Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Vacation Stress? You're Not Alone

Vacations can cause considerable stress, but only certain aspects.

Key points

  • We often assume that travel stress is caused by airlines, traveling with children, and traveling to international destinations.
  • Research shows that trip planning is the most stressful aspect of vacation planning.
  • The most stressful aspects of trip planning are the financial concerns, packing, and making travel arrangements.

As the school year closes and summer travels seem well underway, the spirit of going on a long-awaited vacation in this seeming post-pandemic zeitgeist has never been more alive. Perhaps the stress associated with it hasn't been either:

Vacations are supposed to be a relaxing event. No one would spend the time and money associated with such an adventure thinking it would be more stressful to experience than their day-to-day lives.

Indeed, historically at least, many of us choose leisurely vacations in places far from the inertia of everyday life in order to seek a sense of relaxation, escape, or perhaps even a renewed self. What the research shows, however, is that this period of bliss isn't necessarily so, and many of us experience stress related to a vacation, making this a completely normal phenomenon.

Two important processes exist in our mind that help us determine whether we’ll be stressed and to what degree: how we appraise a situation and how we cope with it. When facing a potentially stressful situation, we all appraise the amount of potential danger that exists. For instance, to borrow a known example from psychology, if we are leisurely walking through a forest and are faced with a poisonous snake in front of us that may be likely to bike us, certainly we will appraise that the potential danger is very high. This will alert us to behave in a way that most heightens our chances of survival, like fleeing as quickly as possible. If, however, we appraise that it is not, in fact, a snake but just a stick on the ground, we recognize that there is no potential danger.

Just as we appraise the potential danger of a situation or a stressor in general, we also appraise whether or not we have the resources to cope with that danger. In the snake example, we may realize we do not have the resources necessary to cope very well if the snake is too fast and we are unable to outrun it, resulting in high stress in an incredibly dangerous or sometimes uncomfortable situation.

While traveling doesn’t (usually) include snakes on the ground, and stress is certainly not the socially-acceptable predominant thought when it comes to taking vacations, what the admittedly scarce research shows is that vacation stress is alive and well, and expresses itself in different ways for many people.

In an exploratory study conducted in 2012, 110 Americans who had recently taken a vacation were surveyed via the internet about various aspects of travel stress. The sample of Americans surveyed was designed to represent the U.S. population in age, income, and residence, despite a relatively low sample size. Participants were asked to recall their last vacation, which had to have included at least two nights away and 100 miles distance from home.

While the study found that, on average, travelers experienced low to moderate stress, the results show that trip planning was the most stressful aspect of the vacation, followed by travel to the destination.

Participants indicated that the most stressful aspects of trip planning were the financial concerns, followed by packing, making travel arrangements, and developing the itinerary. The most stressful aspects of the trip to the destination included coping with weather conditions, traffic jams and flight delays, and route finding. While planning and taking a trip to the destination were rated as substantially more stressful compared to the vacation stay itself, the most stressful aspect of stays included weather, food, and interacting with travel companions.

While complaining about a vacation may seem taboo, you're not alone in your experience of vacation stress–and sharing in that might actually help alleviate some discomfort.

Happy and safe travels!


Crotts, J. C., & Zehrer, A. (2012). An exploratory study of vacation stress. Tourism Analysis, 17(4), 547-552.

More from Mariana Bockarova Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today
More from Mariana Bockarova Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today