Psychology of Travel: Reducing the stress of hotel stays

Because there is no place like home, hotel stays can often be stressful. 

Whether you are traveling for work or pleasure, hotel stays can be stressful, especially if the stay is a lengthy one. Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home—so it’s natural that one of the ways many people gauge the comfort and enjoyment of a hotel stay is by comparing their experience to being at home.

It can be a treat to sleep on a bed with a better mattress and higher thread count sheets than you’re used to but even when things are better, it can be difficult to adjust to things that are different.

By now, you must be thinking that things could be far worse than better—and they often are. For variety of reasons, hotel stays often end up being grossly disappointing.

After putting that keycard in the door, a traveler may wind up in a room that is too dark, feels confining, has poor ventilation, has tacky furnishings or has a mattress with a deep impression in the middle that should have been replaced years ago. There may be no convenient place to keep your “stuff” or the walls may be paper-thin.

Whatever the scenario, people who are flexible are more likely to roll with the punches and adjust to minor (and sometimes major) inconveniences. But short of having the right personality, are there ways a traveler can make any hotel environment feel more relaxing and homelike? Here are a few ideas:

Control what you can control

People often feel more comfortable in new settings when they bring along one or two familiar items from home. Yes, the idea is somewhat akin to Charlie Brown carrying around his security blanket.

Given airline baggage limitations, travelers need to think “small and light” about packing extras but bringing a small bottle of your favorite fragrance, an especially comfortable nightgown or PJs, or a photo of your children or spouse to put on the nightstand can help you feel more relaxed in new surroundings.

If you enjoy listening to music, bring your own playlist on your smartphone or if you are more of a reader, download that book you’ve always wanted to read on your Kindle. If you are tethered to technology, make sure you bring whatever you need to stay connected, including a power strip, and seek out inexpensive ways to use the Internet.

Routine and different: Mix it up

Different time zones, missed or heavy meals, and lack of exercise can play havoc on the mind and body. While travel typically involves change and dealing with new situations, sticking to some predicable routines can help minimize stress. If possible, maintain some semblance of a “regular” schedule—in terms of your bedtime routines (e.g. reading, watching TV, or going to bed cold turkey).

Although you don’t want to miss opportunities to enjoy new experiences, don’t use travel as an excuse to drink or eat to excess. Make efforts to exercise and eat healthily when away from home. Bring along a few nutritious snacks in case you are forced to skip meals.

Travel can entail meetings, conferences, sharing rooms or meals with colleagues, and/or dealing with hoards of people in museums or at other tourist attractions. Determine whether you have had too much people-contact than feels comfortable for you. If so, take some breaks and allow yourself some downtime alone.

Play it safe if you dare

Some people opt to stay at the same chain or brand of hotel because they like the familiarity of knowing what to expect (almost like knowing what your burger will taste like at McDonald’s no matter where you are around the world). But, in doing so, they miss the uniqueness of exploring different settings that may be more likely to reflect local culture and create memorable experiences.

According to an article in USA Today, in an effort to woo and keep guests, hotels are making efforts to personalize hotel stays, too. Many offer pillow menus or even mattress choices so guests can choose one similar to the one they are accustomed to at home. Last year, the Hyatt Century City in Los Angeles started an experimental program (at no additional charge) that allowed guests to pick up a vase from the flower cart in the hotel lobby, fill it with fresh flowers of their choice and bring it back to their rooms.

Do you have any techniques you use to make hotel stays less stressful?

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  1. If I’m going to be staying in a hotel for more than one night, I unpack my suitcase. Makes me feel more pulled together. One night – I don’t bother. When I remember (especially on a road trip) — I bring a night light for the bathroom. I hate leaving the bright light of a hotel bathroom on at night, but I also hate bumping into things in the dark in an unfamiliar room.

    1. You reminded me of two things that stress me in hotels: not having a place to keep your suitcase if you want to live out of it and not having a place to unpack your things if you don’t.

      Best, Irene

  2. Yes. I’ve seen hotels that offer a pillow menu. Such a great idea. I have travel with a small pillow that I place between my knees when sleeping. An absolute necessity for me to get a good night’s sleep. And yes, I also always enjoy having my own music with me. Helps pug me in a happy place.

  3. The five most important things for me are:
    1. Cleanliness (I can detect even the slightest odor of mold and cigarette smoke)
    2. Light-blocking curtains
    3. Comfy mattress
    4. Good pillows (a pillow menu is a bonus!)
    5. Quiet
    I can sleep in any hotel that has those features. Then, I am happy to unpack.

  4. These are all great ideas. Flowers in the room would be lovely. I always travel with two pillowcases. Putting those cases on the hotel pillows just makes them more comfortable to me.

  5. I like the fact that I don’t know what I’m going to find behind the hotel door (the one’s I stay in raely have keycards) – sometimes they are gems, sometimes, hmmm not so much!

    What I love about travel is the lack of routiine – the fact that I have no plan to the day – or if I do it will probably be mucked up by 10am!

  6. I like that you mentioned that when traveling we can’t control everything but we should relax and bring some items that help remind us of home. My husband and I are thinking about traveling to the beach and renting a hotel room with a beach view. We have 4 kids and when we travel we miss them so much. I’ll do what you suggested and bring a picture of them with us on our trip.

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