Many people travel as a way to relieve stress, but for some people travel can also induce travel stress. Travel stress is a feeling of mental strain and pressure related to traveling. Although travel has a number of positive aspects and benefits, travel stress can lead to people having a negative vacation experience.
A reader on my blog recently wanted to know “Why is travel stressful?”. So I spent some time researching and thinking about this question.
In this post we present a number of common reasons that you might be finding travel to be stressful. These include feeling overwhelmed with travel planning, air travel experiences, concerns about the safety of a destination, difficulty handling unexpected events, financial strain, and having unrealistic expectations.
Then we discuss a number of ways that you might prevent or reduce travel stress for each travel stressor. Our tips for reducing travel stress are based on research, a background in psychology, and our own personal travel experiences.
Is Travel Stressful?
This depends. Research tells us that travel has both positive and negative aspects, and while most research and reports have focused on the positive, travel can also sometimes be stressful. Most people probably experience some level of stress both before and during any trip, but overall have a positive experience.
We all know that travel can have a lot of positive aspects! We can learn new things, take time to relax, increase cultural awareness, spend more quality time with our travel partners, have new experiences, volunteer to do good for others, make positive family memories, etc.
In relation to stress and health, research has shown that travel can indeed have a number of positive benefits such as relaxation, detachment from work, perceived boosts in health and wellness, and feeling higher levels of personal control and mastery (Chen & Petrick, 2013; Chen, Petrick, & Shahvali, 2016). Some of these benefits have also been found to lead to higher rated life satisfaction in people following a trip.
But for some travel can be a stressful experience (e.g., Crotts & Zehrer, 2012, Harvard Business Review article, 2014), and many people report that some aspects of travel are stressful to them.
Research has found that the most common stressful travel experiences were actually related to pre-travel issues and planning such as financial concerns, packing, making travel arrangements, and developing the itinerary. But some also have stressful experiences during the trip such as coping with weather conditions, traffic jams, flight delays, conflict with travel partners, and transportation. Those who report a travel experience as stressful are much less likely to benefit from the potential positive effects from their trip.
It is unfortunate that someone may travel to get a break from a stressful situation at work or home, but then find travel to also be a stressful experience. The good news, however, is that in many cases, there are ways to prevent or reduce the stressors. But the first step is to identify the factors that are contributing to your travel stress, and then find ways to combat them.
12 Factors that Can Contribute to Travel Stress
Here are 12 factors that can contribute to travel stress. We explore each travel stressor and then give some expert tips on how to prevent and reduce stress related to each factor.
1. Financial Concerns
Financial related problems are one of the most stressful issues, and they affect our relationships, our work, and even our health. Money also plays a big role in travel as it can limit where we go, how we get there, where we stay, and what we can do once we get there.
Travel can be expensive and although there are lots of ways to save money on travel, travel is a big expense for most people. This extra spending can put a strain on a person’s finances and lead to extra stress.
Most people have worked hard to save up money for a trip and therefore feel they need to maximize every dollar which can also be stressful. Worrying about the costs associated with the vacation makes it difficult to enjoy the experience, and things are often even worse once you come home and have to pay the bills.
If you think you are alone, be assured that financial worries are a fact of life for most people. The key to reducing the financial related stress is to figure out what you feel comfortable spending and then stick to a general budget for your trip. Plan the kind of trip you want within your financial limits.
Remember the most positive aspects of travel are often the relaxation, the experiences, and the memories, not the destination or fancy hotels.
Ways to Reduce Travel Stress related to Financial Concerns:
- Check your finances and make a realistic budget. It doesn’t have to be complex, just something simple so you know how much you feel comfortable spending and how that might be budgeted across your trip.
- Book a trip you can afford! If your account balance says $500 and the trip your family wants to take to Disney World costs $2,500, think about an alternative or wait until you have the money saved. If you need to save, set up a weekly or monthly savings plan.
- If you feel comfortable, discuss the budget and any financial pressure you feel with your travel partners. They may not be aware of the finances and if they know, they can hopefully be supportive and help keep the trip on budget.
- Book you travel in advance (plane tickets, hotels, trains, etc.). First, this will often save you money and will help you better anticipate your travel costs. Research also finds that people feel less stressed about the cost if they book at least a month in advance (likely due to the passing of time).
- Do some research to make the most of your travel money. Compare prices before booking, check for discount city passes, look for deals and coupons, etc.
- Remember travel is not a contest. Don’t feel pressured by others or caught up in social media posts. Just because your neighbors can afford to go on a private East African luxury safari trip doesn’t mean you have to keep up with them. If that is not within your budget, find fun places you can afford.
- Travel experiences can be priceless and are worth investing in, so while you should budget, try not to worry about how you spend every dollar. Sometimes it is OK for a little splurge here and there!
2. Thinking that Travel Will Solve Your Problems
Travel has lots of positives associated with it, but it won’t fix the problems in your life. For many people travel is a form of escapism, and some think that if only they can go away for a while, it will solve X problem or make X better. Unfortunately most problems can’t be fixed by travel, although it can be a good way to get a respite from them.
If you think that taking a big trip will help your psychological problems, career issues, or relationship difficulties, you’ll likely feel pretty disappointed when you return home to find that all the same issues are still there. It’s a bit like getting married to “fix” a bad relationship, you may have a brief honeymoon period, but then everything will likely be the same as it was before the wedding.
Some people travel to “find themselves”, “find a purpose”, or be changed through some mysterious process. You are unlikely to “find yourself” and come back a different person as films like Eat, Pray, Love or Under the Tuscan Sun might have us believe.
But do let us know if you do find inner peace, true love, and the answer to the universe out there! Travel can help shift our perspectives and we can learn a lot from it, but it won’t make you a different person or unlock mysterious truths.
Will traveling indefinitely fix it? What if you never returned to your house, job, or family? We haven’t tried this personally, but there are many digital nomads who have found that you simply carry the same issues with you as you go, regardless of the location. You can run from a place, but not from yourself or your thoughts.
Ways to Reduce Travel Stress related to Thinking Travel will Solve Problems:
- Adjust your expectations for travel. Travel can be transformative but it is not going to make you into a different person or help fix your problems. It can be a good way to get away from your daily routine to think and get clarity, but you still need to work on your problems if you want to actually change them.
- Enjoy the travel experience for what it can provide. It may not fix troubled marriages or empty bank accounts, but it can still have a lot of positive benefits!
- If you find yourself planning and taking trips to escape problems at home, try reallocating some of that time and resources into identifying and working on those problems. Travel is a whole lot more enjoyable when we don’t have lots of troubles waiting for us back home!
- Understand what problems you have in your life and what is causing them. Think about ways you might be able to change them, and the steps you need to take to make those changes.
- Consider professional help. If you are having psychological issues or serious relationship issues, I’d consider seeking out counseling or a psychologist. For financial or legal issues, consider getting advice from a legitimate source.
- Not all problems can be solved. An ailing elderly parent, a divorce, a death, a terminal illness. In these cases, while you can’t solve the issue, seeking additional help and support may help you find additional ways to cope.
- Change won’t happen unless you are receptive to it and willing to change.
3. Planning Travel
The most stressful part of travel for most people actually begins before the trip, it is the trip planning stage. This includes doing travel research, making travel arrangements, making an itinerary, and packing. It is also when people often begin to have financial concerns related to the trip.
I think most people, even veteran travelers like ourselves, have stress over the planning. It just involves so many aspects that it can feel overwhelming, from coordinating things at work to booking hotels to packing. It can be especially stressful when you are planning an independent trip where you are trying to research places and plan an itinerary for a destination you’ve never visited before.
The easiest way to make the process less stressful is to approach it in parts and stages rather than being overwhelmed by all the things you need to do at once. Make a checklist and then slowly work your way through it, starting with the most urgent and leaving the rest for later. Enlist any fellow travel companions to help so you can divide up the tasks.
If you do not feel you have the time, knowledge, or interest in planning a big trip, considering paying a professional travel agent and/or travel planning service to help do some of it for you.
Also remember you don’t have to plan every last detail! You want to be flexible and have plenty of free time as well. More laid back people may want to just plan the big things (e.g., dates, flights, hotels for the first part of the trip) and leave the rest to decide along the way. It really depends on how you like to travel.
Ways to Reduce Travel Stress related to Travel Planning:
- Be organized. Set aside some dedicated time to work on travel planning. You also might want to dedicate a special notebook and/or computer folder to keep documents and notes together.
- Make a checklist with all the things you need to do before your trip (e.g., complete a report at work, order visa photos, apply for a visa, book flights and hotels, order a guidebook, make a general itinerary, book tour to X, get someone to check on the cats, get new prescriptions, have mail held, pack, etc.). Sometimes just writing or typing it all out makes people feel less anxiety.
- Break down what you need to do into actionable steps with a realistic timeline (e..g, Monday I am going to book the flights and start researching hotels in San Diego, Tuesday I am going to book the hotels and call the neighbor to check on the cats and plants while we are away, etc.)
- Ask any travel partners to help you so you are not doing all the planning yourself.
- Start the planning process as early as you can so you have more time. Last minute planning often leads to more stress and a more negative experience.
- Invest in a good travel guidebook (paper or digital) as it will have all the essential information that you need in one handy place to help you plan and learn more about that destination. Get one that has been recently edited/updated. Then you can supplement that with online research, friends’ reports, and travel blog information.
- If you find the planning really stressful and frustrating, enlist the aid of a professional travel planning service or travel agent. Find a service or person who is knowledgeable about where you want to go and have them help you book everything and/or help you plan out a suggested itinerary.
- If you really hate travel planning and don’t want to pay for outside help, consider a vacation that requires little planning like a guided tour or a cruise. Or consider vacationing in a place you already know well.
- Remember you don’t have to plan out the entire trip from start to finish! If you are a more laid back person, do the main bits and you can figure out the rest once you are on the trip.
4. Unrealistic Expectations
Many people daydream about their upcoming vacations, thinking about how wonderful and amazing everything will be once they get to a certain destination. This is a healthy form of escapism. The anticipation of travel can have positive benefits, perhaps even more so than the travel itself!
However, if our expectations are too high, they are going to be tough to meet. Unfortunately, few vacations or destinations can live up to the idealized experience promoted by the tourism boards, the glamorized Instagram photos, the glowing travel reports that highlight only the positive aspects of a place, or the unrealistic expectations we have in our mind.
If a place doesn’t live up to travelers’ high expectations, travelers may feel disappointed, upset, mislead, or like they “missed something”. This can lead to a stressful trip and a negative overall experience.
That is not to say that your vacation won’t be an amazing experience or that you should have low expectations, but I think like any other experience, it will likely have its flaws and negative moments. For example, a destination may not be as romantic as you imagined, your kids may not enjoy a park as much as you expected, or the hotel you booked may be less nice than pictured online. Just be prepared that these sorts of things happen and try to let the destination speak for itself.
Ways to Reduce Travel Stress related to Unrealistic Expectations:
- Go ahead and daydream away, but don’t expect a destination or trip to be perfect.
- Expect there to be negative aspects to any trip and destination.
- Be flexible while traveling, and don’t let any of the flaws or speed bumps get in the way of enjoying all the positive aspects of a trip. Focus on the positive experiences and enjoy them!
5. Safety Concerns
Many people worry about the safety of certain destinations, especially if that destination has experienced recent terrorist activity, tourist kidnappings, shootings, unrest, or armed conflicts. But sometimes a place just makes someone uneasy for other reasons. Feeling unsafe is definitely something that is going to cause travel anxiety.
There are always a few unstable places in the world where true danger and risk lurk, and both travel security warnings and common sense tell us not to travel there. However in some cases, people’s fears are irrational and are not proportional to the actual statistical chances of being harmed. You are much more likely to get into an automobile accident or drown than be harmed or killed in a plane crash or terrorist attack.
Do your own research to make your decision about traveling to the destination. Check out travel advisories and recent traveler reports. Is the safety risk just limited to a city or region, or is it country wide? Have tourists been threatened, kidnapped, robbed, harassed, or harmed in the area? Are there ways to help protect yourself from these threats (e.g, avoiding certain areas, not carrying valuables)?
In the end, you’ll need to trust your judgement and your gut instinct here. No place is ever completely safe (e.g., we were in London during a terrorist attack last year), and you have to do what feels right to you.
Note that just because a fear is exaggerated or irrational, doesn’t mean these fears should be discounted or ignored. If you and/or your travel partner(s) are genuinely concerned about a place, I would recommend choosing another destination. If you go, two things could happen: a) you end up getting there and realizing it is not as bad as you thought and feeling safe, OR b) you could spend your whole trip worried and anxious. This is your holiday, and you don’t want to risk spending you trip being worried or traveling with someone who is feeling that way.
Don’t feel pressured by others to a visit a place you feel uncomfortable going. However, at the same time, don’t let fear keep you from traveling all together!
In the unlikely event that something does happen when you are traveling, it can be helpful to know who you should contact and also it might just make you feel better. If there is an emergency while you are traveling, get to a safe place and call your home country’s local consulate and seek their advice in what you can do.
If are the victim of a crime while traveling, get to safety, seek any needed medical treatment, and contact the local law enforcement. Call the consulate for assistance as they can help you contact law enforcement and legal services and help you navigate the local criminal justice system. If you don’t understand what is happening, request for the presence of an interpreter and for important documents to be translated into your native language.
Ways to Reduce Travel Stress related to Safety Concerns:
- Look up the latest travel alerts, safety warnings, and travel advice. For instance the United Stated Department of State issues regularly updated country specific advisories here, and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office has regularly updated advisories and advice for each country here.
- Search for recent news (e.g., search headlines online) and travel reports (e.g., blogs, message boards) of people who have recently traveled in the destination. Try to evaluate how reliable the source is (e.g., a journalist based in the destination versus a blogger who visited for 3 days).
- If a valid risk does seem to be present, find out if it covers the whole country or is isolated to one particular city or area. Is the risk of a perceived threat low or high?
- After learning what you can, self-assess how you feel and ask how your travel partner(s) feels. Do you feel it is risky? Do you feel safe traveling there? Be honest and let that help you decide.
- Make use of safety tactics like being aware of your surroundings, telling people where you are going each day, making copies of all your travel documents, keeping your money and credit cards in more than once place, keep some valuables in something like a travel belt, scarf, or travel pocket, etc.
- If you are going somewhere considered a more high risk destination, make sure that the destination is covered by your travel insurance and know if the destination has a consulate or foreign office there if you would need assistance. Note down the contact information.
- Know who you should contact in the unlikely event that something (e.g., terrorist act, robbery, sexual assault) does happen while you are traveling.
- Some safety concerns are normal and healthy, but if you are feeling genuinely fearful or anxious, I’d choose an alternative destination. You don’t want to spend your vacation being weary and fearful of being robbed or shot! Also remember the destination will still be there next year if you decide to go elsewhere this year.
- Don’t let fear keep you from traveling! It is perfectly fine to avoid some places, but don’t let it keep you at home. Even if you decide on a local trip, that’s fine, just don’t let it keep you from enjoying your hard-earned vacation time in whatever ways feels best to you.
6. Juggling the Needs & Expectations of Travel Companions
If you are traveling solo, you have only yourself to really consider when planning your trip and traveling. But if you are traveling with a spouse, romantic partner, children, parents, friends, etc., you also have to consider their needs and expectations. This can often be a stressful experience for people, especially if travelers don’t agree on everything. The more people, the more stressful it can be.
Everyone has different needs, preferences, and expectations related to travel. The first thing to do is to get an understanding of what each person’s thoughts are about an ideal vacation.
Is it lying on a beach sipping a tropical drink? Is it exploring museums and cultural attractions in a big city? Is it completing a multi-day hiking trail? Is it riding roller coasters and sky diving? Is it just staying at home and watching a TV marathon? Imagine you were traveling with 5 other people and you got back the five above responses for the same trip, you might feel a little stressed!
To reduce stress, share the travel planning and decisions with your travel companions, it should not be left to just one person. Each person should have a voice, including kids. Take a vote on the destination and try to fit in at least one “priority” experience for each person into the itinerary.
Unless you and your travel companion(s) all share the same likes and dislikes, everyone will likely have to make some compromises. For instance, Laurence visits a historic site with me and then we go sit on top of some building to watch the sunset because that is what he wants to do. But travelers should also not be afraid to split up, I often explore museums without Laurence and he often goes hiking up mountains without me.
Ways to Reduce Travel Stress related to Juggling the Needs of Travel Companions:
- Ask everyone what they want most out of the vacation and how they imagine a vacation.
- Make sure everyone has a voice and a hand in the planning. Don’t forget the kids!
- If there is a lot of difficulty in making trip decisions, take votes or appoint a mutually agreed upon leader.
- Respect everyone’s needs and ways they want to spend their holiday. If your husband’s ideal vacation is to stay in the hotel room and watch sports, let him have that chance for at least one afternoon while you do something you want to do.
- Be willing to compromise. But also don’t be afraid to split up at times from your travel companions to seek out the things you each really want to do.
- If conflict comes up during the trip, try to understand why the person is upset and how they are feeling. Travel stress can definitely increase the possibility that people will become angry and irritated with each other. So they may be more irritated with the cancelled train than with you but are lashing at you anyway. Try to find a healthy way to resolve the conflict.
- Enjoy your time together. Travel is about the experiences and memories, not necessarily the destination. You likely won’t remember that scenic viewpoint or museum a few years from now, but you might remember that special memory you shared getting spit on by a llama, completing a challenging hike, or laughing over a bottle of wine in a bistro.
7. Not Feeling Prepared
Some travelers may be constantly worried about whether or not they are prepared enough for their trip and second guess their decisions. Did we do enough research? Did I book the right hotel? Did I pack the right coat? Should I have booked a rental car instead of a bus tour? What happens if I need medical help on the trip?
Do the research you feel you need to do before the trip to be prepared, but know that you cannot be prepared for every eventuality. Also you can’t plan a “perfect trip”. Those who enjoy their trips most, believe that they booked the best possible tour/hotel/attractions/restaurants based on their means and information. Second guessing yourself may lead to anxiety and disappointment.
Try to avoid focusing on the “what ifs”, “buts” and hypothetical comparisons. You’ll never know if X tour was better than Y tour or what would have been different if you had booked a hotel instead of an apartment. Focus your thoughts and conversations elsewhere.
It might be helpful to remind yourself that you did what you could in terms of planning and preparing, and although it may not have been perfect, you want to make the most of your time and the experience!
Ways to Reduce Travel Stress related to Not Feeling Prepared:
- Do the research and travel planning you can do. Ask for professional help if you need it.
- Find a guidebook or packing list geared towards your destination to help you make sure you pack well for your trip. If you find you forgot or lost something, you can almost always buy a replacement at the airport or at the destination.
- Try to accept the decisions and bookings you have made for your trip. If something goes really wrong (e.g., the hotel is terrible), you can almost always make changes (e.g., book a different hotel).
- If you find yourself making a lot of “travel mistakes”, note them and use them to be more prepared and savvy for the next trip. We all make mistakes, and smart travelers learn from them.
- Do you have health concerns? Many people might worry about what to do if X happens. Try to alleviate this concern by visiting your doctor before you go, stocking up on prescriptions, getting recommended travel vaccines, making sure you have travel insurance that covers medical care, having emergency numbers handy, getting any recommended medical cards or bracelets, etc.
- If you have a specific health need or concern, research medical facilities in your travel destination that could handle your issue. For example if you are traveling with an implanted pacemaker and are worried about what to do in the event of complications while traveling, ask the device manufacturer or your cardiologist to help you locate medical centers that could diagnose, fix, and/or replace your pacemaker device if needed.
- Try to think about the big picture and focus on enjoying your time away!
8. Air Travel Stressors
Air travel is probably one of the biggest sources of travel stress for those who travel internationally by plane. First there is the airport experience. Long lines. Crowds. Enormous airports with complicated layouts. Baggage fees. Security. Unexpected issues like reservation problems, flight delays and cancellations, and overbooked flights can really turn up the stress levels.
Then comes the experience of being in the plane. Being trapped in a metal tube. Dry recycled air. Food in boxes. No legroom. Turbulence. Difficulty sleeping. Limited number of toilets. Annoying fellow passengers. Some people may have anxiety about flying, or even a phobia of flying, and might be especially anxious during the flight.
After the flight most people are anxious to leave the airport, but there are still a few more potential stressors. Lost luggage. Customs. Currency exchange. Figuring out how to leave the airport. Sketchy taxi drivers.
There are a lot of qualities of air travel that are pretty unappealing and can induce travel stress in just about any traveler! Just the thought of long check-in lines, airport security, and long-haul flights can make people anxious. I know we always dread long-haul flights.
In many ways the general airport and plane experience is what it is, and you can’t change that. But there are things you can to do to prepare for it and lessen the amount of stress and anxiety you feel during the experience.
Ways to Reduce Travel Stress related to Air Travel:
- Pinpoint the specific parts of air travel that you find stressful (e.g., long lines, flight delays, security, lack of in-flight entertainment, unhealthy meals).
- Try to see if you can prevent any of the parts of air travel that you find the most stressful. For example while you can’t prevent a flight delay, you can bring your own food to eat, things to do to keep yourself entertained, and you can arrive early to minimize the stress of long lines at the airport.
- For those things you can’t change or control, try to find ways to make them as acceptable and comfortable as possible. Consider joining a travel priority program where you can have faster access through security lines, lounge access, and/or other upgrades. Bring an air pillow, eye mask, and ear plugs to help you sleep. Wear comfortable clothing and easy to slip off shoes. Bring entertainment and use relaxation techniques to keep yourself relaxed and occupied during waits and delays.
- Do some research on your flights, the airports, and the plane. Find out baggage allowances, recommended arrival times (e.g., 2 hours before flights), what amenities are offered on the flight, things to do in the airport, your rights if a flight is cancelled, etc.
- Always pack your most valuable and needed items (e.g., medications, travel documents, money, IDs, expensive gear) in your carry-on. That way if your luggage is delayed or lost, at least you’ll have all your essentials.
- If you suffer from a fear of flying, try to identify what it is about flying that you fear. For example common fears are crashing, being confined for such a long time, germs, something happening and not being able to get help, or a terrorist attack. Once you know the fear, you can research ways to get over it. There are several cognitive-behavioral and behavioral techniques out there that work for phobias. If the fear is preventing you from being able to fly, I’d consider seeking professional help.
9. Concerns about Things Back at Home
Some people have a hard time letting go of worries back home. Will the neighbor remember to feed the cats everyday? Who is going to take my mom to her doctor’s appointment? Did I unplug the kitchen appliances? What if X happens at work while I am gone? What if my daughter can’t reach me?
These are all normal concerns and thoughts to have, but if they are frequent and causing worry, then they are likely to negatively impact your travel experience. It is hard to enjoy time on the beach if all you can think about is stuff back home. To alleviate some of these concerns, make a plan and checklist to address what you can before you leave.
If concerns are about people back home, set up ways to stay in contact as needed when you are gone. But you also need to be able to disconnect and limit the amount of contact back home. Find a healthy balance.
Ways to Reduce Travel Stress related to Concerns Back Home:
- Make a checklist of all the things you want to do before you leave. Try to make it as realistic as possible.
- Arrange a plan with someone at home who can check on anything you are worried about leaving such as your house/pets/mail/plants, etc.
- If security is a concern but you don’t have a security alarm system, consider setting up a security camera like the Netgear Arlo to track your home while you are gone. Most can send a feed that you can view online or over your phone. Can also be a good way to check on pets at home.
- If you are worried about people at home (e.g., kids, parents), ask for a regular update and set up an easy way to communicate (here is a guide to getting online while traveling) to help alleviate your worry. Emails or text messages are easy ways to communicate without worries about time zones or finding a specific time. If you need to talk, set up a convenient time to talk or chat, and try to limit the conversation time to avoid spending large chunks of your vacation time on the phone or computer.
- Arrange for someone at your job to cover anything that may need to be handled during your absence. Make it clear that you don’t expect to be contacted about work matters while on vacation.
- Try to focus on the travel experiences and enjoy yourself. You’ll be back soon enough and in the meantime, enjoy the trip and try to limit the time you spend focused on things back home.
10. Navigating Unfamiliar Experiences and Situations
If you are traveling to a new place, you will likely experience a lot of new things such as new foods, customs, currency, styles of dress, and modes of transportation. While these can be exciting, they can also feel overwhelming or confusing at times. Language barriers can add to feelings of culture shock and may lead people to feel isolated or overwhelmed in a new place.
Whereas you can’t prepare for all the cultural differences, language barriers, and new situations you might encounter, you can do a lot to prepare. There are lots of books and online resources out there about every destination and culture, and reading up about a place can really make you feel more comfortable once you get there. Also the more you know, the more you can make the most of your trip.
If you are traveling to a place with a different language, it is always a good idea to learn at least a few words and phrases so you can greet people, thank people, understand numbers, make purchases, and ask basic questions. Similarly, learning some of the local customs, gestures, and taboos can go a long way.
Differences and changes can be scary or confusing, but in most cases they are just different from the things you are used to back home. One great thing about travel is that it gives you the opportunity to step outside your comfort zone and try new things.
However, if something feels more unsafe than just different, leave the situation. Unfortunately, tourists are sometimes targeted for scams and theft, especially in large cities, so do be aware, use your common sense, and trust your gut. Scammers often prey on the fact that you don’t know the destination or customs.
Ways to Reduce Travel Stress related to Navigating Unfamiliar Situations:
- Read about the destination beforehand. Learn a little about the history, culture, customs, food, common modes of transportation, etc. The more you know, the more you’ll get out of your travel experience.
- Learn about the local currency and the best and safest way to obtain it. Also understand the currency exchange rates so that you can look at local prices to know what they roughly translate to in your own currency (e.g., multiply by 1.5 or divide by 5). Also check a guidebook or blog posts to understand the common costs for things like meals, drinks, tours, taxi cabs, etc. Too often people spend more than they should because they don’t understand the local currency or don’t take the time to do simple math.
- Learn at least a few words and phrases of the local language. A travel language guide or translator app can help you out along the way. Locals often respond more positively when you show at least some attempt to use the language (even if you butcher it!).
- Look up common scams at the destination, like the Marrakesh tannery scam and Paris friendship bracelet scam, so you can avoid them. Taxis can also be common place for scams to take place, either with fake meters or drivers giving the wrong change. Learn how you can avoid them.
- If a situation or place feels unsafe, leave and go somewhere you feel safe.
- Don’t be afraid to try new foods and activities! You won’t know if you like something until you try it.
11. Unexpected Changes, Events, & Obstacles
A big source of stress for many travelers comes from unexpected problems and issues that arise during travel, especially when traveling to or from a destination.These are things like traffic jams, flight delays or cancellations, severe weather, natural disasters, lost luggage, or misbooked reservations.
These might also include problems like unexpected closures of an attraction, getting scammed, losing an important travel document, becoming ill, or finding that the hotel you booked doesn’t have your reservations.
You do of course have some control over some of these circumstances; however, you can’t 100% prevent any of these things from happening as they are not completely within your control. In fact, many of these you have little or no control over such as a delayed flight, a labor strike, the weather, or a natural disaster. Who can forget the travel nightmares people all over the world endured following the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland?
For those things you do have some control over, take some precautions and do some planning to try to prevent them. Reconfirm your reservations before you travel so you are unlikely to get surprised by finding a tour company or hotel can’t find your reservation. Leave plenty of extra time in your plans to avoid missing a scheduled tours, trains, or flights. Take recommended preventative health measures to try to avoid illness (e.g., getting recommended health vaccinations, taking antimalarials, not drinking unsafe water).
You can’t 100% prevent any of these, but you can reduce their likelihood of happening.
You can also protect yourself from financial losses due to these unforeseen issues. Before your trip, we recommend purchasing travel insurance or trip protection to protect yourself from financial losses that may result from unexpected events on your travels. If your flight is cancelled, you break a leg, or a flood leaves you stranded, there can be some expensive consequences for you. If you have good travel insurance, this will help alleviate the financial stressors and allow you to focus on more important things.
For those things over which you have little or no control, there are still ways to manage your stress associated with them. The first is to accept that they may happen and to be flexible. If your flight is delayed by 3 hours, worrying and complaining is unlikely to help. Do what you need to do in terms of planning (e.g., calling a friend to let them know, reschedule your connecting flight) and find something relaxing to do in the meantime (e.g., read, chat with your travel partner, grab dinner). Try to make the most out of your time and to not let it ruin your entire trip.
We also recommend using relaxation techniques. Stress often makes you tense up, and the basic goal of relaxation techniques is that they get you to relax your muscles. You muscles can’t be both relaxed and tense at the same time, so they put you into a state of relaxation and can reduce your stress. These include techniques like deep breathing, visualization techniques, and progressive muscle relaxation. What works for one person, won’t necessarily work well for another.
If you don’t have a relaxation technique of choice, look up and start practicing some techniques to see which work best for you. They generally take a little practice to master, but once you do you can easily do them in the moment. Most can be used anywhere in just about any situation.
Ways to Reduce Travel Stress related to Unexpected Changes:
- Buy travel insurance. Be sure to check the policy and read the fine print to make sure it covers the things you want it to cover (e.g., flight delays, covers your destination, trekking, winter activities, medical expensive, gear coverage). You may be able to purchase it from your existing insurance company in your home country or consider a company like World Nomads.
- If an unexpected issue arises, try to stay calm, find out what you can, and focus on the things you can change. Try to accept the things you cannot change and find ways to make the most out of the situation.
- Learn a relaxation technique that you can do anywhere that works for you. Practice it so you can use it when it is needed.
- Don’t let one or two negative or unplanned experiences ruin your entire trip!
12. Worries about the Post-Travel Experience
Another thing that often causes stress for people during a trip is worries about things that will happen after the trip. How much work will be piled up? How am I going to pay the X bill? Will the kids have missed too much in school? This types of concern can make it difficult to relax and enjoy a trip. For many people, it is these type of worries they wanted a break from in the first place.
Do what you can to keep your mind on the present and your trip. Enjoy your travel experiences as they are happening and try to not dwell on the things that need to be done when you return home. There is nothing that you can do now and you’ll be able to handle them when you get home.
Remember research has found that the more relaxing the trip, the more post-trip benefits it can have for you. Try to immerse yourself into the trip and relax. Seek out relaxing experiences and consider relaxation techniques to help.
Some people are able to enjoy a trip until the end and then are hit with a sense of dread about returning and what that will need to do once their vacation is over. Some end of trip and post trip blues are perfectly normal, after all something that you were excited about is now ending.
But if you find yourself really dreading returning home after every trip and feeling depressed once you are back, then you might want to further examine those feelings. They suggest that things may not be so well at home or work and might be signs of a deeper issue such as depression or anxiety.
Ways to Reduce Travel Stress related to Worries about the Post-Trip Experience:
- Remind yourself of the goals of your trip and all the things you wanted to do and see.
- Realize that you can’t predict the future and there is nothing you can do about things that are going to happen when you get home. Worrying about things won’t make them better.
- Try to stay in the present during your trip, and try not to let your mind dwell on post-trip problems. If you are having difficulty being present, mindfulness techniques and practices, such as meditation, can be helpful in focusing one’s mind on the present.
- Seek support from your travel partner(s). A chat about your worries might help you see the worries in a different light. Your travel companion might also be able to help keep you distracted.
- Try to relax. If you are having difficulty relaxing after a day or so into your trip, try doing some relaxation techniques or seek out an experience that you normally find relaxing (e.g., go to a spa, have a massage, do yoga, relax with a magazine at a coffee shop).
- If you are really stressed during and/or after a trip and continue to feel depressed or anxious when you get home, try to do some self-assessment of those feelings. What are they connected to? What do you dread at home? What is specifically making you anxious? Consider seeking professional counseling if they don’t subside.
BONUS Travel Stressor: Traveling with Children
If you traveling with children, especially younger children, they tend to come with some added stress! Although we don’t have much personal experience on this, we hear all the time that traveling with kids can be more stressful. This bonus was added because of a reader comment which made me think, oh yes, this is one we missed since it is not something that normally comes up for us.
There are loads of things about travel with children that may be more stressful. There’s more luggage to pack (why do babies need so much stuff!). There’s handling the kids’ disrupted sleep and feeding schedules. There are the kids shouting from the backseat “are we there yet?” every 10 minutes.
There are also safety concerns and needing to watch out for them. There’s balancing doing things the children want to do versus what the adults want to do. There’s also illnesses, tantrums, and handling tired kids. Someone was recently telling us a story how both her kids managed to vomit on a flight…so yeah, kids can definitely amp up the travel stress levels!
But there are also loads of joys of traveling together as a family, and most people probably have some wonderful family vacation memories. Similarly, most parents probably have some wonderful memories of traveling with their kids. These are often some of people’s most cherished memories. Seeing the excitement and wonder in a child’s eyes is priceless and can easily make you forget all the struggles. Even thought it might be more challenging to travel with children, it can also be more rewarding!
- Be organized. Make a checklist and packing list for the kids. Try to plan for the things that will help your kids travel comfortably.
- If you have never traveled with your kids before, it might not be the best idea to start with a 2 week long international trip. Try doing a smaller trip first (perhaps a long weekend) to get them used to travel and for you to learn how to best help them travel better and more comfortably.
- Include the children in the vacation planning process. Make sure they get to do at least one or two things that they helped choose.
- If they are old enough, give them small responsibilities they can handle, so they can feel more part of the process. This might include having them help you pack their suitcase, helping you put together part of the itinerary, or choosing the restaurant for lunch. This will help them gain the skills and confidence they need to travel independently themselves when they are older.
- We are NOT experts on family travel! For more family travel tips, I highly recommend checking out family travel blogs such as y Travel Blog run by Australian couple Caz & Craig who have been traveling around the world with their 2 young daughters and blogging about it since 2010! We have no idea how they do it, but they do it well!
- Take photos to capture the memories so you can share them as a family after the trip. But don’t get too focused on taking photos and videos! It is about the moments together, and getting too focused on technology and photos can really take away from that.
- When things are not going so well, remind yourself of the reasons you want to travel with your family and try to focus on the positive things about the trip.
So that covers the big contributors to travel stress! We hope that these tips will help you better understand your own travel stress and find ways to prevent or reduce it.
Do you ever experience stress related to travel? What factors have contributed to your own travel stress? What have you done to combat your how travel stressors? We’d love to hear from those who have found ways to lower their own travel stress. As always we love your feedback and questions, just leave them in the comments below!