As sole caretaker in my sandwich-generation house (I look after my 85-year-old mother and my 14-year-old son), I was especially eager for some self-care once I got vaccinated. I’d been extra vigilant about sheltering in place, masking up and socially-distancing for the few necessary ventures outside our home the entire pandemic and felt some well time was well deserved. I waited the necessary two weeks past my second jab and was ready to test my newfound freedom in the best way I knew how—a vacci-cation.
Being a rule-follower on important matters (like life or death), I adhered to CDC guidelines not to fly. (Non-essential air travel has since been lifted for domestic flights for those vaccinated.) I wasn’t comfortable leaving my mother and son behind too far from home anyway so a visit to Lake Austin Spa Resort, just 19 miles away, was ideal from a distance standpoint. And, given the “quarantine fifteen” I’d packed on this past year, it was just what the doctor ordered. I would’ve loved to have had a friend join me for a girls’ getaway but none had gotten their second jab when my calendar first freed up. I could wait or use it as an excuse to go it solo and make it true “Me Time.
If you’ve never taken a solo spa-cation, add it to your bucket list; it’s not just for loners. A wellness spa is one of the easiest ways to travel solo. At a destination spa like Lake Austin Spa Resort (LASR), there are a variety of wellness classes (including exercise, arts & crafts, culinary and more) offered throughout the day giving you plenty to do and others to interact with if you choose. If you prefer more solitary time, you can arrange private exercise classes and spa treatments or stake your claim on a hammock, lounge chair, or water toy. Plus, you can eat whenever you prefer, keep your room as tidy or messy as you like, and set your own bedtime when you’re by yourself.
H2O, Now We’re Talkin’
While just 32 minutes from my driveway to the resort gate, once there and settled in, I felt a world away. The resort is situated on the banks of Lake Austin across the lake from a nature preserve— rolling lush hill country with trees in every shade of green— making it feel secluded and remote. The soul of the resort revolves around water, not just the lake on which it sits, but its three swimming pools—two outdoor, and one inside a barn (with a side that rolls up to still feel connected to nature) as well as an abundance of water fountains and babbling brooks. At every turn you can immerse yourself in water, see or hear it—and the connection becomes transformative.
One of the many books I’d read this past year while in quarantine was Wallace J. Nichols’ Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do. While the subtitle spells out the essence of the book, what resonated with me most was, “Our brains are hardwired to react positively to water…being near it can calm and connect us, increase innovation and insight, and even heal what’s broken.” What was “broken” for me prior to my arrival at the resort was my inner spark of joy— depleted and dimmed from focusing solely on the serving the needs of those in my home and aching from isolation.
Venturing out after a year of sheltering in place can feel a bit anxiety provoking. But from the moment I arrived at the resort’s gate, I was constantly reassured that COVID-safety was first and foremost following the reopening of the resort this past summer. It closed March-July 2020, along with every non-essential business in Texas, using the down time for a multi-million-dollar renovation to the property.
A bottle of hand sanitizer is attached to the top of the gate keypad with a sign that requests you to sanitize your hands before pressing the button to announce yourself and be let in. Once at the front desk (protected by plexiglass), a masked staff member took my forehead temperature, and I was given a wristband to indicate I was fever-free. Guests begin each day by having their temperature taken either at the front desk or activity center where they receive a new wristband (a different colored one for each day of the week.) Every guest I met had also been vaccinated and as of April 5th, all staff members have been as well. Hand sanitizer stations are at strategic spots throughout the resort and what can be offered in the outdoor fresh air is.
The resort’s 40 rooms are individual cottages, which open up to the outside; no hallways or elevators to harbor germs. Guests can opt out of daily maid service so you can keep your living space your own domain. Masks are required indoors onsite and to/from your table should you choose to eat indoors. Much of the dining has shifted outdoors under an open tent along the lake, offering a lovely alfresco experience, and tables are socially distanced. For added safety precaution (and fun), you can also order your meals in advance to be dropped off on your cottage doorstep in a darling red and white checkered cloth-lined wooden picnic basket.
This was how I ordered my breakfast each day so I could enjoy it on my individual cottage porch lounge chair or on the water’s edge, listening to the birds and the rest of nature wake up. Executive Chef, Stephane Beaucamp’s menu changes seasonally and now includes super immune-boosting juice shots like the Golden Aura drink, which features carrots, orange, turmeric, black pepper and ginger. Everything I ordered from the Conscious Cuisine menu was top-notch in taste and presentation, allowing for portion control while still satiating my palate. As I learned in Chef Beaucamp’s culinary class, all the ingredients on the menu are grown on site in the gorgeous gardens or sourced locally and the freshness is unmistakable.
Another relaxing aspect of LASR is that you aren’t expected to “dress for dinner.” I was reminded before I arrived to feel comfortable if I wished to stay in my spa robe, make-up free, my entire visit if I preferred. No expectations and no judgements.
A Class Act
I often forget I’m not 20-something anymore and tend to overdo it when I get back into the exercise groove. There are so many fun, interesting classes at LASR, I wanted to try them all.
In three days, I participated in: a group canyon hike, a stretch n’ roll class (using a foam roller to get into all my hidden knots), Completely Core exercise class, Lakeside Cardio (involving lunges, ladder hops, and sprints up a hill), Yoga With a Twist (focusing on twist positions), Restorative Yoga, Hippy Hour Zumba (dance moves with an emphasis on hip moves), Bokken-do Japanese Swords (using wooden swords, reminded me of Tai Chi meets fencing), a scenic boat cruise on Lake Austin, Lake Lotus Board & Balance (yoga moves on a SUP), an aquatic fitness class (this is not your mother’s water aerobics, but REALLY a workout!), Healing with Water: Gentle Movement and Myofascial Release (guided manipulative stretching of the fascia in targeted individual areas of the body), Fun with Watercolor (I learned, despite any talent, how fun and relaxing painting can be), Slumber Solutions/Bedtime Meditation (a sleep expert discussed ways to improve our sleep then guided us in a meditation) and two culinary demo classes (where I learned how to make paleo Chicken Schnitzel with Slaw and Mediterranean Couscous Salad with Seared Salmon—all wonderful!)
I’d moved back to Austin in 2018 but hadn’t yet felt a reconnection until my time here, on the lake, in and around the water. THIS is the Austin I fell in love with in my college days at University of Texas at Austin in the 1980s. Back then, I waterskied as often as I could find a friend with a boat, canoed or swam in Austin’s many lakes and natural springs. What I love most about Lake Austin is its narrow width (averaging 1200 feet), which makes for more calm, glass-like water conditions compared to neighboring and massive Lake Travis on the other side of Mansfield Dam, which separates the two lakes—ideal conditions for taking out any of the water toys offered in LASR’s dock. I sampled them all from the hydro bike (think stationary bike atop a catamaran), a SUP, and a Pedalboard (a SUP that propels via elliptical pedals with tall handlebars to steer) as well as a kayak. I was dying to try the Lake Fun: Waterski, Wake Surf, Wake Board outing but I know my core strength needs strengthening before I yell, “Hit it” from the other side of a boat rope. (This is my goal for a return visit!)
Apart from classes and water fun, I also carved out some relaxation time in a hammock or lounge chair and spa time for one of the resort’s signature treatments, Tour of Texas— 110 minutes of Lone Star bliss. The treatment begins with an indigenous prickly pear exfoliating scrub. I laid there imagining all the stress of 2020 to present being sloughed off. Next came the agave nectar wrap, which infused moisture and minerals to soften and nourish my skin, and while cocooned, a scalp massage ensued. I drifted in and out of my spa-coma before it was time for me to step into the steamy shower to rinse off. Then came the “strike oil” part of the treatment where warm essential oils were blended and kneaded onto my body for a 50-minute massage. Any remaining ounce of stress or worry took off like a tumbleweed, leaving me basked in a deep state of relaxation.
Body, mind and soul rejuvenated, I emerged ready to return to the real world again promising myself to revisit soon. If you’re going stir crazy, here are five tips to plan your own vacci-cation:
1. Get jabbed. Make certain you’re vaccinated first and wait two full weeks afterwards to ensure your immune system is in top-notch shape. (Plan your vaccine here.)
2. Safety first. Pack your mask and practice the same safety protocols as before; we’re not at herd immunity yet and you’ll want to protect others en route and those at your destination who may not yet be vaccinated.
3. Aim domestic. The day after I returned, the CDC amended its travel recommendations, now green-lighting non-urgent domestic travel for those who are vaccinated. Lake Austin Spa Resort is a must-visit if you’re within a drive or domestic flight hop.
4. Find balance. Once at your destination, aim to strike a balance between self-care and self-indulgence. If you’re like me, the ‘quarantine fifteen’ crept on slowly and it’s best to take it off with persistence and patience so as not to injure yourself.
5. Me time or we time? You’re safe to travel with a fellow vaccinated spouse/significant other or pal. Don’t cut corners if your bestie hasn’t gotten their double jab yet; never underestimate the satisfaction of a solo vacation. Quiet contemplation does the soul wonders.
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