What is self-care and why is it so important? The main thing to realise is that self care looks different for everyone. Our lifestyles, personal interests and health all have an impact on what self-care means to us. Self-care is simply taking the time to prioritise your mental and physical well-being.
When we are travelling, whether for a short weekend break or long term, self care is still important. So what can you do to prioritise your mental and physical health, while living out of a suitcase?
When travelling we often forget or more accurately, ignore the need to give ourselves a break. We tend to feel selfish for wanting a quiet night in with a hot bubble bath and a movie or book. It can feel like we are wasting time instead of going out and experiencing wherever we are…and that’s totally normal. But we risk burning ourselves out trying to do it all.
When you burn out, it feels like going through the motions and you struggle to enjoy your destination.
So, here I’ve put together 15 of my favourite ways to practice self-care while traveling. These suggestions are not the only way to practise self-care, but hopefully they will give you an idea of what might work for you and your budget. These suggestions are super easy to follow. Keep reading to find out how you can look out for yourself while on an adventure!
Why does self care matter when travelling?
Self care is often the last thing we consider when planning a trip, or even during our trip. Travel itself is often described as a form of self-care (which it is), but just getting out of town is not enough. We need to consider what we will do to look after our mental and physical health when working out our itinerary as well.
Just like at home, we can still catch colds, experience exhaustion and feel burnt out when travelling. The longer your trip is, the more likely it will happen. Unfortunately we often ignore the warning signs because we are so focused on making the most of the time we have in a destination.
As someone who has been through it all and learnt the hard way, it truly does affect your travel experience. So instead of being reactive, here are some preventive tips and ideas to help you put your wellbeing into your travel itinerary.
What are some things to pack to practice self-care when travelling?
As much as we want to limit what we pack, there are some little things that will help make our trip a bit more enjoyable. These are just some suggestions, and of course you should absolutely adjust them to suit your preferences.
- Silk eye mask
- Silk pillowcase and pillow case liner
- Ear plugs
- Reusable water bottle
- Travel yoga mat
- Your favourite perfume (decanted into travel bottles of course)
- Face masks (either clay or sheet versions)
- Small microwave friendly heat pack (a small but amazing help during that time of the month)
- Journal or drawing pad (whatever you prefer)
- Kindle or if you are game, a paperback book
- Cosy socks for bed
15 ways to practice self-care while travelling
- Give yourself time to sleep
- Drink plenty of water
- Take the time to properly stretch
- Balance your food intake
- It’s ok to say no
- Book a private room in a hotel or hostel for some solo quiet time
- Practise gratitude
- Get a massage or visit a thermal spa
- Visit a hairdresser or get your nails done
- Go to the movies (or read a book)
- Take a walk just to wander
- Whatever your favourite self-care activity is to do at home – find a way to do it wherever you are
- Treat yourself – Dress up and take yourself out to a nice lunch or dinner, order that drink you love or your favourite dessert
- Go dancing
- If you live on social media – switch it off for a day
1. Give yourself time to Sleep
A proper sleep routine goes right out the window when we travel, we either want to be up with the sun to make the most of the day, or out late. But a full night sleep makes a world of difference to our health. Lack of sleep can affect both your physical and mental health, and cause weight gain.
And no, sleeping on overnight buses and long flights does not count – neither give you a restful sleep.
Whatever you need to help you sleep, make the investment.
For me it is my silk eye-mask. Year ago I accidentally trained myself to only be able to fall asleep with an eye-mask on to create an illusion of total darkness. Now it is the only way I can fall sleep. Same goes for my silk travel pillowcase. Find what works for you and stick with it whether you are at home or on the road.
2. Drink plenty of water
Water is the number one essential. If you don’t like the taste of plain water, your can always add sliced fruit into your water bottle, just remember to wash it out everyday.
When you are out all day, it is easy to forget. Keeping a reusable water bottle – or even better 2 foldable water bottles in your bag – is a good reminder to keep an eye out for water fountains.
3. Take the time to properly stretch
Stretching is so important to help relax, prevent muscle tightness and reduce injury risk.
When travelling we sit in cramped seats, walk for literally hours, sleep in uncomfortable beds with terrible pillows and carry heavy bags. These are all recipes for some serious neck and back pain… take at least 10 minutes every day, either in the morning or night, to do a full body stretch. Your body will thank you for it!
4. Balance your food intake
In the goal to try new foods and experience the cuisine of our destination, we often ignore the need for balance.
Every culture is different and when the food is sustainably different from what you are used to, it can have an impact on your health. Taking the time to visit a market or store to get some fruit and vegetables, make your own healthy breakfast in the morning, and watch the portion sizes.
Also limit the number of desserts and snacks you eat, just because you spend all day walking and exploring, doesn’t mean you can all the sugar you want and not have it affect your health.
It can also be worth talking to your doctor about whether you should consider an supplements to fill in any gaps in your diet.
5. It’s ok to say no
Travelling means new opportunities and new adventures. From people, museums, activities, food and more, we are constantly presented with an opportunity for more. And because we are in a new destination, we often feel compelled to say yes to everything – as we don’t know if the opportunity will ever present itself again.
However, saying “yes” to everything means we are not giving ourselves a break. We become tired, grumpy, less social and unappreciative.
Saying “yes” to every new experience might leave you more exhausted and confused about who you are than you were before you left. Being more selective about what you say “yes” to will help you have the travel experience you truly enjoy (and will help your budget!).
6. Book a private room in a hotel for some solo time
This is dependent on your budget, and if your budget caters to hostels then look to see if they have private room options.
Sometimes we need space, and quiet. Even when we solo travel we are surrounded by people. The sensory overload can be occasionally be overwhelming and we simply need a break. It’s absolutely ok to stop for a few days to give yourself a reset.
As someone with ADHD I sometimes find that I mentally shut-down when there is too much going on, so I book a private room in a hotel or Airbnb for a few nights (ideally with a bath tub) and give myself a break from people and exploring.
7. Practice Gratitude
Gratitude and thanks is not something we often think to do, but it does help to remind us of how lucky we are to be able to travel. While you meditate or in the morning before you get up, spend a few minutes reminding yourself of all the amazing things you’ve gotten to experience and how lucky you are that you are able to visit your destination.
There is a belief that practising gratitude daily helps people feel more positive, alive, sleep better and even have stronger immune systems. Give it a try and see how you feel.
8. Get a massage or visit a Thermal spa
There is nothing like getting a massage when your body is feeling tired. It helps with back aches, those annoying knots that dig in around your should blades, blood flow and helps improves sleep. Some countries also have thermal spas (Italy and Iceland have dozens), so if you prefer to spend a few hours soaking away then this is definitely the way to go!
9. Visit a hairdresser or get your nails done
How many times have you walked out of a nail salon or hairdressers feeling like a million dollars? When you are travelling long term it is easy to brush these aside as non essential, but they go a long way to helping us feel good about ourselves.
If you find yourself constantly tying back your hair because it is too much to manage, then it is time to find a hair salon. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, a tidy-up and a blow-wave will have you feeling much more positive.
I am completely guilty of letting my hair go for months longer then necessary, but I can’t miss my monthly shellac manicure/pedicure.
10. Go to the movies or read a book
Most countries have cinemas that offer subtitles or English movies. Take yourself on a date to the cinemas to see a movie and of course get the popcorn! If movies aren’t your thing, then consider picking up a bottle of wine and curl up for a evening with a book.
11. Take a walk
This is not about getting your step count up, more about switching off mentally and just wandering.
If you are near a beach then consider walking in the water along the coast, which is fantastic for your feet. If you are near a forest or mountain, see if there is a hiking trail. Getting back to nature with fresh clean air can do wonders for your mental and physical health.
12. Do your favourite self-care activity
Self-care is different for everyone, so if you have a hobby or activity that is not listed here, that you would normally do at home, then see if there is a way to do it wherever you are.
Travel teaches us that the world is much smaller, and bigger then we expect. Which basically means that you will be surprised at what you will find around the world. If you have a hobby, chances are there will be something that caters for it in most major cities. Use Facebook groups and other similar sites to find your favourite activities.
13. Treat yourself and take yourself on a date
One of the hardest things to get used to, is dining on your own in a foreign city. We should not have to resort to Tinder just to go to a nice restaurant. Book ahead, see if you can get a window seat for people watching, dress up and make sure to order dessert!
If you feel self-conscious then take a kindle or notebook to draw in to distract you.
14. Go dancing
Dancing is a great way to destress and just let go. Some cities are safer then others to visit clubs on your own, but if you are unsure then have a look at Facebook groups for solo travellers and sites such as Meetup. If you are staying in a hostel then see if anyone is interested. I’ve met fellow female travellers on walking tours, in hostels and in online groups, so the odds are definitely in your favour to find someone interested in hitting the dancefloor with you.
15. Switch off social media for a day
Social media and our phones have blurred the lines of communication by creating a false need to be online all day, every day.
From keeping up with group chats, posting photos on your Instagram account, messaging family or friends, we are so focused on documenting the moment, that we actually forget to be in the moment.
Normalise posting your images the next day #aboutlastnight or #yesterdaysadventures. Slow down the daily updates to friends and family, and pay attention to what is around you.
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