Travel Fatigue: Why Does Traveling Tire You Out?

Table of Contents (click to expand)

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 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

For me, traveling long distances by car or bus is exhausting. I have wondered why this is. For much of the journey, we merely sit either in cars, buses, trains, or airplanes. Why, then, should traveling be as tiring as a long day of work?

Note: This experience is subjective, and it isn’t universal. Some people feel excited by long-distance road travel. This article discusses only a few factors that make you tired after a long car, bus, or airplane journey.

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Factors That Impact Passenger Comfort On The Road

Traveling on the road is not as easy as sitting in a chair.

While on the journey, accelerating and decelerating due to traffic jerks you back and forth while winding roads swing you from one side of the vehicle to another. If the vehicle is old, running on a rusty, vibrating engine with uneven seats, or the roads are dented with potholes, the ride is anything but stationary.

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, jerks, and jumps take their toll on the body, even though we are unaware of it. Your body puts in effort to keep you sitting in your seat. The brain has more to process: information about the speed of the vehicle, the vibrations of the vehicle, and an awareness of the surroundings. The muscles have to do the work to respond to the changing conditions.

And sitting for hours on end, regardless of moving vehicles, is tiring. The lack of muscle movement during sitting slows down the circulation of blood and lymph fluid. This tires the muscles and joints that need blood and lymph to supply these organs with oxygen and nutrients and take away waste. This is a gentle reminder to get up and walk around if you’ve been sitting for a while.

This is why standing hurts your legs more than walking.

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

For Formula One drivers, G-forces add to the pressures of a body in a moving vehicle. Formula One drivers must tolerate the G-forces that come with driving over accelerating 200 km/h, and turning hard corners at those speeds.

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.

Also Read: What Are The Physical Effects Of Formula One (F1) Racing On Drivers?

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. Ascending into the air brings with it a change in physical conditions. The pressure in the cabin makes it a little easier to adjust to flying, but 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. This is one of the many reasons that airplane food tastes so bad.

Besides food tasting awful, long travel hours and high altitude affect the blood flow in your body. Your body has to work harder to circulate blood to the limbs in the face of unusually high altitude and dry air conditions, leading to digestive issues such as gas and bloating.

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 constantly tries 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.


You’re in a new place, potentially surrounded by strangers, sitting in what is most likely a pretty uncomfortable seat, and making it safely with all your luggage can be stressful. You’re constantly on alert, which is not (most) people’s natural state of mind.

That’s why the business class is so popular: you get more space and privacy, making it more comfortable.

Also Read: Psychological Effects Of Space Travel: How Does Being In Space Affect The Psychology Of Astronauts?

Dealing With Travel Fatigue

Travel fatigue can be a drag, but you can minimize its effects and recover quickly by making a few changes to your travel routine.

Paying attention to your body’s needs is important to deal with travel fatigue. Eating a healthy diet of fruits, nuts, and vegetables and drinking plenty of water will help. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can worsen fatigue. Planning your trip and packing essentials like an eye mask, earplugs, snacks, and any necessary medications can make you mentally more prepared and eliminate the risk of a last-minute rush. Light exercises like short walks or gentle stretches will also help.

Travel fatigue is a common experience among frequent travelers. Whether by car, bus, or airplane, the human body experiences various physical and psychological factors that contribute to the feeling of exhaustion. To mitigate travel fatigue, staying hydrated, engaging in physical activity, and adopting healthy habits before, during, and after traveling are recommended.

Happy traveling!

Also Read: Why Do We Tire More Easily As We Age?

Last Updated By: Salama Yusuf

References (click to expand)
  1. Evaluation of Whole-Body Vibration and Ride Comfort in a ....
  2. Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC).
  3. Vibration Measurement in Flight.
  4. Seat vibration in military propeller aircraft.
  6. Beh, S. F., Lee, S. K., Bin, Y. S., & Cheung, J. M. (2022). Travelers’ perceptions of jetlag and travel fatigue: A scoping review. Chronobiology International, 39(8), 1037-1057.
  7. Leatherwood, W. E., & Dragoo, J. L. (2012, November 9). Effect of airline travel on performance: a review of the literature. British Journal of Sports Medicine. BMJ.
About the Author

Ashish is a Science graduate (Bachelor of Science) from Punjabi University (India). He spearheads the content and editorial wing of ScienceABC and manages its official Youtube channel. He’s a Harry Potter fan and tries, in vain, to use spells and charms (Accio! [insert object name]) in real life to get things done. He totally gets why JRR Tolkien would create, from scratch, a language spoken by elves, and tries to bring the same passion in everything he does. A big admirer of Richard Feynman and Nikola Tesla, he obsesses over how thoroughly science dictates every aspect of life… in this universe, at least.

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