Forget Instagram: Study reveals health risks of frequent travel

Not so glamorous after all?

Not so glamorous after all?  (iStock)

By now you probably know how to spot frequent travelers on your social feed: they Instagram pictures with a different location tag every week, constantly check in to airports on Facebook, and have international geofilters on their Snapchat stories.

But according to a new study, those people who engage in frequent travel – known as “hypermobility” – may experience adverse psychological, emotional, and physical effects. 

Though it seems fun online, research shows that kind of jet setting has a hidden “dark side.”

“Social media encourages competition between travelers to ‘check-in’ and share content from far-flung destinations,” said study co-author Dr. Scott Cohen. “The reality is that most people who are required to engage in frequent travel suffer high levels of stress, loneliness, and long-term health problems.”

Some other consequences include: jet lag, sleep deprivation, deep vein thrombosis (blood clots), and radiation exposure. Cohen also mentions environmental risks of higher greenhouse gas emissions. The study was conducted by the Universities of Surrey, U.K. and Lund, Sweden.

This information comes at a fitting time, as travel bloggers and Instagrammers are in their heyday.

Take Murad Osmann, for example, whose #FollowMeTo photos – where his wife leads him with an outstretched arm towards a picturesque destination ahead – went viral on Instagram and beyond. He currently has 3.2 million followers.

But there are negatives to this glamorized version of travel that you see on your screen – which really only occurs among the elite and upper class. Besides jet lag, there’s fatigue and an increased exposure to germs and radiation. People who travel more than 85,000 miles per year (like flying from New York to Seattle round-trip every three weeks) exceed the safe limit for human radiation exposure. The risk of cancer is also higher in-flight than on the ground.

On the emotional and social front, hypermobility can create “travel disorientation,” which comes from a combination of a constant change of place and the stress of planning trips (and anticipating how many emails you’ll have to read when you return).

The study also mentions that frequent travel, mostly for business, is done solo and causes loneliness, weakened friendships, and “a reduced ability to participate in family life.”

“Society needs to recognize that the jet-set lifestyle is not all it’s made out to be,” Dr. Cohen added. “By striving to travel far, wide, and frequently we are damaging the environment, ourselves, and potentially our closest loved ones.”

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