How to avoid travel sickness

Research shows that on average three in every 10 travellers experience motion sickness.

Motion sickness is more common than many people think, with 30 per cent of travellers estimated to suffer from it. Here’s how to manage the condition on your next work trip.

By Megan Gamble

You may know the feeling, having hit the road with colleagues and halfway to the destination the dreaded sweats begin. Next come nausea and dizziness, in equal measure. You think you might vomit and sometimes you do; wondering how you’re going to pull it together when you reach your client meeting. But as soon as the car stops and you take a deep breath, the symptoms subside.

It’s motion sickness at its worst, and can strike whether travelling by plane, train, boat or automobile. 

What is motion sickness? 

According to Dr Sonny Lau, a general practitioner at Travel Doctor-TMVC Melbourne, motion (or travel) sickness “is caused by a mismatch in a person’s sensory input – specifically, between what the body is sensing and what the eyes see”. 

Research shows that on average, three in every 10 travellers experience motion sickness. 

Lau says a person might feel okay travelling in a car but not on a bus, fine in an A380 but not on turboprop aircraft. It’s the disturbance of the body’s balance system – when the motion you see is different from the motion sensed by the vestibular system of your inner ear – that creates the symptoms, not the method of transport. 

Ways to overcome symptoms

If you’re susceptible to travel sickness, there are steps you can take to reduce it. The first, Lau says, is to try and get a good night’s sleep pre-travel. The second is to consider your mode of transport and be wise about where you sit. “If you know you get car sickness, offer to drive or sit in the front passenger seat,” he advises. “On a plane, the most stable place is over the wings. If you’re travelling by boat, go for the upper deck.” 

"If you know you get car sickness, offer to drive or sit in the front passenger seat." Doctor Sonny Lau, Travel Doctor-TMVC Melbourne

He also recommends avoiding stimulants like alcohol and caffeine, and says it’s helpful to consume a light meal – but not greasy foods – before embarking. “You need to look after your wellbeing in order to minimise your chances of getting motion sickness.” 

Other ways to minimise the risk of travel sickness include: sitting so you’re facing the direction in which you’re travelling; keeping your gaze on a fixed point, like the horizon; and getting fresh air – from an open window, a fan, or air conditioning. 

What if it's really bad?

Those who suffer acute travel sickness can consider medications such as Kwells – chewable tablets with the active ingredient hyoscine – that are widely available over the counter and help to ease nausea and vomiting. 

Lau also suggests trying scopolamine patches (currently not sold in Australia but available online). A scopolamine patch applied to the skin behind the ear can help prevent motion sickness for up to three days. 

“In my experience, scopolamine patches are pound-for-pound the most effective medication for motion sickness,” Lau says. However, he cautions that they must be applied correctly in order to work and may not be suitable for everyone, so it is important to seek medical advice. 

The scent has it

Several natural remedies are also available to sufferers of travel sickness. The first is aromatherapy, in the form of essential oils. Arianna Pienaar, who runs Essential Collaboration, recommends ginger, peppermint, lavender, cardamom, patchouli, juniper berry, clove and spikenard oils. “doTERRA also has a fantastic blend called DigestZen, with ginger and peppermint and other helpful oils for travel sickness,” Pienaar says.  

She recommends diffusing the oils using a cold air diffuser (try a plug-in for the car) or inhaling them directly from the bottle or even from your palms, a tissue, or piece of cotton.

“Any type of inhalation will ease motion sickness almost immediately,” she insists.
Essential oils can also be mixed with a carrier oil, such as fractionated coconut oil, and applied to the feet, temples, and wrists.

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Needle me this

Acupuncture is another alternative therapy that has been anecdotally shown to help reduce or eliminate the symptoms of travel sickness. Kimberley Laurence, a registered Chinese Medicine practitioner, says that in her experience acupuncture delivers the best results the day before or on the day of travel, combined with self-acupressure during the journey. 

“If you’ve never had acupuncture before, it’s good to have a treatment a few weeks before you go to familiarise yourself with it,” Laurence says. “Your practitioner may also apply press studs on acupuncture points that you retain during your trip, and will demonstrate [their] locations.”

Acupressure involves using your fingers or thumb to stimulate acupuncture points on the body. “It’s easy to learn and a technique you can use during travel to manage the symptoms of travel sickness,” Laurence maintains.  

She recommends sufferers try two points – the first of which is the site stimulated by travel bands and bracelets that also promise to help with motion sickness symptoms.  

With a little bit of planning and some preventative measures, those prone to travel sickness can make any journey more comfortable. So, where to next?

Acupressure points to prevent travel sickness

Pericardium 6 
On the inner arm, measure three finger widths from the wrist crease; the point is located between the two tendons. Apply firm pressure to this point or massage it firmly in small circles for five to 10 seconds. Repeat until symptoms ease.

Stomach 36 
Measure four finger widths from the bottom of the kneecap along the outer boundary of the shinbone. The point is in the muscle. Again, apply firm pressure or massage in small circles for five to 10 seconds and repeat until symptoms abate. 

Read next: What's ahead for business travel?

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