Feel Good Travel
How to Feel Good While Traveling
by Alicia Butler, November 21, 2022
Now that I’ve spent several months of each year traveling solo, I’ve discovered what makes for a good trip.
But it took me a long time to figure out what type of travel feels good to me.
For a long time, I chose destinations because they were affordable or highly rated for solo female travelers. But now, I opt for feel good travel destinations that offer plenty of opportunities to get lost, go off schedule, and create my own community.
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What is feel good travel?
Other than the obvious definition of “feel good travel” being the travel that just feels right, this type of travel is about finding the destinations that make you feel better about life when you return home.
Feel good travel is realizing that not all travel feels equally good. It’s accepting that there will be unexpected delays and cancellations — and embracing the imperfections of your trip.
Feel good travel is taking a trip, discovering that you’re chest-deep in a depressive episode, and spending the time practicing self-care and accepting that not every trip goes as planned.
Feel good travel is also responsible travel. It’s trying to leave the world a better place than you found it — or at least not making things worse for both the locals and other travelers you meet along the way.
5 Feel Good Travel Tips
1. Embrace the Unexpected
Nothing ever goes completely to plan when you’re traveling. And I’m someone who used to really struggle with “going off plan”.
Once, on a trip to London (back before smartphones and reasonably priced international data plans were a thing), I got really, really lost trying to find the hop-on, hop-off city bus.
It was there, in the middle of a London street, that I had my full full-on travel meltdown. In a country where English is the national language. In a pretty touristy area of town. Of all of the places that I’ve traveled to, I couldn’t believe that the destination I expected to be the “easiest” to navigate would be the one to break me.
It being 9 a.m. on the first day of the trip, my best friend suggested we go get a beer at a pub. She gently pried my MapQuest printout from my hands, and we walked down a busy street until we found a dark bar.
After that detour, we had a lot of fun. We drank some beer first thing in the morning. We found the hop-on, hop-off bus. We ate Italian food at lunch. Would we have had as much fun if we had pushed through and stuck to the schedule? Maybe.
But the more I travel — and certainly, the more I travel solo — I’ve come to learn not to get too attached to my plans. Because travel never happens the way you imagine it will. And if you get too attached to that fantasy of what it should look like, you won’t ever be satisfied. Because the reality will never live up to that expectation.
2. Discover Your Why
Knowing why you want to take a trip is really important if you want to experience feel good travel. Your why will “guide” you as to where you should go and what you should do when you get there.
It sounds simple enough. Like everyone should just intrinsically “know” their whys before they get on a plane. But I’ve taken so many trips where I had no idea why I was going where I was going — only that I wanted to travel. And I couldn’t afford to live in NYC anymore.
Sure, there have been trips I’ve taken where I didn’t know my “why” and I did just fine.
On my first international solo trip, I went to Bali in 2018. My why for Bali was that it was warm in the winter, inexpensive, and safe for solo female travelers. I ended up having an amazing time and meeting tons of new people.
I applied the same whys to a trip to Mexico City in the winter of 2019. Again, I met amazing people and fell in love with the city.
But when I went to Argentina in 2020, following the same formula, I was miserable. Yes, I was suffering from an intense, deep depression. But I also realized that I had no idea why I was in Argentina, other than I could afford it and it was warm. I didn’t really plan many activities and ended up isolated in my apartment for most of the trip.
Having a why might not have “fixed” the trip altogether, but I could have made a better point to find activities that satiated my reasons for traveling in the first place.
3. Deal With Travel Anxiety
I always suffer from travel anxiety right before a trip. Actually, before, during, and even after the trip.
I worry about the long flight and if I’ll be totally miserable because no matter what I do, I just cannot sleep on planes. I worry about my accommodations getting canceled and getting overcharged for an apartment or hotel room at the last minute. I worry that if one leg of my trip gets delayed that it’ll screw up my entire trip. I worry that I’ll forget about applying for a visa and won’t be let into the country.
And mostly, I worry that I won’t be able to lug my suitcase up the stairs to my apartment.
If there’s nothing to worry about, I’ll find something to worry about.
For some reason, I foolishly thought that my anxiety would lessen the more I traveled. Boy, was that past version of me naive.
Since I haven’t traveled to a solo destination twice, I haven’t really known what to expect from each trip. And not knowing is what really causes a lot of my anxiety.
To deal with my airplane anxiety, I try to upgrade to business class or economy plus (if I can get a good deal); to deal with my fear of my accommodations being canceled, I try to book through a trusted site, like Airbnb (which yes, can be problematic, too) or Hotels.com.
I also buy travel insurance or book my trip on a credit card with travel insurance. Though I’ve never needed to use my travel insurance, I have used my “delayed trip” benefit on my Chase Sapphire Rewards card and was refunded $500 for an unexpected night spent in Dallas, thanks to a missed connection.
Of course, I always try to figure out if my fears are even founded in the first place.
My first solo trip to Asia (actually my first trip to Asia ever!), I was worried about not knowing the language. Ultimately, this wasn’t a big deal because I spent all my time in touristy areas and hired a guide to take me to the not-so-touristy spots.
As a solo female traveler, I worry about safety. And yes, I do some research on my travel destination beforehand to find out which areas I should avoid or be more aware in. But as someone who lives in the U.S., I actually feel safer in most other countries because of their heightened gun safety laws.
When it comes to travel anxiety, I try to deal with the stuff I can deal with and learn to let go of the stuff I have no control over.
4. Accept Travel Can Be Uncomfortable
Travel isn’t always that one amazing photo that becomes your Facebook header for the next two years.
In fact, I’d say that a good chunk of travel is really hard — especially if you’re traveling solo. If you want feel good travel, you’re going to need to accept the fact that some of the time, travel isn’t going to be Instagram-perfect.
Just some of the things that can make travel uncomfortable include long flights, trip delays, heavy luggage, lost credit cards, lost passports, lost everything. Just getting lost in general.
Rainy weather, hot weather, cold weather. Unexpected storms.
There have been times, during a solo trip, I’ve wanted to sit down in the middle of the street and just give up on the whole thing altogether. But obviously, that’s not possible.
Traveling is just uncomfortable sometimes. Unless you’re taking an all-expenses covered guided tour with a chauffeur and accommodations, something at some point isn’t going to go as expected — and it’s gonna suck. But that’s okay.
Because learning how to get yourself from Point A to Point B in a country where you don’t speak the language will change you. Even when it’s raining and you’re drenched but you still need to drag your giant suitcase to the train station and you’re totally miserable.
5. Find Your Travel Community
Another reason I was so miserable on the aforementioned Argentina trip was that I was so depressed, I forgot to consciously make time to make new friends.
After spending a few months couch surfing with friends and family, I was ready for some alone time. But I got so into my alone time that I totally forgot to create any community at all — the special sauce that has made my previous trips so special.
Near the end of my two-month stay in Buenos Aires, I booked a tour of a city landmark with a local ex-pat group. Not only was the tour one of my favorites during my trip, but I also met so many interesting people — people who invited me to hang out during my last week in the city.
After Buenos Aires, I flew to Mendoza for three weeks. There, I took an Airbnb tour and made friends with the other participants. I’m still in touch with these people today, and hanging out with them made my experience in Mendoza really special.
I’ve taken other trips where I didn’t make much of an effort to find my travel community. And those experiences — while not as awful as my memories of Buenos Aires — weren’t as special as the ones where I intentionally created community.
Now, I check out Meetup and Airbnb Experiences to find my community. I also book stays in bed and breakfasts, where I have my own suite (bedroom and bathroom) but I get to enjoy meals with fellow travelers and make friends along the way.
Yes, the real feel good travel is the friends you make along the way. I hate myself for saying it, too, but there it is.