International Spas of Mystery

Anyone who knows me well can attest to my enduring addiction to all things bath and beauty. Just last week, a friend sent me a picture of bath fizzers and asked if I would use them; I replied, I love all things bath enhancement! This passion is longstanding, beginning with Watermelon Lip Smackers and Bath and Body Works Cucumber Lime Verbena (I don’t think we even knew what Verbena was back then… still not sure if I do), and growing through the years. When I moved to the Philippines in 2013, I brought enough shampoo, conditioner, and body wash for at least six months, preferring my fancy products with their luxurious scents.

It should come as no surprise then, that as part of my travels, I tend to indulge in massages or other spa treatments. This is aided by the fact they are almost always significantly cheaper than in the US, and almost always a unique cultural experience.

Fish spa at Changi International Airport, Singapore

On the World Race, my adventure buddy/friend/fellow spa enthusiast, Leyna, and I tried all sorts of spa treatments, including getting fish pedicures in the Singapore airport, mani-pedis in an Ugandan mall, and massages that supported local entrepreneurs in the Philippines.

This trend continued when I went to Beijing with my BFF, Sanam, and we wanted to try traditional Chinese massage, which involved a cotton pajama set and a lot of stretching in the dark. In Guatemala, I found a masseuse, and a friend joined me for a couple’s massage so we could get the discount, but it was a little weird as the ladies were quite loud and commented on our bodies throughout the therapy.

Even on domestic trips I enjoy a little indulgence, a massage and body treatment in Palm Springs, or a pedicure on vacation. Whenever I go home to visit, my mom and I try to squeeze in an afternoon at the nail salon.

On my 25th birthday in Granada, Spain, my mom and I spent half a day at the al-Andalus Hamman spa, in the shadows of the Alhambra, dipping in and out of the cool and hot waters, getting scrubbed down and massaged, and enjoying a restful day in a cozy, dark spa. A week later, we found a fish pedicure spa like Leyna and I had done in Singapore, though this one also included a massage and painted nails. It was a very different experience, but it still tickled something terrible and was relaxing and unnerving at the same time.

When I lived in the Philippines, massage was a weekly ritual, as a 90 minute massage with tip came out to about $15 USD. I was stressed and a bit strung out, making my way in a brand new culture, while working in a cubicle and trying to make friends. I didn’t know enough people to get hugs very often, and the healing touch of massage helped me feel connected to something outside of myself and my anxiety.

Spring break in Canada five years later featured two half days of beauty treatments-a few hours spent at the Scandinave Spa-Vieux Montreal, a Nordic style spa, with hot tubs, saunas and steam rooms, cold rinses, and cozy places to lay around. I also got a massage at Toronto Bodyworks, which was restful and relaxing, a great way to cap off my trip. I was quite jealous of all the Canadians who got to use their health insurance to pay for their treatments though!

Half naked or whole naked massages, clothed in pajamas or a swimsuit, facials that hurt, pedicures facilitated by fish… they’ve been wild. I have enjoyed them as a variety of experiences, each a few hours of self-care, rumination, and mostly calm. I was reflecting on these experiences this weekend as I had a massage to try to alleviate the frozen shoulder symptoms that have been plaguing me for two years, and it was my first time experiencing fascial massage. She used a tool that to me felt like a dull comb being scraped over the skin to release tension, and it was a unique sensation to all these others.

Sometimes I feel a little self-conscious as a bigger person who loves indulging in these treatments. I am sure in some spas and cultures, they perhaps were judgmental of this. But if only skinny people with perfectly toned bodies enjoyed massage and other beauty treatments, there would not be enough business to stay open. And no matter what one’s size, human touch usually feels good and soothing (obviously there are exceptions for a variety of reasons). I think one thing I appreciated about some of these experiences—especially in Canada—was that it felt more accessible than in the US, for all body types and way more income levels. I caveat this post with these comments, but I do hope you get a chance to experience self-care, self-love, and self-acceptance through whatever spa or beauty or any other routines you find, that help you love the skin you’re in and the journey you are on.

And if you are ever in another country with a unique beauty treatment available, maybe give it a shot?

Where to go if you go:

Barcelona, Spain: AquaBliss Fish Spa,

Granada, Spain: Hammam al-Andalus,

Montreal, Canada: Scandinave Spa Vieux-Montréal,

Toronto, Canada: Toronto Bodyworks,


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