New TikTok trend has travellers spending as much on ‘Vacation Prep’ beauty as airfare and hotels

On TikTok, the ‘prep for vacation’ topic has more than 81 million views so far, and climbing

Monique Smith, a Toronto-based TikToker, started vacation prepping when she began posting regularly. “It makes me feel confident, especially if I’m putting myself on camera.”

Flights and hotels aren’t the only rising costs eating into summer budgets. Some holidayers are spending thousands on ‘vacation prep’ before they even set an out-of-office message.

Creators on TikTok and Instagram are showcasing the self-care and other last-minute appointments they make in the days leading up to a holiday. On TikTok, the ‘prep for vacation’ topic has more than 81 million views, and hashtags such as #vacayprep and #vacationpreparation help videos rack up thousands of views and comments.

In addition to videos showcasing last-minute packing and noting that passports should be safely tucked away, many feature women balancing hair, nail, and other beauty appointments, along with outfits they purchase ahead of their trip.

Going on holidays used to mean escaping work, family, and responsibilities. Travel in the social media era comes with a side of performance anxiety, no matter how far off the grid you’re going. Monique Smith, a Toronto-based TikToker, started vacation prepping when she began posting regularly. “It makes me feel confident, especially if I’m putting myself on camera,” she says.

“It’s good to be transparent with what you’re actually spending,” says Smith, who chronicled her ‘vacation prep’ routine on TikTok which totalled €706

In one video chronicling her routine before a recent holiday, she broke down how much her braids, manicure, and lashes cost. In all, she spent C$1,045 (€706) to mixed reviews.

“Some people say it’s a lot, but many of the women that comment go, ‘oh, actually I spend more than this,’” Smith says. “It's good to be transparent with what you’re actually spending. It also shows you how much things are starting to pick up.” A year ago, lashes at her regular salon would cost C$100 (€68), while today they’re C$150 (€100), she says.

The prices documented in some videos were enough to give Aspen Cierra Evans, a travel photographer based in Atlanta, pause.

“I saw a TikTok where someone posted that she spent a couple thousand dollars on getting her hair and nails done — all of that stuff,” she says. “I don't know what it is, but in this economy, I don't have several thousand dollars to spend on getting ready for the trip. You haven't even landed in the destination, and you're already out a couple grand.”

Evans is no stranger to spending money on her appearance; depending on the trip, she’ll book a manicure, get her eyebrows done, and make sure her hair is styled in a way that she can maintain it through the journey.

But the rising cost of hair and other beauty services, as well as the surge in fast fashion ‘hauls’ on social media, have left her examining the beauty standards people adhere to for a picturesque Instagram snapshot, as well as the financial lengths they’ll pursue to maintain it.

“A lot of people that come here are going out of town,” says Lauren Woods, the store manager of a Sugaring Salon outpost in West Palm Beach, Florida, one of many such businesses seeing spikes in pre-travel planning. She says her clients are usually going to warm weather locales. “To Jamaica, Puerto Rico. They usually come here two days prior for a leg wax, Brazilian wax, and keratin lash lift.” For someone getting all three, the price is $259 (€175) before tax and tip.

French Instagram influencer @savagebird documents her ‘New Hair Day’ in an Instagram post

The average American woman spends $877 (€781) per year on appearance, primarily on skin care and hair products, haircuts and colour, according to a survey published in November by Advanced Dermatology, a Chicago-area clinic. On average, men spend somewhat less, at $592 (€527) per year. One in six people say they spend more on beauty and wellness than they can afford.

Lakyn Carlton, a personal stylist and sustainable-fashion educator in Los Angeles, notes that for some Black women, getting braids or other protective hairstyles helps save time they might otherwise spend on their hair while on holidays. Consumers seem to be cooling on luxury shopping and clothing in particular, but the beauty industry shows fewer signs of slowing.

“As consumers have spent more on actual travel, it's almost been a give and take,” says Jessica Ramírez, a senior retail research analyst at Jane Halli & Associates. Consumers who know how much they’ll spend on a flight might opt to reuse a bathing suit from the previous year or rent a dress for the destination wedding they’re attending, she says. That logic can’t apply to beauty.

Pre-trip gel manicures have long been popular because they’re less likely to chip; with social media highlighting the routine, it can feel even more essential to impressionable viewers. And gone are the days when bringing your own beauty products meant picking up a €2 mini-bottle of Dove body wash at the pharmacy. High-end brands like Tata Harper now peddle travel size-approved bottles of serums, cleansers, and moisturisers in kits that cost upward of €71.

Being transparent about your routine can be beneficial to a point. It can also perpetuate the very standards creators are shedding light on. "Transparency is always a good thing, but I don't know that it's necessarily moving the needle on beauty culture," says Jessica DeFino, a critic of beauty culture who writes the Unpublishable newsletter. "In fact, it might be more validating to see it reflected and normalised in other people. It's a way to connect with other people and be like, 'oh, I do this, too. It's normal and it's fine.'"

For Maria Kalpakian, vacation prep depends on a variety of factors — and all a matter of timing. “If I’m going to get lip fillers, I’ll do it one to two weeks beforehand,” she says. “I get my nails, eyebrows, and spray tan done the day before, so they last longer. And I did laser hair removal, so I don’t have to worry about waxing.”

The architecture student, who is based in Buenos Aires, began documenting the process on her private TikTok after seeing ‘Get Ready With Me’ videos by Alix Earle, an influencer.

Kalpakian estimates that she spends about $750 (€668) on such treatments before each holiday, primarily because she wants to look and feel her best in the photos she takes on her trips. “Otherwise, I feel judged or observed by others,” she says.

All these treatments speak to what TikTok calls ‘high maintenance to be low maintenance’ a term regarding the work required to look as if you ‘woke up like this’. As users increasingly chronicle their #beautyroutines and post #grwm (get ready with me) videos, they’re also laying bare the effort involved in staying photo ready, both day to day and on a scenic beach in Italy.

TikTok user @kitkeenan films her five-step pre-travel routine, a video that has clocked 170,000 views on the platform

"Beauty standards are so embedded within society and within ourselves that for many people, it is almost impossible to enjoy yourself if you don't feel that you look good,” says DeFino. “It's become this baseline for existence, really."

How much Evans, the travel photographer, is willing to spend ultimately comes down to the goal of her trip. Is it for work, sightseeing, or unplugging?

“If I’m travelling and I just want to experience things, I'm not really caring about what I'm wearing,” she says. “But if I'm on vacation, I want to relax and take cute pictures, so I'm probably willing to spend more on how my hair and nails look and what outfits I'm bringing.”

Even so, she has only one trip planned this summer, to New York. Flying is just too expensive to justify anything else.