Travel sickness, also known as motion sickness is a rather common condition caused by the discrepancies between visually perceived movement and the vestibular system’s sense of movement. As such, motion sickness can affect everybody, but the usual tell-tale signs manifest in those who are susceptible for one reason or another. While this condition is not dangerous in any way whatsoever, the subjectively experienced symptoms are somewhat uncomfortable and can ruin an otherwise pleasant journey. For those especially susceptible, travel sickness can occur even when travelling relatively short distances, making one unfocused and not in the best shape on arrival. Luckily, medical experts have identified behavioural techniques and developed prescription medication that can help mitigate the symptoms and make your journeys more comfortable and pleasant, no matter the distance travelled.

What’s on this page?

What causes travel sickness?

As mentioned, motion sickness’ origins can be traced to the mismatch between visually perceived motion and the motion felt by the vestibular system, comprised of semicircular canals and the otoliths within the inner ear. In other words, once the motion is felt, but not seen and vice versa, the inner ear and eye send conflicting signals to the brain, leading to the inability to successfully interpret the sensory input and causing the symptoms of motion sickness. This means there are three different scenarios in which motion sickness is likely to occur:

  • Motion is felt and not seen (carsickness, airsickness, seasickness, at rollercoasters etc)
  • Motion is seen and not felt (video games, VR devices)
  • Seen and felt motions do not correspond (common for astronauts and deep sea divers, but very rare otherwise, might happen when driving slowly on a badly maintained road)

Motion sickness symptoms

While travel sickness symptoms can vary between individuals, they always appear in similar clusters of symptoms and usually include:

  • Nausea and vomiting if motion is not stopped
  • Pale skin
  • Headache
  • Excessive sweating
  • Rapid breathing
  • Dizziness, drowsiness or general fatigue
  • Increased saliva production

Once the motion causing the symptom has ended, it will usually take no longer than a couple of minutes for symptoms to pass on their own. However, if they persist for longer periods of time after the motion has stopped, it is recommended that you visit your doctor since this can be a sign of inner ear infection that is unrelated to the motion that originally caused the symptoms.

Who can get motion sickness?

Due to physiological origins of the condition, practically everybody is susceptible to developing motion sickness under certain circumstances. Some studies argued that around one-third of the global population is very susceptible to experiencing travel sickness, while for the rest extreme conditions are necessary in order for the symptoms to manifest. However, certain risk factors have been identified, allowing the medical experts to single out those groups which are extremely likely to experience motion sickness. These include:

  • People who often experience nausea or migraines
  • Women who are pregnant, on their period or are taking hormone medications
  • Children aged between 2 and 12

What can I do to prevent it?

There are two ways you can manage this condition – the first one includes different behavioural techniques, while the second encompasses different medications. Both of these are aimed at mitigating symptoms in one way or another. Some things you can do without medications include:

Before travelling:

  • Eat smaller meals
  • Avoid greasy, spicy and strong food
  • Do not drink alcohol prior to your journey
  • Reserve specific seats when possible (front seat of a car, forward facing window on a train, in front or middle cabin on a ship)

During travelling:

  • Wear an acupressure band
  • Take deep, slow breaths
  • Avoid reading or using your laptop or phone
  • Drink carbonated beverages to settle your stomach

Motion sickness medication

For those looking for a more reliable remedy, there is a number of different medicines you can get from your doctor or an online clinic. One that turned out to be extremely successful in clinical trials is Phenergan which helps reduce symptoms of motion sickness, no matter what’s the exact cause (carsickness, airsickness or seasickness). This product acts by reducing the impact of histamine on the brain, thus stopping the signals brain sends when there is a mismatch between seen and felt the motion.

Travel sickness bracelet

Another commonly used method for treating motion sickness is so-called travel sickness bracelet. While it is not clinically tested and as reliable as motion sickness medicine, this method relies on stimulating acupressure points around the wrist which are believed to improve the body’s sense of balance. Some claim that motion sickness bracelet solved their problems, while others notice absolutely no effect at all, so you should be careful with this method and not rely solely on it if you don’t have any prior experiences with it.