The season of travel is truly upon us! Summer vacations, festivals, camps, conferences, weddings and a multitude of other summer activities and events mean that many of us will be away from home for a large portion of these upcoming weeks and months. As I write this, I am sitting in a cafe in Salzburg, and, like all summers that I have spent here previously, I am again struck by the THRONGS of tourists bringing the streets of this city to life.
While travelling, visiting new places and exploring different cultures is SO exciting and a real privilege to be able to do, it can also be quite a stressful activity. I have often heard people remark on the fact that, although they enjoyed their holiday on the whole, it didn’t turn out to be the incredible and fantastic adventure that they envisioned it would be, and I have come to believe that there is reason behind the saying ‘the best part about going away is coming home again’. I think even the most seasoned travellers among us would agree that being away from home can be really difficult; we are displaced from all of our normal routines and suddenly without access to the regular home ‘comforts’ that we have implemented into our daily lives that we perhaps never realised were quite so important in making ourselves feel good.
The truth is that self-care really is important; it is what makes our bodies and minds tick, and what makes us be the best versions of ourselves that we can be. And it shouldn’t have to stop when we leave our homes and go somewhere else – in fact, these might be the times when we need it most! I have compiled my own list of self-care essentials for when I travel in the hopes that they might help some of you out too. These are things that I know I need in my life so that I can function best, and therefore get the most out of every day, which is what we all want when we travel anyway! I have divided my list into different levels of necessity, starting with the absolute non-negotiables – the most vital self-care requirements to staying in top shape – working my way down to the more ‘luxury’ conditions – things that I don’t strictly need every day when travelling and that don’t really matter if I can’t get access to them, but that would just be nice.
- Sleep. No question. A decent night’s sleep is the most fundamental requisite to staying in good shape, when travelling or at home! It doesn’t have to be a fancy hotel to do the job well either. I’ve found that making sure my body is at a comfortable temperature and earplugs if I am sharing a room go a long way, and it doesn’t hurt to have some Nyquil in my bag either. Whatever works for you to get a good sleep, do that. And prioritise it! I’ve definitely learned the hard way (admittedly, especially as I’ve gotten older) that my body just can’t keep up with staying out and socialising all night and then working at 100% the following day. I’ve trained myself to ditch the FOMO and put my sleep at number 1, which means that I will maybe stay out for 1 drink before hitting the sack at 10 or 11pm, and not feel pressured into ordering another pitcher of beer (which inevitably turns into an all-nighter), and this has helped me out so much when travelling!
- Regular routines. Obviously, nothing is really regular when we travel – every circumstance is temporary and different. But I have found that the more that I can keep any kind of regularity in my bodily functions, the better I feel. This means sleeping and waking at around the same kinds of times each day, eating at regular intervals so I don’t get overcome with hunger and hangry and (sorry to be TMI) making sure I have access to a washroom at about the same times each day too. Especially if you are like me, and your body tends to have it’s own very clear clock and schedule, this last one is really important!
- Coffee. Well, for me it’s coffee, but for you it could be anything else; tea, a banana, a certain brand of orange juice, a bottle of wine… I’m talking about that one thing that you know you need. Don’t avoid thinking about it, if you know you need that one thing every day to make you feel the best – make a plan for how you are going to get it! For me, I bring my Aeropress and a little bag of coffee with me everywhere – I just can’t rely on there always being a decent cup of coffee wherever I am, and I’ve suffered with instant crap enough to know that I need something better. Maybe you can bring your own tea bags with you and a travel kettle, if that’s what you need. Maybe you want to pack extra supplies of granola bars or nuts, if you know you are a picky eater and you want to make sure there will be something for you to eat. Whatever it is, think about it in advance and make sure you can have it!
- My water bottle. It’s an easy one but it is definitely a permanent travel companion of mine. I hopped on the reusable water bottle trend a few years ago, and haven’t really left home without one since. Travelling is thirsty work, and there is really no need to continually buy bottles of water, nor to contribute to that needless waste of plastic. I love having my own water bottle in my bag, and I find that I fill it up two or three times a day when I travel, which just shows how necessary it is to me. I highly recommend getting your own, and here’s to staying hydrated! Just FYI, I use one by the American brand Nalgene, and I like it because it’s BPA free and it holds 1000 ml of water which is plenty but also doesn’t make it too heavy to carry. Also, it’s a pretty colour.
- Physical activity. I decided to put this in the Moderately Necessary category, because I know that lazy beach holidays are a thing and definitely have their place, and sometimes it is good to take this kind of break. But, for me, even on this kind of vacation, making sure I have some kind of movement and activity in my day really helps me to feel so much more energised and mentally positive. I love to explore new places by foot, as I think it’s the best way to really get to know a new environment, so walking is usually my preferred and most accessible form of activity. If I happen to be staying in a hotel with a gym I will always try to use it (and I always pack some light work-out clothes accordingly), but if this isn’t possible, I would definitely recommend downloading and following the 7 Minute Work-Out app on your phone. I really got into using this app when I was travelling for a couple of months straight last summer. It offers a work out routine that you can do anywhere, and which involves no equipment, so it’s really easy and effective (definitely gives you a sweat!). There are lots of other good apps too, including ones for stretching (although I would love any recommendations you might have for this!) and they are free, really beneficial and so easy to incorporate into your travel routines.
- Good food. Again, I know there are some people who would disagree and put this one in the Absolutely Necessary list. The reason I put it here is mostly to do with the matter of budget. I am very open about the fact that I am pretty much always travelling on a tight budget, and in some places this can accommodate a great diet, with lots of great and cheap healthy food. But in lots of places (unfortunately the places I tend to go most often), it just isn’t possible to get the best, most nutricious meals every day. I would say, just do the best you can, and prioritise food as you want to. For me, I know that I can’t afford to eat really good meals out every day, so I will make sure that I have a bag of apples to snack on, opt for buying some salady stuff for picnic lunches (which is just as cheap as buying fast food, where I am anyway) and find ways of having access to a small kitchen – either through friends or often hotels and hostels have them available for guests to use – so that I can prepare cheaper dinner options myself. Fruit and veg are really what I try to go for as much as I can, and I will avoid quick, greasy junk food where possible. Maybe you can choose to eat one really good and healthy meal each day, and just make do on bread and cheese for the rest of the time. Perhaps food is higher on your priority list, so that you decide to save on other things like taxis or tram tickets. But travelling should never be an excuse to binge on junk food just because that is what is most easily accessible to you. Putting effort in to find the best food options for you is really important.
- Communication. I know, sometimes we travel precisely to get away from everyone and everything. And I enjoy that sense of liberation too. But I still do find it moderately necessary to keep some amount of communication to the world going. I need to be able to reach my boyfriend or my family, I might want to tell a friend about something exciting that I experienced that day, and just keeping up with the news these days is no small task. A little bit of WiFi time each day for me is perfect, just to keep in touch. Occasionally, and for very special people, I’ll even write a postcard.
- Downloaded podcasts. Podcasts are a fixed and firm aspect of my everyday life at home, and I would definitely count them as a part of my regular self-care routine. I find them interesting and entertaining, and they represent a way for me to escape my own world for a bit, to stop thinking about my own problems and just relax! (By the way, I’ve written a couple of blog posts on some of my favourite podcasts – check them out here if you need some recommendations!) When I travel, I totally rely on having some pre-downloaded podcasts ready to go. I listen to them while actually travelling, on planes and trains, or any time I don’t have access to WiFi (which can be often) and they also help me to get to sleep too. I also sometimes have some downloaded TV shows or movies from Netflix on my tablet, and I know some people would opt for this, but for me, it’s podcasts all the way.
- A good book. I mean, because a good book is to travelling like hot sauce is to eggs. They just go. Even if you never have time to open it, just knowing that you have the option of reading a great book is like having a feeling of peaceful security in your bag. I am on the brink of jumping on the Kindle bandwagon (a bit late to the party, I know) and would love to know your thoughts on this. Are you a kindle person, or will nothing ever replace a real-life book for you?
- My penknife. My penknife is definitely a luxury; I do always take it with me when I travel, but I don’t always use it. I have to say, the most useful element of the knife is the corkscrew/beer bottle opener! But for those couple of times that I have been stuck without a knife, it has totally saved me. Sometimes you need a knife to cut bread and cheese for a picnic. Now and then you get some kind of technical issue with a suitcase that requires a knife to sort it out. My knife also comes with tweezers, which I have definitely also found useful, and the screwdriver function has also meant that I have never had to buy a screwdriver – win! It’s not hugely necessary, but it is really nice to have and when it does come in handy, I am always so thankful for it!
I would love to know what your self-care tips for travelling are! Do you have a special pillow that you always take with you? Is there an app on your phone that you use to make lists or travel arrangements? Do invest in travel-sized products that help you maintain your favourite routines? Let’s start a conversation in the comments below!