how to avoid motion sickness

10 Tips for How to Avoid Motion Sickness

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Motion sickness is a concern for me every time we travel. Just about every mode of transportation is a challenge for my stomach. Planes, buses, cars, and especially boats are all likely to make me quite queasy. While I’ve never actually gotten sick, it makes me feel like death, sometimes for hours. Medical science says motion sickness is a result of your brain experiencing “temporary balance and sensory confusion.” While it’s interesting to know what causes it, I’m more focused on how to avoid motion sickness at basically any cost.

So far, I’ve been lucky that my unfortunate tendency to get motion sick hasn’t impacted our travels too badly. I’ve learned how to cope on our Christmas cruises and on the small boats that take us to scuba dive sites. Diving itself isn’t usually a problem because, in most places, the currents are not as strong under the water as they are closer to the surface. This isn’t universally true, but it has been for most of the places we’ve been diving.

The biggest inconvenience I’ve experience from motion sickness so far was on our trip to Machu Picchu. While I’m usually fine on trains, the particular train (and the bus that follows) that heads toward Machu Picchu winds its way through the mountains. Sadly, I missed the entire (very curvy) journey because I accidentally took the drowsy type of motion sickness medicine.

How not to get sick has never been a bigger concern for me than on our recent trip to the Galapagos. After much research, we made the decision to go on The Beagle, a single-hulled sailboat that carries fewer than 20 passengers and crew. Nothing like a giant cruise ship, a relatively small boat like this in the ocean is likely to get tossed around a bit. And it did, even though we chose the rainy season when the water is calmest. Although I had mentally prepared myself that I might feel sick for an entire week, I was totally fine, thanks to some diligent preparation.

Machu Picchu in Peru
Thank goodness I was awake by the time we go to Machu Picchu

How not to get sick has never been a bigger concern for me than on our trip to the Galapagos. After much research, we made the decision to go on The Beagle, a single-hulled sailboat that carries fewer than 20 passengers and crew. Nothing like a giant cruise ship, a relatively small boat like this in the ocean is likely to get tossed around a bit. And it did, even though we chose the rainy season when the water is calmest. Although I had mentally prepared myself that I might feel sick for an entire week, I was totally fine, thanks to some diligent preparation.

Laura scuba diving in the clear water of the Caribbean.

The experience with the sailboat made me think about the things I do to avoid motion sickness. Some of these actions still require planning, and some of them have become ingrained behaviors after coping with it for 30+ years.

Tips to Avoid Motion Sickness

Don’t read in the car

Just don’t do it. Trying to carefully focus on reading – books, smartphone, maps, anything – in a moving vehicle is a bad idea. Your eyes, fixed on the reading, tell you that you’re still. But as the car goes over bumps, stops, or speeds up, your ears disagree. It’s a straight path to motion sickness land.

Face the direction in which the vehicle is moving

Many trains and subways have forward- and backward-facing seats, so facing in the direction of travel is important. If you can’t for some reason, it might be time to take a nap.

Van in South Africa
On our 7-hour drive through South Africa, I sat in the front the whole way

Find the best spot

In cars and buses, sit as close to the front as you can. In a boat, look for a place in the center where there’s likely to be less movement. In a plane, the front and over the wing are likely to be the best spots.

Focus on the horizon

Looking at the horizon can help maintain your equilibrium more easily and reduce the number of confusing signals the body is receiving.

Avoid strong odors

Food smells and other strong odors can exacerbate motion sickness, especially if you’ve already started to feel a little ill. I find that diesel or gas smells can be particularly bad.

Eat and drink

Drink plenty of water and avoid drinks that can dehydrate you like coffee, tea, or alcohol. While it may seem counter-intuitive, an empty stomach can also make things worse, so eat something light like crackers or another small snack.

Dramamine and PsiBands for motion sickness
A couple of my favorite options for motion sickness treatment

Medicate

Over-the-counter and prescription options are available to help prevent motion sickness. I prefer Dramamine’s less-drowsy formula, which is available over-the-counter, but have also heard good things about the prescription scopolamine, a patch warn behind the ear. I take my first pill several hours before I leave and continue taking them regularly throughout the trip, including drowsy formula as appropriate at night.

Try the natural route

If you prefer the drug-free route or want some extra insurance, try motion sickness bands like PsiBands that work through acupressure. Ginger candies and tea may also help.

Distract yourself

Listening to music can be a great way to take your mind off motion sickness or the anxiety you may have about the possibility of motion sickness. It may also help you relax, which can be helpful if you’re already feeling a bit sick.

Listen to your body

If you’ve had motion sickness before, you can probably identify the signs when they begin. If you’re tuned in to how you feel, you might have the chance to stop things before they get worse by getting fresh air, taking a break from the car ride, or putting down your reading (in case you didn’t see tip #1!).

Cruise ship in the Caribbean
The middle of a big ship is usually the best spot to minimize motion sickness

11 thoughts on “10 Tips for How to Avoid Motion Sickness”

  1. Hi Laura,

    Wow, I feel for you. My wife gets motion sickness frequently. I recall one winding, horrific bus trip from Laos to Thailand. 24 hours. I am fine with winding roads, and hills, but the mountains of Laos were the test of tests for my wife Kelli. She didn’t throw up yet, she felt terrible for much of the ride. After that she always has her motion sickness over the counter med stuff handy.

    I don’t mind some dipping in boats although it gets to me a little bit. Same deal with planes; turbulence OK….except when the DIP happens, once every 5 to 10 flights or so. Then, my stomach is in my throat lol! I don’t feel nauseous but wow it feels uncomfortable.

    Thanks for the share 😉

    Ryan

  2. Laura, I get sooo sick, every single time I’m in the backseat of a car, a bus, train, or on a boat. I have so many horror stories including (like you!) the train ride to Macchu Picchu and the Galapagos. The final, rough night of our Galapagos cruise included 12 of the worst hours of my life. I had to skip the last morning tour because I was so miserable.

    The scopamine patch works great, but they are expensive so I save them for times when I know I’ll be doing activities that are likely make me sick for the full three day duration. I always carry Dramamine (use at least 2 pills, 1 doesn’t cut it!) and supplement with SeaBands–not sure they do anything, but it makes me feel better 🙂

  3. Great post! I can vouch for the scopolamine patch – VERY effective. I used it for a whole week during my cruise through the Galapagos. I was elated to take it off though because it completely dried my mouth out. It felt like the Sahara Desert and it was pretty uncomfortable.

    1. Laura Longwell

      That’s good to know, Helen. I haven’t tried it yet only because I haven’t had a need to change up the routine. I tend to cling to what works since the alternative is somewhat unthinkable.

  4. Lyn (aka) The Travelling Lindfields

    I get motion sick on the Manly Ferry. I am an expert in this field. For the seriously motion challenged (especially those of us whose husbands expect us to spend our lives travelling) there is only one way to go – drugs, but you need the non-drowsy ones otherwise you will sleep for the whole journey. I find Kwells work quite well.
    I once had to travel on the car ferry to Tasmania – 24 hours across one of the roughest stretches of ocean in the world – without drugs. I was breastfeeding at the time and my GP said I had a choice – avoid drugs or give up breastfeeding. In desperation, I tried sea-bands. Our night crossing was so rough the Captain apologised to everyone the next morning. The sea-bands worked but they take a toll psychologically because it is hard to trust that they will keep working, and after a while they start to hurt.
    There is one up-side of severe motion sickness. If I ever want to lose weight I just have to go on a cruise – lol.

  5. Great post. I tried fighting the sea sickness that I get on boats thinking it was mind over matter. But after giving in the last time I was in Thailand, I opt for dramamine now.

  6. If you want something light, drug free, not consumed and no wrist band to wear – yet has been clinically trialled and proven take a look at Nevasic.

  7. Great report Laura and 9 out of ten for your coverage of non-pharma products to help with the symptoms.

    Take a look at Nevasic for your next report…

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