Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

How to Avoid Motion Sickness While Traveling

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Val d'Orcia

Here’s a dirty little secret I’ve mostly kept under wraps: despite being a full-time traveler, I get horrific motion sickness. You’d think being in motion so often would allow me to develop a tolerance over time, but no, it doesn’t work that way.

And yes, it’s led to some awkward moments. Like the time I puked my guts out in the majestic Tuscan countryside,  pictured above, while on a press trip. (Everyone was very nice about it.)

That said, while I haven’t been able to eliminate motion sickness from my travels completely, I’ve found ways to reduce it and get from Point A to Point B with minimal cookies blown. Here are some of my top recommendations.

Douro Valley

Douro Valley, Portugal — such a beautiful region, but I felt so sick while driving through it!

How to Prepare: Know Your Motion Sickness Triggers

Motion sickness is what happens when your eyes and inner ear receive conflicting signals — for example, if you’re on a bus and your body feels the movements but your eyes are looking at something still like your phone.

For some people, being in a car or bus is the worst. For others (myself included), boats are the worst. In time, you’ll find out where you’re hit the hardest. For now, here’s how to prepare:

Know if you have something rough ahead of you. Be prepared when you’re taking smaller roads through mountainous regions (or visiting rural mountainous regions). Be extra vigilant about boat journeys, especially smaller boats on the ocean.

Research the transportation options. If you have terrible motion sickness when on buses, is there a possibility to take a train instead? Trains often cost significantly more, depending on the route, but sometimes you’ll luck out and they’ll be similarly priced. At the same time, larger boats are often much steadier than smaller boats, as I learned on Lake Nicaragua.

If you’re on a guided tour, you may want to let your guide know in advance. If, say, whale watching is part of your day, you may want to pull the guide aside and let him or her know that you might have some motion sickness issues and ask if most people have trouble with this part of the tour. He or she will be able to advise you.

Beautiful Pai

The road from Chiang Mai to Pai in Thailand famously takes 762 stomach-lurching turns. You can buy shirts that say 762 on them!

What to Pack Before Your Trip

Sea Bands. Sea Bands are acupressure bands that you put on your wrists that apply pressure to a point on your lower arms. I know it sounds a little hippie-dippie, but seriously — they only cost a few bucks, so don’t knock them until you try them!

I first got into Sea Bands when I started waitressing when I was 20. Smelling food on a constant basis made me feel nauseated throughout my shift. I tried the Sea Bands on a whim and they worked so well, they became a permanent part of my waitressing uniform.

Ginger chews. Ginger has been a remedy for nausea for thousands of years, and I find that ginger chews are the most convenient way to eat ginger while traveling. These are good to keep in your purse or day bag.

Crackers or other innocuous foods. Some people swear by Saltines; others prefer bananas, which are ubiquitous in tropical climates. Having a little bit of food in your stomach can keep nausea at bay.

Dramamine or motion sickness tablets. If you end up feeling very sick or worry about a particularly tough journey, you may want to actually take over-the-counter motion sickness medication. Keep in mind that many motion sickness tablets cause drowsiness.

Plastic bags. Plastic bags go with me everywhere — they’re easily accessible in my purse, my camera bag, and my luggage. I even take them when on excursions around home. Just in case you need to puke while in public, you have options.

Capri

One of the worst journeys of my life was the hydrofoil from Naples to Capri in 2004. They handed out barf bags to the whole boat. I managed to avoid puking, but the Japanese tourists surrounding me weren’t as lucky.

Tips for Preventing Motion Sickness During Your Trip

Don’t read or browse your phone. Seriously. I know that for bookworms, it’s so tempting to spend a four-hour car ride engrossed in your Kindle, but it’s usually the worst thing you can do.

Offer to drive if it’s an option. Being the one in control can eliminate motion sickness completely, or at least keep it at bay.

Sit facing forward. A lot of people feel much better this way, especially while on trains.

Keep your eye on the horizon. It’s a cliche and it’s true. Keep your eye on what’s ahead of you. That might mean going outside if you’re on a boat.

Get yourself to a source of fresh air if possible. Crack a window or get yourself outside.

Close your eyes and lie down if possible. Closing your eyes effectively ends the discourse between your eyes and your inner ear. (But how to make sure you have the room to do that? Sometimes when on buses, I make sure I have an extra seat to myself by getting on early then making myself look gross, shirt hitched up and covered in crumbs, and spreading out like crazy.)

Listen to something distracting. Some people like podcasts or audiobooks; I prefer having something that doesn’t require concentration. Dance music is my favorite when-I’m-feeling-nauseous music.

If you’re on a wildly pitching boat, stand up and ride it out as best you can. One morning on my Croatia cruise, we hit some rough seas and most of the boat was sick. Miraculously, I wasn’t because I got up earlier and went out to the deck. (I then ran into the boat’s resident Kiwi who toasted me with his morning beer.)

Avoid drinking heavily. The older I get, the more susceptible I am to nausea the next day, even after just a few drinks. Motion sickness is bad enough without a hangover on top of it. Keep your drinking to a minimum.

Take breaks. Are you able to pull over and take a breather? Do so if you can. It’s worth it.

If they’re handing out motion sickness tablets or plastic bags — take them. This is more common on boats. If it’s so bad that they hand that stuff out, trust me, it’s going to be a wild ride.

Lombok Sunset

The seas were extremely rough on the night of my shipwreck in Indonesia. I took a Dramamine and passed out at 7:00 PM. This was a more peaceful moment in Lombok two days before.

Know that you can’t prepare for everything.

You can follow every bit of advice on this list and STILL get sick. Things happen.

Make peace with the fact that you can’t control every factor of a trip — or anything in life. Just prepare as well as you can, for motion sickness as much as everything else, and if the punches come, be ready to roll with them.

One of my favorite kindnesses shown to me while traveling was the first time I traveled from Chiang Mai to Pai in Thailand in 2010. The road is notoriously twisty and I made the mistake of browsing my phone in the minibus, and I ended up with the worst motion sickness I’ve had in years. We stopped at a rest stop and I went to a table and put my head down.

And then I heard someone come over and place a cup next to me and ask if I was okay. It was a French guy who was on my minibus — he bought me a cup of tea after seeing how sick I was. How considerate is that? I’m still touched whenever I think about it.

That being said, I’ve tried never to get to that point again — and the above tips have helped.

Do you suffer from motion sickness? What are your tips?How to Avoid Motion Sickness While Traveling

Comments

66 Responses to “How to Avoid Motion Sickness While Traveling”
  1. I suffer from motion sickness too (never actually gotten sick, but very, very uncomfortable), so this is definitely a helpful post. I want to emphasize ginger–I bring ginger gum with ginger extracts in it with me and feel better almost immediately. It helps if you don’t wait until you’re feeling awful before taking it. Also, an empty stomach exacerbates the problem.

  2. Marcy Norman Cox says:

    My husband gets motion sickness and has had great relief with Relief Band. Battery operated and 5 levels of intensity.

  3. Megan Indoe says:

    This post is really helpful as I also get cursed with nasty motion sickness. I have trained myself to just fall asleep in whatever moving vehicle I am in, if I can just sleep through it then I am fine. But there are the times where that’s impossible. I really need to try Sea Bands and ginger chews! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Amanda says:

    Ugh, I feel nauseous even reading this post. Lol.

    I, too, suffer from motion sickness – sometimes the worst in cars. I can’t sit in the back seat any more, no matter where I’m going. (Weird, though, that this motion sickness didn’t kick in until I was in my 20s!)

    I swear by drugs on travel days where I know there will be a risk of me feeling sick. I used to take Dramamine, but have switched over to Bonine because it doesn’t make me feel as sleepy. Ginger candy is always my back-up!

    • Willow says:

      I was just going to add a comment recommending meclizine (aka bonine). Discovering this has actually been pretty life-changing for me as there are a lot of things I couldn’t previously do (boats, road trips, carnival rides) thanks to extreme motion sickness. Regular Dramamine makes me pass out and ginger never helped, but I pop one of these in the morning and no problem.

      It’s not available in Canada, so I stock up when I visit the US. It’s a miracle drug!

      • Sarah Rosencrans says:

        Can I add another vote for Bonine? That thing has SAVED MY LIFE as I travel often by boat. I’ve been on trips where I’m the only one who has taken anything, and we’ll hit rough seas, and I’ll be the only one who still feels good! It also helps on amusement park rides, cars, busses, trains, literally everything. I never travel without it!

  5. Caroline says:

    Motion sickness is terrible — I’m a fellow sufferer. I’ve never had any luck with ginger, I’ve got to go for the meds. I take dramamine when I’m traveling with people…but if I am traveling alone and don’t want to be drowsy and groggy, I pre-game with pepto bismol before I get on the bus/boat/whatever. It does help a little! And sparkling water or ginger ale. Plus making sure to stop every hour or two when I’m in a car (that always annoys people until I tell them…your day is going to get much worse if we don’t stop and I am sick in this car…)

  6. Julia says:

    Dramamine, ginger chews and seabands are my best friends on travel days.Also, mints or gum. I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older, I’m more motion-sickness prone. Luckily I’ve learned how to deal with it better!

  7. Tim says:

    When we crossed the rough waters of the drake passage, EVERYONE on board our ship used sea bands. They helped, but I definitely still managed to barf a few times anyways!

  8. Heather says:

    I also puked my guts out in the majestic tuscan countryside! Those roads are windy. I also puked non stop on a boat ride in the galapagos islands while the boat guides made fun of me. The only thing hat helps is putting my head down/closing my eyes and listening to music.

  9. Janet says:

    Bonine or the generic equivalent. Love the stuff. I start taking it a day or so before and take one per day while traveling. I also carry water to sip and hard candy like peppermints.

  10. Katie says:

    I’m an experienced scuba diver – and I get the worst motion sickness on boats (I’m fine once I get in the water). Lying down and nibbling on ginger or mint: fresh is best if I can get my hands on it. Besides, you haven’t have dramamine before diving.

    But by and large, staying well hydrated and having a little bit of food in my stomach makes a HUGE difference. Doesn’t stop it entirely but it sure helps.

  11. EMMA says:

    I get terrible motion sickness. After driving down Route 1 in California to Carmel I had to spend the whole afternoon in bed to recover. I also made the mistake of taking motion sickness tablets before a 7 hour journey in India to send me to sleep, they hadn’t told us we were stopping on route to explore a city… I was so out of it I hardly remember a thing!
    http://www.mytravelbugbite.wordpress.com

  12. Joella says:

    I get it too. Mostly on boats. I find looking at the horizon works well but I have to really stare at in and concentrate haha. I did take seasickness pills a few weeks ago when I went to Ometepe. They basically just made me sleep for the journey but I felt so groggy afterwards and I was travelling alone- so not the best. Maybe I’ll just take one instead of 2 next time!

  13. Amy says:

    This post is me! I got really, really ill when we were on a bus traveling between Stratford Upon Avon and Oxford. There was a meal included in our tour and I could barely stand the smell of it, and other people’s fish and chips. I am permanently off fish and chips after that experience. Also felt ill during twisty car rides through the mountains in Arizona, where we lost and gained altitude frequently, and in my everyday life from the MetroNorth to and from NYC. I now prefer to drive and park – there are coupon codes for parking that are essentially the same as the $25 roundtrip ticket from Stamford. Also, the MetroNorth stinks – literally. People eat smelly foods and cars with bathrooms in them are the worst. Especially the 1am vomit comet with all the drunk bar-hoppers.

    I also waitressed, at an Italian restaurant, and would come home smelling like fried calamari. Clearly, fish smells are bad for me.

    My remedies – plain potato chips (chips in the crisps sense, not fries) when I fly, and ginger ale. A noble combo for any bumpy flight. Additional remedy – whatever tea makes you feel good. For me, it is Fruit & Almond tea from Bigelow, which they don’t sell in stores anymore but there was such an uprising when they stopped selling it that they offer it on their website for purchase. Any mint tea is also great.

    Cheers to all my fellow sufferers! I gotta get me some Seabands.

  14. Dana O'Leary says:

    Lots of great tips! I would just add that on the small tour buses I try to grab the front row. Air is a little fresher. Also dehydration seems to exacerbate my morning sickness. I drink a lot of water and limit caffeine. I still cannot do buses without dramamine.

  15. Brianna says:

    Oh man, I get motion sickness about 100% of the time I travel. I’ve used just about all of these methods to help. I would also add two more things that normally work for me.
    1.) Keep your body cool. I’m the one on airplanes with the A/C blasting full on me. If not, I get too hot and that’s when that yucky feeling comes
    2.) Sleep- You can’t really feel the sickness if you’re unconscious!

  16. Kirsten says:

    My secret to avoid motion sickness is to eat first and then try to sleep through it (or at least close my eyes). Missed scenery? Yes, but arriving without feeling awful is worth it!

  17. Cora says:

    Just reading this is making me feel sick, haha!
    I deal with it by staying half asleep through the whole journey, doesn’t matter how long it is. Eyes closed, deep breathing, and window open if possible.

  18. Lisa says:

    My mom swears by the sea bands. I swear by Dramamine, facing forward and not reading. Motion sickness is the worst

  19. Leisha says:

    I’ve found the motion sickness I used to get on boats was linked to the ear pain (& inability to unblock them) I’d get on planes, going up/down hills, in elevators etc.
    I had grommets (ear tubes) done for that, and now I don’t get seasick! I still get a little nauseas if I read in a car/bus or tram, but I just have to remember not to. Like another poster said, it only came on in my mid 20’s!

    Another thing a friend of mine does is has little sticker things he puts behind his ear that releases some sort of medication. He gets hem from his doctor in the US, sorry it’s a bit vague but he swears by them! (Last I checked when I knew exactly what they were, wasn’t available in Australia)

  20. rudi says:

    No new tips for me as I am, unfortunatly, an expert myself. But all your tips are good ones! I practise them all. I travel almost fulltime ..and… work as a tourleader. Not an ideal combination.
    I discovered tablets on the boat in galapagos that work wonders for me and dont make me sleepy.
    So I import them now.

  21. Oh man thanks for this! As I’m getting older, I’ve definitely been developing motion sickness. You are so right with the kindle/phone browsing! It sucks but it has definitely made it worse! Luckily, I’ve never gotten sick and hopefully I can continue that run!

  22. Earl B. says:

    My daughter and her new husband took a honeymoon trip to Australia, where the locals recommended a pill called Kwells for motion sickness. My daughter said it changed their whole trip for the better. Visiting the Great Barrier Reef, which was very uncomfortable for them on their first day, was a piece of cake the second time they did it, even though the seas were rougher. Excursions into the back country over bumpy, twisty roads were no longer a problem. She liked the product so much she brought a box home for my wife, who also suffers from motion sickness. My wife loves it, and now frets over when to use it, for fear of running out as Kwells is not available in the U.S., as far as we have been able to tell.

  23. Eli says:

    This is so helpful Kate! I use ‘Kwells’ available in the UK and they are so helpful and don’t make me too sleepy!

  24. Yep, it’s the only thing I hate about travelling. In my case it’s so bad that I can’t go to the cinema without taking a travel tablet. Getting on a boat is always a nightmare – even the thought of getting on one makes me queasy.

    Sometimes travel sickness pills don’t really work when I’m travelling through mountainous regions. Also, they tend to make me feel extremely drowsy so I tried to avoid taking them. Ginger however, rarely lets me down. I’d recommend drinking ginger tea to calm your stomach – or just carry a small jar of pickled ginger!

  25. Sri Reddy says:

    Very nice article! Thanks for sharing the secrets. I prefer driving overtime we go uphill because of motion sickness problem that I have.

  26. Such a useful summary, thanks for all these tips! I also suffer from motion sickness especially in the car when going through mountainous areas and changing seats with the driver and driving myself always helps. Falling asleep in the car also helps (if I’m lucky enough). 😀

  27. Brooke says:

    Yes to all of this. Buses are the worst for me. One glance at my phone and here comes the nausea. I have found that Motioneaze works wonders. It has a roller ball that I can easily apply the oil behind my ears and i don’t get sick at all. Motion sickness sufferers unite!

  28. Vicky says:

    I get horrible motion sickness too! The worst was on the ferry back from Up Helly Aa, so technically it was your fault 😉

    We were told the sea was so bad that the ferry only just made it out to us, the crossing was almost cancelled but not quite. After almost being rocked out of my bunk and being unable to get to sleep in the first (slightly calmer) hour I then spent 3 hours hugging (literally, I kid you not!) one of the toilets with the expectation of another 10 or so hours to get through. Not sure how I made it back to the bunk to finally fall asleep 😉

    Even remembering it now is making me feel slightly queasy! I will definitely be trying your remedies. Have just ordered a sea band and some ginger chews 🙂 Thanks for this post!

  29. Dave says:

    Hands up who like something to deal with the symptoms that you don’t have to swallow?

    Keep your hands up if you’d like that product to have been proven in a clinical trial by someone like the Westminster College of Medicine?

    Keep your hands up if you’d like it to be with you at all times…

    Look up the nevasic app – no drugs, no side effects, on your phone – use it when you need it without the need for ingestion of anything.

  30. Michelle says:

    I get horrible motion sickness whenever I ride in cars or buses, so I can sympathize!

    For heavy-duty, multi-day relief, you can get a prescription for Scopolamine from a doctor. It’s a patch you put on a day ahead of time, which then lasts for 3-days. It got me through a 3-day bus tour through the Atlas mountains in Morocco. Even people who had never gotten motion sickness before were miserable by the end!

  31. this is SO good! thankfully i don’t suffer too much for motion sickness but i have a horrible horrible fear of others getting sick.

    i experienced the very worst motion sickness paired with the entire boat being sick during our trip to antartcia. drake’s passage is the roughest sea in the world and they so weren’t kidding.

    one russian woman said “i simply laid down and prepared to die.” haha

    ps. despite that, it was a totally worth it trip!

  32. Janey Reed says:

    The Coast Guard uses transderm scope. Small patch that goes behind your ear and lasts for 3 days. Need a prescription from your Doctor but just get one when you see him for something else. They were life savers flying over the Nasca Lines in Peru, 36 hour bus trips in Argentina and boats in New Zealand. I always carry them when I travel, very small don’t fake up much spa e

  33. Demi says:

    Helpful post. Some of my friends suffer from sea sickness and it always ruins any boat trips we take. I will pass this post on!

    http://www.ablondeinanairport.com

  34. John says:

    I hear ya!!! Motion sickness has been with me my whole life, When I was a kid and we were going on a trip it was all about preparing me not to get so sick in the car. Nowadays I do pretty well in cars (I might get a bit dizzy in very windy roads), buses, trains and plains are fine as long as I don’t decide to read a book. So for me it has been about knowing my limits and work within those boundaries…. Unfortunately small boats and small airplanes is something I can’t handle!!! I went to a boat ride in Tasmania and the first 45 mins were awesome, from then on it was a nightmare (not even the ginger tablets could do a thing). Also in Nazca Peru I avoided the plane flight to see the lines, unfortunately the way it flies (sideways so people from each side of the window can see the lines) make sick even the ones who don’t suffer from motion sickness very often, so I knew I was not going to enjoy (as much as I wanted to see the lines)

  35. Zascha says:

    I’ve had motion sickness ones. I was in a car reading my book for about an hour before I felt the need to vomit everywhere. Let me tell ya: that was NOT a good time!

  36. Sylvie says:

    The part when you said you tried to make yourself look gross so that you’d get an extra seat made me laugh so hard! That said, this is a great post, and I agree with all the tips mentioned– motion sickness is not fun.

  37. Tess says:

    My contribution to this topic is,
    Before a nausea trip don’t eat greasy or fried foods. Makes it worse. Eat lite. Front seats help in cars and on busses. And for big boats center top is best. Or so I’ve read. Hope this helps.

  38. Andrew says:

    some great tips. Im going to see what these wrist bands are all about!

  39. Vee N Ric says:

    Hi Kate.
    Oh wow..
    Quit your job
    To travel around the world?
    That is so KOOL.
    How did you manage to do it?
    We are a married couple from Mumbai, India
    And we share our life In India
    Via our blog.
    Do drop by
    And say HI to us.
    Would love to hear from you.
    Best wishes and regards.
    Vee N Ric

  40. I get SO SO travel sick on all the different transports! My go-to method to avoid it now is to have my ipod in and loud in my ears, look at the horizon or at least be at a window (I always try to get the front of the bus or car), eat crisps, drink something fizzy and take a travel sickness pill that I stocked up on in Thailand. Sometimes it doesn’t work though and I have vomited on a few buses and boats especially. Nice to know there are other sufferers out there!

  41. Jen says:

    Kate, have you tried peppermint oil? I use the sea bands also but they don’t work as well for me as one drop of pure peppermint oil on the tongue.

  42. Sea bands are amazing! I use them all of the time. Ginger chews come in close second.

  43. Shelly says:

    One of my daughters gets motion sickness in car if there are any twists in the road. I’m going to check out those wristbands. Thanks for sharing!

  44. Britt says:

    Completely agree with not looking at your phone or reading your kindle. Its one of the reasons I prefer train travel because I can write blog posts, read books, watch movies etc and not get motion sickness. But even 15 minutes staring at my phone on a bus and the nausea hits me!

    I’m taking a 12 day Hurtigruten cruise next month and I’m super afraid about the motion sickness because sea sickness is something I’ve suffered from terribly before. I’ll definitely be taking your advice and stocking up on crackers, ginger chews, sea bands and tablets!

  45. Fortunately, I don’t normally suffer from motion sickness. I’ve had it only twice in my life. Once was on a bus through the fjords of Norway after I’d been traveling by train for hours. The other time was on a rocky and slow train bound for Oswiecim, Poland.

    Good tips to keep in mind.

  46. Laura Smith says:

    I went on a cruise once and was sea sick for the first 2-3 days before someone told me to eat an apple. They said most fivecruise ships keep piles of apples out for this very thing. I don’t know what it is specifically about apples, but sure enough I ate an apple and all the sea sickness went away and I was fine for the rest of the trip.

  47. Genesis says:

    I don’t get motion sick, but my oldest son does. We found that out the hard way on a windy trip in a shuttle from Antigua to Panajachel when he was 5. Now I ALWAYS bring a bag with us and give him Nauseol before we leave if I know the road will be windy.

  48. johnson says:

    Oh man thanks for this! As I’m getting older, I’ve definitely been developing motion sickness. You are so right with the kindle/phone browsing! It sucks but it has definitely made it worse! Luckily, I’ve never gotten sick and hopefully I can continue that run!

  49. Dave says:

    Look up Nevasic, have it with you on your phone. It’s been clinically trialled and proven and has no drugs.

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