How To Travel When You Suffer From Motion Sickness

Motion sickness is often called travel sickness, seasickness or car sickness. It’s caused by your brain mixing up the connection with what you see when it relays it back to your inner ear. This disturbance creates balance issues and may make you sick or feel sick.

Travel sickness isn’t a pleasant subject to read or write about. But if you suffer from motion sickness, the more knowledge you have, the more chance you have of beating it.

I’m not a doctor, and I don’t have any medical training. But I travel a lot and struggle with motion sickness. 

The advice I’m giving here is first-hand advice about how I travel long distances with travel sickness and what works for me.

Motion Sickness Symptoms

You’re likely to know all the symptoms of travel sickness if you’ve suffered from it before. 

It starts by feeling slightly dizzy and disorientated. That’s the time to close your eyes and put your head down.

You may feel weak and listless.

Then you start to feel nauseous. You’ll begin to sweat. You might burp, which will temporarily make you feel a little better.

When your mouth starts to water, you know you’re about to vomit. 

You might feel slightly better after being sick, but there’s no guarantee that you won’t continue to vomit if you’re on a long journey.

Green fabric seats inside a Malawi Airlines plane
Malawi Airlines

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How To Prevent Motion Sickness

  1. In a car or bus, sit at the front with a clear view of the road ahead.

  2. When flying, choose a window seat over the front of the wing.

  3. On a cruise ship, choose a cabin in the middle and near the waterline.

  4. Face the direction of travel and sit next to the window on a train.

  5. Don’t sit backwards or sideways in a moving vehicle.

Sit At The Front Of The Vehicle 

Reserve your transport tickets in advance, so you have a better chance of choosing where you sit.

But it’s not always possible to pick your seat. If that’s the case, you have to ask. 

You probably won’t like having to ask to sit at the front of anything. And you might feel like you’re a prima donna. But if it’s the choice between asking to sit in the front seat or hours of feeling or being travel sick, ask.

What To Do If You Don’t Speak The Language

Most people will understand the actions of throwing up. And if you explain with a smile, people usually are very accommodating.

If you use vomiting actions, most people will move out of your way and do their best to help.

Have A Clear View With Nothing In Your Line Of Vision

Make sure you have a clear unrestricted view. From a hanging air freshener to a headrest, anything in your eye line can cause motion sickness.

Keep Your Eyes On The Road

Don’t read, write, or use your phone while the vehicle is moving. And leave map reading to the Satnav or someone else.

Keep your eyes fixed on the distance. Even driving past trees on a straight road can set off feelings of motion sickness as you have nothing to focus on, and they all become a blur.

Focus on a car or object in the distance.

Sit By An Open Window

When transport is stuffy, it will increase your chances of feeling travel sick. Sit by an open window or by a window that opens if needed.

Unfortunately, air conditioning doesn’t work as well as natural fresh air.

Get Out Of The Vehicle At Every Stop

If possible, get off and walk around as much as you can at every stop. Take deep breaths of fresh air.

Steer clear of other cars which have their engine running, spewing out exhaust fumes.

A Chinese ferry sailing across a river
Chinese Ferry At Guangzhou

Know Your Journey

Windy roads are the worst for travel sickness. When you know you’re going to be crossing mountains, and it’s going to be a long windy journey, the choice is to suffer for the view or take travel sickness tablets and sleep.

If you know your journey will be a bad one and your budget allows, don’t take a bus or minivan, so you’re not crammed in with other people.

Allow yourself an unrestricted view and, if necessary, choose a seat where you can to ask for an emergency roadside stop.

Break Up Your Journey If Possible

Try to break a long journey into shorter trips if possible.

Listen To An Audiobook or Podcast

Distract yourself with an audiobook or podcast. Have it ready to play before the transport starts moving. 

If you pick a good audiobook, it should keep you distracted for the entire journey. Or, if you’re like me, put you to sleep within 10 minutes!

Amazon has a massive selection of audiobooks and they offer a free trial. It’s worth taking a look.

Don’t Talk To People!

You would naturally turn to face a person you’re speaking to, which stops you from focusing on the distance. It’s easier to tell a friend why you can’t talk than a chatty stranger. But explain why you may seem anti-social.

It’s better than the alternative!

Avoid eating a big meal before travelling

Don’t eat or drink before making a long journey if possible. If you have to eat, have something light. And stay away from junk food.

Don’t drink fizzy drinks or alcohol

Don’t overindulge in alcohol the night before a long journey. And don’t drink alcohol during the trip.

It’s not a good idea to drink fizzy drinks while travelling. They make you feel bloated, make you feel sick and increase your chances of needing the toilet. Not a good idea if you have another 4 hours to go before the next stop!

Take a look at What Is A Shewee And Why Every Woman Should Own One if you think your toilet stop will be at the side of the road, or worse! There have been countless occasions when my Shewee has been a godsend to me while travelling

What To Eat Or Drink During A Journey

Take a bottle of water but only drink small sips. Plain biscuits, especially ginger biscuits, may make you feel a little better if you’re hungry. But avoid chocolate or cream flavoured biscuits.

Overloaded public transport in Laos
Public Transport Champasak, Laos

Strong Smells Can Trigger Motion Sickness

Air fresheners, perfume, or the smell of food can all trigger motion sickness.

Unfortunately, you cannot do a lot about other people wearing perfume or bringing hot food onto the bus. But if you rub Tiger Balm or Vicks Vapour Rub under your nose and on your temples, it helps.

Rubbing it on your temples is likely to make you want to close your eyes and make you sleep, which has to be good.

It’s also very likely that it will set you off if you see or hear other people vomiting.

Always Have A Couple Of Plastic Bags Handy

Make sure you have a couple of plastic bags, one inside the other. Put them in your pocket or within easy reach before the start of your journey.

There’s nothing worse than having to fumble around in your bag to find them when you’re already feeling sick.

Knowing you have bags to hand should you need them (always hoping you don’t) will give you a little peace of mind.

You can buy vomit bags with an easy to seal top to reduce the smell and chance of spillage.

And you can also purchase high-quality paper vomit bags similar to the bags you will find in the seat pocket of a plane. Both are available to buy from Amazon. 

Motion Sickness Pills

Click on the links below for medical information about common types of drugs for use with motion sickness






Widely used travel sickness pills include Stugeron, Marzine, and Dramamine, but there are many different brand names.

You don’t necessarily need to buy branded tablets, I’ve bought motion sickness pills in many different countries, and they’ve all been effective.

You can buy most motion sickness tablets over the counter. Have a word with the pharmacist as different brands contain different drugs.

If you have other health issues, always check with your doctor about which tablets are suitable.

If you’re going on a short journey, try not to take travel sickness tablets. They’ll make you sleepy, and if it’s only a short trip, it’s better to try the other tips.

Never take motion sickness tablets if you intend to drive or operate machinery at the end of your journey.

Travel Sickness Bands

Motion sickness bands have a small stud inside, which you wear on your wrists throughout your journey. They work by applying pressure just below your wrist on the P6 point (also called Neiguan).

There is no scientific proof that travel sickness bands work but they are safe, inexpensive and reusable so it’s worth buying a pair and giving them a try to see if they work for you.

Motion Sickness Patches

You stick the travel sickness patch in a hairless spot behind your ear. Some are herbal. And some contain active ingredients like Scopolamine.

If you’re taking prescribed drugs, check with your doctor before using motion sickness patches.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Travelling At Night Help?

You may think night buses are a good option. If you take motion sickness tablets, you’ll be drowsy. So why not take overnight transport, so you sleep through the journey?

While a night bus sounds good in theory, you don’t sleep properly. And if you’re unlucky, there’ll be curtains which they’ll want to keep closed. Even in the dark, it helps to focus your eyes in the distance.

Night trains may stop you from feeling ill if you have a bed and can lay down properly.

The inside of a Chinese sleeper train
Chinese Sleeper Train

Is Ginger Good For Motion Sickness?

Ginger is well known for helping not just motion sickness but nausea in general. 

You can buy sweets, pills, tea or even suck on raw ginger, but I’m not advocating that.

Non-alcoholic ginger beer is also known to be effective against nausea.

Consult your pharmacist if you intend to take ginger pills to ensure you get the correct dosage.

Be aware if you’re on blood-thinning pills, ginger may interfere with your medication.

If you know you have a long journey coming up, drink ginger tea regularly for at least 48 hours beforehand.

To make ginger tea, pop a ½” (1.3 cm) chunk of peeled ginger in a mug of boiling water. You can also add lemon for a refreshing taste.

How Long Does Motion Sickness Last?

There’s no set time for how long travel sickness will last if you vomit once, you may feel better, or it may continue for the entire journey.

You may feel fresh once you step away from the vehicle and into the fresh air. But that’s not always a given, especially if you have been travelling by boat.

Even if you don’t suffer from motion sickness, you may feel the swell of the waves several hours after returning to dry land.

Sometimes, in extreme cases, travel sickness may last for a couple of days.

A partially submerged boat in the sea at Caye Caulker, Belize

Travel Advice

For more travel tips, take a look at What You Need To Know To Travel Safely. And for terrible advice, take a look at This Is The Worst Travel Advice Ever for the information you should definitely ignore.

Does Travel Sickness Happen On Every Journey?

There’s no rhyme or reason to travel sickness. I can bring to mind two windy roads that have been horrendous but having crossed them several times, they only made me ill once.

Motion sickness doesn’t necessarily mean you are sick on all forms of transport. I can read on trains and planes. But I couldn’t even look at a map while in a bus or car without starting to feel ill.

Wearing A Mask When You Suffer From Motion Sickness

Unfortunately, wearing a mask may cause you to feel sick when travelling; this is especially true if you wear glasses.

If your mask causes your glasses to steam up, it will affect your vision and may cause motion sickness.

If the country’s rules state you should wear a mask, there’s nothing you can do about it. But if you know your journey will be more than an hour or two, consider taking motion sickness pills before starting your journey.

Is Motion Sickness Psychological?

Motion sickness isn’t psychological. But if you’re worried about it before your journey, it will make you more prone to it as it’s at the forefront of your mind.

I know how hard it is to put it out of your mind if you have a long or windy journey coming up. But be prepared, and you can make your journey more comfortable.

And the more times you travel without feeling ill, the less likely it is to be at the front of your mind when planning a trip.

Can You Get Motion Sickness When You’re Not Moving?

If you’re on a boat, you may suffer from motion sickness even when it’s docked in calm water. The subtle motion of the waves tricks your mind into thinking it’s moving. 

Snorkelling and swimming can also cause motion sickness due to the swell of the water.

I’ve even had motion sickness when I jumped off a mountain. The thermals give you the same feeling you get when you’re at sea on a boat.

My tandem jumper gave me a plastic bag before we jumped, so it must be a common problem.

Mal De Debarquement

Mal de debarquement is the name given to the feeling that you’re still moving after you leave a cruise ship or long boat journey. Your mind is still processing the movement of the boat even when you’re on dry land.

Mal de debarquement lasts around one or two days maximum. Consult your doctor if it doesn’t stop after a couple of days.

A Kenya Airways plane on the runway
Kenya Airways

Is Motion Sickness Curable?

There isn’t a cure for motion sickness. All we can do is find ways that work for us and enable us to travel long distances in comfort.

There’s no reason why travel sickness affects some people and not others.

But it may surprise you to know that it can affect one in three people at certain times in their lives. And it tends to happen to women more than men.

Get To Know What Does And Doesn’t Work For You

If I have a front seat, I don’t take travel sickness tablets because I know I’ll have an unrestricted view.

But I still have plastic bags in my pocket and Tiger Balm and my motion sickness tablets at the top of my bag, just in case.

Don’t beat yourself up about feeling or being sick. It’s not psychological. If it was, we’d all talk ourselves out of it.

If you’re sick, it’s not the end of the world. It’s embarrassing, and it’s certainly not pleasant, but you won’t be the first or the last person it’s happened to.

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