It may seem counterintuitive to discuss self-care while traveling when, in my humble opinion, travel is a fantastic form of self-care. We travel for many reasons; to heal, to connect, to grow, to love, and a million and one other reasons. But we can’t reap the rewards of travel without taking care of ourselves. Practicing self-care while traveling – especially long term – is essential to the healing we seek, the adventure we crave, and the connections we create.
You can employ these self-care strategies right now, wherever you happen to be on your adventure.
This post contains affiliate links, which means that, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a tiny bit of income if you decide to make a purchase or booking.
Self-Care for Physical Health
Our physical health is incredibly important during our travels. Have you ever been sick on the road? It straight-up sucks! (But you’re a smart traveler and have travel insurance so it doesn’t suck as bad as it could… right?)
We need our bodies functioning at their best so we can hike the treks we planned on, swim in the lakes we dreamt of, and finally learn how to dance salsa!
Move over Einstein – I’ve got an equation coming your way!
Travel = dehydration + stress = bloat.
How do we combat this? Good old H2O.
I have loved and lost a lot of water bottles in my travels. And I’ve got expensive taste with those Hydroflasks growing legs and walking away. Or being left on the bus seat next to me, in hostels, or bathrooms.
Each time I lose one, I immediately purchase a new one, so that I can have water with me at all times. Fill it up in restaurants or any time you can find filtered water. And make sure any chance you get, you use the bathroom. You’re so hydrated you’ll be thankful you did.
Staying hydrated allows us to think more clearly, decreases the chances of stress-related migraines, and keeps our skin glowing.
Pro Tip: On travel days, drink more water than normal to help combat the extra stress.
While traveling, try to stay as close as possible to your normal diet. Try the local food, desserts, and delicacies once or twice. But eat how you normally eat at home to help you stay energized for adventure.
A great way to combine wanting to try local foods and eat close to your normal diet is by visiting local markets. There you can pick up fresh produce that grows locally in the area. These markets are incredibly common and very easy to find. Most cities have them at least once per week, if not daily!
Visiting El Mercado Central in Quito every day for a 10 cent avocado to make with my eggs was a highlight of that trip. Sound ridiculous to have avocados as a highlight? Then you haven’t had the avocados from South America. They’re legit.
Pro Tip: Do your research beforehand on local delicacies that you’ll want to try and seek out the best places to have them so you have an excellent experience with the local food.
I always amaze myself at how easily I can fit a yoga practice into my schedule while I’m on the road, but at home it can be a major struggle. The Asana practice of Yoga is what I turn to for exercise while traveling.
Yoga is the best fitness and health practice you can use on the road. It’s not high impact which gives your body a bit of a break. It helps stretch everything out after walking all day, sitting on buses and lugging around your backpack. And it can be done just about everywhere with absolutely no equipment.
But Katie, when am I supposed to do yoga on the road? Either first thing in the morning or last thing at night. It doesn’t have to be a long practice. Even 20 minutes can do wonders for you. I have a restorative yoga practice that is perfect for the end of the night and can be done in your hostel bed.
For other practices I use Glo. It costs $18 per month but has my favorite yoga teachers from the yoga world.
Yoga is also amazing because it provides a time of quiet and reflection when the world around you is constantly changing. It helps you process all of the new experiences you’re having while maintaining your core strength.
Pro Tip: Putting your legs up the wall for 15 minutes every day is a great way to keep your legs fresh, improve circulation, and relax.
Yes, we want to do all of the things, but it’s no fun if you can’t keep your eyes open!
Sleep is how we recover from long travel days, how our minds process all that we’ve seen, and how we recharge to wanderlust on the next day.
Get up to catch the sunrise. Stay up late to chase the sunset. But please, nap in between!
I stay in hostels 99% of the time when I travel, which causes quite a bit of disrupted sleep. So when I’m feeling grumpy for more than a day, then I will splurge on a private room or an Airbnb so I can get a good night of sleep and wake up feeling refreshed.
Pro Tip: Travel with an eye mask and earplugs to help you sleep in hostels. You won’t regret it.
Self-Care for Financial Health
Anyone who says finances don’t play a role in our overall well being is lying. Towards the end of my 10 months of travel, I refused to look at my bank accounts out of fear for the damage I’d done. I had extreme anxiety over it until one night at 2:00 am I had to force myself to look at my accounts. I hadn’t done as bad as I thought and I was able to create a plan moving forward.
Figure Out Your Budget
Ok, I’m not going to tell you where or how to spend your money while you travel. But I am going to admit that I’m pretty freakin’ bad at budgeting. Each month I say I’ll stick to a budget then a bright and shiny flight or road trip comes up and I’m out.
How I stay mostly on track is by knowing where I’m willing to splurge and where I’m going to save. I will splurge on an excursion or awesome meal while saving on transportation or accommodation. Know where you’re willing to splurge and where you’re going to save on your trip.
It really sucks to come home to debt so get in the habit of checking your accounts regularly. Make sure that your bills back home are getting paid too by setting up automatic payments.
Pro Tip: If you’re from the US, sign up for the Charles Schwab Investor Checking Account. There are no ATM fees, no foreign transaction fees, no overdraft fees, and their customer service is EXCELLENT. I had my ATM card information stolen in Mexico and $200 withdrawn from an ATM in Belize – while my ATM card was still with me! They called me immediately and refunded the cash!
Self-Care for Mental Health
Travel is awesome for our mental health in many ways. It teaches us how capable we are, it shows us our strengths and weaknesses, it grows inner confidence that makes you feel badass.
But as we travel, experiencing new cultures and ideas can make us question our own value and belief systems. It can shake us to our very core of who we thought we were. Which can pose a bit of a problem on the mental health front.
Pay Attention to your Emotions
Travel also forces us into the present moment. Which could mean we can’t run away from our emotions. I will never forget the day I spent at Auschwitz, the emotions that trip brought up, and how it affected my mental health for days following.
But, it’s important to actually feel those emotions. Feel joy. Feel the loss. Feel the highs and the lows. Because in our everyday life we cope with the lows by diving into work, eating, or binging Netflix. Those aren’t always an option on the road, which is both liberating and terrifying.
But that’s what being a living breathing human is about – the emotions.
Pro Tip: Share your experiences with others who visited the same places. Talking about our emotions is a great way to process them and connect.
Another way to process those emotions? Write them down.
Write down how purple and orange hues of sunset on that tiny island in Mexico made you feel.
Write down what it felt like to work with elephants at that sanctuary.
Get it all out of your head and onto paper. On paper, you can start to make sense of what you’re feeling, if you think you need to. If not, then you have a record of how alive you felt in those moments.
Pro Tip: Each day, write down three things you’re grateful for. We can forget how lucky we are to even be able to have these experiences.
Do Normal Things
Do your laundry. Cook your own food. Lay in bed and watch Netflix all day. Lay on the hostel couch and read a book. Call home.
In our normal non-traveling life we do these things. Continuing to do them on the road helps us feel like ourselves in a country different from everything we know.
Pro Tip: It’s ok to do nothing.
Remember it’s OK
It’s ok to say No to other people’s ideas for your trip. It’s your trip, yes you should spend time doing things that challenge you, but if you absolutely hate hiking don’t sign up for a trek to Machu Picchu. Just take the train!
It’s ok to be bored. I remember I felt so guilty for being bored in Budapest! Who gets bored in Budapest? I did. And I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt bored! Enjoy the boring moments just as much as the jaw-dropping ones.
It’s ok to get lonely. Loneliness will likely happen on the road and it’s OK. Use your journal to figure out why you’re lonely. It happened to me in Europe. I wasn’t doing what I liked to do and I was traveling too quickly. So I slowed down and left the big cities for small towns and seaside views.
Self-care is just as important on the road as it is at home. These strategies require no money, very little effort, can be used immediately to have profound effects on your travel experience.
What self-care strategies do you use while you travel?
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