April 6, 2016

Self-Care is Important—Even When We Travel.

Dariusz Sankowski/Unsplash

Travel can take it out of us. A missed train. An upset stomach. A noisy street and a sleepless night.

It’s exhilarating to be surrounded by the new and the unfamiliar, but a lack of comfort zone is only sustainable for so long. We need a piece of comfort in the unfamiliar. We need something that feels like us, something that feels like home, to fuel our journey.

Enter self-care.

Those who travel often can, and should, set aside time to focus on self-care. For instance, just because we have wanderlust and want to see everything in a certain city, it doesn’t mean we need to be on our feet, socializing and exploring every day of our visit.

A full day, or even an afternoon or evening, devoted to recharging and being mindful of our surroundings can enhance our senses on days spent sightseeing.

I’ve discovered a few great products that are both easily packable and legitimately relaxing. Remember, self-care isn’t about pushing or improving ourselves; it’s about doing ourselves tiny favors.

Self-Care Packing List.

When I travel, I like to pack the following items just for me:

• Herbal shower tablets
• Vitamin C packets with melatonin
• Badger balm
• A rubber doorstop
• Thick wool socks
• Meditation and hydration apps
• Noise cancelling headphones
• Tiny notebook

Herbal Shower Tablets

Aura Cacia makes fantastic aromatherapy shower tablets that come in scents like eucalyptus and peppermint. I toss one of these tabs into my backpack, since they’re incredibly light, and half of a tablet on the floor of a hostel shower is guaranteed to make washing off the mass transit grime feel like time spent at a spa.

Vitamin C Packets, With Melatonin

Emergen-C recently came out with packets of night-time powder that contain a small amount of melatonin, a natural hormone our bodies produce when it’s time to go to sleep. I like packing a couple of these to pour into hot water at night when I’m sleeping away from home.

They’re a double whammy, calming me down after a long day, which allows me to sleep in unfamiliar or uncomfortable places, and providing a baseline of germ-fighting Vitamin C. Nothing is worse than catching a cold from my neighbor on a flight and having to deal with the sniffles the entire length of a trip.

Badger Balm

These tubes look like chapsticks, but they’re intended for application on the wrists, chest and temples, sort of like a soothing Vapo Rub without the chemicals. Every Badger Balm has a slightly different scent, and they’re all equally relaxing.


I’ve become passionate about using Airbnb, but although I love the website, I’ve had several encounters with owners who turned out to be less approachable than their profiles made them seem. On nights like these, I’m grateful that I typically pack a cheap rubber doorstop. Although wedging one of these babies under a door won’t necessarily lock it, they do make breaking in a lot harder to do. A doorstop is a great product just to maintain a traveler’s peace of mind while settling into bed.

Thick Wool Socks

Years ago in my travels, I noticed a woman sitting next to me on an airplane had switched from her walking shoes into a thick, fresh pair of socks. Ever since that flight, I’ve always made sure to pack a pair of thick, woolen, comfortable socks specifically for long plane journeys.

Clean socks are important for a lot of reasons, but setting aside one pair of ridiculous socks we’d never wear out of the house can be a great way to define our relaxed, indoor mindset. Maybe it’s one of those pairs with rubber shapes on the soles, or maybe they’re a cashmere blend too delicate for everyday wear, but too luxurious to leave at home. Either way, a pair of quality socks can make air travel, or staying in a hostel, much more pleasant.

Meditation Apps

In addition to the many travel apps we carry on our phones, there are also apps out there for self-care. Headspace, which aids the user in meditation, is a great app for centering on the road, and relaxing. My favorite self-care app, Mywater, simply reminds me throughout the day to drink water.

It’s fun to drink my prescribed amount of liquids and add them into the app’s interface. I feel better as I do it (because water is a magic and natural tonic that solves everything), I win little digital rewards for being consistent, and I get to watch my hydration level rise with every new drink.

Noise-Canceling Headphones

Sometimes, I think back on the trips I took while only wearing the earbuds that came with my iPod, and I wonder how I survived. Admittedly, a lot of over-the-head earphones are overpriced (I’m not recommending you run out and buy yourself a pair of Beats just to take on a backpacking trip), but making the switch to noise-canceling headphones changed the way I perceived public travel. Bose makes a great set.

If I ever stop into art museums by myself when traveling, I tend to wear these and walk around a wing of paintings feeling like I’m in a vacuum. It’s a specific way to cancel out your surroundings, if you’re looking to hone in on the visual details of your trip. Just don’t forget to take them off and experience where you are with your ears, too!

(A note of caution: You should never wear these if you’re in a situation that requires vigilance and you need to be on the lookout for traffic or folks who might steal your wallet, but a pair of headphones that seals out white noise can work wonders if you’re trying to relax or read in a public space.)

Tiny Notebook

Personally, I suffer from racing thoughts, especially if I’m over-stimulated and trying to take in a new city. If I’m ever waiting in line somewhere, riding the metro, eating alone in a restaurant, or spending time in a park, I like to have something to busy myself that isn’t as heavy as a book. I also find that people are more likely to approach if I’m writing something, rather than reading something, because there’s an inherent openness to taking notes. Sometimes using a little notebook can just be busy work, to focus myself and reflect on what I’m doing, but other days I’m thankful to have a place to jot down stray thoughts, directions from locals or names of places I ought to remember.

Many of us still rely on tech gadgets to be our notebooks, but traveling abroad can sometimes render our smartphones useless. And it’s just silly to lose all of our important notes if we forget to bring our charger with us.

A notebook is a logical thing to pack for many reasons, but it can be a great tool for self-care and emotional wellness on the road if we commit to using it in positive ways. Maybe our notebook will become a place to jot down everything we enjoyed doing on our trip, or it might be a place to record contact information for people we meet. One of my friends, whom I met on a trip in Chicago, likes to write out, in calligraphy, snippets of conversations he has with people, which makes his notebooks into collections of both doodles and transcripts of exchanges he might otherwise forget. That’s cool.


Happy travels, and may this self-care packing list be of benefit!


Relephant Read:

The Road Warrior’s Guide to Healthy Travel.


Author: Emily Gaudette

Editor: Toby Israel

Image: Dariusz Sankowski/Unsplash


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