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10 Ideas for Travel Self Care: A Therapist Weighs In

Self-care is a term that gets broadly used and widely misused as, in recent years, it has entered our everyday language. Frequently, people think of self-care as a sort of “treat yourself,” mentality. While getting ourselves small treats and luxuries can be a type of travel self care, good travel self-care is deep. It doesn’t just soothe our senses for a moment, it allows us to tune into what’s going on on a deeper level for us and satisfies needs that might be difficult to get met while were traveling.

Travel self-care can include little luxuries and pampering but is more often behaviors, choices, conversations, and boundaries that help us take better care of ourselves.

A woman takes a selfie photograph in an urban backdrop.

Self-care is always important, whether we are at home or traveling, but self-care during solo travel is especially important. It helps sustain us, energizes us, and gives us opportunities to more deeply enjoy our travel experience- good self care can help us access more of the positive personal benefits of travel.

In this article, I’m outlining 10 ways to give yourself good, deep, authentic self-care while traveling.

1. Drink more water

Yes. this is the kind of self-care we’re talkin’ about people. No matter who you are and where you’re traveling, you’re probably not drinking enough water for your body to thrive. Clean water helps us think more clearly and helps our bodies to repair after a long day of walking, city-exploring, or backpack.

If you’re traveling in an area where water quality might not be great, pack or purchase a filtering water bottle. A small investment in a water bottle with a built-in filter isn’t just appropriate for travel in remote, developing nations. Having a water bottle at your site can help make sure that you have access to clean high-quality water wherever you travel. Staying hydrated is one of the most basic ways to give yourself travel self-care.

TIP: Drinking enough water is also a solo travel safety essential. According to the CDC, Mild dehydration causes headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and confusion- all physical experiences that can ruin a travel day or even be a risk to personal safety.

2. Get a hobby

One of the most challenging parts of solo travel is the inevitable struggle, at some point, with loneliness. Even if you’re an introvert with a passion for solo travel, there will be moments when you find yourself feeling the weight of being alone in the world during your travel. Although good travel self-care involves other people-  even during solo travel (we’ll get to that later in this article), having a way to occupy your mind when loneliness (or more severe mental health symptoms) hits can really be helpful for many travelers.

A woman's hands shown knitting.

Finding a travel-friendly craft or hobby like sewing, journaling, or jewelry making can help keep our minds busy and be an important part of mental health self-care while traveling. For more information on finding a hobby that fits with your travel style, read our article on travel hobbies.

3. Dine well, at least sometimes

It’s easy to feel terrible when your only meals are street food and convenience food. While it’s ok to travel with a tight budget for food, and this travel style is popular among many younger travelers, it’s also a good travel self-care to splurge on food once in a while. A nice meal in a high-quality local restaurant is not only a great way to give yourself travel self-care that helps you feel rejuvenated, it, itself, can also be a powerful travel experience.

Eating well in any destination is an investment in memorable travel memories.

If you ask travelers who traveled extensively a decade or more ago to talk about their travels, it’s likely that they will be able to describe a particular meal at a particular restaurant much more vividly than monuments, artwork, or architecture that they saw during their travels. Dining well matters, and it’s a way to merge good self-care with good travel.

4. Keep taking your medication

If you’re on prescribed medication, keep taking them through your trip. Plan ahead and make a back-up plan for making sure that you have the medication you need, at the recommended dosage, for the entire duration of your trip. Like drinking water, often the most helpful self-care is the most basic: it’s making sure you get the medication you need even if your travel makes you feel well enough that you don’t need it.

Always discuss with your doctor before you make medication changes. Especially when you’re traveling and away from your support system back home. Follow the CDC guidelines for traveling with medication.

5. Talk to other humans

Often, when we feel our worst, we want to withdraw. Struck by sudden loneliness for friends back home or the weariness of long-term travel, we may want to retreat to a private hotel room, bunk, or bedroom.

There, we might be able to soothe ourselves with shallow self-care like bubble baths or a beauty treatment, but deep travel self care- the kind that really soothes and re-energizes us- is often doing the exact opposite. It’s stepping out of our comfort zone and connecting with other humans. It might be choosing to sit in a hotel lobby and strike up a conversation with a fellow traveler or signing up for a group activity with a hostel.

When I’m in the middle of long-term travel and my go-to solutions for managing travel loneliness fall flat, I have learned that one of the best ways that I personally can give myself good travel self-care is through splurging on experiential tours and excursions.

Like many travelers, it’s difficult for me to strike up a conversation with a stranger, and when strangers are too friendly I worry about travel safety and the precautions that solo travelers should take to avoid being taken advantage of. So rather than striking up random conversations, I frequently turn towards Airbnb and their vetted “experiences,” which allow a traveler to have a curated experience that’s been reviewed and approved by Airbnb. With friendly hosts that speak my language, I can have a memorable experience and someone to spend the day with.

6. Write in a journal

There is little doubt that journal writing is good self-care. Whether you write long-format, bullet journal, create a scrapbook, or even write your travel memoir while you’re in the midst of your travel, journaling helps us organize, reflect, and be more mindful about our day-to-day travel experience (click here to read about what researchers found when they studied people who journaled about stressful experiences).

Bullet journal travel layout
Download and print this Bullet Journal Travel Layout to get started.

In January 2021, the results of the first study centered on how a journaling practice may or may not enhance the experience of travelers, and the results were clear. You can read the paper on the study here, but the short version is that researchers determined that travel-created happiness is generally short-lived, but journaling well increased the potency of memorable and meaningful travel experiences, resulting in positive long-term benefits.

Travel journaling has been one of the most significant travel self-care practices for me personally. Taking time each morning or evening to write in a journal helps me slow down, reflect, and rest my body while engaging different parts of my mind. I’m such an avid travel journaler that I created a Ultimate Guide to Travel Journaling + a Free eBook.

A travel journal page from italy.

7. Connect with the people who know you best

When setting off on a long voyage to a new place there can be a tendency to leave the world we knew behind, trusting that it will be there when we return. Even though technology allows us to connect and have conversations with our friends and family back home, many travelers neglect this connection out of a fear of missing out on a moment of travel in the present.

In reality, video chats and phone calls with friends and family back home are essential travel self-care. Staying connected and being reminded of our rootedness in relationships can actually help us feel more supported and able to be adventurous in our travels. For more tips on connecting while traveling: check out our tips on staying connected while traveling.

8. Check in with your healthcare team as needed

You may find that due to stress, new cuisines, different sleeping arrangements, and other changes that come with travel that your health picture changes slightly. Health and mental health issues that might have been well managed at home may shift a little bit during the course of travel – especially long-term travel. Good travel self-care includes checking in with your providers back home – you can often do this by virtual care, phone calls, or messages. Although there are some particular rules about licensing, jurisdiction, and healthcare providers practicing across borders, reach out and ask for help if you need to.

9. Invest in your sleep

Often the most neglected area of self-care during travel is sleep. If you’ve ever found yourself booking a hotel, hostel, or Airbnb that you know your body won’t be able to relax in because the price was right or the location was perfect, you’ve fallen victim to the sleep neglect that is common among travelers.

Sleeping in a hostel can be hard, here are some tips

Often, as we rush from destination to destination filling our days with travel adventures, the travel self-care of good sleep takes a back burner. Here’s the thing, without sleep we cannot travel well. Like water, food, and friendship, good sleep is absolutely essential for travel self-care. For tips on sleeping while traveling, check out our article on how to sleep anywhere.

10. Don’t FOMO away your trip

Finally, the last tip for travel self-care is to give yourself permission to have your trip, and no one else’s. Don’t let Instagram influencers or even fellow travelers tell you what your travel style should be or look like. Often we miss just how powerful of a travel experience it can be to simply sit, rest, observe, and notice life moving around us in a travel destination. It’s okay to find your travel style and stick with it- even if you only like to put a few hours of activity in your itinerary each day.

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