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The Surprising Effects of Business vs Leisure Travel on Your Health and Well-Being

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Some 83 percent of millennials who have never traveled for business wish they had the opportunity to do so. They cite the chance to see a new city, represent their companies in a different environment, and take advantage of hotel services as perks that they would like the chance to partake in. Too many young professionals without much experience traveling for work, business travel is viewed as a status symbol. 

Corporate travel certainly has a ring of glamor to it: a chance to see the world and stay in excellent hotels on the company dollar. And furthermore, business trips can reap an enormous return on investment for the companies who send their employees on them: for every dollar spent on business travel, companies recouped $12.50 in incremental increases in revenue

But while frequent business travel may help pad professionals’ resumes and line company pockets, it has its downsides. Studies show that road warriors are significantly more likely to suffer from a slew of health problems and interpersonal stress on account of their frequent travel. 

Furthermore, these issues are diametrically opposed to the health effects of leisure travel. While vacations have been shown to make the body more resilient to stress and other chronic health problems, improve productivity and motivation, and even help save your marriage, frequent corporate travel can take a serious toll on the health and wellness of employees. 

All of these factors influence the extent to which both the negative and positive effects of travel are felt. 

business vs leisure travel statistics

Business or pleasure? What are the differences?

Have you ever spent three days at a business conference in a far off city, eating richly and drinking with industry friends?

I bet you came home feeling more tired than you left.

Contrast this with your relaxing family vacation to a beach resort. A full week of relaxing in the sand, still eating more than you should, but nevertheless plenty of headspace to relax.

The difference between business and leisure travel seems only slightly different on the surface, but research shows otherwise – in a drastic way.

To be sure, the act of traveling, whether for business or pleasure, can be hard on the body. Between the early morning flights, poor sleep, dehydration, and navigating unfamiliar locations, travel disrupts our routines and can make it difficult to maintain healthy habits. But the overall health effects of travel stack up differently depending on whether you are attending an out-of-state conference for work, or cashing in on your paid time off. 

Frequency and duration

For one thing, the frequency and duration of business vs. leisure travel look very different. Most Americans take no more than two extended vacations per year, usually getting away for at least a week at a time if domestic and for two weeks at a time if international. 

Business trips on the other hand, are typically just three days long if domestic or six days long if international. In addition to this shrunken time window, a significant portion of professionals hit the road about once a month on average. While vacationers have more time to recover both at their destination and upon their return home, frequent business travelers have significantly less downtime to unwind, or even unpack. 

Power of choice

Furthermore, business travelers rarely have the luxury of determining where they travel to, when they travel, what kind of facilities will be available upon arrival, or what their schedules will look like during the trip. Vacationers have the power to exercise much more control over their trips in this regard, and can consciously maximize opportunities for health and relaxation by choosing locations and activities that support their health goals. This difference in the capacity to define your own trip can significantly impact whether a trip feels fun and relaxing, or like a multi-day marathon between meetings and airports.

Staying on the ball

And finally, work trips necessarily include work. Traveling on the company dollar comes laden with pressure to deliver, keep up professional appearances, and stay productive. These pressures can compound the bodily stresses of traveling, leaving employees exhausted by the end of their trip. What’s more, this culture of staying on the ball may even be seeping into our leisure travel: not only are workations gaining traction, but two-thirds of Americans admit to spending at least some part of their PTO working. 

The Consequences of Frequent Work Travel

The occasional out-of-state conference or international board meeting probably won’t irrevocably traumatize your children or cast your fitness regimen and meditation routine to the wind. But the negative effects of frequent business travel can creep up on you. As the stresses of business travel compound over time, they can add up to serious health issues and interpersonal problems. 

Compared to their less traveled colleagues, professionals who frequently jet set are significantly more likely to be overweight, suffer from chronic insomnia, have weakened immune systems, and exhibit high cholesterol and blood pressure. Furthermore, experts point to an uneven distribution of household labor, poor marital communication, and confusion on the part of children as common symptoms of familial stress resulting from the business travel lifestyle.

Tips for Staying Happy and Healthy During Business Trips

Business travel can be hugely rewarding on both a professional and personal level, but maximizing these benefits means curbing the negative consequences for your health and relationships. Here are some tips for keeping spirits high and stress low during work travel:

  • Prep a ready-to-go travel kit. Keep a carry-on stocked with all of your essentials ready in order to avoid last-minute packing chaos. 
  • Bring healthy snacks instead of accepting freebies. Packing a Tupperware full of healthy foods like boiled eggs, carrots, and nuts for the road will help you say “no, thanks!”  to airplane pretzels and hotel reception candy bowls.
  • Skip the airport lines. Fast-lane programs like Global Entry and TSA-Pre-Check can reduce the amount of time you spend toiling in line at the airport to a fraction, giving you a few extra valuable hours of sleep per trip. 
  • Make your work travel pay. Enroll in frequent flyer programs and gather valuable credit card points during your work trips that you can cash in later on a proper, work-free vacation with family and friends.
  • Prioritize sleep. Consider that your performance during corporate travel is closely linked to your sleep, and communicate this need when booking transportation and hotels. Wherever possible, opt for travel arrangements that are conducive to beating jetlag and getting a good night’s sleep.
  • Establish a work-travel ritual. Creating a routine and set of habits that you always cycle through when you travel for work can help you feel less disjointed and aid you in making healthier choices throughout your trip. This may consist of a series of stretches you can do in your hotel room, to a short meditation during the flight, to always calling home at a certain time.
  • Go for a walk. Whether as a means of getting from A to B, or as a leisurely stroll, walking is one of the best things you can do to offset some of the negative effects of travel. It will get your blood flowing after being cooped up in a plane or car; it will help you digest the big meal you ate at dinner with clients; it will help your body adjust to any time change; and it will give you a minute to decompress and clear your head from the pressures of the day. 

Business vs Leisure Travel Statistics

The statistics can be shocking.

Stats at a Glance

  • The average American spends $581 per person on domestic vacations and $3,251 per person on international vacations [B]
  • Companies typically spend about $949 per employee on domestic business trips and $2,600 per employee on international business trips [C]
  • Business travel accounts for only 12% of airline passengers, but 75% of airline revenue. [D]
  • While vacationers are more likely to be flexible if it means saving money, business travelers are more likely to book the quickest or most convenient flight — even if it means paying much more. 

How Travel Impacts Diet and Exercise

Whether you’re on vacation or a business trip, chances are you’ll come back a few pounds heavier. Research shows 86% of travelers reported gaining 3 pounds for every two weeks spent away from home. [H]

Why we gain weight on the road for these primary reasons:

    • Hotels without kitchens make it hard to stock up on healthy foods or cook for yourself.
    • New surroundings can drive us to seek unhealthy comfort foods, or try new extravagant dishes.
    • Long periods of inactivity during transportation.
    • Airplane food and hotel buffets are often high in salt, fat, and sugar.
    • Alcohol with every meal is more common while traveling.
      • 16% of business travelers say they drink more on business trips than at home [A]
      • Leisure travelers are twice as likely to get dangerously drunk during vacation than at home [I]

But for the health-conscious, it’s easier to have a healthy vacation than a healthy business trip. 

Business Travel Health Stats

      • 44% of professionals are more likely to indulge in unhealthy foods during business trips than while at home. [A]
      • 54% of business travelers say they are less likely to exercise on a work trip than at home [A]
      • 65% of business travelers regularly pack exercise gear that they don’t end up using. [F]

Leisure Travel Health Stats

      • 66% of American vacationers say they mostly manage to eat healthy while traveling [J]
      • 53% of Americans say they often or always exercise while vacationing [J]
      • 13% of Americans have taken a vacation with the goal of improving their diet and fitness [J]
        • Because of this, wellness Tourism is a 639 billion dollar industry [K]

How Travel Impacts Your Stress Levels

Between time changes and unfamiliar environments, travel is full of stressors. And studies about the impact of business travel on stress prove this. Yet magically, leisure travel seems to have an overall positive effect on stress levels, both personally and interpersonally.

Business Travel and Stress

75% of employees who regularly traveled internationally reported high or very high levels of stress associated with business trips. [E]

The common stressors of business travelers:

  • 43% feel uncertainty about what they can expense and whether they’ll owe their employer money  [F]
  • 38% feel they can’t enjoy the weekend leading up to a business trip [F]
  • 36% worry about packing the right clothing [F]
  • 36% say they have difficulty sleeping while traveling for business [A]

Partners & children

  • 50% of the spouses of frequent business travelers cited work travel as a source of stress in their relationship [E]
  • Nearly 100% of frequent business travelers who are parents of young children reported that work trips can negatively affected their kids’ behavior. [E]

Leisure Travel and Stress

Studies show that a 4-day vacation can significantly reduce perceived stress and improve well-being for as long as 30 days. [N]

Why vacations relieve stress:

  • Something to look forward to: Studies show that even the process of planning a vacation can make us happier [P]
  • We sleep in: 70% of people use vacation as a way to catch up on sleep. [G]
  • Time slows down: Studies show that our perception of time slows when we encounter new and exhilarating experiences [O]
  • We are nicer: Studies show that people are more outgoing, agreeable, conscientious, and open to new experiences while on vacation. [Q]

Partners & Children:

  • Women who take at least 2 vacations a year are more likely to feel happy in their marriages than those who take just one vacation every other year. [L] 
  • 49% of adults say their happiest childhood memory is a family vacation [M]

Final Takeaways

The go-go-go culture of business travel causes long-term wear and tear on the body if not properly mitigated. In addition, the pressure to make business trips ROI-positive adds additional stress on top of the travel itself, compounding the negatives. We hope the research in this story encourages those to do business travel

Even for leisure travelers, there are a few things to keep in mind. Be aware of the pull to overindulge in food and drink, and try to find the balance. If you have a healthy exercise routine at home, try to continue that while on vacation. Most importantly, do give yourself credit for going on a leisure vacation in the first place, and keep taking them. As shown in the data,

 

Studies Used:

  1. On-Call International: Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/danielreed/2017/12/07/business-travel-wearing-you-down-physically-or-emotionally-eat-better-drink-less-exercise-more/#570bd68e48bd
  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Consumer Expenditure Surveys https://www.bls.gov/cex/
  3. Certify https://www.certify.com/Infographic-TheAverageCostOfBusinessTravel.aspx
  4. Investopedia https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/041315/how-much-revenue-airline-industry-comes-business-travelers-compared-leisure-travelers.asp
  5. World Bank Group https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1740288/pdf/v059p00309.pdf
  6. Hilton hotels https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20180627005284/en/
  7. Sleep.org https://www.sleep.org/articles/need-sleep-vacation-2/
  8. Extended Stay America https://www.extendedstayamerica.com/News/Avoid%20Weight%20Gain%20on%20the%20Road.pdf
  9. Observational study on the consumption of recreational drugs and alcohol by Swiss travelers https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4289389/
  10. U.S. Travelers Seek to Stay in Shape on the Road, Reveals TripAdvisor Survey http://ir.tripadvisor.com/news-releases/news-release-details/us-travelers-seek-stay-shape-road-reveals-tripadvisor-survey
  11. Wellness Tourism Trends https://skift.com/2019/02/26/travel-megatrends-2019-wellness-is-the-new-hook-in-travel-marketing/
  12. Wisconsin Medical Society http://www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/_WMS/publications/wmj/pdf/104/6/20.pdf
  13. Family Holiday Association https://www.familyholidayassociation.org.uk/news/test-news-1/
  14. Short Vacations Improve Stress Level and Well Being https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5800229/
  15. Telegraph https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/news/the-science-behind-making-your-holiday-last-longer/
  16. Applied Research in Quality of Life https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11482-009-9091-9
  17. Journal of Personality https://articles.aplus.com/a/ways-traveling-improves-your-life?no_monetization=true
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