A restorative and cheaper alternative to a spa day

Fueling your relaxation with a day of coffee and literature

We all have different ways of relaxing while on vacation. Spas tend to evoke dreamy expectations of a calm afternoon, whether you’re visiting an expensive retreat or dipping into a thermal bath in Budapest or a ryokan in Tokyo. A good massage can take the relaxation up (or is it down?) another notch. I’ll be the first to admit that I wouldn’t pass up on a day at a spa or a good massage, but part of the fun of these experiences is the indulgence and investment of your time (and money) in self-care. So you might be surprised if I told you that I’ve gotten the same feelings while cozying up with a book, a newspaper, or a magazine for a few hours at a local cafe.

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A+ combo: George Orwell and a hot chocolate so beautiful it could be mistaken for a latte

If you’re a parent, hopefully you can set your child or children up with books of their own — or have somebody else alongside you who’s happy to take turns watching them and reading. Of course, you can also create your own cafe-like vibe at home, but it’s hard not to see chores awaiting you or errands to run, so if you’re trying to claim your own reading-filled staycation, be sure to ignore your responsibilities for as long as you can.

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Eliza often reads when we do, though she’s mostly still in motion (as evidenced here)

No matter where you’re celebrating your spa-replacement day, try to leave your phone turned off — or at least on airplane mode. (And yes, I know you can read on your device, but there’s something particularly calming about getting lost in the pages of a printed edition.) For years, I’ve intended to claim one day a week to unplug, but I’ve always found reasons to stay connected. When I recently learned about the National Day of Unplugging, I decided to join in, which meant I was without my cell phone for a full 24 hours. I thought it might be a little hard, but it just…wasn’t.

Turns out that a warming cup of tea and catching up on several magazines that had accumulated over the weeks were a far more relaxing and enjoyable start to the day than falling down the phone rabbit hole. We then stepped out into the snow to continue our morning nearby at Knead Doughnuts. I continued reading, while Sean and Eliza set up a table on their own and then sorted toy doughnuts in their children’s play kitchen. The unplugged party continued at home as we stayed indoors, both of us trading off on reading and playing with Eliza (when she wasn’t reading too) while the snow fell outside. It felt idyllic and perfectly timed, and left us with a whole bag of recycling with all the newspapers and magazines we made our way through. I wouldn’t have traded this for the finest spa (well…), but at the end of the day I did give Eliza and her yellow duck a bath.

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Watching the world outside from the inside of ours

Where in the world have you found a burst of rejuvenation while spending time with yourself and your book? If you’re seeking out some restorative time of your own, here are a few of our favorite spots:

  • Portuguese for “hug,” Abraço in the East Village of Manhattan is a downstairs cafe (and previously a nearby takeaway stand) that promises an unhurried experience with delicate coffees, decadent baked goods, and jazz vinyl spinning on the stereo. Pull up a chair and make yourself at home.
  • We may be biased in favor of my hometown coffee roaster, Madcap Coffee in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. We took engagement photos there, and their baristas hosted a coffee-tasting session for my bridal party and Sean’s groomsmen the week of our wedding. We make regular pilgrimages here whenever we’re back. You’ll want to go for their coffee, but its massive windows will ensure you have perfect lighting for hours spent reading.
  • Sean was introduced to the original Massolit Books & Cafe in Kraków, Poland about 15 years ago and brought me there on a rainy day last summer, a few years after we visited their Budapest branch. What makes you want to read more than rows and rows of more books and unexpected seating nooks scattered across different rooms?
  • And to that end, we should note Portsmouth Book & Bar (in Portsmouth, New Hampshire) nestled into the city’s former Custom House. It’s hard to get Eliza or Sean to leave!

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