Confessions of a 27-year-old travel blogger – I still get horrible motion sickness. For most of my life, I’ve always had to deal with motion sickness, although to varying degrees. It doesn’t matter the mode of transportation – plane, train, automobile, boat – I get it with any sort of movement (even during 3D movies and motion simulator rides). As a child, I would get it quite badly. Considering that my family frequently took long road trips, I learned early on how to manage it. It got much better throughout my teenage years but steadily became worse again in my 20s. I distinctly remember being on a transatlantic flight a few years ago and just running to the bathroom multiple times. I don’t think I was ever happier to land and get off the plane. Thankfully, throughout the years, I’m come up with tips for dealing with motion sickness, avoiding triggers, and planning strategically!
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What is Motion Sickness?
It’s important to understand exactly what motion sickness is and how it affects your body. To be honest, I only found out this year what causes motion sickness. The easiest way to describe it is a sensory mismatch – it’s when the eyes’ perception of movement doesn’t match the inner ear’s perception of movement. Your inner ear controls your balance and posture, and is home to the vestibular and somatosensory systems (yes, I have no clue what that means). Motion sickness occurs when your eyes tell your brain that there is no movement but your inner ear tells your brain there is movement (or vice versa)! These conflicting signals ultimately cause nausea, headaches, and the other symptoms of motion sickness.
Symptoms of Motion Sickness
Most people assume that motion sickness is only nausea and vomiting. In reality, motion sickness covers a wide range of symptoms including:
- upset stomach
- churning feeling
To be honest, I usually experience almost all of the above symptoms when I have motion sickness. I’m lucky enough to not vomit often but I definitely get nausea, headaches, and sweating/dizziness.
In order to fight motion sickness before it even begins, I have a few pre-trip prep rules! I always dress in layers. This tip actually refers back to the symptom of sweating. To combat overheating, I tend to always try to have cool air blowing on me (especially my face). This leads to me getting cold quite easily! So I always dress in multiple layers. That way, if I do start overheating and sweating, I can easier try to curb the symptoms by removing layers.
Probably the strictest rule I have for myself is no drinking alcohol before or during any modes of transportation – not even a glass! I know a lot of people like drinking to calm their nerves or fall asleep but I avoid drinking like the plague. It just gets me nauseous and feeling absolutely horrible. I am adamant about following this rule and never budge.
Following along with no drinking alcohol, I try to be really strategic about what I eat. This means not cramming a heavy meal or fast food into me right before I have to take a mode of transportation. I also try to limit my dairy intake. Instead, I tend to munch throughout the entire ride instead of consuming one giant meal. Eating a little bit consistently can also help to combat the churning stomach feeling some experience with motion sickness!
I am crazy about booking my seating strategically in order to combat motion sickness! With a little bit of planning, you can minimize or completely avoid motion sickness. Regardless of whether I’m on a plane, train, car, or boat, I have these same rules – always book a seat facing forward!!! This is absolutely critical because facing backwards totally throws off your perception of movement. I mostly encounter this during train rides (Deutsche Bahn should really get better at indicating in their online seating charts the direction of travel!). If I can’t figure out which way the train is going to go, the Prince and I will actually book seats across from each other. That way, we can always swap seats if I book the seat facing backwards (thank goodness the Prince doesn’t get motion sickness). I’m so psycho about my rule regarding not sitting backwards that I won’t even do it on the subway in Hamburg for 2 stops! If I can’t find a spot facing forward, I usually just end up standing so then I can control facing forward.
Some other booking tips I’ve picked up along the way – always book a seat in the middle of the plane (preferably over the wings) as this is the most stable area, try to sit in the front/close to the front in a car/bus, always grab a seat above deck while on a boat (if possible), and get an outside cabin on a cruise ship!
I also always try to book or pick a seat near a window. This way, I can roll/open the window (if necessary). Regardless of where you’re sitting, I always try to get air – whether from the outside or AC. I find that this really helps combat motion sickness and the potential sweating that comes along with it.
When I went to Cuba in October 2016, my family took a cruise from Miami to Havana and around the entire island. The seasickness I experienced the first night was one of the worst experiences of my life (second place goes to the seasickness I experienced on the Queen Mary 2 during a transatlantic crossing in 2012). I was slowly sipping water, eating saltine crackers, and attempting to sleep while snapping at anyone that tried to speak to me. There’s nothing worse than getting motion sickness and knowing you can’t leave! I will admit, I have so much respect for individuals that fled Cuba for the United States on small dinghies – the waves between Miami and Cuba are no joke.
There are three essentials I always carry with me when going on anything with motion:
These are so essential that I always have them in my backpack and/or purse! I am constantly sipping water throughout my journeys and tend to just down the entire bottle when I feel the faintest hint of motion sickness. For me, the ibuprofen not only lessens/eliminates my headaches but it also helps with sweating and the dizziness. Lastly, Dramamine is what I bring out when 1) I know I’m 100% going to get motion sickness or 2) I am having a full-fledge motion sickness attack. Dramamine is a medication specifically made to fight against motion sickness. However, it makes you extremely tired – just taking one dose can knock me out for hours. They do make a non-drowsy formula but *spoiler alert* – the non-drowsy formula is half the strength of the normal formula. Because of the severity of tiredness associated with Dramamine, I really only take it now when absolutely necessary.
These are the essentials I bring with me, or have been suggested to me, for preventative measures:
- barf bags
- acupressure bands
When I went on the cruise from Miami to Cuba, I was able to get prescription patches to help motion sickness (of course, I wasn’t wearing one when I got motion sickness…oops!). This patch just sticks directly on your skin and slowly releases medication over the course of 3-5 days (so it’s a better option for long-term motion like cruises and overnight train rides). It’s important to note that this can also cause fatigue and sleepiness so I only use the patch if absolutely necessary.
I’ve personally never bought barf bags or acupressure bands but I’ve heard great things about both, especially the latter. In terms of barf bags, I always double-check that my seat pocket on planes has a barf bag (although I’m not prone to vomiting so it isn’t my number one concern). I have also heard amazing things about an acupressure band. It provides relief by using ancient Chinese medicine. The band has a plastic stud that constantly provides pressure to the Pericardium 6 or Nei Guan (P6). The Nei Guan is located three finger widths below the wrist on the inner forearm in between the two tendons. These bands can be worn for up to 48 hours and most people find relief almost immediately.
It’s important to know your triggers for motion sickness so you can begin to combat motion sickness before it even begins. For me, I get motion sickness on all types of motion including planes, trains, cars, boats, 3D movies, and motion simulator rides (can Disney and Universal Studios stop replacing so many rides with motion simulator rides?!). Oddly enough, I tend to do fine on actual roller coasters!
Like I mentioned above, the location of my seat is really important. I am strategic in booking my seat and will typically pay additional money just to get a seat that will minimize or eliminate my motion sickness. To me, that’s money well spent!
Lastly, I avoid reading, using electronics, or eating a full meal. Reading and using electronics can really affect your eyes’ perception of motion, throwing you straight into motion sickness. Additionally, as talked about above, I tend to just snack a lot and drink lots of water – eating a large meal can really upset my stomach.
Overcoming Motion Sickness
Let’s be honest – there are going to be moments when you follow all the above advice and still get motion sickness. It’s inevitable and unfortunately, really sucks. There are always going to be factors you can’t control – hilly roads, bumpy rides, waves, turbulence, etc. However, these are the steps I take to deal with motion sickness once I already have it.
- If you haven’t already taken medicine, take it the minute you start feeling motion sickness. It won’t work right away but should help lessen the symptoms in less than a half an hour.
- Drink water or something fizzy. I like not only drinking water but also something called “Apfelschorle” (apple juice mixed with bubbly water). It sounds weird but it is super popular in Germany. I find it is not only refreshing but also helps my stomach when it starts churning.
- I’ve heard mixed advice about whether this is good or bad for you but I always try to sleep when I get motion sickness. Here’s the ironic part – when I was a baby, I had colic and the only thing that settled me down was strapping me in the car and driving me around (just imagine my Dad driving me around downtown Washington, D.C. at all hours…haha). While I do have quite severe motion sickness, I also have the most amazing ability to sleep in anything moving (I’m able to sleep through an entire transatlantic flight – from before take-off to after landing. I consider it quite a skill!). If you can’t sleep or don’t favor this method, try to focus on the horizon or something fixed in the distance.
- This sounds a bit intuitive but I take really deep, long breaths and try to talk myself out of motion sickness. Maybe I’m crazy or maybe it actually works?! Regardless, it has definitely helped in some situations.
- STOP reading, looking at your phone, doing a crossword puzzle, etc. This only perpetuates the already confusing signals your brain is receiving! I usually don’t even read to begin with because I know it is a motion sickness trigger for me.
- Drink/Eat something with peppermint and/or ginger. I haven’t actually done this but a lot of people swear it helps them with nausea, dizziness, and motion sickness!
To be blunt, motion sickness sucks and I feel like a little kid considering that I still suffer from it even in my mid-20s! When I’m on a crazy turbulent plane or bumpy train and look around, I feel like I’m the only suffering from it (please tell me I’m not alone?!). This is definitely something I’ll probably suffer from for the rest of my life but 40-something countries later and it hasn’t stopped me from traveling around the world. The biggest advice I have for motion sickness is to be prepared and know your triggers. Happy traveling!