Can You Cure Motion Sickness?

motion sick on the ocean

When I was twelve years old, I was invited to join a friend and his dad on a 1/2 day fishing trip. It was New Year’s Eve Day, my parents were having a party that evening.

The boat held maybe two dozen manly fishermen-type. I remember throwing up. I remember being taken down in the galley and given a 7-Up and a Snickers. I remember throwing that up down there, and coming up above board and throwing up again. Seven is the number I remember as the tally of discrete throwing up incidents that afternoon. I seem to recall someone saying something like: Hey, little buddy. You’ll be OK. But no-one ever said: Look at the horizon and breathe.

Some thirty-odd years later, I stepped on to a 6-seat boat in Lahaina yesterday. Captain Jeff warned us it was getting rougher out there and he was prescient. Over two hours, we saw two dozen or more amazing humpback whales. We saw slapping and waving tails, double breaches, blowholes aplenty and even a mighty humpback who ducked directly under our bow, the tail coming within a foot or two of the boat as it disappeared into the deep blue. The boat rolled and pitched in the choppy four foot swells. I hung in there – “maintained” – and got to enjoy an incredibly memorable afternoon.

So what changed?

Over the past ten years or so, I’ve gone from being really, really sensitive and prone to motion sickness to being somewhere between fine and ok with just about every form of travel. I no longer get it much at all on planes, I can sit on buses and in the back seat of cars, and even with boats I have a much higher tolerance.

The big turning point for me was recognizing and acknowledging that I am not in control, and need to let go any pretense of being in control. I can relax my body and my breathing even on crazy taxi trips or during airplane turbulence. Relaxing my body and not tensing up has been a big step forward in being tolerant of motion.

On any mode of transportation, it helps when I look forward or out the window and towards the horizon. I don’t like to talk much, as AliSun can attest. I prefer to focus on staying stable and simply breathing. Reading, looking down or facing behind, I can feel the motion sickness coming on.

motion sick on buses

I’m careful what I eat when I know I’ll be in a turbulent situation. For instance, yesterday I only had oatmeal and a couple glasses of water about an hour and a half before going out on the water. No coffee, no alcohol.

I use Sea-Bands any time I’m in a situation where I may be especially prone to motion sickness. I carry ginger candy like Reed’s or Gin-Gins. I tried Reed’s Nausea Relief drink in a can yesterday while whale watching, and I think it definitely helped. I also take homeopathics – a specific Motion Sickness one, or Tabacum tends to do the trick.

Boats are still the toughest for me. In particular, kayaks are awful, where I am looking down in the water at fish. If the boat is moving forward and I can look at the horizon most of the time, I no longer feel much of any discomfort. If it’s a little boat bobbing around with the motor off in choppy conditions, that can be challenging. Two hours of that yesterday in the channel between Maui and Lanai, and I did alright – I maintained, got back to land, and shook off the effects within a couple hours. I hydrated and had a half a burger to ground myself. I used to get motion sick from almost anything, and it stayed with me until I got a full night’s sleep.

Being in the process of overcoming this has opened up so many opportunities for me around the world. I’m very grateful that I can have experiences I wouldn’t even consider just a few years ago.

I still don’t like heights so much, but that’s for another post…

(first photo: taken by Tyler in Collioure, France on July 26, 2012; second photo: taken by Tyler in Vietnam, heading west from Saigon to Mui Ne, November 20, 2013)

Comments 2

  1. Good advice about watching the horizon; I learned that on my first sailing trip and it always seemed to help me.

    Another thing that helped was when someone said “You take the wheel.” While not always practical to do so, having responsibility for keeping the ship on course will take your mind off your tummy and helps keep your eye on the horizon.

    That even worked once on a small plane, where both motion and altitude can play havoc with my system. Unfortunately, the big air carriers frown on that 🙂

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