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 want to just hop in their cars and drive a few hundred miles without a care in the world!

Me? I’m not like that at all.

how about no meme

Those people who do find me shying away from road trips simply because I find them too tiring often ask me what my deal is with traveling long distances in cars or by bus. I admit that I have, more than once, given a lot of thought to this—why do people get tired when they travel long distances in certain vehicles? They’re basically just sitting there, doing nothing, right? Why should that be any different than sitting in a train or even sitting in a chair in your house?

Note: The feeling of tiredness in cars, buses or even airplanes is quite subjective, and as such, may not apply in every case. There may be people who DO NOT find traveling in a bus over long distances tiring. This article only presents a few factors that largely contribute to making one feel tired after a long journey in a car, bus or commercial jet.

Factors that impact passenger comfort on the road

When you’re traveling on a road, your car/bus is bound to accelerate/decelerate countless times, thanks to the natural flow of traffic. In addition to that, the vehicle will also take many turns, which are bound to repeatedly sway you from one side to another.

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 this movement/pulse in very subtle ways. (Photo Credit : Syda Productions / Shutterstock)

In addition to the umpteen turns, swaying and constant changes in speed, there are a few other factors at play, such as the condition of the automobile, passenger seats and even the quality of the roads. All of these factors have a cumulative effect on passenger comfort.

You don’t realize it actively, but the constant sways and changes in speed cause you to remain upright. Your brain keeps your muscles engaged to account for these 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—one that lasts for more than 2-3 hours.

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/

Just because you don’t realize it actively, that doesn’t mean your muscles are just ‘sitting’ there, doing nothing. In fact, this is the reason why standing still hurts your legs more than walking.

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 went a few laps very fast (nearly 100mph), but then threw up in his helmet because his body couldn’t handle the tremendous physical forces acting on it. He gave up in his 15th lap.

Contrary to what one might think, driving race cars takes a toll on drivers’ bodies. That’s why F1 racers work out so much to stay in shape and handle those enormous G forces.

racing cars

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

Trains, on the other hand, are comparatively less tiring. The reason is simple: they don’t accelerate/decelerate and change directions as frequently as automobiles on the road. Thus, train journeys aren’t that tiring.

Fatigue-causing factors in a flight

Flights are no better when it comes to causing fatigue. One might say that airplanes don’t experience rapid changes in speeds like cars do, so traveling in airplanes shouldn’t be so tiring, right?

Well, there are other factors that wear you out in a plane.

First, there’s the ‘height’ thing… your body has to adjust to being higher up really quick. Although the cabin pressure makes it a little easier for your body to adjust to the altitude change, it still is far from what you’d call ‘normal’, i.e., something you experience sitting in a chair in your bedroom.

Then, there’s the case of dehydration. In order to maintain pressure within the cabin, airlines must closely regulate the air inside. This involves changing the composition of the breathable air inside the cabin. This is why the cabin air is 15% drier than ‘ground air’, which makes passengers dehydrated. In fact, this is one of the many reasons that airplane food tastes so bad.

airplane cabin aircraft light

Cabin air is drier than ‘normal’ air.

Furthermore, you can’t forget the way a plane moves. All that noise, shuddering, rolling, turbulence and other vibrations you experience during a flight are not natural movements for the human body. The body constantly tries to stabilize itself, which causes fatigue, which is why you feel tired after a long flight, even though on the surface it looks as though you were just sitting there in your seat doing nothing.

The psychological factor

One cannot disregard the psychological aspect of traveling over long distances. The very idea of traveling wears a lot of people out.


When traveling on a flight, you’re probably a bit conscious of yourself and your surroundings. There are strangers all around you, and you subconsciously try 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 traveling for hours in a flight.

That’s why business class in flights is such a popular thing. You get more space up there, and it’s way more comfortable. The whole point of business class is to make you feel at home, so that you’re well rested and ready to work the moment you step off the aircraft.

The feeling of tiredness is very subjective, however, and differs from one person to another. For those people who DO get tired during long road trips or flights, these are some of the key factors that contribute to their fatigue.


  1. Dtic.Mil
  2. JSTOR
  3. National Institutes Of Health (NIH)
  4. Clemson University, South Carolina
  5. Auburn University
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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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