If the idea of going to a spa makes you nervous, you're not alone. Many people have their first spa experience when they get a gift card to a day spa. Some people don't even use it because they're anxious about what will happen and the finer points of spa etiquette.
But you can relax -- literally! The biggest area of concern is usually taking your clothes off for a massage. This shouldn't be a worry, because in America there are very strict protocols for draping during massage.
Only the part of your body that is being worked on is exposed. The rest of it is covered with a sheet and blanket or sometimes a large towel. You can keep your clothes on for certain types of treatments such as reflexology. And the truly shy can always get a facial or a spa manicure and pedicure.
And you don't have to worry too much about knowing what to do, because someone will be there at every step to tell you where to go, what to do and what happens next.
When It's Your First Time At the Spa
If you want to find out what a spa is like, you can always ask for a tour before you book an appointment. The spa may or not be able to accommodate you, but it's fair to ask. Here are a few things to look for.
When you book your appointment, tell the spa concierge it's your first spa visit. He or she should take as much time as you need to answer any questions you have: what different spa treatments are like, what they would suggest for you, when you should arrive, and so forth.
The spa concierge will usually ask if you have a preference for a male or female therapist. If you say you don't have a preference, you will probably be booked with a male. It's fine to state your preference.
Most people feel more comfortable with a female therapist, especially in the beginning
How To Make The Most of Your Spa Experience
Arrive at least 15 minutes early, just to make sure you aren't rushed. The whole idea is to relax, and being late is stressful. Leave even more time if they have facilities like hot tubs and steam rooms for you to enjoy.
When you check in at the front desk, the spa concierge will tell you exactly what will happen. They might have someone to accompany you to the changing room, where you are given a locker with a robe and slippers in larger spas. (Some day spas have you change in the room.) This person will also give you a tour of everything available to you, such as steam room, showers, and show you where you will wait for your therapist.
I like to get there early and shower before my massage so I'm nice and clean. If you decide to get in the hot tub, make sure you shower off the chlorine afterwards. You can go to the waiting room (sometimes called a meditation room) a few minutes before your treatment is scheduled to start. Some spas have made these very comfortable spaces with amenities like tea, chaise lounges and magazines, so if you want to have more time, that's fine, too.
The therapist will come and pick you up when your appointment is scheduled to begin and escort you to the treatment room, where the therapist will tell you exactly what is expected. "I'm going to step out of the room for a few moments. You can hang your robe on the hook on the back of the door, and get between the sheets, face down. I will knock before I reenter."
At the end of the treatment the therapist will leave the room while you put your robe back on, and wait outside for you to emerge. You can return to the meditation lounge to rest, or proceed to your next treatment.
More Spa Basics
Other first-time spa-goers have their first spa experience on vacation, at a resort/hotel spas .
Resort/hotel spas come in a wide range of sizes and styles, from small private inns like The Harbour Inn in St. Michaels, Maryland, to the lavish, sprawling resort spas in Hawaii.
People who are interested in weight loss or jump-starting a health lifestyle often choose destination spas that offer an all-encompassing spa experience. Examples are Lake Austin Spa Resort or Canyon Ranch.
Spas provide wonderful, nurturing experiences, but they aren't usually cheap. Here are articles on what you can expect to pay at the spa and how you can save on your spa vacation. Here are a few more thoughts on finding bargains at the spa. And there are many affordable destination spas.