Let me tell you a funny story…

A few years ago, I met a woman who told a story that I will never forget – it still evokes howls of laughter every time I think about it or retell it. We met at a spa and over dinner, a bunch of us traded stories about our favorite spa treatments. From reflexology to reiki, we compared notes.

My fave spa experience?

The Thai massage I had at Miraval Resort in Arizona. If you’re not familiar with a Thai massage, let me tempt you. It’s a form of bodywork that incorporates a few different techniques: point pressure, energy meridian work and yoga-like stretching, all done on a floor mat with the massage therapist kneeling/standing alongside of you, or wherever they need to be to gently guide your body into various flexible positions that are both invigorating and relaxing. It’s so relaxing, in fact, that even though it’s a somewhat “active” massage, it’s the only type of massage that has ever managed to lull me off to sleep.

A Thai massage differs from a traditional massage in a number of ways.

But perhaps one of the biggest differences is that you remain fully clothed for a Thai massage.

It’s best for the clothing to be loose-fitting, which makes good sense since your body is being pulled and twisted into all sorts of poses, some of which can be a bit extreme, without being painful.

Thai massage at Miraval (Photo credit: Miraval Resorts)

Thai massage at Miraval (Credit: Miraval Resorts)

But this woman, whose first-ever Thai massage was in Thailand – didn’t know this, and showed up for hers fully undressed. And since she was in a place with a language barrier, there was little communication to warn her, or to warn her massage therapist, that she wasn’t familiar with the etiquette of a Thai massage!

In case you’re wondering, she did have the massage. And in case you suspected, she was not able to enjoy it or relax much; instead she felt embarrassed and self-conscious throughout. And I suspect she was every bit skeptical as to just what was going on. Nevertheless, she lived to tell – and retell – her story all in good humor, and it’s a lesson learned. You should know the rules before you go!

Which brings me to the original intent of this article… spa etiquette

“Less-frequent or new spa-goers sometimes feel overwhelmed or unsure about what to expect,” says Katlyn Hatcher, director of spa and wellness at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington, Pennsylvania.

However, knowing what to expect and how to “behave” can make a spa experience so much better.

Even at midlife, many spa-goers are “virgins” – and navigating the “foreign waters” of a spa may make them feel uncomfortable, intimidated or anxious.

So whether it’s your first spa experience or not, it’s always useful to keep these tips in mind so your visit is one you’ll remember fondly:

1) Undress to your comfort

When you’re having a massage or body treatment (like a scrub), you’re usually “instructed” to get completely undressed, and then slip into a comfy robe and slippers. Massage therapists are very well trained in draping your body, uncovering only the areas that they’re working on, so your entire nude body is never fully exposed.

And if you’re getting a tanning treatment or scrub, you’re usually given paper panties to don. But if you’re modest and the thought of undressing completely makes you uncomfortable, then don’t feel pressured. You may want to consider bringing your own bathing suit for your body treatment, or keeping your own underwear on for your massage.

(Note: if you’re getting a facial, which usually involves a lovely neck and shoulder massage, remove your bra, or at least lower the straps.)

Facial at Miraval (Credit: Miraval Resort)

Facial at Miraval (Credit: Miraval Resorts)

2) Decide on your budget ahead of time

It’s not uncommon to get into the treatment room and be given some choices of add-ons like a scented massage, a customized facial with added masks or creams, or a scrub with extra-rich oil-infused beads.

When you book your appointment, ask exactly what is included in the service, and if there are any “extras” – then decide before you go. You don’t want to be in the room, feeling all relaxed and agreeable, and agree to spend more than you intended.

Credit: Pixabay

Credit: Pixabay

3) Keep your voice down

This might seem obvious, since the atmosphere of a spa is nicely “hushed,” but you’d be surprised at how many times I’ve been faced with a noisy neighbor while trying to relax on a massage table. Noise carries, even between walls!

Don’t be “that” neighbor; think of the spa like you’d think of a library (remember those?) and use your “inside voice.” Conversely, if you’re the one who is quiet but your aesthetician is the Chatty Cathy, feel free to say something like, “I’m just going to be quiet and relax now; it’s been a tough day.”

4) Don’t feel pressured to buy

Some aestheticians might give you a product pitch, and try to sell you the things they’ve used on you that day. It’s perfectly okay to tell them that you are there to relax and unwind, and they should feel free to jot down all their recommendations on a sheet of paper for you to take home.

Credit: Pixabay

Credit: Pixabay

Sometimes, sample sizes are available, so you can try them before committing to a big financial layout.

5) Leave your bling in your in-room safe

You’ll have to remove jewelry for most services, so to save yourself the hassle and the possibility of losing it or forgetting it, take it off – and leave it safely in your hotel room safe – before you head off to your treatment.

6) Let the front desk do the math

A great service deserves and depends on generous tipping – but if numbers stress you out, don’t ruin your Zen by trying to figure it out yourself.

When you check out, simply ask the person collecting your money to calculate 20 percent (or whatever you choose to give) and handle it from there. Although it’s rare, some spas do include a gratuity in the price, so it doesn’t hurt to check if they do, just in case.

Photo credit: Nemacolin Woodlands Resort

Credit: Nemacolin Woodlands Resort

7) Arrive early

There’s nothing that’ll kill your relaxation more than having to make a mad, last-minute dash to the spa and having to rush to get ready for your treatment, leaving you frazzled and breathless. “Nothing should be rushed – part of what you’re paying for at a spa is the experience,” says Hatcher.

There’s a reason that spas offers a special room for you to relax in before your treatment – arrive early, and use it. Most have magazines, teas and light snacks. And please, leave your cell phone behind.

Photo credit: Nemacolin Woodlands Resort

Credit: Nemacolin Woodlands Resort


Services typically found in spas – like exercise and movement, outdoor sports, massage and bodywork, spiritual wellness, meditation, yoga, water therapy and more – all have proven health benefits and are especially valuable and beneficial to the over-50 traveler in helping to bolster both quality of life and alleviate symptoms of many age-related diseases.

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