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DIY At-Home Gel Nail Manicure for Beautiful, Budget Vacation Nails

I hate getting my nails done in a salon ’cause truth is, I’m cheap. Handing someone $20 to paint my nails when doing DIY at-home gel nail manicure at home with the same results seems unreasonable to me but… like I said, I’m cheap. I like to save money wherever I can in everyday life so I can spend more money on travel! Seems like a no brainer.

However, when I go on vacation, I like to have nice nails, and overall, look well-maintained. As a result, I started doing at-home DIY gel manicures right before I travel.

Here’s everything you need to know about DIY gel nails including:

  • why they’re better than regular manicures for vacation,
  • how much an at-home kit can save you,
  • and even some cautions about using DIY gel polish!

Why Gel Manicures Are Better Than Regular Manicures for Vacation

gel manicure for vacation travel

Gel manicures last 11-14 days.

Gel manicures are great for one to two week vacations because they can last that long! Yes, I repeat a gel nail polish can last from 11-14 days if you don’t pick at your nails and keep your cuticles moisturized.

That means while you’re away, you don’t have to touch up your nails or worry about them chipping. They’ll always be picture perfect for when you want to show off your delicious chocolate gelato dripping off a sprinkled ice cream cone under the Tuscan sun.

They’re hard as rocks and dry as soon as the manicure is over.

Also, I don’t know about you, but I’m a klutz. As soon as I step outside the nail salon, despite me not moving and nothing being around me, it just happens that somehow I’ll chip my nails asap.

With gel nail polish, your nails are wonderfully hardened the second it’s done meaning that you can reach into your pocket, purse, and even eat chicken wings as soon as your manicure is done.

How Much Money & Effort an At-Home Gel Manicure Kit Can Save You

gel manicure how to for vacation travel

In New York City, the best deal I could ever find on a gel manicure in a salon was $20 via Groupon. On average, they were $32-40 + 20% for tip. Yes, expensive

In Amsterdam, it’s even more expensive considering there’s not a nail salon on every block like there is in NYC. I have yet to find a good salon that does gel nail manicures for less than €40! So being cheaper than cheap when it comes to beautifying my vacation life, I’ve never got a gel manicure for vacation.

Just the other day, I ordered an at-home gel manicure lamp and nail polish to do my own gel manicures at home before vacation. Here’s a breakdown of everything I own to do a DIY gel manicure before going on vacation:

Since the lamp, nail soak off clips, and nail polish can last you multiple numbers of DIY gel manicures, it ends of saving money in the long run. For example, if you get even just one gel manicure a month at an average of $35 including tip, it’s $420 a year. Think about how much that is when you get that year after year!

Saves Time, Worry & Nasty Nail-Biting Habits

Besides the amount of money having an at-home kit can save you, a DIY gel manicure will save you time from having to touch up your nails while on vacation, worrying about chipping your nails, or even perpetuating your nasty nail biting habit. When I’m traveling, my nails are the last thing I have to worry about!

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Which DIY Gel Nail Polish Lamp and Nail Polishes to Buy

gel manicure how to for vacation travel

UV vs. LED Lamps: Which one should I get?

There are two gel nail polish lamps out there: UV and LED lamps. UV lamps cure all types of gel polish brands while LED lamps only cure LED specific gel polishes. LED lamps cost more money but cure nail polish faster (only by about a minute), and the bulbs last longer.

Overall, LED lamps are better because they give you less exposure to UV rays, but which one you want to get really depends on the nail polish brand you like as some are better with LED vs. UV light. For example, CND Shellac won’t work with LED lamps, only UV ones, so if you love CND Shellac, then get a UV lamp!

However, there are combo UV/LED lamps like this one that I have so you don’t have to choose.

Does wattage of a gel manicure lamp matter?

The wattage of a gel manicure lamp doesn’t matter that much so it shouldn’t be a big factor in comparing lamps. All it tells you is how much electricity the bulbs use when you’re curing your nails. The only time you want to really consider wattage is if it’s 10 watts and below. Then certain brands may have trouble curing the nail polish.

Does the size of a gel manicure lamp matter?

Yes, I would say so. Sometimes gel manicure lamps are cheap because they’re small. That means for your hand, you have to cure your four nails and thumb separately, which increases the time it takes to do your nails since you have to switch off constantly.

Also, it means that your feet might not fit under the lamp, which would be a bummer if you couldn’t use the benefits of your at-home gel manicure kit on your toes. They need some beauty lovin’ too!

Overall, I like lamps that can fit an entire hand or foot at once. If you’re wiling to drop the big bucks, you can get a lamp that fits both hands and feet. Ain’t that fancy?

What DIY gel nail polish lamp did you get?

Not knowing what type of nail polish brand I loved yet, I got a UV/LED combination lamp with 48 watts. Although I read that wattage doesn’t really matter, I also read that nail salons use a minimum of 24-36 watts so I opted for this 48 watts one because of the review. I also made sure that the lamp would fit a full hand or foot to minimize the time I spent curing my nails.

Should I be worried about additional exposure to UV rays?

The exposure to UV rays under a lamp are really minimal in comparison to tanning, swimming, and even walking about in your daily activities! However, if you’re really worried, you should opt for a LED light lamp because it cures your nails faster, or pimp your hands out with anti-uv gloves.

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How to Apply Gel Nail Polish

There are more in-depth guides online on how to do your nails and many ways to do them but here’s a basic run down on how to do your at home gel nails.

  1. Prep your nails by washing them, pushing back your cuticles, shaping your nails, buffing them, etc.
  2. Apply the base polish with an even thin coat, and cure for 30 seconds.
  3. Apply the gel polish color with an even thin coat, and cure for 60 seconds. Repeat for two or three coats, depending on how solid you want your nail color.
  4. Apply the top polish with an even thin coat, and cure for 30 seconds.
  5. Use a little bit of gel cleanser on a cotton pad, and wipe off the sticky moisture layer. A little color may come off but that’s ok as your nails will still look fabulous.
  6. Enjoy your nails for 11-14 days!

Important Tips for Applying DIY Gel Nail Polish

  • Make sure that the nail polish does not get onto your skin or cuticle because when you cure your nails, nail polish will cure onto your skin and cuticle too. To get this extra nail polish off, do NOT use your fingers like you would regular nail polish. Instead, use a manicure stick to get all that extra polish off before you cure.
  • Do not touch your nails in between layers because the product will still be sticky from layer to layer.
  • Use less gel polish than you would regular nail polish. You do not need as much product.

Tips for Removing DIY Gel Nail Polish

You can’t remove gel nail polish as easily as regular nail polish. Here’s how to do it:

  • File the tops of your nails with a nail file to break open the top layer.
  • Soak small pieces of cotton pads with gel remover.
  • Place cotton pads and fingers inside nail soak off clips.
  • Wait 10-20 minutes until the nail polish start to curl a bit.
  • Use a cuticle stick to push the nail polish off your nails.

Hope this helps with keeping your nails look fly on your next vacation by doing your own gel manicure at home!

Thanks for stopping by! xo.

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I’d love to know if you made it this far down into the post. It’d actually make me quite happy if you reached out on Instagram and said hello!

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Ashley-Jessica Loomis

Tuesday 9th of April 2019

Sarah, hi honey! I really think that your post is honest & encouraging. I'm also cheap & can't stand manicure saloons not only because of overpricing this service. In addition to price to you should consider timing to get to the place and time-table of you nail master, so there are too many obstacles for me. I want my nails done fast, cheap & without wasting extra time I could spend with my BF for example. That's why I'm making my nails done at home using lamp & internet tutorials :) After scanning the market and trying couple of brands I came to CND shellac that works best for me - it's easy-to-apply, colors are sooooo delicious, and smooth, and sexy ( I can praise them a lot :) and what works best for me - I can stay chip-free up-to 14 days! Isn't that dream for every girl, that doing DYI nails? :) Have you ever tried CND? Did you stay happy with the result, didn't you?


Monday 6th of May 2019

Yes CND is a great brand. Thanks for your insight!


Wednesday 24th of October 2018

Such a good idea! I love gel manis for vacation but they are SO EXPENSIVE!!!!!!

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Thank you so much for your awesome support.