Luxury doesn't come cheap. Or does it? Consider this: A wealth of decadent pleasures can be yours without spending a single penny -- if you head outdoors. We're not talking about the smoggy, horn-blaring heart of a major city, but the countryside. Or even the scruffy wilderness.
Better yet, if you opt for al fresco pampering services versus those found indoors, you'll likely wind up happier and healthier, too. Heading outside elevates your mood, say the brainiacs at Harvard, plus it helps you to concentrate and may even heal your ailments more quickly. So what are some of these luxury services you can get for free? They're only limited by your creativity. Here are five possibilities to get you started.
Hot Springs Soak
For millennia, people around the globe plopped into natural hot springs to soothe their minds and bodies. Some claim the minerals in the water are a boon to one's health, while others note it's the steamy water that's so beneficial. Icelanders, who live on a volcanic island riddled with these natural "hot pots," as they call them, have a long tradition of regular soaks. In fact, some Icelanders claim that's why they have the world's longest life expectancy for men -- 81.2 years [source: World Health Organization].
Many of us head to a spa if we're looking to soak in a mineral-laden whirlpool or bath. Or journey to a town like Hot Springs, Arkansas, where an entire tourist trade is devoted to pricey soaks in its steamy natural resource. But finding your own real hot spring is more fun, and easier on the wallet. Plus, you'll enjoy the soothing sights and sounds of nature as you soak. It's not hard to find one; they're everywhere. Besides Iceland, hot springs are bubbling away near southern Tuscany's olive groves, tucked into British Columbia's pine-scented woods, on the New Zealand coast and steaming in pockets dotting California's Sierras, to name but a few sites [source: Coldwell]. Now grab your suit and go.
No need to fork over your hard-earned cash to a fitness center when you can exercise for free in the great outdoors. And it might be even better for you than the gym. Studies show exercising outdoors not only lifts your spirits but enables you to lose more weight, thanks to nature's rolling terrain and obstacles (think rocks and roots), which challenge your body [source: Stephens].
If you're a fitness newbie, or not too daring, a hike in the woods or jog along the shore are great ways to start. You can also swim in a lake, ice skate along a frozen river or climb a tree. But if you'd like a challenge, try some "primitive fitness."
These are playful workouts based on the notion that the path to optimal health lies in mimicking the movements of our long-ago ancestors, who crawled, climbed, jumped and ran as part of their daily lives [source: Averill]. So you might sprint through the woods, hopping over any logs or large rocks in your path, or crawl across a sandy beach. If no one's in the vicinity, pick up heavy rocks and throw them as far as you can, then work on your balance by walking across a downed log. When you're through with your workout, whether sedate or primitive, treat yourself to an ice cream cone with the money you just saved.
Organic, locally sourced food is all the rage today. But it's often pricier than traditionally grown and obtained food. And if you go out to eat, prepare to pay a premium for items like handpicked microgreens, rare mushrooms and heirloom produce. Treat yourself to some of these tasty treats gratis by heading out to the woods -- or even your lawn -- and harvesting them yourself.
A surprising variety of food is available. Berries are one of the easiest to forage, and are often in accessible areas like parks and wooded trails. Look for blackberries, blueberries, huckleberries, raspberries and elderberries, among many others [source: Vivian]. Salad fixings are plentiful, from wild garlic and wild onion to dandelions and watercress. Morel mushrooms can easily run $50 or more per pound fresh; if you know when and where to look for them, all you have to spend is your time.
Don't forget about nuts; a wide variety can be harvested. And there's also the bounty of the sea -- seaweed, sea beets and sea kale. Just remember to get tips from experienced foragers before you go, so you don't mistake an inedible plant for one safe to prepare for dinner. And don't overharvest, as the survival of many birds and animals depends on the availability of some of these same foods [source: Moses].
Lots of spas offer waterfall massages, and they can easily run $100 or more. Indulge in your own waterfall massage anytime you'd like by stepping underneath one created by Mother Nature herself. While waterfalls don't lie around every corner, they're not as difficult to find as you might think. Innumerable state parks and forests contain accessible waterfalls, with low or no entrance fees.
A set of five diverse waterfalls is tucked within Connecticut's Enders State Forest, for example, while California's Point Reyes National Seashore is home to the spectacular Alamere Falls, a rare tidefall where the water tumbles right into the ocean. After the water has pounded the knots out of your body, remember to snap a photo.
Why enclose yourself in a tomb-like tanning bed when you can get the same effect (actually, a better one) merely by stepping outside? While you can tan anywhere outdoors, head to a secluded spot so you can get a little naked (or at least remove your top) to avoid funky tan lines. Ideally, this will be someplace in the wild, where you can enjoy a heaping dose of nature while you laze -- much more relaxing than a chaise in your backyard.
To safely tan outside, experts say you should first exfoliate your skin to remove dead cells, even out your skin tone and remove dirt and oils that can clog pores. Next, lather on sunscreen. (Yes, you can still get a tan with sunscreen.) Put an initial layer on 15 to 30 minutes before you head outside, then apply a second layer within 30 minutes of sun exposure.
Instead of an all-day tan-athon, aim for about one hour of sunning per day over a longer period – your tan will last longer if you do. Also, wear shades and a hat, and allow a day off between long exposures so your skin can repair itself [source: Borelli].
The lower stress and serenity of an off-the-grid life are often touted. Find out about the possible health benefits of living off the land.
Author's Note: 5 Luxury Services That Cost Nothing in the Wild
While I love spa services, soaking in natural hot springs or letting a roaring waterfall pound away the knots in my shoulders sounds much more appealing. And I'll swap a trail run for a treadmill session any day.
- Averill, Graham. "Natural Fitness: Wild Workouts With The World's Fittest Man." Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine. June 2009. (Aug. 29, 2014) http://www.blueridgeoutdoors.com/magazine/june-2009/natural-fitness-wild-workouts-with-the-world%E2%80%99s-fittest-man/
- Borreli, Lizette. "Four Safe Tanning Tips For A Healthy Summer Glow." Medical Daily. June 3, 2013. (Aug. 29, 2014) http://www.medicaldaily.com/four-safe-tanning-tips-healthy-summer-glow-246439
- Coldwell, Will. "Free hot springs around the world." The Guardian. Jan. 7, 2014. (Sept. 2, 2014) http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2014/jan/07/free-hot-springs-around-the-world-spas
- Farley, David. "Wild Spas: The Divine Therapy." The New York Times. Aug. 26, 2007. (Aug. 29, 2014) http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/26/travel/26journeys.html?_r=0
- Fox News. "13 beautiful natural swimming holes around the U.S." June 12, 2013. (Aug. 29, 2014) http://www.foxnews.com/travel/2013/06/11/13-beautiful-natural-swimming-holes-around-us/
- Harvard Health Publications. "Spending time outdoors is good for you, from the Harvard Health Letter." July 2010. (Sept. 2, 2014) http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/spending-time-outdoors-is-good-for-you
- Heffernan, Andrew. "Wild Workouts." Experience Life. November 2010. (Aug. 29, 2014) http://experiencelife.com/article/wild-workouts/
- Magnúsdóttir, Perla. "Free hot springs around Iceland - Exotic bathing." Extreme Iceland. Feb. 25, 2014. (Aug. 29, 2014) https://www.extremeiceland.is/en/information/news-and-blog/item/1106-free-hot-springs-around-iceland-exotic-bathing
- Moses, Kara. "Top 10 ... foods to forage." The Ecologist. March 18, 2011. (Aug. 29, 2014) http://www.theecologist.org/green_green_living/food_and_drink/815671/top_10_foods_to_forage.html
- My Tanning Tips. "Outdoor Tanning Tips." (Aug. 29, 2014) http://mytanningtips.com/outdoor-tanning-tips
- New England Waterfalls. "Best Swimming Holes in New England." (Aug. 29, 2014) http://www.newenglandwaterfalls.com/swimmingholes.php
- New England Waterfalls. "Enders Falls." (Sept. 3, 2014) http://www.newenglandwaterfalls.com/waterfall.php?name=Enders%20Falls
- Phillips, Roger. "Top 10 wild foods to forage in spring." The Telegraph. April 23, 2014. (Aug. 29, 2014) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/foodanddrinkadvice/10770790/Top-10-wild-foods-to-forage-in-spring.html
- Stephens, Betsy. "The 30-Minute Outdoor Workout (Even Indoor Girls Will Love!)." Fitness. (Aug. 29, 2014) http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/workout/lose-weight/total-body/outdoor-workouts-30-minutes/
- Theroux, Marcel. "Spring break at Iceland's newest spa." The Guardian. Oct. 28, 2011. (Sept. 2, 2014) http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2011/oct/28/spa-iceland-lake-laugarvatn
- Vivian, John. "Foraging for Edible Wild Plants: A Field Guide to Wild Berries." Mother Earth News. October/November 1999. (Sept. 2, 2014) http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/edible-wild-plants.aspx#axzz3CCZex3GT
- World Health Organization. "World Health Statistics 2014." May 15, 2014. (Sept. 4, 2014) http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/world-health-statistics-2014/en/