woman with luggageRecently, I was asked this question by the dean of a large department at a Research I institution:

Why does traveling take so much out of us when all we’re doing is driving to the airport, parking, going through security, sitting on a plane, staying at a hotel, having someone else fix our meals, etc?

As someone who travels, basically for a living, all I have to do is listen to her question and I think…’What’s the question, exactly?’ The answer is in the question, except I also know that she wouldn’t have asked if she hadn’t truly wondered. Plus, I know how much those of us who travel extensively are envied by others - because we travel. It seems luxurious. And, it is and it isn’t. So here are some answers to why traveling is so stressful (even though it seems like we are living the life of Riley)…

  1. You have the stress of getting ready to go out of town. No one just packs up and leaves. There are days and sometimes weeks (or more) of planning that go into getting ready to travel. If you have children, other adults, and/or pets who live with you, then you have the stress of also planning to make sure they are taken care of. And, there is the planning that is necessary to be gone from work. Whew…I’m tired just writing about it (because I live it and I KNOW!)

  2. You spend a lot of prep time getting ready to go out of town. Related to the one above, you need to recognize that you have spent a great deal of time getting ready - which often means you have stayed up late and gotten up early to get it all done. Of course you’re tired by the time you even get on a plane.

  3. You are forever waiting. You wait at the airport to check in. You wait to go through security. You wait to get onto the plane. You wait to get off the plane. You wait to get a shuttle or a cab. You wait in line at the hotel. You wait….

  4. You feel the pressure of all the other things that aren’t getting done while you’re traveling. No matter how many ‘helpers’ you have, there are tasks and responsibilities that are not being handled while you’re out of town, because you’re the only person who can take care of them. That pressure is draining.

  5. You are not sleeping in your own bed with your own pillow. Although there are people who travel with their pillows, as far as I know, no one brings his/her own bed. I must say that most of the major hotels have dramatically enhanced their mattresses and bedding, but it’s still not home. You may or may not get decent sleep when you’re traveling. And what if you’re crossing time zones…oh, my.

  6. You don’t have your regular healthy ‘things’ around you. One of the reasons my husband won’t travel with me anymore is because, as he says, “I like having my own stuff around me.” When you travel, no matter how much ‘stuff’ you bring in your suitcase, you don’t have everything and even what you bring isn’t in the right place. I have an entire second set of makeup - but it’s not organized like it is at home. I certainly don’t have two monitors so that I can be as efficient in my hotel room as I am in my office…and the list goes on and on.

  7. You feel constrained and on edge the whole time you’re on a plane. These are some of the concerns you might have: Will I get to eat? Will I get a beverage? Who will be next to me? Can I go to the bathroom? What germs are circulating? Why won’t that child/man/girl/teen/geezer/loudmouth (insert your own word) shut UP?! Are my legs going to be permanently cramped in this position? What happened to comfortable seats? Note: Essentially all of these questions are asked in first class, too, although I do highly recommend upgrading to first class when you can.

  8. You’re traveling for a reason - to present at a conference, attend a session, deliver a paper, collaborate with a colleague, work with a client. There is a lot of stress around these ‘performances.’

  9. Yes, someone else is cooking for you…but is it what you really like? Is it at the time you really want it? Is it more food than you could/should eat (but you eat it anyway)? And if you’re traveling in a foreign country, you may or may not get anything even close to what you would like to be eating. I traveled to the USSR right after Chernobyl…and in essence, you couldn’t get ANY vegetables except cucumber. When my husband and I got home, after 24 hours on a plane, we went to a Wendy’s salad bar and ate until we almost burst.

  10. For all of us who love to control as much of our lives as we can, being out of control when we travel is VERY stressful. Not sure what else I need to say about that. If control doesn’t matter to you, then you don’t ‘get’ this one. If you are a person who needs and wants (and MUST HAVE) control, then I don’t need to explain this further.

Let’s just say I didn’t have any trouble writing this article. I just thought about my last trip (last week) and my next one (next week…and then the week after that and the week after that). We need to all hang in there together and recognize the stress - and smile at one another in the airport!


And if you think you would like even more strategies and practical ideas, you are invited to access the Top Ten Productivity Tips - The Collection!






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