Joan Kuriansky, a Washington lawyer, will never forget a massage she had in Izmir, Turkey. She went to a bathhouse recommended by a hotel clerk. Before her massage, she was treated to hydrotherapy and a body scrub. Though she found both excessively rough, she didn't know if it would be culturally appropriate to speak up.
Then came the massage. "He started pounding me," Kuriansky recalls. "I was being bruised. Finally, I told him to leave the room."
Travel and massage often go together. But letting a total stranger knead your muscles while you lie naked on a table involves quite a bit of trust. How can you be sure you're in good hands?
DO THE ADVANCE WORK "If possible, get a referral before you leave home," suggests Rosalie Dunn, a massage therapist in Westport, Connecticut. If the impulse strikes after you've arrived, ask for recommendations from the hotel where you're staying. But a referral is only the beginning.
INVESTIGATE THE QUALIFICATIONS "Training is crucial, whether you're at home or abroad," says Adela Basayne, president of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA). In the United States, the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (www.ncbtmb.com) has an on-line directory of nationally certified therapists; AMTA's on-line locator (www.amtamassage.org) will be up later this year—in the meantime, you can call 847/864-0123. Since standards vary widely around the world, AMTA recommends that consumers research a country's requirements before they receive a massage there. Unfortunately, not all countries have accreditation boards; you might want to ask a doctor.
GET OUT OF YOUR ROOM "To avoid sexual complications, don't have somebody come to your room to give a massage," suggests Jillian Thompson, a therapist in Boulder, Colorado. "It may seem convenient, but it's risky."
KNOW WHAT YOU WANT "Before signing up, clients should inquire about the type of massage a therapist does," advises New York therapist Adeline Notarino. Swedish massage, which involves sliding and kneading strokes, is practiced around the world. Other approaches include shiatsu, which uses finger pressure to treat meridian points and unblock energy flows. Thai massage features stretching. If you don't understand the terminology, ask for explanations. Which leads us to the next rule . . .
COMMUNICATE Massage therapists acknowledge that it's not easy—you're nude, you just wanted to relax, why make a fuss?"The more you address before you lie on the table, the less you'll have to address once the massage starts," notes Dennis Price, a Fort Lauderdale therapist. That includes specifying what kind of massage you'd like; level of pressure (light, medium, or deep); type of draping; and where to touch and where not to touch. If you're worried about a language barrier, have someone translate.
ENFORCE BOUNDARIES Anyone uncomfortable with nudity should keep underwear on. "You don't have to disrobe entirely—ever," says Basayne.
CALL IT QUITS "Don't assume the person working on you is the smarter person," says Jennifer Stelloh, a therapist in Takoma Park, Maryland. "If it feels weird, something is wrong."