How to deal with motion sickness when travelling

The first time I threw up on a plane as an adult was a memorable experience. I was flying home to Sydney after two months studying in New York, and things had not started well.

I had a cold and was completely exhausted after studying at an intensive level for six weeks followed by two weeks of non-stop sightseeing.I had managed to faint at the check-in line in the airport (the lovely chap who procured a chair out of nowhere for me was very kind). My ever patient and quick thinking travel buddy Lucy even managed to blame my fainting spell on “women’s troubles” so the poor man wouldn’t feel the need to stop us from boarding the plane. (To those concerned I didn’t have a fever and wasn’t coughing or sneezing, so I felt ok about going ahead with the flight).

Lucy and I weren’t sitting together (lucky her, as it turned out) and I was seated next to two men who were part of a larger tour group travelling with us that day. After exchanging pleasantries for about five to ten minutes with my new travel buddies both of them fell into a deep sleep, even before takeoff.

The rest of the flight is a bit of a blur for me. My ears popped quite significantly upon takeoff (not surprising really, given the cold) and I spent most of the flight with a blocked, heavy head. I don’t remember if I ate, I don’t remember if I watched a movie. Most of the passengers on the plane had fallen asleep and I attempted to lean against the window and “sleep off” my cold that was getting worse by the minute.

Then an all too familiar and terrifying feeling hit me: I was going to be sick.

In the previous few years I had done several international flights on my own and had managed to spend the entire flight not needing to go to the toilet. As such I had developed a liking for the window seat and its promise of a disruption free sleep. But today I was regretting the decision.

The two men to my right were still in a deep sleep and were too large for me to manipulate my way over in an impressive display of gymnastics. I was stuck.

I’m sure you can imagine the rest. A frantic shuffle through the seat pocket to find one of those useless paper bags, an attempt at being as quite as possible whilst being violently ill. I’m quite sure the poor man next to me was woken by my antics but had the kindness to pretend to still be asleep to minimise my embarrassment.

It is an experience I have unfortunately had to relive multiple times since then. I had struggled with motion sickness on buses and in cars for my whole life, but planes and trains were always my safe zone. I had a wonderful few years of truly loving flying. Being able to eat the inflight meal, read a book and sleep for almost the whole length of the flight… but not anymore.

I have heard of other people not being impacted by motion sickness in the air until they were adults, so perhaps I’m one of those lucky ones. Or perhaps my misfortune is due to other ongoing health issues.

Either way, planes (and trains too) have now been added to the list of things that cause me to become nauseous.

Given that I’m a walking disaster zone when it comes to motion sickness I have managed to find a number of ways to make travel a bit more pleasant. Here are some of my top tips.

San Sebastian  

Know your limits  

All power to you if you have no problems catching a ferry followed by an overnight bus, but if you’re the type who knows a bus trip is going to be a nightmare and a ferry even worse, don’t do it to yourself.

Research your options ahead of time. The train or plane (or even hire car) might be more expensive, but it may be infinitely better than spending 12 hours swaying from side to side.

Pack accordingly  

I never travel anywhere (even domestically) without travel sickness medication. You can get them at pharmacies and if they don’t work you can talk to your GP for something stronger.

Ginger is a great natural remedy for motion sickness and you can find chewable ginger lollies at most grocery shops.

Since my foray into the world of sickness and hospitals I have formed a collection of sick bags that are much better than the paper rubbish they give you on planes. Even plastic grocery bags are better. They fold up to practically nothing but are such a comfort to have with you at all times. I even carry these around with me at home, you just never know.

Eat simple foods 

I’m sure the spicy burrito seemed like a great idea at the time, but your stomach is not going to thank you for that on a windy road up a mountain or at 40 thousand feet in the air.

Keep to a bland diet before you board the plane and pack some salt crackers, pretzels or other tummy friendly foods to see you through.


Drink tea

I have never really been one for hot beverages. I hate coffee, I don’t like most fancy teas and being lactose intolerant I’ve never bothered with hot chocolates or other fun things in mugs. Chamomile tea was a complete game changer for me.

It helps soothe an upset stomach and aids in digestion; it’s also fabulous for stomach cramps. Drinking a cup before a flight really calms me down and I always carry a few bags with me as I usually can’t get it on planes. Peppermint tea is also great for nausea and stress relief.

Brief your travel buddies  

It’s a courtesy to let whoever you’re travelling with know that it may be possible you’ll experience nausea at some point during your trip.

Talk to your travel partner about what they can do to help if you become sick and also let them know what they should avoid doing.

When I’m feeling sick I HATE to be touched. A back rub is not going to help me… it’s going to make it worse. Your average person wouldn’t expect that, though, so it’s only fair to let them know ahead of time.

Pick the right seat 

If you’re on a bus pick a window seat near the front, or the front seat of a car. On a plane it’s really up to you. I actually still favour the window seat because most of the time if I’ve had anti-sickness meds I don’t need to make a mad dash to the toilet. But if you’re not sure, pick an aisle seat near the toilets.

Distract yourself

Watching a movie may help, listening to an audio-book or music are also options. Find something that works for you and do that as soon as you start your journey. If you’re an anxious traveller you may like to listen to a guided meditation or soothing music even before you head to the airport or whilst waiting at your gate.

Don’t be embarrassed

Even with all of the above preparation sometimes you’re just going to be sick. It can be mortifying at the time, but don’t feel bad. Most people won’t judge someone they see being sick in public, they would instead offer their sympathy and try and help if they can.

Don’t hesitate to ask for the assistance from a flight attendant or tour leader. They have seen it all (and worse) before and will be able to help you.

Don’t let motion sickness put you off travelling. Being in a position to travel makes you very lucky, and a bit of motion sickness is a small price to pay. Prepare as best you can and roll with whatever comes your way.


 Do you get motion sickness? How do you deal with it? Leave a comment below!


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2 comments Add yours
  1. Why not take a look at the Nevasic app for your mobile? No drugs, no side effects and as it’s on your mobile you just need to pack your headphones.

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