The Ultimate Guide to Self-Care While Traveling

Read these 8 ideas for travel self-care.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re visiting an epic mountain trail weaving through the Himalayas, the living room in your sister’s house, or the hotel lobby in between meetings — travel of any kind is a departure from our normal routines, which can be stressful. So it’s important to take time to center yourself and press the reset button once in a while when you’re out on the road. 

Travel in itself is a form of self-care — a way to break out of our daily mold and remind ourselves of the beauty and variety surrounding us in the world. It can reinvigorate us, inspire us, and even give us insight on where we would like our lives to go. But it can also be incredibly stressful, fast-paced, and anxiety-inducing if you don’t take time for yourself throughout the day and treat your body with the same respect you treat it at home. 

Although travel is a break in your typical routine, there are some practices and habits that you should carry with you even when you’re on the road. Think of your travel self-care routine as a little package of self-compassion that you pack in your carry-on, just waiting to be opened at each new destination. With the right tools in your package, you’ll find calm and peace even in the middle of a packed schedule. These tips can help you savor your awe-inspiring travel moments even more by allowing you to bring your best self to the world, every single day. 

Here are a few ideas for practicing self-care while you travel:

Record your thoughts and experiences in a journal. If you’re not one to carry around a pen and a notebook, try diving into the digital journal world (I recommend Day One), or just take a few minutes to add brief notes or captions to your photos from the day. You’ll appreciate this immensely once you return home; it will make it a lot easier to remember the little details of your adventure, and it allows you to create some headspace to further reflect on your experiences.

Take time to stretch and breathe. Mindfulness shouldn’t just be a practice in our normal day-to-day life! This can take many forms: perhaps morning or evening yoga, meditation or prayer, or just a few moments of sitting and following our breathing. Any of these can go a long way in calming your nervous system and helping reduce any travel-related anxiety.

Recharge your emotional batteries. If you’re introverted, don’t feel guilty for taking time and space away from your travel buddies or skipping out on social events to center yourself. This will be worth it in the long run, as you’ll have more energy for interactions and social activities when you do choose to participate. If you’re extroverted, you’re probably already thriving with high levels of interactions among your friends! Just remember to take some time for yourself, too. 

Turn exercise into exploration. If it’s safe where you are, consider going for a walk or jog in the surrounding area to do some sightseeing while getting your heart rate up. Running in new locations has always been one of my favorite parts of travel — I feel like I’m taking care of myself while getting a healthy dose of sight-seeing. If running isn’t available to you, a stroll or even a bike ride is another great option. Plus, the fresh air and a hit of endorphins will do wonders for your mental state. Remember to bring your phone, both for navigation purposes and for safety, just in case you need to call someone. You can always download Google Maps for a particular region before you arrive, so even if you go off of the cellular grid (or don’t have a SIM card for the country you’re in), you can still navigate safely. This has been a real lifesaver for me!

Let go of expectations of how you want everything to happen. This is one of the most beautiful forms of self-care while you’re on the road. Travel can certainly test your patience; it’s unavoidable to face unexpected curveballs — and that’s part of the adventure. In fact, I can’t recall a single trip where something didn’t take my expectations for a spin. Flights get delayed, public transportation gets rescheduled, hostels fill up, weather forces you to cancel your trek. But this is part of the beauty of travel. It encourages us to relinquish our need to control every little detail of our day and instead shows us (sometimes a bit forcefully) how to take it all in stride — otherwise, you’d go crazy. It’s taken me quite a few years to grasp this concept of detachment and put it into practice, and I’m far from perfect. I still get frustrated, angry, confused when something happens that I don’t initially know how to deal with. But I take a deep breath and let it all go, knowing that it will all work out as it’s meant to. Even if you have a tentative plan for the day (which can be very helpful), remember that it’s okay if something changes. Let life guide you so you can sit back and enjoy the ride.

Give yourself adequate time for sleep. Even if your trip is quite short, like a weekend getaway or a two-day business meeting, and you need or want to pack a lot in over the course of just a few days, sleep is a saving grace. We know it’s incredibly important in our daily lives, but it’s probably even more important while we’re traveling. With activities and adventures and reservations filling up our itineraries, you might find yourself feeling a bit frazzled with all of the go-go-go. Rest is just the remedy you need. If you’re staying in hostels or some other notoriously noisy places, remember to bring a pair of earplugs and an eye mask. By creating your own little slumber oasis, it’ll be easier for you to drift away to sweet travel-inspired dreams.

Make an effort to eat healthy. Trying new cuisines is a big highlight of travel for most people — me included! But it can be easy to feel rundown relatively quickly if you’re eating a lot of fried or starchy foods. It’s perfectly okay (highly recommended, even!) to try new foods when you’re visiting new places, but remember that it’s also important to balance heavy foods with fruits, veggies, and other whole foods. And never underestimate the power of water; I try to drink at least two liters a day, which might sound crazy, but with all the action going on it’s important to stay hydrated. You can get a taste of the culture and feel top-notch if you keep this tip in mind.

And, lastly: Don’t be afraid to indulge. While it might not be smart to treat the entire trip as a financial YOLO, there should be room to encounter the extraordinary when you travel. Plan according to your budget, but accepting the cost (within reason) for a treat here and there can be a way to care for yourself, whether that’s a massage, a nice meal, or a local theater show.

These suggestions can make your next trip — be it work-related or simply for play — more relaxing and less stressful. Give yourself time to care for your wellbeing and you’ll be able to sustain the natural interruptions that come with travel.

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