My Affordable Spa Secrets

Self-care is the secret ingredient to a happy life. Truly! Making space for activities and rituals that support my well-being and make me feel nurtured means having the bandwidth to pour my heart and soul into my work, my personal relationships, and my community—something that brings me great joy. Sometimes, self-care simply means a walk on the beach or a yoga class, and other times, it’s a therapeutic massage, a soothing facial, or a relaxing spa pedicure. And thankfully, indulging in these pampering experiences doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Over the years I’ve discovered a variety of creative and affordable ways to practice self-care, so when you need a pick-me-up that won’t break the bank, give these a try. You deserve it!

Foot massage
Wandering through San Francisco’s Chinatown one afternoon more than a decade ago, I spotted a sign in a storefront that I couldn’t resist: a 60 minute massage for $20! Taking a gamble, I walked in, was seated in a comfortable chair, and spent the next hour experiencing relaxation that I didn’t know was possible at a bargain price! That foot massage also included a shoulder, arm, and head massage, and every place I’ve been to since has included these extras, too. Fast forward a decade and the secret is out; foot massage parlors are everywhere (albeit with a higher price), and I am still a big fan. My favorite spot offers an unbeatable discount when buying a package of 10, which makes it affordable enough for me to make this a monthly ritual. 

Essential oil steam
One of the easiest and most nourishing pampering treatments I do for myself is a facial steam using essential oils or dried herbs, depending on my mood. If I’m feeling a cold coming on, I’ll add a few sprigs of rosemary and eucalyptus leaves to a pot, pour a kettle of boiling water over, then form a tent using a towel to capture all the infused steam that helps clear and tone the lungs. For a skin treat with relaxation benefits, I’ll add a few drops of lavender and Roman chamomile essential oil to a pot of hot water, and using the same towel-tent technique, breathe in the soothing aromas. It’s especially nice to do this just before bedtime to prepare for a good night’s sleep.

Spa pedicures
Nail salons are wonderful for no-frills pampering that still makes you feel nurtured. I usually opt for a basic pedicure, which almost always includes a foot soak, scrub, mini massage, and—while I’m waiting for my polish to dry—15 minutes in a relaxing massage chair. Occasionally, I’ll splash out for a deluxe spa pedicure that includes a few extras like a welcome cup of hot tea and a leg massage, but the standard option feels like a treat all on its own and costs half the price!

DIY mani-pedi
Don’t underestimate the power of an at-home mani-pedi for making you feel pampered! Toss a bath-bomb in your tub, have a soak, then slather your body in a buttery body cream or scented oil, paying extra attention to your feet and hands. Next, choose a nail color that sparks joy, whether it’s a vibrant red or a quirky blue (I love the vegan Lakur line by Londontown, a woman-owned nail care brand. Their colors are amazing!). Apply polish and sip a soothing cup of genmaicha tea while it dries. Now, you’re ready to take on the world!

Make your own vegan face mask
Plant foods aren’t just healing and health-supporting for our insides; they’re also a nourishing treat for our skin! For a relaxing Friday night at home, I’ll cue something fun on Netflix, make myself a cup of hot tea, and apply a homemade mask made simply of mashed avocado and a squeeze of lemon. This leaves my skin soft and hydrated, thanks to avo’s healthy fats and antioxidants. If my skin needs more, I’ll blend a couple of tablespoons of oatmeal with a teaspoon of turmeric powder and a splash of apple cider vinegar, which works like a total skin reboot. Pro-tip: wear an old t-shirt and only leave your turmeric mask on for 15 minutes to avoid a yellow glow!

Coconut oil hair treatment
Once a month, I slather my whole head—from scalp to the tips of my hair—with coconut oil. After massaging it in, I wrap my head in a scarf and sleep with this moisturizing mask on my head (pro tip: top your pillow with a soft towel before dozing off to sleep)/ The next morning, I do a deep shampooing and let my hair dry naturally. In the Ayurvedic tradition, this ritual is believed to support the head and mind and all of its functions, including rumination and overthinking (guilty!), helping restore balance and literal peace of mind. Not only does the experience make my hair soft and silky, but it also leaves me feeling less stressed and better able to cope with whatever life throws my way.

Homemade scrub 
You can spend a small fortune on fancy face and body scrubs, or you can make them yourself with ingredients you already have in your kitchen for next to nothing. The recipe for a gently exfoliating formula is simple: into a wide-mouth jar, add a half-cup of salt or sugar, cover with your oil of choice, and add a few optional drops of essential oil. I like to use extra virgin sesame oil, brown sugar, and lavender for face scrubs, and salt, olive oil, and peppermint for body scrubs. And if you have a friend who could use a bit of pampering, a homemade scrub makes a great gift!

Korean spa
I feel like a new person after a visit to the Korean spa. My usual spot is a women-only oasis where, for $40, I get a plush robe, a fresh pair of slippers, and access to hot and cold plunge pools, a steam room, dry sauna, and unique relaxation chambers ranging from yellow clay to Himalayan sea salt.  Add-ons include exfoliating scrubs, seaweed wraps, and scalp massage, but the simple act of relaxing in a zen environment is almost always enough! I leave feeling like I just got back from a beach vacation.

On-the-go massage
When I travel, I always seek out local massage experiences, which are generally more affordable than they are at home and typically support women-run enterprises. In Thailand, I opt for 90 minutes of Thai massage bliss, and pay around $15 for the experience, tip included! In Paris, I like to build an afternoon around my favorite women-only hammam with a big steam room, small indoor pool, and relaxing lounge where I can hang out and sip mint tea. And in India, I always seek out the local Ayurvedic massage spot for a revitalizing rub down with sesame oil that leaves my skin glowing.

Ask for gift certificates
My family knows how much I love a great massage or facial, so I’m lucky to be on the receiving end of gift certificates to my local spa on my birthday and Christmas. Now, I’m also in the habit of gifting friends and family with similar experiences, knowing that they can use it at their leisure, when they really need a moment of relaxation and self-care. Other pampering ideas include gift certificates for a shampoo and blow-out, a manicure, or a day spa.