs that feel unusual to Western visitors. Most saunas and hot springs are traditionally enjoyed naked, and some places enforce this more strongly than others. Some places, such as Germany, have co-ed nude saunas, while others, like Japan, are strictly divided by gender.
Doing some research into the customs and expectations of spa culture where you are going is the best way to avoid shock, and it’s also a good idea to check with your tour operator. If in doubt, go with what everyone else is doing, and don’t worry -- being naked in public may feel weird at first, but the shock passes quickly once you realize no one is really paying attention.
Qualification & Training
You are unlikely to need any form of qualification or training to go on a spa trip. Even tours that include things like yoga, meditation, and hiking will usually be appropriate for people of all experience and fitness levels.
Aside from the danger of becoming so relaxed you forget to catch your return flight, there are not many risks involved with spa tours. That said, you should always make sure you follow the sauna instructions, as they are there for your safety.
- When receiving massages, know that certain styles are more likely to cause soreness. Open communication with your masseur is the best way to avoid discomfort.
- If you start feeling dizzy, uncomfortable, or in pain when sitting in a sauna, get up and leave. It’s easy to feel like discomfort is part of the experience, but that’s not the case.
- Stay hydrated, especially if you are sweating a lot.
- Pay attention to what you touch in a hot sauna -- burns from accidental contact with heaters are not uncommon.
- Ending a sauna session with a dip in freezing water or a roll in the snow is common in some countries, and can be extremely invigorating. However, it can be quite a shock to the system and is not recommended for people with cardiovascular problems.