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

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67 thoughts on “How to Avoid Motion Sickness While Traveling”

  1. Ah, the good ol’ motion sickness, that unconditional travel companion!!

    Excellent piece of writing, Kate, thanks for the useful tips! I’ve definitely got to try sea bands, they look promising… So far, the most effective remedy I’ve found against motion sickness is the simplest one: fresh air! (it’s not always available, though)

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. I definitely relate to this. I get motion sickness on all types of transport, and have also been known to get nauseous/anxious in really crowded/hot/smelly restaurants. Another tip I would add is to have some sort of scent that calms you on hand at all times. I was sick with a stomach issue for years and the smell of fried food made me gag, so I kept some vicks vaporub in my bag at all times. It’s strong enough to block out pretty much any smell and I now associate it with a feeling of calm. Perfume or lavender oil would also work.

  3. I noticed ginger helps me with motion sickness and gravol. But your tips are great too I will highly consider them. thanks for this post, I will be sure to share it!

  4. Wow, I thought I was the only person who got this motion sick. I find that others don’t really understand the extent of this until they see you throwing up. On a plane, I’ve found having something salty really helps. I’ll usually get a brothy soup in the terminal and a tomato juice once seated on the plan. I also find ginger chews/ capsules helpful, however I feel like I have to take it before I get motion sick for it to work.

    Long windy roads are the worst. I agree with your solution of being the one to drive. Beyond that I try to avoid long car rides. Will try the sea bands. Thanks for all the tips everyone!

  5. Great tips Kate…Although I’m not Proud to tell this, But you can call me the inventor of Motion Sickness.That what I hate about going on a long trip.I love travelling except the fact that I puke like Hell!
    But Ginger Chews do make Wonder..I love ginger as an Ingredient..so I don’t have a problem in tasting Ginger at any time.I would also like to add one more thing..and that is the lemon..smelling a lemon simply while travelling in a bus can help you a lot…Do try it, Folks!!

  6. I have always used ginger tablets and even REAL ginger. It may be frowned on by the FAA, but when I’m in Asia, I usually try to take my leftover ginger from dinner, and keep it in a baggie for my next travel. Real ginger always works better than tablets, so try to get some if you can!

  7. OMG Kate! I worked on a pitching ferry with 10-15 ft swells for some time and the solution is to bring your eyes and ears into balance… BY WEARING EAR PROTECTORS. Although the type that makes you look like are heading to the shooting range or working in a loud construction site are definitely not fashionable, you may have some success with the tiny (squishable) ear-protection devices. The idea is to slow the rapid change in pressure your ears feel that is not coraborated by your eyes… and this works inside airplanes and cars too! Of course, you want to avoid reading during turbulence, but once you have those muffs on your ears, you can lean over the side of a ship in high seas and scream challenges at Neptune. Try it!

  8. I suffer from severe motion sickness..These tips are for people suffering from mild motion sickness.If you suffer from motion sickness you already know most of the tips.Mild motion sickness can be a little annoying.As long you don’t throw up 10 times in half an hour you don’t know what motion sickness is.I can’t travel more than 30 km by car.After 50 km i start to throw up and feel like dying.Nothing helps only getting out of the car.The only thing that helped me a little is telling to the driver to stop every 30 km for a break of 20 minutes or so before being actually sick .In that way i can travel more than 30 km without being so sick.It’s very important to know your limit.If you feel sick usually after 1 hour than stop the car after 40 minutes.If you start to feel sick it doesn’t work.Know your limit.In the army this is how they train the pilots for airsickness.If you stop the car when you throw up the brain will associate the car with the feeling of nausea and dizziness and your motion sickness will become worse with time.Some people can feel a little dizzy even in a non moving car.The car will become a trigger for motion sickness.The same thing happens if you try to eat a type of food that made you feel very sick in the past.Only seeing or tasting the food can make you throw up.If you stop before being actually sick you can travel more and more in time.

  9. I suffer the most extreme form of motion sickness. I am physically sick on every single method of transportation, rollercoasters, and sometimes elevators and even earthquake aftershocks. I tried everything dramamine, notamine in France, over the counter motion sickness medications, medical Marijuana, ginger tea, sea band, anti anxiety meds. Nothing works. I still vomit. I look at the horizon, I never seat backwards, i dont read nor look at my phone when travelling.I eat very healthy 24hours prior to travelling and during travel time. Carbs and apples help settling my stomach bread, crackers, apples, no fat, no red meat, no coffee, no alcohol. Diet coke helps. The only thing that works is the motion sickness patch, scopalamine. It’s sold in France and the USA for sure. This is the only thing that stops me to get sick. It’s by prescription only. And only for people who have tried everything else. It’s life changing.

  10. My secret is music…i made a playlist of songs in my phone…every time when i am about to travel…i made different mixup of songs with lyrics and then all i do is shutoff my eyes and go into the music realm…try to figure out lyrics and catch every background sound which divert my mind and focus it into something other than sensing the motion

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