How To Prevent Motion Sickness

I’ve wanted to write about dealing with motion sickness for nearly two years.

But so far, my tolerance for mountain roads has been poor. My way of dealing with it has been to pop a pill, sleep in whosoevers lap is available and hope for the best. Throwing up just 2 times was an achievement of sorts.

But not anymore.

I came by road from Haldwani to Lohajung last weekend. In fact, I’m writing to you from Lohajung. (The mountains send their love to you!)

A view of the valley beyond Lohajung, base camp for Roopkund and Brahmatal. Picture by Vishwas Krishnamurthy

I had a very pleasant 11-hour journey to get here. I didn’t so much as feel a heavy head. Or an uneasy stomach. All this despite an old lady in my car retching her guts out every few minutes! (The sound of someone else belching always sends bile rushing up my throat.)

I’ve been thrilled to bits about having had a vomit-free drive. But it has taken me some time to learn how to be vomit-free. Which is what this email is all about.

I’m going to give you some tips that I have learnt from experience. They may help you or a friend of yours perhaps, who suffers from motion sickness.

I’ll get straight to the tips.

1. Sit in the front seat

I learnt this by chance on one of  the drives. The driver told me to sit in the front because the back area was already occupied. And I did, quite hesitant about falling asleep or throwing up next to the driver.

So I sat there waiting for the sickness to come. But it never came.

The front seat gave me the advantage of looking straight ahead at the road. I didn’t have to resort to the zipping scenery on my right.

Looking straight ahead tells your body exactly what to prepare for in the next ten seconds. So even if there’s a dip, your stomach doesn’t churn. If there’s a turn, your body knows to maneuver itself to avoid any roller-coaster effects.

Focusing on the road ahead gives your brain time to prepare for what’s coming up in the next ten seconds. Picture by Ravindra Joisa

Role of your inner ear: Here, your inner ear plays a big role. It is in charge of your body’s balance. It sends out signals to the brain depending on what you see. So when you’re in the back seat, looking sideways, your eyes are seeing one thing, but your muscles are experiencing something else. Your brain is utterly confused.

When your brain gets mixed signals, your body is prone to surprises. And if you’re like me, it might ‘throw up’ some surprises too.

2. “While driving, don’t use cell phone”

This is what sign boards along mountain roads tell you. I thought that was some sound advice even for motion sickness sufferers. Because when you look at a cell phone screen or a book, it immediately triggers motion sickness.

Staring at a cell phone is just like staring out of your window at a quickly moving scenery. The mobile screen jumps all the time. Within minutes your inner ear’s sense of balance gets skewed. The contents of your stomach rush to your throat.

So avoid your phone as much as possible. Those Instagram pictures can wait. Your stomach cannot.

3. Eat light, or don’t eat at all

This is a basic rule, but a golden rule.

Don’t eat anything heavy, especially dishes with lots of butter/ghee/oil. Avoid stuffing yourself with aloo parathas with dollops of butter. Perhaps eat only one. Just stick to a basic meal that your stomach can digest without much struggle.

The heavier the food, the more queasy you are going to feel.

Some don’t feel okay on an empty stomach, that’s fine. But don’t force yourself to eat if you have a tendency to throw up. It is okay if you avoid a meal.

Tempting as it might be, don’t go overboard on the food during the drive. Picture by Suhas Says

4. Sit in a spot where your body movement is restricted

The more your body moves the more uncomfortable it gets. The theory is that simple.

Every time I went on mountain roads, I would feel like all my other organs had disappeared and my jelly-like stomach was on its own dance.

So restricting your body movement is a good idea. Sit in a seat where there’s a handle that you can hold onto. This helps more than you can imagine!

Avoid sitting where there’s no handle. Your head and body will flop about like Mr. Bean on a roller coaster ride. So will the contents of your stomach.

Kedarkantha-Indiahikes-Eddy Lim-winding mountain roads
The winding roads to Gaichwan Gaon, our basecamp for Kedarkantha Trek. Picture By: Eddy Lim

5. Try and distract yourself

During my journey here, the driver told me about 37 years of his life’s history. That was pretty entertaining. I almost forgot I was in a car and in the mountains. (It’s a totally different story that he was speaking so fast in Hindi that I had to really concentrate to understand).

So try and distract yourself with such conversations and thoughts.

As for music, car speakers are okay. It can keep you in good spirits and distracted. But don’t listen to music on headphones because of the same inner ear struggle. You want your inner ear to adjust quickly.

6. Let some air come in

Lack of ventilation can make you nauseous. Roll down the windows and let the mountain air touch your face. Nothing revives you as much as cool air coming in through the windows.

Sometimes I stick my neck out to let the breeze blow my hair. Everytime I do that I feel better.

For the same reason avoid AC vehicles. They don’t aid air circulation. Worse, if anyone vomits the stench is everywhere. Very soon everyone is puking.

Pull the panes down to avoid uneasiness on the drive. Picture by Mark Rodrigues

7. If nothing works, take an Avomine and knock out

Avomine is a tablet that contains promethazine, which basically blocks the brain’s vomiting centre, reducing nausea.

It also acts as a sedative. It makes you so sleepy that you forget you have to throw up.

This was my go-to medicine. Just half a tablet half hour before getting into the vehicle.

So those are my simple yet very effective tips – all of them put down after experience!

I hope you find them useful. Do let me know through a comment below if you have any more tips for us poor souls that suffer motion sickness.

Cover image of the winding road to Kafnu by Satyen Dasgupta.


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Swathi Chatrapathy

Swathi Chatrapathy

Swathi Chatrapathy is the Chief Editor at Indiahikes. She also runs a video series, Trek With Swathi. Before joining Indiahikes, she worked as a reporter and sub-editor at Deccan Chronicle. She holds a Masters in Digital Journalism and continues to contribute to publications such as Deccan Herald. Trekking, to her, is a sport that liberates that mind like nothing else can. Read Swathi's other articles. Watch Swathi's video series here.

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