Motion sickness has the power to ruin your travel day. If you suffer from it, you know how debilitating it can be.
Fortunately, you don't have to let your dodgy inner ear destroy your travel plans. This article covers what motion sickness is, what causes it, and how you can prevent it from ruining your vacation.
What Is Motion Sickness?
Motion sickness starts with a mild feeling of nausea while you're traveling in a car or on a bus, boat, train, or plane. If you're as sensitive to it as I am, you'll feel it when you're swimming in the ocean or a pool! If you don't deal with it when it strikes, it will progress to a bad case of the sweats while your stomach feels worse and worse; eventually, you'll be dizzy and vomiting—perhaps nonstop. That will lead to dehydration and utter misery.
This isn't the way you want to spend your traveling time, and you don't want to arrive at your destination broken from motion sickness side effects (fatigue since you can't sleep while throwing up, sore throat from constant vomiting, and a general feeling of malaise as you haven't been able to keep down food). Fortunately, there are plenty of ways for you to gain control of your stomach while you're still on the move.
What Causes Motion Sickness?
Your vision, inner ear, and proprioception (how your muscles, tendons, and nerves sense movement) work together to form the vestibular system. If the vestibular system falls out of sync, you'll feel dizzy, and motion sickness can occur. For example if you are on lower deck of a cruise ship, your eyes won't signal to your brain that you're moving, though your muscles and inner ear will. These conflicting messages cause motion sickness.
Motion Sickness Prevention Tips
Try several over-the-counter preventative drugs and devices. Dramamine is always a good starting point when it comes to motion sickness drugs. I've used it many times and it helps for all but the most severe bouts of sickness. When I know I'm going to be suffering on an upcoming trip—if I'm going sailing in rough seas, for example—I pay a visit to my doctor beforehand to get something stronger.
Cathy Wong, N.D., has some homeopathic suggestions if drugs don't appeal to you. Peppermint and ginger both come in pill form and are great for relieving mild nausea. You could also try acupressure bands, which definitely help reduce symptoms, but haven't helped during particularly bad bouts for me.
Eat before you travel is great advice; starting out with something in your stomach will help reduce nausea. Additionally, if you do vomit, you'll at least be able to expel something besides stomach bile, which hurts as it comes through your throat by itself. I try to have a large meal an hour before traveling, and eating while feeling motion sick (while counter-intuitive) does work to calm your nausea.
You can also try to sleep. A paramedic once recommended trying to sleep as soon as I boarded a yacht. Sleep will act to reset your inner ear and help you grow accustomed to the constant movement. It's not the easiest of things to do if you're violently swaying from side to side, but it does work if you can grab a 20-minute nap or so.
And, of course, avoidance is the best strategy. If you know you feel unwell on buses, look to spend a little extra money on a taxi, or a train if you're traveling long-distance. If seasickness has always been an enemy of yours, don't sign up for a whale-watching trip in the hope that seeing the megafauna will be worth it—you'll come to regret it afterward.
How Can I Cure Motion Sickness?
Once you're traveling and motion sickness has struck, even if you've taken your pills beforehand, try these cures/remedies:
Look at the horizon. Focusing on a distant point helps to calm your brain, which is currently thinking you've been poisoned. If you're traveling in a car, sit in a front seat, as this makes it easier to focus on the horizon and keep your eyes in tune with the motion of the car. Definitely don't read or look down while you're moving. Instead, keep watching your horizon as your focal point. Roll down the window as well, as fresh air helps. Stop often and get out and walk around, as this restores your sense of balance. If you're on a boat, focus on one point in the distance and stare at it.
Carry or have access to lots of liquids. Club soda is a great stomach settler, and so is Diet Coke. If you are vomiting severely, you'll need water and electrolytes before you'll feel better and, perhaps, medical attention if you become severely dehydrated. Drink plenty of water and electrolyte-laden beverages, like Gatorade, even if you keep throwing up. A good rule of thumb is to drink at least 8 ounces of liquid for each time you throw up. Carry a small rehydration sachet in your first-aid kit for emergencies like these.
If you're prone to motion sickness, you may want to carry your own barf bags. They're stronger than the sort offered by airlines (imagine dealing with a formerly full and now split bag on top of feeling terrible). In a car, bags are a bit more convenient than sticking your head out the window when there is no time to pull over and less embarrassing than treating fellow travelers to your misery in slow-moving traffic.
Take precautions and take care and remember, it will end eventually!
Updated by Lauren Juliff.