Why Self-Care is so Hard When You’re on Vacation

July 18, 2018

Going on vacation with kids is hard.

It shouldn’t be, right?

Going on vacation should be sunshine and rainbows and unicorns and sparkles and adventure and exploration and rest and relaxation and all of the self-care.

Sometimes vacation is all of those things.

And sometimes going on vacation is also stressful and exhausting and difficult and expensive and frustrating with no time for any self-care beyond the basics.

I just got back from a vacation with my family.

On the morning we returned I posted this on instagram:

“Vacations are fun. Travel often sucks.”

Vacation is full of contradictions.

You have lots of fun and also lots of stress.
You have lots of free time and also not enough time for everything.
You’re off your regular routine, do you have more time for you and most of it isn’t used for self-care.
It’s great to be with family and friends we love and it’s hard to leave because you don’t know when you’re going to see them again.
Vacation is exciting and also exhausting.
I could go on but you get the picture.

On our vacation, we had tons of fun.

My kids stayed up way past their bedtimes every single night and had massive meltdowns each night as a result. They also got to wade in the frigid ice melt of Lake Estes and do “Silent Disco” with their very own headphones at my cousin’s wedding and learned how to play pinball.

I got way less sleep than I usually do, didn’t eat as well as I usually do, and didn’t get as much solo time for self-care as I would have liked. I also got to reconnect with family I haven’t seen in years, “Silent Disco” dance with my kids, spend time in the Rocky Mountains, and see a dear friend I haven’t seen in decades and eat fresh raspberries I picked from the bushes in her backyard.

And I got major support from my parents who traveled with us, drove us around, and bought us food. Plus, my mom and Milly and I went to get pedicures together, which was super special and something I pretty much only do when my mom is around.

So it wasn’t bad.

It was wonderful.

And also, sometimes hard.

Because that’s how vacations are.

Full of contradictions.

My biggest takeaway from this vacation was that even though I did manage to do some daily, essential self-care, I also didn’t do nearly as much special self-care as I expected to.

Now just to clarify, I think there are 2 basic types of self-care: Foundational self-care (aka “boring self-care”) and Extraordinary self-care (aka “fancy self-care”)

Boring self-care is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the basics. Daily self-care practices, often bundled together in a routine that you do every single day, no matter what. Most of this self-care is very simple and doesn’t require special equipment or timing.

For me, this is my morning bathroom routine (wake up, pee, scrape tongue, dry brush body, oil up body, wash face) and evening routine (brush teeth, floss, mouthwash, oil face, rub feet, read in bed). I also made sure to meditate each morning and move my body every day for at least 15 minutes (and stay tuned, because I have 2 hotel yoga/workout practices coming at you next week!).

Lots of other practices fell by the wayside, though. Some of these are also boring self-care practices (like going to bed before 10pm and eating foods that make me feel good), but others were more “fancy,” like painting my mantra each week or going for a walk by myself.

Self-care is hard on vacations, which seems like a cruel twist of fate. Vacations should be the ultimate self-care, but they’re not.

The truth is that it’s harder to practice self-care when you’re traveling with your family than when you’re at home.

Here’s why (plus a few solutions):

Different routine means no routine:

When you’re on vacation, it’s the opportunity to slide into “vacation mode” which often means different routines than what you usually do. You go to bed later, you sleep later, you have no set schedule. Which is great and also not great. It’s great because you can create whatever schedule you want. It’s also not great because instead of setting a schedule, you often just sort of meander through the day (meaning some things you want to do don’t end up happening, which extra sucks).


Instead of having no routine, keep a few simple routines from your at-home daily self-care practice on your vacation. These are non-negotiable self-care practices you do every day, without fail. They should be simple and shouldn’t require much, if any equipment. I mentioned a few of mine above. What are your non-negotiable daily self-care practices? Make a short list. Write them out. And put them in your wallet with your passport, next time you go on vacation.

Need some ideas? Check out this blog I wrote last year about the 5 Self-Care Practices I Always Bring with me on Vacation.

Trying to do #allthethings means doing no special things for you:

When you’re on vacation, you naturally want to see all of the sights, eat all of the food, buy all of the t-shirts, and take all of the pictures. When you try to do all of those things, however, you often leave out the time you need to refresh yourself.


Instead of trying to do everything, consider what is most important to do and make a specific plan to do those things. Be ok with leaving a few things out in service of your sanity. And intentionally plan in 15-minutes every day for you both in the morning and the evening.

“Vacation = self-care” ideology screws with your head:

Repeat after me: “vacation is not self-care.” Vacation is vacation. You can do self-care on vacation, but you can also avoid self-care on vacation.


Consider what self-care means to you, why it’s important, and how you can add it to a successful, satisfying, and enjoyable vacation.


So next time you go on vacation or your travel, know that you have simple options to make sure that your vacation actually refreshes and renews you instead of burning you out more!

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