Since this is turning into The Week of Budget Travel, with posts on finances and cheap eats, I thought I’d share another money-saving tip, this one not entirely travel-related but definitely travel-inspired.
One of my favorite things to do when I’m traveling is to try local beauty treatments. In Turkey, this meant a number of visits to the hamam, or Turkish baths. In Istabul I checked out the Gedikpasa Hamam, which was recommended by a local as being authentic and comfortable, but not a tourist trap, then in Antalya I went to the Sefa Hamam, which was decidedly more basic but still left me glowing.
A typical visit to the hamam begins with stripping down and leaving your clothes and possessions in a private, lockable changing cabin. Next, you wrap yourself in a distinctly Turkish towel called a peshtemal and head to a gender-specific bath area. After a quick lukewarm rinse to rinse off your skin’s oils, body lotions, sunscreens, etc. you’ll head to a heated room to for a sauna-style sweat. After fifteen to thirty minutes an attendant will bring you to the washing area, where you’ll lay back on a huge heated stone and be soaped down (to rinse off the sweat) and then scrubbed from head to toe. The attendant will probably show you the scrubbing cloth, which will be covered in grime. Don’t worry- it’s not dirt! You’re seeing dead skin cells that you would have shed naturally anyways. You’ll be rinsed again and offered an oil massage at extra cost- I would recommend the oil massage both to relax and to protect and hydrate the new skin you’ve just revealed. Then, you’ll wrap yourself back up and head back to your cabin to dress and pay. Expect to pay about thirty dollars (US or Canadian), plus more for the optional oil massage. You can have similar exfoliating salt scrubs with Vichy showers at Western spas, with prices beginning closer to $100 (yikes).
However, I promised you this article would be about budgeting! How can you have the hamam experience without paying for a plane ticket to Turkey? Easily, I promise! My local gym has a steam room in the women’s change room, so I’ve set up my hamam-at-home there. In my old hometown the nearest steam room was at a public swimming pool, which meant wearing a bathing suit and making a mad post-steam dash from steam room to change room, but it works. Worst case scenario involves getting steamy at home (not really recommended as too much moisture can lead to mold growth, but you can minimize the effects by cranking the fan and opening windows right afterwards… or investing in an actual steam shower if you’ve got more money than you know what to do with).
So, once you’ve found a steamy place you can get started. First, rinse off! The grossest thing in the world is steaming dirty skin, as you don’t want to open up your pores just to have them absorb all the makeup, lotion and dirt on your skin. After rinsing well head into the steam room- I prefer to go naked but if it’s a co-ed public place wear your swimsuit- and let your skin start sweating. Give your skin about ten minutes of heat, then take an ever-so-slightly damp washcloth or loofah and gently scrub your body. Make sure to get your neck and back (using a hand towel makes this easier). You’ll see dead skin flaking off- mission accomplished! (It’s definitely good manners to put down a towel so that your dead skin is landing on the towel and not on the bench, though frankly I see people doing weirder stuff than exfoliating all the time…) Once you’re scrubbed you can sweat a little more or head straight to the showers. If you want you can exfoliate your body even more with a gentle sugar scrub (I’d skip the salt scrubs as they can irritate your skin), then wash with a gentle face wash and moisturizing body wash. Pat your skin dry before moisturizing your face and then your body.
You can also incorporate some extras into your home hamam experience. The steam from the hamam can help your hair absorb a moisturizing masque if you apply it to damp hair before you start steaming. In the shower, rinse out the masque before washing your body (so that you don’t have conditioner residue on your fresh new skin!). Because steaming opens your pores, the time between leaving the steam room and showering is a great time to apply a blackhead-clearing pore strip.
I’ve turned Saturday into Hamam Day by starting my morning with an intense workout and then going through the skin-renewing routine in the change room. Last Saturday I ran into a coworker later on Saturday afternoon. We usually only see one another on weekdays, but just a few hours post-exfoliation she asked, “What did you do? Did you change your hair? You look really good!” Finally, proof of what I believed all along: a good steam, scrub and shower makes a noticeable difference!