Travel Fatigue: Why Does Traveling Tire You Out?

Your brain keeps your muscles engaged to account for small movements of the vehicle to ensure that your posture is properly maintained. These small movements cause your muscles to constantly work, which makes them tired over a long journey.

I have a few friends who like to go on long road trips. They just want to get in their car and drive a few hundred miles carefree!

Me? I’m not like that at all.

how about no meme

I find travelling long distances by car or bus is just too tiring. I admit I have wondered why does travelling in moving vehicles tire me and many others out? All road trips require sitting in one place for many hours, which doesn’t sound very different sitting in a seat for a very long lecture.

Note: This experience is subjective, and it isn’t universal. Some people aren’t bothered by long-distance road travel. In this article, we discuss only a few factors that largely contribute to making you feel tired after a long journey in a car, bus, or aeroplane.

Factors that impact passenger comfort on the road

Travelling on the road is not as easy as sitting in a chair. While on the journey, the moving vehicle changes speed due to traffic, causing you to jerk back and forth while winding roads will make sway along with the vehicle turns. If the vehicle is old, with uneven seats and a rusty, vibrating engine, or the roads dented with potholes, the ride is anything but stationary.

All these factors – the roads, the vehicle and the traffic – have a cumulative effect on how comfortable your journey is.

transport, tourism, road trip and people concept - group of happy passengers or tourists in travel bus

A bus changes its speed many times, causing its passengers to feel it in very subtle ways. (Photo Credit: Syda Productions / Shutterstock)

These sways and jerks and jumps take their toll on the body, even though we are not aware of it. The brain accounts for movement and engages the muscles to ensure that your posture remains upright. This constant rally between the two organs – which can last more than 2-3 hours – is energetically costly. In fact, this is why standing hurts your legs more than walking.

This guy probably wouldn’t look so upbeat if he were to sit in the same seat for 10 hours or more, thanks to the tiredness that almost feels inherent on such long road journeys. (Credit: Syda Productions/fotolia.com)

This guy probably wouldn’t look so upbeat if he were to sit in the same seat for 10 hours or more, thanks to the tiredness that almost feels inherent on such long road journeys. (Credit: Syda Productions/fotolia.com)

This is also why Formula One racers train so much to stay in shape. Driving at over 200 km/h requires handling the enormous G-forces that accompany such speeds and the pressure these forces exert on the body.

racing cars

Believe it or not, but car racing can be very tiring… physically. (Image Source: Pixabay.com)

Here’s an interesting fact: Greger Huttu–a world champion of iRacing (a virtual racing simulator) – was invited to drive a real race car. He drove a few laps very fast, almost 100 km / h, but then threw up in his helmet because his body could not cope with the tremendous physical forces acting on it. He gave up on his 15th lap.

Trains are comparatively less tiring simply because they do not accelerate/decelerate and change direction as frequently as automobiles on the road.

Fatigue-causing factors in a flight

Flights are no better than road vehicles when it comes to causing fatigue.

First of all, there is the matter of “height…” Your body needs to adjust to being higher up. Although the pressure in the cabin makes it a little easier to adjust to the change in height, it is still far from sitting in a chair in the bedroom.

Then there is dehydration: airlines maintain the pressure in the cabin by regulating the composition of the breathable air in the cabin. This is why cabin air is 15% drier than “ground air,” which dehydrates passengers. In fact, this is one of the many reasons that aeroplane food tastes so bad.

airplane cabin aircraft light

Cabin air is drier than ‘normal’ air.

Noise, shuddering, rolling, turbulence and other vibrations experienced during a flight are not natural movements of the human body. The body is constantly trying to stabilize itself, making you feel tired after a long flight.

The psychological factor

One cannot ignore the psychological aspect of long-distance travel. Already, the very concept of travel exhausts many people.

WILL I HAVE TO TRAVEL 18 HOURS STRAIGHT I AM AFRAID SO; THERE THERE meme

When you’re on a flight, you’re probably a little aware of yourself and your surroundings; there are strangers around you, and you’re unconsciously trying to stay out of their personal space. In other words, you’re constantly on “alert” or worried, which is not (most) people’s natural state of mind. This adds to the mental exhaustion of travelling for hours on a flight.

That’s why the business class is so popular on flights: you get more space up there, and it’s much more comfortable. The purpose of business class is to make you feel at home, so you’re rested and ready to work as soon as you get off the plane.

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However, the feeling of fatigue is very subjective and varies from person to person. For those who DO get tired on long road trips or flights, these are some of the key factors contributing to their fatigue.

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About the Author

Ashish is a Science graduate (Bachelor of Science) from Punjabi University (India). He spends a lot of time watching movies, and an awful lot more time discussing them. He likes Harry Potter and the Avengers, and obsesses over how thoroughly Science dictates every aspect of life… in this universe, at least.

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