You spent time researching your next destination, planned out your trip activities, packed up the car and are ready to hit the road, but you didn’t plan on getting car sick. Nothing spoils a nice drive or a long road trip like the creeping feeling of motion sickness. But you’re not alone; It’s a feeling that many people experience when they travel.
In fact, research shows that roughly 1 in 3 people are considered highly susceptible to motion sickness.
Motion sickness is commonly characterized by a feeling of unwellness brought on by certain kinds of movement. Symptoms include dizziness, pale skin and sweating, followed by nausea and vomiting.
But contrary to what you might think, queasiness is actually an indication that your brain is working as it should be…sort of.
What Causes Motion Sickness?
Research has found that car sickness could be the result of your brain responding to what it thinks is a sudden bout of poisoning.
Now it’s not what it sounds like — your friend in the passenger seat didn’t sneak something into your coffee — scientists have suggested that when you’re in a car, your brain gets mixed signals about your immediate environment, similar to when you’ve been poisoned.
When motion sickness occurs, it likely results from a mismatch in signals about movement coming from different parts of the body. Your brain senses movement by combining signals from the inner ears, eyes, muscles and joints.
When the eyes signal to the brain that the body is still (i.e. when you’re sitting in a car), but the inner ears and other parts of the body signal that the body is in motion (i.e. the car driving on the road), a conflict occurs.
This sensory conflict then triggers the symptoms of motion sickness and the only way to deal with the “poison” is to vomit.
Types of Motion Sickness
Of course, not everyone gets motion sickness, nor do they get it on every form of transportation. However,there are a handful of situations where it commonly arises.
- Air sickness — This type of motion sickness occurs from the up and down motion during a flight. Sharp tilts during the flight and small windows can also bring on symptoms.
- Sea sickness — Mostly caused by the rocking motion of a boat on the water, sea sickness can also be brought on by poor visibility from fog or marine layer.
- Car sickness — This sensory conflict in the brain happens when a vehicle is in motion, taking winding turns or driving down bumpy roads.
Just because you experience motion sickness doesn’t mean your road trip needs to be ruined or that you can’t take one. You’ll just need to take some precautionary measures.
It’s always easier to prevent the symptoms than it is to overcome them once they have started, so we laid out a list of simple strategies that may help to prevent or reduce the symptoms.
Actions to Help With Motion Sickness
1. Look at the horizon.
No matter your method of transportation, looking ahead toward the horizon may help prevent motion sickness.
For instance, this study suggests that looking at the horizon while at sea reduced body sway — something many people susceptible to motion sickness tend to experience.
2. Tilt your head into turns.
According to a study published in Ergonomics, turns and rotary motion tend to cause more severe motion sickness than travel in a linear motion, so tilting your head in the direction the car turns can help.
Researchers suggested that passengers experienced less motion sickness when they tilted their heads into the direction of a turn (rather than away from turns) and kept their eyes open.
Synchronizing your body with the motion of a car can be especially helpful.
3. Practice diaphragmatic breathing.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a type of slow breathing that helps strengthen your diaphragm.
A study by Aerospace Medicine and Human Performance found that participants who practiced diaphragmatic breathing (at six breaths per minute) while viewing a virtual reality simulation of a boat in rough seas experienced less motion sickness than those who didn’t.
Here’s how you should practice this breathwork when you experience motion sickness.
- Sit in a comfortable position and relax your shoulders.
- Put a hand on your chest and a hand on your stomach.
- Breathe in through your nose for about two seconds. You should experience the air moving through your nostrils into your abdomen, making your stomach expand. Make sure your stomach is moving outward while your chest remains relatively still.
- Purse your lips as if gently sipping through a straw and press gently on your stomach, then exhale slowly for about two seconds.
- Repeat these steps several times for best results.
4. Avoid sensory overload.
Timothy C. Hain, a professor of neurology, otolaryngology at Northwestern University Medical School suggests that reading a book, or staring down at your phone or computer while in a moving vehicle commonly causes motion sickness, especially on a bumpy ride.
Research suggests that the balance center in your inner ear senses movement, but the words on the screen or page are still — these mixed messages can result in nausea.
Try mapping out your route before your road trip or setting up your navigation before you hit the road. If you like using travel time to get some reading done, try switching to audiobooks or putting on a podcast, so you’re not staring down at a page.
5. Activate pressure points
The Pericardium 6 (P6) pressure point, found on the inner side of the forearm — about three finger widths above the crease of the wrist in between the two tendons — is known in Eastern medicine for its ability to relieve motion sickness and the symptoms that come with it.
A recent study also found that activating this pressure point could help reduce motion sickness susceptibility. Other studies suggest that the P6 pressure point is useful for soothing postoperative nausea and vomiting.So next time you or your passenger starts to get a bit queasy on your next road trip, it’s time to pull this research-based tip out of your back pocket.
To activate it, locate the pressure point, then use your thumb or index finger to massage with firm but gentle pressure for two to three minutes.
An alternative to this research-backed tip is the use of acupressure wristbands, often marketed “sea bands” which are also said to stimulate the point. These bands can be worn on the forearm and typically have a plastic button or bead that places pressure on the P6 point.
What To Eat or Drink for Motion Sickness
6. Eat small meals and stay hydrated.
It can be tempting to eat a large meal before you take off for your trip, after all it might be a while until you stop for the next one. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends eating smaller, more frequent meals and drinking water.
That said, not all small meals are equal. Eating greasy, salty or spicy foods before a trip can also lead to an upset stomach.
It’s also recommended to minimize your caffeine and alcohol intake before traveling, and instead, substitute water. Not only can this help prevent symptoms of motion sickness, but it can significantly help with jet lag when flying long distances.
7. Take ginger root or peppermint supplements.
Ginger and peppermint are not only age-old natural remedies for motion sickness and upset stomachs, but they’re also science-backed, which is why these herbs are something you should always have on hand for your travels.
Scientists think that ginger works by keeping your digestive function stable and blood pressure consistent, which, in some studies, has helped reduce nausea.
Further research also suggests that inhaled peppermint reduces the incidence and severity of both nausea and vomiting. Fortunately, they’re available in many different forms that make them easy to bring along while traveling.
Chewing on ginger candies or mints, slowly sipping ginger or peppermint tea and drinking an all-natural ginger soda may quell nausea. Ginger tablets or capsules can also help with motion sickness but work best if taken about an hour before traveling.
You might also try placing a few drops of peppermint essential oil on a handkerchief and waving it in front of your nose while inhaling.
8. Eat licorice root lozenges.
Like ginger and peppermint, licorice root can help ward unwanted stomach symptoms of motion sickness.
In fact, a double-blind placebo-controlled study found that the extract containing glabridin and glabrene, which are flavonoids present in licorice root, was effective in relieving nausea, stomach pain, and heartburn.
You can get lozenges at most health food stores and they’re easy to pack with you on your next flight or road trip.
However, while this research-backed tip might be appealing to your taste buds, it’s important to remember that licorice root is still an herbal supplement and not a tasty treat, so stick to the serving size on the package.
9. Sip on Chamomile tea.
While many people associate chamomile with a sleep supplement, it’s also an herb that helps to soothe the stomach, reduce acids and relax stomach muscles.
Studies have also shown that chamomile tea is especially helpful for the stomach. In a study of 65 women, those taking 500 mg of chamomile extract twice daily reduced the frequency of vomiting caused by chemotherapy, when compared to a control group.
A study in rats also found that chamomile extract was effective in preventing diarrhea.
While you can take the Chamomile extract as a supplement, making it as a tea is effective as well. Steep a premade tea bag or 1 tablespoon of dried chamomile leaves in 1 cup of hot water for 5 minutes.
10. Drink carbonated beverages.
Bring along carbonated beverages like seltzer, sparkling mineral water or ginger ale to curb nausea.
A study in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology found that carbonated water can soothe an upset stomach.
So what makes fizzy drinks like club soda such a tummy saver?
Manufacturers add sodium bicarbonate to the water to make somewhat alkaline followed by carbon dioxide gas under pressure to create the carbonated bubbles. This works in two different ways to reduce the effects of indigestion.
First, carbon dioxide gas encourages burping, which can help relieve pressure or a painfully full sensation in the stomach. Second, sodium bicarbonate — also known as baking soda — helps neutralize excess stomach acid.
That said, this research-backed tip doesn’t apply to all carbonated beverages. Skip caffeinated sodas because they’re known to contribute to dehydration and make nausea worse.
11. Use aromatherapy.
Herbs like ginger, lavender and peppermint can also be used as aromatherapy.
In fact, a study of 328 subjects found that inhaled vapor of peppermint or ginger essential oils not only reduced the incidence and severity of nausea and vomiting but also decreased antiemetic requirements and consequently improved patient satisfaction.
Fortunately, incorporating this research-backed tip on the road doesn’t isn’t difficult. While you can take short sniffs from an essential oil bottle, a diffuser often has the lowest risk for reactions.
Try purchasing a portable diffuser for your vehicle that plugs into a USB outlet. This way, you only need to use a couple of drops of oil per session for approximately an hour.
Motion sickness can ruin a vacation before you’ve even arrived at your destination. But, just as with all of your road trip-focused preparations, prevention can help ensure that everyone in the vehicle has a comfortable ride, free from queasiness.
So next time you hit the road to explore some of America’s best small towns or head to the airport to catch an overseas flight, remember that these natural remedies can be helpful solutions for stress-free travel.
U.S. Natural Library of Medicine | Center for Disease Control | Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine | European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology | NCBI 1,2,3,4,5,6 | Science Direct | Scientific American | Aerospace Medicine and Human Performance | PLOS | Ergonomics