Motion Sickness 101

Find out what causes motion sickness, how you can prevent it, and what to do when it happens.

By Bianca Ma. Guerrero
August 01, 2011

Nothing can spoil your vacation like getting sick to your stomach on the way. Motion sickness is never pleasant, which is why every traveler should know what causes it, possible ways to prevent it, and what to do while you're experiencing it.

What Causes Motion Sickness?

Motion sickness, which is also known as car sickness, sea sickness, or air sickness, is usually characterized by dizziness and nausea while in transit. The brain senses movement when it receives signals from the inner ear, eyes, joints, and muscles; when there is a disjoint in what one sees, hears, and feels, this causes dizziness, nausea, and even fatigue. For example, if you can see movement but can't feel it, it could cause dizziness. Being in a boat and feeling the waves rolling underneath the vessel can make you nauseous when you can't see that you're moving.

Preventing and Dealing with Motion Sickness

Before you jump on a bus, boat, or plane, here are some things you should remember:

  1. Take a motion sickness pill. To prevent motion sickness, there are certain medicines that can help keep you from feeling sick while traveling, such as Bonamine, which should be taken about an hour before traveling.
  2. Choose a seat where you'll be most comfortable, where you will feel the least movement from the vehicle. If you're riding in a car, the best place to sit is up front, beside the driver. The same goes for riding a jeepney, but sitting right behind the driver and angling your body toward the windshield is a good alternative. Avoid sitting at the back of a bus or plane if you're prone to motion sickness, as this is where you will feel every jolt and bump of the vehicle. When riding on a boat or ferry, try finding a seat in the bow or forward end. Sitting by a window and focusing on a point in the horizon may help, especially if traveling by car; opening a window to get some fresh air can also help relieve dizziness.
  3. Make sure you've eaten, but don't eat anything too rich that may upset your stomach even more. This keeps you from vomiting on an empty stomach, which causes the body to cough up stomach bile that can be painful.
  4. Keep hydrated. Dehydration can cause dizziness. Also, when you start vomiting, drinking lots of liquids can help you from getting weak and fatigued.
  5. Sometimes, when nausea and dizziness start to kick in, it helps to find an activity to focus on. Paying attention to something other than your discomfort may help you forget about it and make you feel better. It can be simple as listening to music and taking a nap in the vehicle, or something more active like walking around if you're on a ship or ferry.
  6. Bring a disposable barf bag with you, just in case your preferred mode of transport doesn't already have one. Having a pack of mints on you wouldn't hurt either--it can help keep nausea at bay and lessen the pungent smell of barf breath.
  7. Have materials for freshening up at the ready. You're bound to feel unpleasant after throwing up, especially if you're an enclosed space, like a car or a bus. Make sure you have wet wipes with you to help you clean up after vomiting.
  8. If you're traveling with children, be patient and be ready to clean up. While you may be able to handle motion sickness, children may not have that same self-control. Small children are bound to cry and complain about feeling ill, and if they throw up, they might not vomit straight into the barf bag. Have an extra set of clothes and wipes with you, as well as drinking water, soda crackers, and a small toy to entertain them or a travel pillow to help them fall asleep.

While some people may seem to be immune to motion sickness, it is still possible that they will experience it, given a bumpy enough ride. Some people believe that traveling more often reduces the possibility of getting dizzy or nauseous on a trip, but that is only true in the sense that people who travel more often are more likely to know how to deal with any discomfort while in transit. So whether you travel constantly or once in a blue moon, familiarize yourself with the whys and hows of motion sickness and you'll be ready for any trip that comes your way.