Whether you enjoy a once-a-year road trip with family, you consider yourself a serious jetsetter who travels the world as much as possible, or you find yourself traveling across the country (or internationally) routinely for work, you’re likely well aware of the benefits of getting away. On one hand, it’s well established that vacations help decrease stress, boost wellness, increase productivity, enhance energy levels, and even cut the risk of some health issues (like heart disease). And traveling for work provides the opportunity to get better acquainted with other people, connect with coworkers, experience new cultures, and explore different destinations.
But the effects of travel aren’t all sunshine and rainbows, as traveling, especially extensive travel, does have a dark side. But please don’t think we’re suggesting you should just stay at home, chained to your work desk. Rather, if you know the potential side effects of travel, you’ll also know how to combat them, so you can get even more benefits from your next vacation or work trip!
Here are the effects of travel to watch for and how to protect yourself.
11 Negative Side Effects of Travel
1. Jet Lag & Sleep Disruption
One of the most obvious issues with travel—especially across time zones—is the typical disruption of sleep patterns (and exhaustion that follows). Jet lag leads to fatigue, feeling out of sorts, and even gut issues. Quite simply, travel can wreak havoc on circadian rhythms, which refers to the body’s sleep/wake cycle. And the more time zones you cross, the more likely you are to feel jet lag and the worse the jet lag is.
While it’s temporary and can just take a day or two to recover from, your trip is short lived too, and you want to make the most out of it. Here’s how to get into rhythm as quickly as possible:
- Get morning sun. Ensure you’re awake in the a.m. and get outside and into sunlight as early as possible to help reset to the new time zone. If you can, exercise in the morning (even better, while outside) to help boost energy. And if it’s dark when you arrive, spend some time letting your body calm down and unwind, and then enjoy a good night’s sleep.
- Arrive early. If you’re traveling for work or meeting a group on your trip, try to arrive a day or two early to give yourself time to adjust to the new time zone.
- Rest before you leave. If you’re already sleep deprived when you leave home, it’s bound only to get worse once you’ve begun your travels. Make sleep a priority.
- Set a new schedule. Even before you leave, adjust your clock and your schedule—including your eating times—so you’re better able to deal with the time change.
Packing bags (without forgetting necessities), navigating maps and/or airports, choosing lodging, looking up menus and gyms, and so on can all be sources of added stress, especially if planning and organizing aren’t your personal strengths. Then there are the numerous surprises that can come with travel—did your suitcase make it to the same location you did, did you miss a connection or a ride, can you find your car in the massive parking lot?
Fortunately, you can do a lot to help decrease the stress of traveling, such as:
- Plan. Don’t just plan for everything going well. What will you do if something does go wrong? Make sure you plan the big and little stuff and give yourself extra time to deal with challenges as they arise.
- Relax. While you may have to deal with more hustle and bustle than usual, you’ll also likely have some extra down time. Bring some good music or a book to unwind as you’re waiting for the next leg of your journey.
- Let go of worries. You’ve got your plans and contingency plans, now it’s time to stop worrying and running through worst-case scenarios. “Worrying is like praying for what you don’t want to happen,” a quote often attributed to Robert Downey, Jr. Relax and enjoy the journey!
3. Radiation Exposure
As you fly, you are exposed to low levels of cosmic radiation from space, stars, and our own sun. How much radiation exposure depends on multiple factors, like how long you’re in the air, the altitude, and the latitude of the flight. However, for most travelers, the exposure is low enough to not cause any concerns.
During flights, you’re also, however, exposed to increased UV rays from the sun. Before your next flight, ensure you apply sunscreen. Although you will be inside, airplane windows are unable to filter out all the damaging UV rays (e.g., UVA radiation). Plus, you’re closer to the sun. Research has found, for example, that pilots can have 25 times the typical rate of skin cancer due to this increased exposure.
Before and after your flight, also make sure you’re consuming a rainbow of fruits and vegetables to ensure you’re also consuming plenty of free-radical-scavenging antioxidants.
4. Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
Long hours of sitting in a cramped compartment on a plane, bus, or car with limited mobility increases the risk of blood clots called deep vein thrombosis. Risks are even higher for people with a history of blood clots, women on oral contraceptives, people who are over 50, obese individuals, smokers, and those with diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. The longer the trip, the higher the risk.
Fortunately, while this is a dangerous, potentially fatal issue, it’s also rare, and the risk can be decreased drastically with just a few simple steps.
- Get up and move. Take a few moments to get up and stretch your legs and walk every few hours. Regularly change your position (and fidget) when seated as well.
- Exercise your calf muscles as you sit. Try doing heel raises or flex and relax the leg muscles as you’re sitting.
- Stretch your leg muscles as you sit.
- Wear medical compression socks. This is an especially critical step if you know you’re at higher risk or are on a longer trip.
5. Depression & Anxiety
Especially for those who travel extensively, one of the sad effects of travel is an increased risk of both depression and anxiety. The risk is even worse for people who already have symptoms when they’re far from the safety and comfort of home, family, and friends. Plus, the fear of others witnessing your anxiety can make those emotions even more difficult to deal with.
Here are some tools to help you deal with them.
- As mentioned above, being prepared helps you deal with the stress and other uncomfortable emotions that can come with traveling. Have a plan of attack to deal with your anxiety ahead of time, from deep breathing techniques to visualization to meditation.
- Bring along distractions (for example, a great book, music you love, or a fun hobby) to help you compartmentalize unpleasant thoughts and feelings. Remember, this too shall pass.
- Travel with a friend or loved one with whom you feel safe and comfortable and discuss in advance how they may help you cope with your emotions and better enjoy your trip.
6. Subpar Nutrition
Whether you’re on the road, in the air, or just away from your usual stomping grounds, finding good, healthy food can become increasingly difficult. And to make matters worse, if you are in vacation mode, you’re more likely to be a bit more relaxed about sticking to your healthy diet.
Yet if you want to enjoy your travel—and avoid bloating, gas, indigestion, and weight gain—one of the easiest things you can do is ensure your nutrition is on track at least most of the time. Plan your meals ahead of time, and pack healthy snacks. Pack some cut-up cucumbers, carrots, and celery or apples, plums, and berries, which can be refreshing and hydrating and are also rich in antioxidants to help support your immune system.
Speaking of staying hydrated, pressurized airplane cabins and low humidity can cause dehydration. To make matters worse, it can be tricky to have clean water as handy on the road as it is in the friendly confines of home.
Of course, for many, travel is also synonymous with adult beverages. And considering that many road trips lead to hot, sunny beaches, dehydration is a real concern and common side effect of travel. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of clean, filtered water and taking in copious amounts of electrolytes (e.g., potassium, sodium, magnesium, calcium, zinc) to ensure adequate hydration.
And when it comes to the immune system, your balance of gut bacteria—your gut microbiome—can be seriously challenged during travel. It can be compromised by disrupted circadian rhythms. It can be susceptible to any variety of unfamiliar “bugs” in airports, on the airplane, and at your new destination. Adding a probiotic supplement is a good insurance policy to help support a healthy balance of gut bacteria and support your immune system during travel.
7. Sitting Still
Active vacations are awesome. You can hike, bike, and explore different locations and keep the body moving as you see the sights. Unfortunately, many more vacations offer the opposite: intense relaxation followed by more intense relaxation.
Just as when you’re at home, if you make a plan for when and where to move your body, you’re that much more likely to stay active on your trip. Traveling provides tremendous opportunity to explore new areas, try out new gyms or classes, meet new people, and keep your energy levels up throughout your trip. Or, you can try a fun bodyweight workout right in the privacy of your hotel room.
8. Headache and Fatigue
If your trip involves air travel, your body will go through all kinds of changes due to the significant decrease in humidity (which drops down to around 10% to 20%) and increase in barometric pressure (roughly equivalent to standing on an 8,000-foot mountain). This combination can quickly add up to intense headaches and fatigue.
The best solution: water—and lots of it. Start hydrating before the flight, keep hydrating throughout the flight (around eight ounces per hour), and then continue once you’ve landed. And as mentioned above, proper hydration is about more than just water. It also means making sure you’re getting plenty of the electrolytes that are also lost, like sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and zinc.
Don’t want that much water? Try some peppermint or ginger tea. To stay hydrated, you’ll also want to avoid caffeine and alcohol, especially while on the plane.
9. Oily Skin & Breakouts
Speaking of the lack of humidity, your skin is especially sensitive on a flight. The dry air pulls moisture from wherever it can get it, and that usually means from your skin. In response, your thirsty skin produces more oil. On top of that, the air on planes is recycled at least part of the time, and that can mean you’re coming into contact with loads of bacteria. More bacteria + more oil = a sudden and surprising breakout.
Again, the solution is to ensure you’re hydrated—not just from within but with a protective layer on the outside of your skin as well. Moisturize with a quality skin serum that contains vitamin E (my favorite is Ageless Glow, which also contains vitamin C and hyaluronic acid) to ensure even the deep layers of skin are moisturized. And reapply every hour or so while you’re in the air, especially around the eyes, to ensure your skin stays fresh, soft, and smooth.
Bringing along a hydrating spray mist can also be so refreshing when applied throughout your flight.
Once you get to your destination (hotel or house), cleanse, exfoliate, and moisturize your skin to help it return to normal as quickly as possible.
10. Dry Lips
Just like the rest of your skin, your lips can also suffer from the lack of humidity. Make sure you have your lip balm with you, and carry a lip scrub to exfoliate your dry, chapped lips once you land.
11. Increased Gas
While plenty of fruits and vegetables are important before, during, and after your trip to ensure your body has the nutrients it needs, there is one caveat. Due to the pressure changes incurred during air travel, many people experience increased bloating and gas on flights. So it’s a good idea to avoid cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts), which are likely to cause increased gas and bloating, on your trip to avoid discomfort and embarrassment for you and the people you’re traveling with.
If you’re on an airline that offers in-air snacks, you may want to give them a pass too. Because the chips, cookies, and crackers are loaded with refined ingredients and added sodium, they can make your bloating or gas worse as well as increase dehydration.
Effects of Travel: A Wrap Up
Knowing the effects of travel you could face before your next trip can go a long way toward avoiding them, and instead, allow you to focus on soaking up the numerous benefits of travel, including:
- Improved health
- Stress relief
- Increased intelligence (especially if you are using the trip to expand your knowledge of different cultures and languages)
- Greater understanding of the world
- Enhanced creativity
- Increased self-confidence and well-being
- Increased productivity once you return home
- Enhanced career success
- Amazing food
- Expanded social network
- Lifetime memories
- Greater happiness and satisfaction
Where will you go next?