Self Care While Traveling: What to Pack

In 2016, many of us will resolve to improve our self care routines, both mentally and physically. We’ll take more bubble baths, or buy one of those coloring books for adults that you see marketed in bookstores. The luckiest of us will schedule regular massages. 

Those who travel often can, and should, set aside time, to make an effort on trips to focus on self care. Accepting, for instance, that just because you have a wanderlust and want to see everything in a certain city doesn’t mean you need to be on your feet, socializing and exploring every day of your trip.

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

I’ve discovered a few great products that are both easily packable and legitimately relaxing. Remember that self care isn’t about pushing or improving yourself; it’s about doing yourself 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 door stopper
  • 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. You can toss one of these tabs into your 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 which 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 to sleep in unfamiliar or uncomfortable places, and providing a baseline of germ-fighting Vitamin C. Nothing is worse than catching a cold from your seatmate on a flight, and having to deal with the sniffles the entire length of a trip. You can get a free sample here.

Badger Balm

These tubes look like chapsticks, but they’re intended for application on your 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.

Door Stopper

I’ve become really passionate about staying in Airbnbs, 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 door stop. Although wedging one of these babies under a door won’t necessarily lock it, they do make breaking into one’s room a lot harder to do. A door stop 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, comfort socks specifically for long plane journeys.

Clean socks are important for a lot of reasons, but setting aside one pair of ridiculous socks that you’d never wear out of the house can be a great way to define your relaxed, indoor mindset. Maybe it’s one of those pairs of socks with rubber shapes on the soles, for traction, 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 apps out there for self care.You may have already heard of Headspace, which aids the user in meditation. That’s a great app for centering yourself on the road, and relaxing. My favorite self care app, Mywater, simply reminds you throughout the day to drink water.

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

Noise Cancelling 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-cancelling headphones will change the way you perceive 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 very 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 ever in a situation that requires vigilance, whether 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 you if you’re 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 just 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. Also it’s just silly to lose all of your important notes if you forget to bring your charger with you.

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 you commit to using it in positive ways. Maybe your notebook will become a place to jot down everything you enjoyed doing on your trip, or it might be a place to record contact information for people you meet. One of my friends, who 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.


Packing for self-care means including little things that make you feel comforted, safe, and calm.

  • Shower tablets can make any hostel bathroom feel fancy
  • Packing a door stopper can help with peace of mind
  • Meditation and hydration apps remind you to take care of yourself
  • Noise cancelling headphones can help you focus
  • Vitamin C, melatonin, and aromatherapy balm pamper your body
  • A physical notebook is often a better option than logging thoughts into your phone

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