Helping Groups Overcome Travel Stress
Regardless of how many passport stamps someone may possess, travel stress can be experienced by anyone, at any time. That doesn't mean, however, that tour operators can't play a part in helping ease that stress for their groups so they can enjoy their trip to the fullest.
To learn more, we sat down with expert Paul Krauss, MA LPC, Clinical Director of Health for Life Counseling (healthforlifegr.com), a private practice psychotherapist, and host of the Intentional Clinician podcast.
First, it's important to understand what factors bring on travel stress in order to work towards calming it. According to Krauss, travel stress is not always related to the destination or the journey itself, but rather the underlying anxiety and uncertainty that can arise from traveling.
"For most of us, travel brings us out of our typical routine and environment—sometimes called our 'comfort zone,'" he said, listing several potential contributing factors such as fear of the unknown, a disruption of routine, safety concerns, flight delays, negative past experiences and more. "Individuals who've had negative experiences while traveling in the past may feel anxiety or fear regarding future travel. For example, a person who has experienced a traumatic event while traveling such as an illness, missed destinations, theft, assault or a natural disaster may develop a heightened sense of threat or danger associated with travel."
Interpersonal aspects may also play a part, especially for those who experience social anxiety or discomfort with unfamiliar social situations.
"Traveling often involves interacting with new people, such as hotel staff, tour guides or fellow travelers," Krauss said. "Concerns about fear of judgment, adapting to cultural differences, or unfamiliar social norms can also lead to travel stress."
Thankfully, there are ways tour operators and group travel planners can help.
"One strategy is to share itineraries as early as possible," Krauss said. "Providing a detailed itinerary and schedule well in advance can help travelers mentally prepare for their trip and reduce uncertainty. While uncertainty is associated with negative mental health outcomes, knowing what to expect will help travelers feel comfortable and at ease."
Krauss also suggests providing groups with alternative plans for unexpected situations ahead of time.
"Tour operators should raise their groups' awareness about travel disruptions or weather-related issues before traveling," he said. "Don't forget to introduce backup plans as well and communicate them clearly to the group. This will help travelers feel more reassured and prepared."
Unsurprisingly, clear and concise communication is another huge part of reducing travel stress.
"This could involve providing clear instructions for transportation, meal times and meeting points," Krauss explained. "Chances are that travelers will feel more relaxed and confident if you communicate important information with them in a timely and effective manner."
Leading up to a trip, Krauss suggests tour operators encourage their groups to have realistic expectations, to purchase travel insurance and to anticipate potential challenges or setbacks such as lost luggage or weather impacts.
"By mentally and financially preparing for these possibilities and having a contingency plan in place, you can reduce stress and anxiety if something does go wrong," he said, also noting the importance of groups familiarizing themselves with local traditions, cultures and behaviors ahead of time. If there's a language barrier, consider creating a one-sheeter for groups with some common words and phrases that might come in handy (asking for help, the location of the nearest bathroom, communicating any food allergies, etc.).
Groups should also continue to practice self-care throughout the trip.
"This could involve getting enough sleep, eating nutritious meals, staying hydrated, not drinking too much alcohol and engaging in activities that you enjoy," Krauss said. "Don't forget about emotional well-being either. For this, try mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation or yoga. Even a little break for stress may avoid the dreaded 'vacation arguments' that can arise among travel partners."
Last but certainly not least, encourage your groups to limit technology usage to remain present in the moment.
"Constantly checking emails or social media can add to feelings of stress and overwhelm," Krauss said, adding that a 2015 study indicated that limited use of emails lowers stress and leads to higher well-being. "Tour operators and group travel planners have an important role in ensuring their travelers have a positive and stress-free travel experience. By being proactive and anticipating potential stressors, they can help ease anxiety and create a more enjoyable travel experience."
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for Groups Today.
This article originally appeared in the May/Jun '23 issue of Groups Today.