I'm pretty good at living on a backpacker's budget now, but sometimes you just fancy a bit of luxury. I'll never be the kind of girl who wants to spend thousands on an expensive getaway when I could make my money spread a bit further and still treat myself. For me, the real luxury is being able to escape and live well for longer instead of enjoying a short blast of freedom, but not everyone has the option of taking a year out to go backpacking, nor does everyone like the idea of budget travel. Now I'm back in the UK, I don't plan to stop travelling and until my return to Australia, I'm breaking up my time with trips away. Before I went away, my mum and I used to have regular spa days together, every few months we would head away for a day of complete rest, relaxation and a heavy dose of pampering. Both working stressful jobs, it was lovely to just have a day where we didn't have to think about work, or anything else other than where our next massage was coming from. I really believe in the importance of looking after your own health and well-being by keeping fit, eating well and allowing time to really relax and recuperate. Visiting a spa is a great way of really giving you a day off from life, a chance to turn your phone off and really get some space.
I've posted about this spa experience before but I still can't believe how many people don't seem to know about the amazing deals available. Even when you need a day of pure indulgence, there is always a great offer that can help you get the most out of your money. So, what am I on about? I'm talking about Aqua Sana Spa at Centreparcs, now it may not be the first place you think of when you start planning a spa retreat but perhaps it should be. I'm not usually one for chains but in this case I'm happy to make an exception for such an amazing experience, I have yet to find a spa that rivals the quality I've found there, and trust me, I've done the research. We always go to the Elveden retreat, which is our closest, and I convinced it's the best one after experiencing the Sherwood spa and finding it a bit lacking. Surrounded by woodland and beautiful countryside, even the drive there is relaxing, and from the second you walk in the door you are being endlessly pampered by the amazing staff there. We always say it must be a wonderful place to work, so relaxing. We always check out the deals available at the time on the website, but usually end up paying around £100 each for a full day in the spa, with breakfast and lunch included, and a luxury treatment.This time, we went for the Brighten and Glow spa day for two, which gave us the chance to try out the Elemis skin brightening facial and luxurious Frangipani hot stones massage - and yes, it is every bit as fabulous as it sounds. I love that the treatment pampers every bit of your body and uses only products not tested on animals and using minimal parabens - it's much better for the environment and it's much better for your health. Before our treatment, we were treated to a delicious breakfast in the Vitale cafe where we indulged in pastries and coffees before hitting the spa. We had a few hours before our treatments so we decided to start with a swim in the outdoor heated pool, this is always such a treat when the weather outside is rubbish. We stood with the high pressure jets massaging our necks and floated around the empty pool before heading into the steam rooms. Now this is the bit that sets Aqua Sana apart from all other spas I have experienced, it offers 15 different spa experiences including a range of steam rooms with essential oils and herbs from all over the world and saunas. My favourite rooms are the Japanese Salt Steam room, the Balinese and the Indian steam rooms - I just love the gentle floral aromas and they really feel like they're doing your skin good. You can rinse off afterwards with one of the multi-sensory showers to rejuvenate your skin and refresh before checking out the meditation room or zen garden.
When you're taken through to your spa treatment, the ladies give you a completely relaxing experience tailored to your skin type and preferences. They're extremely attentive and some of the best beauty treatments I've had have been at the Aqua Sana, with sensitive skin like mine it's important to have a therapist who listens. The whole experience is utterly luxurious and you come away feeling like a new woman, my skin felt like a newborn baby's and my muscles were finally relaxed after two years of hostel beds. After a tasty lunch, it was time for a waterbed nap - always a highlight of the day - especially if you can score one of the bigger outdoor beds which are especially nice when you're wrapped up in your complimentary robe. Throughout the spa, there are several stations where you ca reapply products throughout the day and test others, sometimes the therapists will also bring round products for you to try which is lovely. Everything is thought of when you are at the spa, you don't spend a single second thinking because everything is already as special as it could be. There are limited numbers allowed in the spa, which really helps to keep the exclusive feeling as some just come for a morning or afternoon session.One top tip not to miss out on during your visit, the Discovery Sessions are something I had never attended until my most recent visit but are something I wouldn't miss in future. These short sessions take place periodically throughout the day and led by a beauty therapist, they teach you about the Elemis and Decleor products and how to apply them. As a big beauty product lover, this was a good excuse to try out some of the other amazing products they have to offer. But it also meant we found out about an amazing deal on a Decleor multipack of products - normally selling at over £50, it was reduced down to £19 with further discounts for attending the session. It was an amazing deal, so I treated me and my mum to a pack each - we would never have known about the dramatic price reduction had we not been in the session, so they're definitely worth attending for discounts on the ranges. All in all, it was a fabulous day, and long overdue as a birthday present to the both of us. If you ask me, you can't beat a mummy-daughter day spent eating delicious food, being pampered and relaxing on waterbeds. Click here to book your spa experience at Aqua Sana, or to read more about what treatments are available.
Can you recommend any other luxury spa experiences for those on a budget? What's your favourite spa treatment?
I may have been living on a budget since arriving in Australia, but travelling through Asia, there was something I never scrimped on. Even when we've given up all our worldly possessions in favour of a super-saver life on the road, we all have to admit that there are times when all us backpackers dream of a little luxury. One thing in particular I miss since being down under is massages - back in the UK my mum and I always made sure we had a little spa break booked in to treat ourselves. Both working pretty stressful jobs with constant deadlines, it was so nice to have a full day dedicated to relaxation and pampering every now and again. Even when I couldn't afford a day at the spa, I'd often have an evening dedicated to facials, manicures and pampering at home. It's important to look after yourself and to allow yourself the time to really unwind. So when I arrived in Thailand, I was over the moon to realise quite how cheap and incredible the massages were - I'm not gonna lie, at one point I was getting one every day for a week until I realised I was getting addicted. You really notice the difference as a traveller, especially when you're sleeping on rubbish bunk beds with springs in your back, or when you're spending all day walking the streets of Bangkok or up all night dancing at a party in the jungle. Trust me, that leaves your with sore feet and a few too many knots in your shoulders, plus, if you've just left a stressful job and life behind, it's nice to treat yourself and not break the bank.
Travelling across Asia, you really start to notice the similarities and some of the differences between the massages you experience - you really become an expert in knowing when you're getting a good massage or when you're getting one from someone who has no idea what they're doing. I actually walked out on two massages because the masseuses clearly had no idea what they were doing and were starting to hurt my feet - but that doesn't even make a dent in how many incredible massages I had over the five months I spent travelling Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. The further afield you go, the more you get to experience slightly more unusual types of treatment which are often quite an experience in themselves. In this post, I'm going to focus on five main types of massage I experienced while in Asia - I'm sure there are many more but these were the most incredible and the ones I would seriously recommend you try for yourself when you pass through Asia.
Foot/Neck Street Massage
It wouldn't be a trip to Thailand without at some point experiencing a massage on the street as you watch the world go by and let the craziness of Bangkok wash over you. I love to people watch and this was a great place to do it after a long day of walking around the city. It was heaven to slip into one of these comfy chairs while a Thai man or woman massaged your feet, or shoulders. At only around 150 baht (around £3) you can't really go wrong can you?! My favourite place to stop was right next to a little bar that always had live music playing and it was usually the perfect accompaniment to the massage.
Now this one is an acquired taste - some don't enjoy this vigorous massage and prefer something more relaxing but Thai massage has a great effect on the body. I always left a Thai massage feeling invigorated and revived, and it is great if your muscles feel tight from lots of activities - a bit like a deep tissue massage. I personally wouldn't have this one very often because I found that sometimes my muscles ached afterwards because it was quite rough compared to other types of massage, but if you get the right masseuse it can be amazing! This one cost around 400 baht (£4) when I was there.
Full Body Oil Massage
My absolute favourite is the one with coconut oil - this was my special treat every few weeks. I loved the way the oil felt on your skin as you were massaged and it stopped the massage from being as rough as in Thai massage. Plus the smell of the oil was just divine, your skin felt incredible afterwards because it was so soft. My favourite coconut oil massage was the very first one I had where I lay on a platform facing the ocean just after sunset on a tiny Thai island, it was beautiful watching the clouds go all shades of pink and blue as the sun slipped further below the horizon and the waves lapped against the shore. This one cost 5-600 baht (£10-12) depending on where you were.
Four Hands Bliss Massage
This one was a pretty unique experience and one I couldn't pass up. When I was in Cambodia, I stayed at a yoga retreat where they offered this type of massage and I was urged to give it a try. Two specially trained massage therapists would mirror each other's movements and rhythm on your body to overload your sensory capacity and send you into deep states of bliss and relaxation. It was a once in a lifetime experience and I'm so glad I tried it, at just $20 USD it was a bargain! Many came out of this massage in a real daze they were so overwhelmed by the sensations, I personally found it very invigorating and was bouncing off the walls!
Blind Shiatsu Massage
Another experience I will never forget was my hour spent with Leab at the Cambodian retreat, he is actually the person who massages Angelina Jolie at a five star hotel not far away when she visits the country, but I got to experience the deep tissue massage for just $15 USD. This was just one week after a bad bus crash left me limping and in serious pain throughout my legs and especially in one knee. I didn't even tell Leab about this but in seconds he could tell where the pain was and set to work, we barely spoke as his English wasn't very good, but his hands were an absolute miracle. They made an incredible difference to the pain and stiffness in my legs, I walked out of there not limping for the first time in over a week. The whole experience, just being in his peaceful presence was so healing and I was gutted when it was over! If you ever get a chance to experience type of massage - do it!
Even just writing this I'm desperate for a massage - the last eight months of working and partying flag out, plus three months in the bush, haven't done much for my knotted shoulders and aching back. My mum and I are already planning a mother-daughter spa day for when I return, and I can't wait for it after working what was probably one of the worst jobs of my life. If you don't already have a spa day planned or can't spare the time and money to try these Asian delights - why not put aside some money each week and treat yourself a little closer to home? You could check out Urban Retreat's Moroccan Hammam experience at Harrods which offers a centuries old full body experience to purify and revitalise the body and soul, including exfoliation. Anyone who's tempted to book a massage after reading this post should have a look around and definitely consider treating themselves!
Tell me about your favourite spa experiences - were they in the UK or abroad? Have you tried these massages - what did you think?
* this post was a collaboration with Harrods
As I'm sure you can imagine, last week flew by in a blur of family time, catching up with friends and saying my goodbyes, packing and a constant battle between eating my fill of British food to last me the next year and working it off at the gym to get my body even remotely bikini ready. As you read this, I'll be somewhere in Bangkok - hopefully wandering around a market eating delicious food and taking in the sights. I'll be spending the first couple of days in a hotel, getting my bearings and making a firmer plan for the upcoming weeks and meeting up with friends. I'm sure it will only just be starting to register that this is how my life will be for the next year - no more getting up at the crack of dawn to go to work in cold, raining England - but finally what I have been working for and planning for over 12 months is finally a reality! I can't quite believe it myself. I have to be honest, I've had the worst possible run of news stories since booking my flights - it seems there's pretty much been a murder on a Thai beach, a shark attack in Australia, or a plane going missing every bloody week! Great for reassuring my mother I'm going to survive my trip, and great for reassuring me that I'm going to survive my flight. It's okay though, I've never been much of a worrier so I'm putting all these news stories to the back of my mind and just doing everything I can to avoid being mugged, raped, murdered or involved in some horrible incident. In the meantime though, I have been doing my utmost to make sure I have some very special memories of home, my family and my friends. I'm sure there will come a time when homesickness strikes and I am very glad of them! As you guys will have already read by now - I've got some pretty good ones in the bag after a perfect Christmas with the family, my Mexican-themed New Year's, my Nineties-themed Leaving Party, and a couple of lovely dates with the boyfriend.This post is just a quick one to show you what else I got up to in the week between Christmas and flying out. My week started with a bracing, windy walk on the beach with my parents at Sunny Hunny - we have a beach hut there and it was a chance for me to say goodbye to the hut as I won't be seeing it for over a year. It was a beautiful day, very frosty and the coldest morning yet of 2014, but perfectly fresh at the same time. I love walking at the beach on cold, sunny days - the air is so clean and it really does blow away all the cobwebs. It was great to get some serious fresh air and some colour in my cheeks - plus with that and a few workouts, it was great to get past feeling so stuffed with all the delicious Christmas food. We covered about six miles and it was good to spend some time back by the sea - my inner mermaid was satisfied. As you can see scattered around this post there are a few pics I captured while by the sea - it's such a pretty place. I also had a lovely day at the spa with my mum where we were treated to a lovely facial and full body massage, plus lots of lovely steam rooms, Prosecco and cake. A pretty perfect mummy and daughter day - it was really lovely to have a day just the two of us before I go. This was followed by New Year celebrations, catch-up's with the boyfriend's family and other friends and then my long-awaited Leaving Party! The week finished with a lovely family meal with my parents and grandad - then some sad goodbyes with my best friends and the boyfriend. Then before I knew it, my parents were driving me down to Heathrow and I was on a plane, and whoaa now I'm in Bangkok. Life is pretty crazy sometimes, but crazy good. After a really rubbish start to the year, I couldn't have ended it on a better note.
What have you guys been up to? Are you sad to say goodbye to 2014, or are you already head-first into making 2015 the best yet?