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15 Ways to Prioritize Self-Care While Traveling

When life is getting us down, we frequently say, “I need a vacation.” Unfortunately, vacationing can be stressful in itself, and we often return home physically and mentally exhausted. We talk a lot about self-care in relation to long workdays and hectic family schedules.

Self-care while on vacation is also important and can make your trip exponentially more enjoyable and relaxing. If you tend to feel stressed and fatigued during your getaways, we have some advice for how to take care of your mind and body. Whether it’s a weekend escape or a month-long trip, try to practice self-care daily.

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

Water
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We know this self-care tip isn’t revolutionary, but it’s always worth mentioning. When traveling, we often get so preoccupied with following our itinerary and getting where we need to go that we forget to drink water.

It’s much easier to hydrate when you’re just a few paces away from your kitchen sink most of the time. However, when you’re on the go — trains, planes, automobiles, and more — you might forget to hydrate.

We recommend at least having a glass of water when you wake up, before you fall asleep, and with every meal. We like to buy a durable but disposable water bottle at the start of our trip and use it until we get home.

Keep a Loose Schedule

Woman writing in calendar at desk.
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We’re all for a detailed itinerary and fun plans but don’t overdo it. If you schedule every second of your trip, things can become stressful quickly. Don’t schedule back-to-back things, as you might not be able to get everywhere as quickly as you think.

Just because the restaurant is 20 minutes from the museum, that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to make it from one to the other in 20 minutes. Remember, you’re probably in an unfamiliar place, so allow wiggle room to navigate transportation and directions. We recommend planning no more than one or two activities per day and spacing them out generously.

Prepare Downloads

Happy smiling cheerful woman using looking at smartphone.
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Before you even leave your house, we suggest you download whatever you may need to your phone or computer. This means any movies or TV shows you’ll want to watch, music you want to listen to, maps, directions, itineraries, translation guides, reservation confirmations, and anything else you might need.

Even if you’re traveling domestically, you never know what the phone service will be like, so make sure you have everything accessible offline.

Bring That Toiletry

Woman with plastic bag of cosmetic travel kit packing suitcase, closeup. Bath accessories.
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We love to pack light. In fact, we pride ourselves on it. However, it’s okay to bring that one unnecessary item if it’ll make your trip a little more enjoyable.

Usually, it’s a toiletry item that you don’t actually need but you want it. For example, you can get by with one eyeshadow color, but you want to bring your favorite palette. Or, you don’t need to bring your calming essential oil, but it always makes you feel better to smell it. If you have a special lotion, beloved perfume, or bulky toothbrush that you can live without, it might be okay to bring it as a form of self-care.

Your I-don’t-need-it-but-I-want-it item doesn’t need to be a toiletry. It could be a scrunchie, sweater, extra pair of sunglasses, or house slippers. When packing light, sacrifices must be made, but we give you permission to bring one unnecessary item that will make you feel a little more at home while away.

Set Work Boundaries

Calm woman in headphones relaxing in her chair in her cozy workspace at home.
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This is one that people often neglect to do, and it creates stress on vacation. Your work boundaries can be as strict or relaxed as you want, but you need to give yourself some sort of boundary.

Maybe turn off your work notifications completely or only check them once each morning. Perhaps you still need to work, so allot one hour a day to be productive. It’s important that you set work boundaries that make sense for your job and vacation and stick to them.

Make Time for Your Wellness Practices

Young woman practicing yoga in bamboo house, nature on background in Bali Indonesia.
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Some people see vacation as their time to skip the gym and eat whatever they want, which is awesome, and we support it. But if you have wellness practices or routines you’re sad to leave behind, maybe you don’t have to.

If you do yoga each morning, that doesn’t have to change on your trip. If your skincare routine is important to you, make time for it while away. If you always journal at the end of the day, you can still do that.

It’s not lame or weird to maintain these routines while out of town. You may need to adjust your routine based on what’s available to you, but still doing these practices in some way can help you stay grounded.

Jump on What Brings You Joy

young woman happy road trip
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As mentioned, we think it’s best to keep a loose schedule. Not only does it reduce stress, but it leaves room for you to be spontaneous with your plans.

If you planned on spending the whole day at the Louvre, but a fancy breakfast spot with a long line caught your eye, it’s okay to adjust your day. Spend a little less time at the museum and relish that Parisian breakfast.

We don’t want you to miss out on something because it was unplanned or seems like a silly thing to do on vacation. Maybe a local theater is showing your favorite movie, or you feel like cooking something special. If you want to chill at a park or wander around a random neighborhood, then why not? It’s okay to go with the flow and do things other people might not deem “vacation activities.”

Take Pictures for You

Couple hiking taking picture on mountain.
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Taking pictures on vacation can be a catch-22. You don’t want to miss out on the experience because you’re too focused on snapping photos, but you also want a way to remember the moment in the years to come.

Finding the balance can be tough, but our best advice is to take pictures for YOU, not for Instagram, your friends, your family, or anyone else. Take pictures for you to look back on, not necessarily to show off to everyone. This can take some of the modern pressure off photographing things while traveling.

Slow Down; You Can’t Do Everything

a couple of tourists walks down an alley in the warm light during a summer vacation in Tuscany.
Image Credit: Andrea Bonfanti and Shutterstock.

You’ve probably heard people facetiously say, “I need a vacation from my vacation.” This saying stems from people rushing around and cramming every activity into their trip. But it doesn’t have to be this way!

As we said above, keep a loose schedule, but don’t feel the need to do something amazing every second of the day. Making time on your vacation to actually relax is a great way to take care of yourself and use your getaway to truly reset.

If you’re like us and make a long list of potential activities, make peace with the fact that you probably won’t get to every single thing.

Skip the Souvenirs for Everyone

London, England. May 10, 2021. Souvenirs of London hanging at the gift store. London is the most populous city in the UK with 13 million people.
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Some people expect loved ones to bring them souvenirs from every trip. We don’t love this mindset. When someone brings us a souvenir, it’s wonderful, but it’s not necessary. If finding a souvenir for every person in your life causes you anxiety, then just don’t get any.

It’s your vacation, and it’s okay to focus on having fun rather than shopping for everyone else. Buying souvenirs for all your loved ones can strain your travel budget, use up all the extra space in your suitcase, and take time away from the things you want to do.

Splurge on That Upgrade

woman flying in airplane relaxing comfortable traveling.
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We’re frugal travelers. We fly basic economy; we pack snacks for the plane; we use Groupon. If you’re like us, we salute you but also want to give you permission to splurge while on vacation.

This doesn’t mean you should drop $200 on every meal, but if that airline upgrade, hotel perk, or private tour is something you’ve always fantasized about, go for it! Sometimes, being frugal can mean missing out on incredible experiences and blissful comfort. So, if you feel the urge to splurge on something specific and can afford it, we encourage you to do it.

Be Kind to Your Body

Best Gluten-Free Restaurants
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We won’t tell you to eat healthy foods on vacation because where’s the fun in that? If you’re going to eat a deep-fried Oreo, vacation is the time to do it. However, we want you to be kind to your body in other, travel-related ways.

For example, make sure you wear sunscreen if you’re in a sunny location. Don’t break your back carrying a heavy backpack everywhere you go. Sacrifice your stylish sandals for your supportive sneakers when choosing footwear. Don’t walk ten miles to save $10 on an Uber. Traveling is tiring enough, so don’t abuse or neglect your body more than you have to.

Communicate With Companions

tourists traveling abroad with friends
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Please communicate anything and everything with your travel buddies. We recommend discussing expectations, limitations, and priorities.

Since you can’t do everything, it’s best to choose one or two things you absolutely want to do so your group can prioritize it. If you’re uncomfortable with something, such as a destination or activity, make this clear ahead of time. Not everyone travels the same, so you may want to read in a local park while your travel companion wants to hit all the nightclubs.

It’s important to discuss all these things ASAP to avoid frustration and disappointment. Ultimately, you may realize this isn’t the right vacation companion for you.

Give Yourself Grace

Young woman sleeping in soft bed at night for her nightly bedtime routine.
Photo Credit: New Africa and Shutterstock

Listen, as much as we love to travel to new and exciting places, there is no denying that traveling is exhausting and often stressful. To make it worse, we often feel guilty for not being happy and having fun every second of the trip.

One of the best forms of self-care while traveling is giving yourself grace in these less-than-pleasant moments. It’s normal to be cranky after a long flight or exhausted after a full day of walking.

During the harder moments, practice self-compassion (not self-pity) and try to have a sense of humor. If you’re tired, it’s okay to skip an activity to take a nap. The point is: don’t put too much pressure on yourself or the vacation.

Schedule Time for Loved One Chats

Happy beautiful woman smiling and using phone while resting on couch at home.
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Being away from familiar surroundings and the people we love is usually the hardest part of traveling, even if it’s the trip of your dreams. Depending on the length of your trip, and who you travel with, you may want to schedule time to connect with loved ones who aren’t with you.

You can call your mom mid-trip, or leave 30 minutes at the end of the day to FaceTime your spouse. Coordinating these check-ins can help you stay centered and feel connected, preventing stifling homesickness without interrupting your plans.

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Veronica is a lifestyle and culture writer from Boston, MA, with a passion for entertainment, fashion, and food. She graduated from Boston University in 2019 with a bachelor's in English literature. If she's not in the kitchen trying new recipes, she's binging the latest HBO series, catching up on the hottest trends in Vogue, or falling down a research rabbit hole. Her writing experience ranges from global news articles to celebrity gossip pieces to movie reviews and more.
Her byline appears in publications like The Weather Channel, The Daily Meal, The Borgen Project, MSN, Wealth of Geeks, and Not Deer Magazine. She writes about what inspires her — a stylish Wes Anderson film, a clever cleaning hack, a surprising fashion trend. When she’s not writing about life's little joys, she’s keeping her dog away from rabbits and spending too much money on kitchenware.