Travel Fatigue Explained: Signs, Symptoms & Causes

3 comments by Sarah Peterson

You know that feeling when you’ve been traveling and you just feel exhausted? Even if you were traveling for fun, and enjoyed every moment of your trip, you somehow crave stability, routine, and rest. 

This could be a sign of travel fatigue

Although travel fatigue doesn’t get as much press as jet lag, this temporary exhaustion drains your energy and can feel like burnout. Travel fatigue, unlike jet-lag, doesn’t even have to involve air travel. 

In fact, it can be caused by any form of transport: planes, trains, boats, and road trips.

Article Guide

What Causes Travel Fatigue?

There are a few main causes of traveler’s fatigue. We’ll get into the details, but before we move on to the causes, symptoms, and remedies of travel fatigue, let’s break it down to the different types of travel.

Travel Fatigue on Road-trips

You’re more likely to feel travel fatigue on a road trip compared to, for example, a train. Not that many of us travel by train these days (perhaps that’s a bad thing!). 

This is because when you are traveling on a road, your car or bus accelerates and decelerates frequently, because of the natural flow of traffic. The vehicle also takes various turns that sway your body from one side to another, causing bodily stress. 

That’s why you feel so sore and stiff after a long day in the car! 

The condition of your vehicle, its seats, and even the quality of the roads also determine the level of comfort that you experience. 

You might not realize but all these factors can provide exhaustion not only to your body but also your mind. Your brain stays active and keeps the concerned muscles engaged to account for these movements and to maintain your posture properly. All these movements make your muscles work continuously and leave you tired. 

Travel Fatigue on Flights

Flights do not provide relief when it comes to experiencing fatigue. You might argue that since airplanes do not change their speeds and directions as frequently as cars do, they shouldn’t impact you quite as much.

This is far from reality. 

Flights have different factors that make you feel tired. Altitude is one such factor. Your body needs to adjust to altitudes that are unnatural for humans. Although the cabin pressure helps you in adjusting to the altitude changes, the environment inside an aircraft doesn’t mimic your “ normal”. 

Aside from altitude, there are many health effects that happen to your body when you fly. These contribute to travel fatigue. 

For example, the following things are almost inevitable on flights:

  • Dehydration. To maintain the required temperature inside the cabin, most airlines regulate the air pressure inside by changing the composition of the air. Did you know that the air inside the cabin is 15% drier than ground air? This is why you feel dehydrated and your skin dries up while flying. 
    Read more here: Does Flying Dehydrate You? Your Guide to Air Travel Hydration
  • Impaired circulation. Sitting for long periods and the altitude of the plane impairs your circulation which fatigues the body and causes other unfavorable effects. Learn more: Swelling When Traveling? Here’s Why It Happens + What to Do

  • Bloating and indigestion. Your body has to work hard to keep the blood circulating throughout your limbs, deal with dehydration and fight off airborne viruses and the excess of bacteria that compromises your immune system when you’re flying. It re-routes many of those resources from digestion, causing bloating and gas. Read more: Bloating After Flying: What Causes Jet Belly & How to Prevent it

Let’s not forget the plane movements which further add to the fatigue. Turbulence, noise, rolling, and shuddering that you experience during a flight are not normal. 

Your body understands this and tries hard to stabilize itself which reflects in the form of exhaustion.

What Causes Travel Fatigue

In addition to the mode of transport, there could be various causes that you might be feeling travel fatigue:

#1. Hectic Travel Schedules

When you’re eager to make the most of your trip, you might over schedule yourself. Monasteries, climb mountains, sampling local foods, hitting the beaches, enjoying the nightlife and visiting important landmarks tend to make it onto most travel schedules… sometimes all in one day.

If you’re guilty of this, you may experience travel fatigue. Rightly so! You’re not letting your body relax.

Try to slow down, take proper breaks, and plan things in line with your body’s needs. 

#2. Jet Lag & Sleep Deprivation 

If you fly to your destination, you may be experiencing jet lag. This could be the case even if you landed in a place just a couple of hours ahead or behind the time zone you’re used to. . 

If you took a red-eye flight, this will almost certainly be the case. 

Jet lag comes with a host of health impacts, and if you experience jet lag enough, travel fatigue could be one of them. It is essential to listen to your body and determine what it needs. Even if you’re excited to explore, take a nap, get plenty of rest and try to mitigate the impacts of jet lag.

If you start your day at 4 am in the timezone you came from, make sure that you hit the hay by 9 pm to catch up on sleep. If you’re busy exploring the nightlife, try to sleep in. If needed, take a day off and give yourself time to adjust!

#3. Disorganization 

When it comes to traveling, there are two kinds of people: 

  1.  The ones who do everything at the last minute
  2. The ones who keep it well-organized and stick to a well laid-out plan.

If you belong to the first category, it is likely that you will experience travel fatigue sooner. Packing your bags at the last minute, stressing about missing your flight or train, and making travel arrangements in the nick of the time are only going to give you unwanted stress. This will later reflect itself in the form of travel fatigue. 

The Symptoms of Travel Fatigue

If you experience any of these symptoms, the chances are high that you are suffering from travel fatigue:

#1. Exhaustion 

That fatigue that you feel when you want to collapse in bed after a long travel day… even if you’ve been sitting in a car or on a plane all day? 

That’s exhaustion. 

Sometimes, the exhaustion doesn’t go away after a long sleep. If it sticks around for weeks after your trip (if you even have that much time between trips!) then it’s probably travel fatigue. 

To help with this symptom, try to exercise and get your blood moving. Eat healthfully and, of course, get plenty of REM sleep. 

#2. A Suppressed Immune System

Travel in itself can compromise your immune system. Have you ever noticed that you’re far more likely to get sick after traveling than you are if you had just stayed home?

100x more likely, in fact

That’s a function of jet lag, the physical act of travel, and exposure to bacteria and viruses your body has not been exposed to (and therefore hasn’t built antibodies to fight). 

A suppressed immune system is a common symptom of travel fatigue. Do what you can to boost your immune system. Take a travel supplement high in immune-boosting vitamins and minerals, like Flight Elixir, before and during your trip.

We added vitamin C, glutathione, Pycnogenol, elderberry and astragalus into Flight Elixir to help support your immune system. 

Rest up, drink plenty of fluids, and wash your hands to reduce the duration and likelihood of contracting an illness. 

#3. Feelings of Stress or Burnout

Back-to-back flights, early morning wake ups, and traveling too often can catch up to you. 

If you’ve been traveling a lot and are experiencing stress, anxiety, insomnia, or difficulty focusing, you may be experiencing travel fatigue. 

The best way to deal is to take a break. If you’re traveling, consider extending your trip to an extra day or two. If not, try to slip back into your normal routine. Whether you’re at home or away, exercise! It releases endorphins in the body which act as mood-lifter. 

#4. Poor Nutrition & Excessive Alcohol Consumption

Exploring the local food of a place you are traveling to is important. After all, it helps you connect to the place and culture at a deeper level. Plus, food is one of life’s pleasures! 

But if you find yourself overeating, you may be experiencing travel fatigue. 

Excessive alcohol consumption is another common symptom of travel fatigue. This one could be a bit tough to recognize as traveling and drinking can go hand in hand. But if you find yourself drinking to excess, you may be attempting to self-soothe your travel fatigue. 

Coping with Travel Fatigue

#1. Be Prepared to Meet Your Body’s Needs

During your trip, make sure that you are listening to your body’s needs. Eat healthy by packing healthy snacks like carrots, apples, and nuts. Keep your body hydrated by drinking lots of water and avoiding alcohol and coffee. 

If you are flying, make sure that you adjust your body’s internal clock by sleeping in accordance to the time zone of your destination. However, if you are really fatigued, having short naps of 15-20 minutes are fine.

#2. Feel ‘Back Home’

Often, traveling could be all about socializing. You meet new friends, network, and share thoughts with like-minded people. 

However, if you are not liking being on top of your social game and are feeling tired, the best way out here will be to talk with your best friend, mother, partner or dog – whoever tends to relax you. 

Watch some cooking videos, or listen to the voices of your favorite people on the earth – either way, remember that traveling could be fun and all, but oftentimes, it is best to disconnect and experience life at slow. 

#3. Disconnect

Waking up at the crack of dawn, catching flights and trains, exploring your destination – all this takes a toll on your energy and makes you feel empty. 

While running could be a great way to de-stress yourself, travel fatigue sucks the inspiration out of you. If you feel like this, all you need to do is stay in your bed, watch movies, sleep – whatever works for you. Don’t feel guilty for taking some down time. Your body needs it. 

#4. Plan in Advance

You can avoid travel fatigue to a large extent by planning your travel well in advance. Book your hotel in advance and ask them about food availability. Research local food and shops online. You can also have a look at TripAdvisor and ask your friends and family for references. 

To further lessen your fatigue, make sure that you have packed all the travel sleep essentials with you including eye mask, earplugs, immune-boosting travel supplements, protein shake sachets, snacks, The Travel Water Bottle, and so on. 

Also, have a closer look at your itinerary and see what all you are going to cover. This will help you in planning your days properly, and will also help you remember your goals.

Travel Fatigue is Not Jet Lag

Often used interchangeably, there is a significant difference between travel fatigue and jet lag. While travel fatigue could be caused by any mode of transport, jet lag is related to aircraft and timezones. 

Also known as time zone change syndrome, jet lag is when people travel across different time zones and end up disrupting their sleep cycle. This condition is seen related to circadian rhythm disorder and can lead to irritability, insomnia, and headaches. 

Restore the Excitement of Your Trip With These Tips

Traveling soon? Make it comfortable and enjoyable with these strategies. Follow the tricks we discussed above, and have a comfortable trip.

Sarah Peterson
Sarah Peterson

Sarah Peterson is the co-founder and head of marketing at FLIGHTFŪD. She's a travel health expert and after having visited 20+ countries as a digital nomad and flying every 4-6 weeks for business, she became passionate about empowering others to protect their bodies on the go.


  • Tom E Bowers

    I feel better knowing this is probably not COVID.

  • Fernando L

    Great article, best piece on the subject. Prior to Covid I travelled on business too much and experienced all of the above. The distincion of travel fatigue vs jetlag is very insightful. Interestingly short flights take a greater toll vs America-Asia flight. Spoke to an airline CEO once, he explained that older planes are harder on passengers (pressurize less effectively, dryer environment and oxigen levels lower)

  • Meaghan Janedis

    I am so pleased to have found your piece. About 2x a month, I make a 4-6 road trip and I find every time after the drive, I am completely exhausted for at least a day and sometimes 2 days after the driving and now I know why!!
    Thank you!!!

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