Dr. Thomas Dwan - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Thomas Dwan

Is Traveling Bad For You?



Short answer

Frequent flying is not inherently bad for you, but it does come with health risks such as circadian rhythm disruptions leading to jet lag, exposure to cosmic radiation, the potential for deep vein thrombosis (DVT), increased spread of infections, dehydration, nutritional challenges, and ear and sinus pressure discomfort. Psychological impacts like stress and social disconnection also arise. Proper planning and precautions—staying hydrated, moving around during flights, and adjusting to new time zones—can mitigate these risks. The benefits of travel can be maintained while minimizing health consequences with informed and mindful practices.



Long answer

Health Risks Associated with Frequent Flying

While traveling can broaden our horizons and provide enriching experiences, frequent flyers should be aware of potential health risks associated with regular air travel. Both the physical and environmental conditions of flying can impart stress on the body, and understanding these risks can help travelers to mitigate them effectively.

Circadian Rhythm Disruptions: Long-distance travel, particularly when crossing multiple time zones, can disrupt the body's internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm. This disruption can lead to jet lag, characterized by symptoms such as insomnia, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and digestive problems. Research published in the "Sleep Medicine Reviews" suggests that the misalignment of circadian rhythms can have profound effects on mood, cognitive function, and overall health.

Exposure to Cosmic Radiation: At high altitudes, the atmosphere provides less protection from cosmic radiation from space. Frequent flyers, especially pilots and cabin crew, are exposed to low levels of cosmic radiation on a regular basis, which has been associated with an increased risk of cancer in some studies. However, the European Union's Aviation Health Unit notes that the risk is generally quite low and should not be a concern for occasional travelers.

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT): Prolonged immobility during long-haul flights can lead to an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis, a condition where blood clots form in the deep veins of the legs. This is a concern particularly for passengers in confined seating positions. According to the World Health Organization, travelers with additional risk factors -- such as a history of DVT, cancer, or obesity -- should consider wearing compression stockings or taking blood-thinning medications as preventive measures.

Air Quality and Contagion: The closed environment of an airplane can present challenges in terms of air quality and the spread of contagious diseases. While modern aircraft have sophisticated air filtration systems, passengers are still in close proximity to each other, which can facilitate the spread of viruses and bacteria. A study in the "Journal of Environmental Health Research" indicates that passengers may be more than 100 times more likely to catch a cold on a plane than in their daily life.

Dehydration and Alcohol Consumption: The cabin environment of airplanes is typically very dry, which can lead to dehydration if passengers do not consume enough fluids. Alcohol and caffeinated beverages, which many travelers consume to alleviate travel stressor boredom, can exacerbate dehydration and its subsequent negative health effects such as headaches and dry skin.

Ear Pain and Sinus Issues: Changes in cabin pressure during takeoff and landing can cause discomfort or pain in the ears due to the pressure not equalizing correctly. This condition is known as barotrauma and can be particularly troubling for individuals with pre-existing ear or sinus problems. Chewing gum or using ear pressure-regulating earplugs can help mitigate this discomfort.

Nutrition and Digestive Issues: Frequent flyers may also experience disruptions in their diet and digestive patterns. Airplane food is often criticized for its high sodium and low nutrition content, and the irregular eating schedules can disrupt normal digestion. Additionally, being seated for extended periods can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort or reduced appetite.

While these health risks can be a concern, many of them can be mitigated with proper planning and precautionary measures. Frequent travelers should stay hydrated, move around during the flight, adjust their schedules gradually to the new time zone, and be mindful of their diet and alcohol intake to reduce the impact of these risks on their overall health and well-being.

The Psychological Impact of Constant Travel

Traveling has often been romanticized in movies and books, presented as a pathway to self-discovery and adventure. While it's true that travel can enrich your life, offering new experiences and broadening your horizons, it's also important to acknowledge the psychological impacts that constant travel can have. The effects vary greatly from person to person, but there are some common psychological themes that frequent travelers may experience.

Stress and Anxiety

One of the immediate effects of constant travel can be an increase in stress and anxiety levels. The uncertainty and unpredictability that comes with frequent travel, such as flight delays, lost luggage, or unfamiliar environments, can trigger stress. A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that business travelers reported significantly higher stress levels than non-travelers, associating travel with strain on mental health and work-life balance. Here are some of the stress and anxiety-inducing aspects of constant travel:

  • Preparing and packing for a trip
  • Managing travel itineraries
  • Fear of missing flights or connections
  • Adapting to different time zones and experiencing jet lag
  • Navigating unfamiliar places
  • Dealing with language barriers

Social and Emotional Effects

Regular travel can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, especially for those who travel for work and spend much time away from friends and family. A 2018 study by E. C. DeFrank and associates in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology pointed out that extensive business travel can lead to negative emotional states and hinder personal relationships. Frequent travelers may also experience:

  • Difficulty maintaining long-term relationships
  • Challenges in developing a consistent social circle
  • Feeling out of touch with home life and community events

Positive Psychological Outcomes

However, it's not all negative. Traveling can also lead to positive psychological changes, such as increased creativity and openness to new experiences. In 2013, a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that extended travel can enhance cognitive flexibility, integral to creativity. Traveling can promote:

  • Improved problem-solving skills
  • Greater cultural awareness and sensitivity
  • Adaptability and resilience
  • Increase in confidence as you navigate new situations

The Role of Digital Connectivity

The advent of digital technology allows travelers to stay connected with their home base, which can mitigate some of the psychological impacts of constant travel. With video calls, social media, and various forms of instant messaging, it's easier to maintain relationships and manage loneliness. On the flip side, this constant connectivity can also blur the lines between travel for work and personal time, potentially increasing stress.

Maintaining Mental Well-being

For those who travel frequently, maintaining mental well-being is crucial. Integrating practices like mindfulness, regular communication with loved ones, and self-care routines can help manage the psychological impacts of constant travel. Furthermore, seeking professional help if travel-related stress becomes overwhelming is important to consider. Each traveler has their own threshold and capacity for dealing with the psychological demands of frequent travel, and it's important to recognize and respect those limits.


To sum up, while constant travel can offer exciting opportunities and growth, it's crucial to balance it with awareness of its psychological effects. By acknowledging the challenges and taking proactive steps to maintain your mental health, you can enjoy the benefits of travel while minimizing its potential downsides.

Exposure to Infectious Diseases While Traveling

When talking about travel, we can't gloss over the potential health risks, particularly those associated with exposure to infectious diseases. Engaging with new environments means our bodies confront pathogens they might not be accustomed to. Let's break down what you need to know to travel smarter and healthier.

Risk Factors for Disease Exposure

  • Destination: Some regions have higher risks for certain diseases due to climate, sanitation practices, and local vaccination rates.
  • Duration and style of travel: Extended stays and adventurous outings like backpacking increase exposure risks compared to shorter, more contained trips.
  • Season: Infectious diseases can be seasonal, with times of higher transmission depending on the local weather patterns and insect populations.
  • Traveler's health status: Pre-existing health conditions can make you more susceptible to infections.

Common Travel-Related Diseases

Disease Transmission Geographical Risk Areas
Malaria Bites from infected mosquitoes Sub-Saharan Africa, parts of South America, and Asia
Traveler's Diarrhea Contaminated food and water Worldwide, with higher risk in developing countries
Hepatitis A Contaminated food and water Widespread across many developing regions
Zika Virus Bites from infected mosquitoes Tropical and subtropical regions

Prevention Strategies

  • Vaccinations: Check with a travel medicine specialist or the CDC’s Travelers’ Health page for specific vaccine recommendations.
  • Hygiene practices: Frequent handwashing and the use of hand sanitizers can minimize many transmission risks.
  • Safe food and water: Opt for bottled water and well-cooked foods to avoid contaminants.
  • Insect protection: Use insect repellent, sleep under mosquito nets, and wear protective clothing in areas with mosquito-borne illnesses.

One of the often-overlooked aspects of infectious disease exposure is the psychological impact. Worrying about health can lead to travel anxiety, which may manifest as symptoms like insomnia, irritability, and even physical discomfort. Equipping ourselves with knowledge and preventative measures can alleviate much of this stress, enabling a more relaxed and enjoyable travel experience.

Remember, traveling exposes us to novel experiences that can enrich our lives, but it also requires us to take extra precautions. The better prepared we are, the less we need to worry about these risks. Always plan ahead and stay informed about your destination's specific health advisories and recommendations.

Jet Lag and Its Effects on the Body's Rhythm

Traveling can be an enriching experience, but for those embarking on long-haul flights across multiple time zones, the occurrence of jet lag is a physiological reality. Understanding how it impacts your body's internal clock can help you better navigate this temporary, yet often inconvenient, condition.

Jet lag arises from disruptions to our circadian rhythms - the natural, internal processes that regulate our sleep-wake cycle over a 24-hour period. Our bodies are synchronised to the day-night cycles of our local environment, and a sudden shift can throw off this finely tuned biological clock. Here's a closer look at how jet lag can affect us:

  • Sleep Disturbances: The most immediate and noticeable impact of jet lag is on sleep quality and duration. It can cause insomnia, early waking, or conversely, excessive sleepiness at inappropriate times of the day.
  • Digestive Discomfort: As eating patterns are closely linked to our circadian rhythms, jet lag may lead to indigestion, constipation, or diarrhoea.
  • Cognitive Impairment: Mental functions can be impaired, with symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, general feeling of not being well, and reduced alertness.
  • Mood Changes: The disorientation of jet lag can lead to irritability, mood swings, and even mild depression.
  • General Malaise: A disruption in the circadian rhythm can result in a vague sense of illness or unease that pervades even when you're not actively experiencing other symptoms.

Research has delved into how jet lag can affect our bodies, with studies indicating disturbances in hormone secretion, body temperature, blood pressure, and even immune function could result from significant disruptions to our internal clocks. One study in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews found that crossing time zones can severely disrupt athletes' performance, suggesting that even our physical capabilities are subject to our circadian rhythms.

While jet lag is a temporary condition and generally clears up as your body adapts to the new time zone, it's worth noting how it may affect your travel plans or the quality of your experience upon arrival. It typically takes one day per time zone crossed for the body to adjust. But fear not, there are strategies to mitigate its effects, such as adjusting sleep patterns before travel, staying hydrated, and seeking exposure to natural light during your destination's daytime.

Lastly, it’s heartening to know that our bodies are resilient and capable of adaptation. Understanding jet lag’s impact can empower you to take proactive steps to align your body's rhythm with your travel schedule, ensuring your travels are as smooth and enjoyable as your adventures.

Travel's Influence on Physical Activity and Diet Choices

Travel often presents a mixed bag when it comes to maintaining our usual physical activity levels and making healthy diet choices. On one hand, exploring a new city by foot or indulging in recreational activities can significantly increase our daily exercise. Conversely, the convenience of public transport and the allure of relaxing poolside on vacation can lead to more sedentary days.

Furthermore, being away from the comfort of our own kitchen, travelers are faced with the temptation of local delicacies and the potential over-indulgence in restaurant dining - which, while an integral part of the cultural experience, can sometimes mean a higher intake of calories and less nutritious food choices. Let’s examine the ways travel can impact these vital aspects of our health.

  • Increased Physical Activity: Many vacation activities double as exercise. Hiking, swimming, and exploring are just a few ways travelers inadvertently engage in physical activity.
  • Decreased Physical Activity: However, longer periods of traveling, specifically during flights or drives, can result in prolonged sitting, which has been associated with negative health outcomes in studies. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Thrombosis and Thrombolysis points to the increased risk of venous thromboembolisms during long-haul flights.
  • Opportunities for New Healthy Foods: Travelling introduces us to new food cultures, which can expand our dietary horizons and help incorporate more diverse, and potentially healthier, foods into our diet.
  • Challenges to Diet Choices: Despite new experiences, it can be hard to manage portion sizes or find healthy options when eating out, leading to potential overeating or insufficient nutrients. A survey by the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics highlights that eating out often makes it more challenging to control calorie intake and choose nutrient-dense foods.

In practice, maintaining a balance is key. Opting for active sightseeing options like walking tours or bike rentals can ensure we stay on the move while traveling. Likewise, choosing accommodations with kitchen facilities enables control over at least a few meals, making it easier to commit to healthy eating. And while we’re indulging, it’s worth remembering moderation - savouring local treats in reasonable amounts can be part of a balanced diet.

Moreover, research endorses the importance of planning ahead to mitigate the impact of travel on one's diet and physical activity. For example, a study from the International Journal of Obesity suggests that planning meals and carrying healthy snacks can prevent unhealthy eating when the usual routine is disrupted.

Ultimately, travel doesn't automatically mean making poor choices regarding physical activity and diet. With mindful planning and a flexible approach, it can enhance our physical well-being, exposing us to new movements and healthy culinary adventures.

Balancing Travel with Wellness: Strategies for Healthier Journeys

Traveling is an enriching experience, broadening our horizons both literally and figuratively. However, as much as it offers excitement and new experiences, it also has the potential to disrupt our wellness routines. Maintaining health while traveling doesn't have to be cumbersome. By planning and prioritizing, we can create a balance that allows us to enjoy our travels without compromising our well-being. Here are some strategies to consider for a healthier journey.

Prioritize Sleep

  • Adjust Your Internal Clock: Start by gradually adapting to the new time zone a few days before you travel if possible. This might mean going to bed and waking up an hour earlier or later, depending on your destination.
  • Create a Sleep-Inducing Environment: Bring along items that will help you sleep, such as a neck pillow, eye mask, and earplugs. Research, including a study published in the Journal of Travel Medicine, highlights the importance of environmental factors like light and noise in affecting sleep quality.

Hydrate Regularly

  • Carry a Water Bottle: Keep a refillable water bottle handy to encourage regular hydration. Air travel, in particular, is known for its dehydrating effects due to low humidity levels in the cabin.
  • Moderate Caffeine and Alcohol: While it may be tempting to drink coffee to battle jet lag or indulge in alcoholic beverages, both can exacerbate dehydration. Opt for water or herbal tea instead.

Stay Active

  • Explore by Foot: When possible, choose walking over other modes of transport. It's a great way to see the sights while also getting in your steps. According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, walking can reduce the risk of chronic diseases and improve mental health.
  • Use Hotel Amenities: If your accommodation offers a gym or pool, make use of these facilities to maintain your exercise routine.

Opt for Nutritious Foods

  • Research Local Cuisine: Look up healthy food options at your destination beforehand. This can help you make informed choices, possibly finding restaurants that offer fresh, local produce.
  • Snack Wisely: Carry healthy snacks like nuts, fruits, and protein bars, to avoid relying on fast food during hunger emergencies.

Manage Stress

  • Practice Mindfulness: Travel can be stressful, with unexpected delays and changes of plan. Engaging in mindfulness practices like deep breathing or meditation can help manage stress levels and enhance the travel experience.
  • Plan Downtime: Don't over-schedule your trip. Ensure you have moments of relaxation to recharge both mentally and physically.

Protect Your Skin

  • Use Sunscreen: Regardless of the weather, apply sunscreen with an adequate SPF to protect your skin from harmful UV rays, as recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation.
  • Moisturize: Keep your skin hydrated, particularly during flights, with a good quality moisturizer to avoid dryness.

Implementing these strategies can make a notable difference in how you feel during and after your travels. Remember that every little habit contributes to a bigger picture of health and wellness. Whether you're traveling for business or pleasure, reflect on these tips to ensure your journey is not just about the destination, but also about maintaining a balance that keeps you feeling your best along the way.

Frequently asked questions

To reduce the risk of traveler's diarrhea, opt for bottled or purified water, eat cooked foods, avoid raw vegetables and fruits that cannot be peeled, and maintain good hand hygiene. It's also wise to carry a travel-size hand sanitizer and avoid ice in your drinks.

To minimize the effects of jet lag, gradually shift your sleep schedule a few days before your flight to align with the time zone of your destination. Stay hydrated, avoid alcohol and caffeine before and during the flight, and seek exposure to natural light to help reset your internal clock upon arrival.

Before traveling, consult with a healthcare provider for vaccinations and travel health advice specific to your destination. Practice good hygiene, including frequent hand washing, avoid contact with sick individuals, consume only safe food and water, and use appropriate insect protection measures in areas with mosquito-borne illnesses.

To maintain mental well-being while traveling, establish a routine that incorporates time for relaxation and reflection, stay in touch with loved ones through digital means, engage in mindfulness practices or light exercise, and ensure you're getting enough rest. If stress becomes overwhelming, consider professional support.

Ask a question about Traveling and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • insomnia
  • fatigue
  • difficulty concentrating
  • digestive problems
  • increased risk of cancer due to cosmic radiation
  • risk of dvt
  • spread of contagious diseases
  • dehydration
  • headaches
  • dry skin
  • ear pain
  • sinus issues
  • gastrointestinal discomfort
  • stress and anxiety
  • travel anxiety
  • irritability
  • physical discomfort
  • sleep disturbances
  • indigestion
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • cognitive impairment
  • mood changes
  • general malaise

Possible long-term side effects

  • misalignment of circadian rhythms affecting mood, cognitive function, and health
  • increased risk of cancer for frequent flyers due to cosmic radiation
  • negative impact on mental health and work-life balance
  • hindered personal relationships
  • immune function disruption
  • hormone secretion disturbance
  • body temperature and blood pressure irregularities
  • increased risk of chronic diseases from sedentary lifestyle


  • broadened horizons
  • enriched experiences
  • increased creativity
  • greater cultural awareness
  • improved problem-solving skills
  • adaptability and resilience
  • increased confidence
  • physical activity
  • exposure to new healthy foods

Healthier alternatives

  • compression stockings on flights
  • mindful diet and alcohol consumption
  • mindfulness practices
  • regular communication with loved ones
  • self-care routines
  • balanced meal planning
  • carrying healthy snacks
  • professional help for stress
  • vaccinations for diseases
  • hygiene practices
  • safe food and water choices
  • insect protection
  • sleep schedule adjustments
  • staying hydrated
  • choosing accommodations with kitchen facilities
  • walking tours
  • bike rentals

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Desmond Richard
Published on: 02-07-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Desmond Richard
Published on: 02-07-2024

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