Your Self-Care Packing Checklist

By Sarah A. Lybrand

The fastest way to ruin a vacation is by failing to meet your basic self-care needs, whether health and safety, sanity, or just plain comfort. But good news: setting yourself up for a great vacation can be as simple as being well-prepared.

The following five items fit into most carry-ons (which is really just one big self-care kit, if you think about it), and are a great starting point for taking good care of yourself on the road:

1. Comfort pouch (for essentials)

Inside my carry-on is another bag, more like a pouch, and in it I pack all the items I want easily on-hand for the airplane. So the 'comfort pouch' functions more like a unit in which to carry things like:

  • Chapstick
  • Eyedrops
  • Nasal spray (for dry climates/stale air)
  • Hair tie
  • “Pharmacy” (with extra medication, vitamins, pain reliever, gas reliever, and immune-booster)
  • Essential oils (tea tree & lavender, various uses)
  • Clean face mask

Tip: Choose clear/opaque pouches or packing cubes to always find what you need in a hurry.

2. A natural-fiber scarf (for warmth)

When you can’t pack a lot, you want every piece in your wardrobe to work a lot. That means choosing pieces that can double, or even triple as other items. For example, beyond a fashionable and functional wrap (that can be dressed up, or down), a large, square, quality scarf can be so many things: a sarong on the beach, a lap blanket, a travel towel, even folded up as an airplane pillow.

Choose natural fibers like wool, silk, etc. It may be more expensive (thrift stores are great for this sort of thing), but think of this as your crowning companion to every outfit. Not to mention these are fabrics that are naturally antimicrobial, long-wearing, super warm (but very breathable!), and basically, well,the best.

***Tip: Don't forget two other important self-care accessories: shade for your eyes, and protection for your head (like a sun or sock hat)

3. Something heavenly (for your feet)

Vacation can spell a lot of walking, hiking, and long travel days, which means a lot of extra abuse for your feet. Treat them well, because you don’t want them to fail you now!

Most critical to this is packing the appropriate shoes for your itinerary. Nothing is worse than hiking in flip-flops. But here’s the real pro-self-care move: always have something to put on afterward. Any comfortable change of shoe works, but if space is tight, a simple pair of slipper socks can do the job nicely. If nothing else? Lotion, blister blocks, and a clean change of socks can turn tired feet... into happy feet.

4. Reusable water bottle (for hydration)

My “self-care kit” more or less always contains a giant water bottle—as much for the reminder to drink it, as to contain it. Surely I don’t need to remind you to hydrate while traveling, do I?

Nothing fancy needed, but I’d say stainless steel, insulated, and leak-proof are all good qualities to look for in a water bottle. Or, if fancy is your thing, they even have self-cleaning ones now!

5. Distractions (for the downtime)

Whatever you like to do — read, take pictures, listen to podcasts, etc. — load yourself up ahead of time! Or better yet, find a distraction that doesn’t involve technology (at the very least, for those moments when you’re stuck on the tarmac in airplane mode) like knitting, mind puzzles, or drawing.

You’ll be glad for the escape when things get mundane. Speaking of something to keep your hands busy, how about:

6. A travel journal (for your soul)

Highly underrated as a self-care strategy, I can’t recommend journaling — specifically when traveling — enough. Whether just a short getaway or a global sojourn, jotting down your thoughts and memories will be a gift to yourself later on. Not only that, the practice can help you sort your thoughts amid the unfamiliar, parse new experiences, and fully process your journeys.

Tip: To help kickstart a journaling habit, choose a notebook you absolutely adore (handling, looking at, turning the pages of, etc.) — and a really nice pen. The pages will call to you!

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