Let’s face it—traveling can be exhausting. When we’re someplace that we’ve never been before and we have precious little time there, taking a much-needed day rest day can make us feel badly about ourselves. Travel rest days are so important, however, and here are 15 tips to make them better.

Taking travel rest days

File this under: Something I’ve posted, because I need to remember it, too. Taking time to rest is always important; taking time to rest while traveling is essential. Traveling engages every part of us, physically and mentally, and all that sensory overload, while it makes us feel so very alive, travel is also exhausting. We need a good, restful break once in a while to restore us. We need a travel rest day.

This post covers building rest into our travels and how to make the most of our travel rest days. I know that I need to work on giving myself permission to rest. If that’s you, too, then this post is for you. Have a tip that works for you? Please share it in the comments!

Travel rest day in an apartment in Santiago, Chile. A bed is in focus, with light half-way across it. Across the room is a blue lounge chair with a red and yellow striped blanket. Outside the window is a forest visible beyond the scrollwork.

We all need rest days

I think we all know the kind of day. The one when we crack our eyes open, get the coffee started, sit on the couch for about an hour staring at the walls, and then just saying, “NOPE.” Sometimes, we go back to bed, sometimes, we flop on the couch and turn on the TV. There’s usually a takeout order involved. Maybe two.

Crash days happen. We get overstimulated, there’s stress at work or at home, or maybe we just need a little break. Someone I know once called them “holy days.” Another calls them SOMAS (Sit-on-Your-Ass-Saturdays). Done right, they are restorative little miracles.

But what about when they happen when we’re traveling?

It’s one thing when it happens at home. I think we’ve all spent a Saturday or two on the sofa binging SVU. When we’re traveling, especially someplace new that we were super excited about, it can make us feel guilty. At least, I feel guilty for taking a travel rest day.

Crashing in Croatia

One Friday afternoon in Split, I finished my newsletter for my subscribers, shut down my computer and crawled back into bed. I put on the first season of Fringe, and I proceeded to watch TV and nap for the rest of the day. I spent most of Saturday in bed, too, venturing out to get an early dinner before slinking back to my apartment. I had myself a couple of crash days.

It was hardly surprising—I’d been basically drinking from the firehose of new experience for the last month. My usual crutch of a rainy day didn’t work in Split; it rained the day I got there and that was it for the month I was there. Still, I found myself angry and frustrated. Here I was, in this gorgeous place, and I spent the day in bed, watching television?! Old television, at that?

What is wrong with me? I should propel myself out of that bed and out into the glorious world, not fritter away my precious time here.

I need to get better at taking travel rest days

I’ve always had an aversion to sleep. As a kid, I didn’t want to take naps. I wanted to play. I’m a natural night owl, and I was really good at not sleeping as a young adult.

As an adult, I trained myself to go to bed and wake up at socially acceptable hours. I even love a good nap—when there’s nothing going on.

I know rest is important

Here’s the thing—sleep is important. Rest is important. I know this. When traveling for months on end, it’s not reasonable to expect that my energy levels would remain high, or even so-so, all the time. It’s just not going to happen.

15 tips for taking better travel rest days

Again, these are things that I need to remember to do, especially the acceptance part. Here’s what I’m learning about taking better travel rest days. Some of these are activities to undertake for your whole trip (if you need a daily nap or a little break in the afternoon, take it).  I’d love to hear what works for you in the comments below.

A quick note: Most of my travel experience is solo travel experience, and I realize that I have more control over my days when I’m traveling solo. However, I’ve also included a recent example of traveling with a friend. If you are traveling with others, you may need to lay some additional groundwork to get the travel rest days you need.

15 Tips for Taking Better Travel Rest Days

1. Accept that rest is important and let yourself take travel rest days

Travel can be exhausting. Time zone adjustments, new experiences and sights, and even just getting from point A to point B in a new place takes a lot of physical and mental energy. Accept that you’re expending more energy than usual give yourself permission to rest.

Let yourself nap if you need to. Go to bed early. Flop on that sofa. All of the above. You can always set an alarm if you’re concerned about oversleeping.

On travel rest days, show yourself some gentleness. You are giving your body and mind what they need in order for you to enjoy the rest of your trip. You aren’t wasting your time at all.

2. Keep itinerary loose—and listen to what your body is telling you

One way to make sure that we get the rest we need is to keep a loose itinerary—this has other benefits, too—and listen to what our body is telling us on a given day. Sometimes if we’re feeling a little lethargic, a good walk can wake us up, but other times, it means that we need a break. If we have a loose itinerary, we can often rearrange our plans accordingly.

3. Have a general idea of when you might need a travel rest day

This is something I need to get a lot better at. Several of my friends maintain a two-days-activity/one-day-rest schedule. I’m not sure if I want to do anything that stringent, but I think that having a good idea to have a general sense of when a slow day would help. A couple of days exploring, and perhaps a day when the big adventure is sitting in a café. I do this sometimes, and I should just keep it up.

4. Build breaks in your day

We all have times in the day when we’re better than others. For me, the early afternoon finds me in search of a comfy place to nap. I have lunch and then . . . naptime. It was a real problem when I had a desk job. I used to try and wake myself up by wandering around the office, secretly feeling that I was sick or possibly dying. I wasn’t, but I definitely was sleepy. Walks help when taking a nap really isn’t an option, but so does rest.

I’ve found that heading back to my apartment after lunch and then heading out again in the evening helps keep me rested and happy. Sometimes I just need to remember to do.

In Montréal, my friend can tell you that I was pretty useless after lunch (and sometimes a wee bit cranky, perish the thought). I did better when I could have a couple of hours back in the apartment (and air conditioning), vegging out on the sofa and watching bad TV, before heading back out. Conversely, my friend just couldn’t with early mornings, and I’d head out and snap photos while she slept in and had a little time for herself.

5. Keep a (reasonably consistent) sleep schedule

Traveling is a disruption in our usual routine, and that includes sleep schedules. Late dinners, evenings out at performances or just wandering, not to mention any lingering jet lag, mean that we are likely keeping later hours than usual. It’s part of the fun. However, it’s still a good idea to keep a consistent sleep schedule as much as possible.

This also means trying to wake up at a consistent hour. Oversleeping can do a number on us too.

6. Have a nice space in which to take your travel rest day

The first time I went to Paris, I stayed in a hotel. It was a kind of cool boutique hotel, but still a hotel, and my room was tiny and didn’t look out onto anything interesting. When I needed an afternoon of me time (aka, I engaged in so much flânerie that I pretty much broke myself), I felt cheated. I still had a lovely nap, but I didn’t like having to spend so much time in my hotel room.

Since then, I’ve stayed in apartments whenever possible, preferably with really good views. That way, when I need to rest, I’m someplace interesting, and it’s part of my trip.

7. Relaxing activities are perfect for travel rest days

Is your destination known for saunas? Thermal baths? Have a beach with cabanas? If you’re not feeling like hanging out in your apartment, perhaps head out for a relaxing day. Several days into my Helsinki holiday, friends, I was broken. I’d taken an amazing, but exhausting, day trip to Tallinn, Estonia, where my daily steps record remains unchallenged, and then another in Finland, and I was beat.

It just so happened that this coincided with the women’s day at the Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall, which features a wood-fired sauna. I booked one of the cabins and had a most relaxing day of sauna and swimming. I left a rejuvenated new woman.

In Montenegro, I spent several happy days on the pont, just swimming and sunning. Then I’d sit on the terrace and watch the bay and scribble in my notebook. It just might be the most relaxed I have ever felt.

8. Watch the weather—crappy day? Maybe plan on taking it easy

A friend of mine says that she especially loves venturing out when it’s raining, because there are fewer tourists. It’s not lava is her mantra. It’s not mine. Rain is pretty freaking volcanic to me. I sometimes crawl out of my cave when it rains—in Buenos Aires, it rained so much (unseasonably, I might add) that I wouldn’t have seen a thing if I didn’t get a little adventurous, but normally, rainy days are rest days for me.

When it rains in Montenegro, goodness, does it rain. The kind of rain when there is nothing really to do for it but stay indoors. Uber doesn’t exist on the Bay of Kotor, and buses and taxis are unreliable, so unless you want to get drenched, indoors it is. I used those days as a chance to completely chill out, I’d write some, watch terrible movies, and nap. I stayed in my pajamas all day once. One day, I made soup. When the rain stopped (or let up enough to get out and about), I felt ready to adventure again.

9. Eat the good snacks

This is the time to treat yourself. I like a good mix of local snacks and something familiar (paprika chips are delicious, and I found Ben & Jerry’s in Zagreb. Alas Corny Big Milk and Hot Corn Doritos proved disappointing). Depending on where you’re staying, you might be able to get delivery, of you can drag yourself to the market. Get something tasty, and enjoy it.

10. Cook something comforting

If you have the energy, making yourself a comforting meal can soothe the soul. I made this pasta in Zagreb on rest days that was sort-of like Macella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce (I added herbs from the Dolac Market, as well as some smoked cheese), and I really enjoyed it.

11. Watch something comforting

Vegging out time is TV time, so far as I’m concerned. If I’m not someplace where there’s a TV (most of the time), I always have a few favorites downloaded, and I have a few things purchased that I can stream.

Years ago I once watched several episodes of House in German (You idiot! comes through no matter the language). Having your own favorite show or movie, though, is comforting. Even on shorter trips, travel makes us venture into the unfamiliar, and having a little touchstone helps.

12. Avoid alcohol

I love a nice glass of wine as a way to unwind after a day of traveling. However, on rest days, especially days when you’re a bit closer to a crash, it’s not going to help. Alcohol messes with our sleep cycles, not to mention that it’s a depressant. Save that red for when you’re feeling more yourself.

13. Maybe do a couple of chores

Rest days are good laundry days, especially if you have the facilities in your apartment. If you have the energy to take care of a few other things, you might feel better about the time.

14. Consider getting out for a little bit later in the day

If you’re not completely wiped out, take a short walk. A café is nice, or perhaps a light dinner. While rest days are not “wasted” days, this might help make you feel better about having taken one. If you can’t, no worries. You’ll get back out there tomorrow.

15. Plan on letting yourself take another travel rest day (or two) on longer trips

So, you’ve had yourself a travel rest day, and you found that it genuinely helped. Guess what? You’re likely to need another one on a longer trip. Know that it’s coming, and accept that you need it. Eventually, it will feel more natural.

What are your best tips for taking time to rest while traveling?

Like I said above, this is one of those posts I’ve shared to remind me to get better about taking time to rest while I’m traveling. I definitely do not have all the answers here.