Fara Choi Ashimoto
Headington Institute, 2013.
Travel is a regular part of the humanitarian work experience. While some find it exciting, traveling is also a source of psychological strain among aid workers. In fact, the stress of frequent travel can decrease your ability to adjust when deployed and cause you to respond poorly to critical situations during deployment. However, it is possible to decrease the negative impact of travel stress. Below are some the psychological strains aid workers may experience from traveling, followed by helpful tips to lessen this stress.
- You may feel like a very different person when “in the field” compared to when you are at “home”. In the field, you may stand out from your local neighbors. You may also deal with important, life-impacting situations. By contrast, “home” may not provide you this special status. As a result, home can seem mundane and less meaningful.
- Being exposed to new cultures and ways of thinking can alter our perspectives. As a result, you may eventually feel that you no longer fit with family and friends back home.
- Frequent travel means adjustments for singles, couples and families. If single, you may be less likely to maintain self-care (cooking, eating at regular times and staying connected to others). If in a relationship, your partner may worry, especially if you deploy to someplace dangerous. If you have children, they must transition to household rules and discipline with and without you as you come and go.
- Battling crowded airports, sitting through long flights, breathing the dry air of airplane cabins, etc. adds to the stress of deployment. All the things above demand energy and therefore can leave you feeling emotionally drained.
- Slow down. Leave plenty of time to make flights. Consciously move, talk, and behave in a more relaxed manner while traveling. This will help you feel less tense and stressed.
- Look for ways to capture your experiences over each deployment. Common ways to capture thoughts and feelings are through journaling, writing letters or poetry, or producing art.
- Try to send out regular updates about your experiences to persons back home. Share stories that will help keep them informed about some of the details of your life (not just the general facts of where you are and what you’re doing). Help them visualize where you are. Stay connected!
- Address the concerns of the people close to you. Give them your travel itinerary and tell them how and when they can contact you and whom to contact in your organization if they are concerned about you. Listen to their concerns and try to reassure them with specific, positive information.
We encourage you to take a serious look at how travel stress can impact you and those closest to you. By using the tips above you can not only decrease stress, but thrive over time. Happy traveling!