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How to prevent travel sickness

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How to prevent travel sickness

Motion sickness is when people are adversely affected by travel, whether car, ship or air travel, resulting in certain specific symptoms. Travel sickness occurs due to discrepancies in perceived motion and the body's sense of movement using its vestibular system. This may be due to the following two reasons

  1. The individual can feel the motion but cannot see movement
  2. The individual can see movement but is unable to feel it.

Both these situations result in confusing signals being sent to the brain, leading to symptoms of motion sickness.


Motion sickness

Motion sickness

Women and children (aged between 2-12 years) are more likely to be affected by travel sickness, according to information presented on the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Motion sickness has also been found to occur when using video games or flight simulators as the body fails to recognise them as an artificial environment and puts forth an immune response similar to actual travel (More details on motion sickness here).

Symptoms of travel sickness.


Roller Coaster

Roller Coaster

The symptoms of travel sickness are nausea, vomiting and dizziness that occur in varying degrees. Sometimes individuals also complain of sweating and a feeling of sickness that continues throughout the period of travel, making travel cumbersome and physically overbearing.

The symptoms may occur all at once with overwhelming severity or it could lead to mild discomfort. Irrespective of the severity of the symptoms, the symptoms last only till the motion lasts.

Overcoming travel sickness by habituation.

Habituation to travel is an effective means of overcoming travel sickness and should be carried out by frequent travellers to make sure travelling is fun and less stressful. However, it requires a lot of time and will-power to strengthen one's resolve and to undergo the various symptoms associated with travel sickness for a period of time without the use of any medication. Getting an individual's body used to the rigours of travel and the sickness, thereafter, is a slow process with marginal improvement with increase in frequency of travel. In most instances, it has been found that habituation should be carried out by frequent travelling with recurrent travel spaced close together rather than allowing long periods of time between travel.

Though the process of habituation takes a longer time, the effects are long lasting as the body learns to adapt to travel while the symptoms become less evident or become non-existent. The science of habituation is of great significance for individuals who need to travel extensively on work, especially among cabin crew of passenger airlines and in the Air Force. A study conducted by the aerospace medicine department in Italy to desensitize members of the Italian Air Force found that 88% of the volunteers successfully overcame motion sickness by using a combination of therapies that involved travel simulators, psychological and cognitive behavioural therapy.

Tips to prevent travel sickness

1. Sit along the direction of motion. Motion sickness is caused due to discrepancies in perceived motion and the sense of movement detected by the body, this is increased when the individual sits facing the direction opposite to movement.

Individuals who are prone to travel sickness should always sit facing movement to avoid travel sickness.

2. Drive.





When travelling by car, one of the best methods of staying clear off travel sickness is to drive as driving helps an individual focus on the road and prevents symptoms of travel sickness.

Drivers are not affected by travel sickness as they remain constantly alert in order to drive cautiously. Apart from actually driving, the next best position in a car to avoid travel sickness is to sit in the passenger seat next to the driver. An individual feels less movement when sitting in the front and, also, the road ahead can be seen clearly, which makes travelling interesting and takes the mind away from travel sickness.


3. Distract yourself. Most people state that they feel better with their windows rolled down and when there is fresh air in the car. Thinking about falling sick will result in the individual actually falling ill. It helps when passing by a picturesque countryside as the individual then stares into the beautiful horizon unmindful of the movement of the vehicle.

Music can be a great elevator and can help the individual focus on the songs and the lyrics, effectively distracting the individual from the rigours of travel. Carrying along a collection of favourite songs will come in handy as it will help beat boredom too.

Music requires just a passive audience and does not require the individual to focus intently. It, therefore, is an ideal means of distraction. Focussing on something for too long or too hard can also give rise to motion sickness as evidenced by individuals who read a book or watch a movie. Playing cards too can work against an individual trying to cope with motion sickness.


4. Eat light before travel.


Eat light

Eat light

Travelling for long periods of time would mean sitting for that long a time with very little movement of legs or hands during travel. This is compounded by eating high fatty food that tends to weigh down heavily on individuals as they are difficult to digest and can lead to feelings of nausea. Instead, eating light would ensure that the individual feels comfortable, reducing chances of nausea.


5. Avoid unpleasant smells. Some smells can invoke symptoms of nausea and can make travelling unpleasant. Dirty socks, smell of food, musty smells and even `certain perfumes can lead to travel sickness. Such smells should ideally be avoided or the individual should resort to spraying a car perfume that masks the unpleasant odour ensuring comfortable travel. There should be no overpowering odour that makes an individual uneasy.


6. Fix your gaze at the horizon.



A cruise can be an exhilarating experience for many but can bring about great discomfort for some. To overcome the terrible feelings of nausea during the gentle bopping of the ship as it makes its way through choppy waters, it is best to focus on an unmoving object or the horizon to keep the mind focussed away from the motion at sea. Sea travel brings about some of the worst episodes of travel sickness and staring into the bright blue sky or the radiant moon will make it pleasant.


7. Avoid talking about travel sickness. Constant reminders will always act against prevention and staying away from people who talk about feeling sick will do wonders to the individual's determination to ward off travel sickness. Travel sickness is largely about staying clear off everything that would trigger the illness and talking about it can be unpleasant and lead to constant reminders.


8. Do not consume alcoholic beverages. Alcohol can aggravate feelings of sickness and should be avoided before and during the period of travel. People who are prone to travel sickness should completely abstain from consuming alcohol.


9. Keep lime handy.





Sucking on the juice of a lime or merely smelling it from time to time has been found to soothe nausea and prevent sickness. Freshly cut lime slices are the most effective as the juice is thick and the smell fragrant. Many car perfumes contain a lemony tinge, lime, however, the smell of fresh lime is ideal in staving off feelings of nausea.


10. Pop in pills. There are many over the counter drugs that can be used to prevent nausea while travelling. These pills should be taken at least half an hour before journey and their effectiveness lasts for about 5 hours.