Travel Sickness

With the holiday season in full swing one thing that can take the shine away from travel is if you suffer from travel sickness. Here is some information about how to avoid it and start your holiday from the minute you leave home.

Travel or motion sickness is a condition some people get when travelling where they feel sick, vomit or feel dizzy. It can happen during any form of travel but common examples include car or sea travel. Travel sickness can be reduced or even prevented by taking certain medicines before travelling.

About Travel Sickness

Travel sickness isn’t only restricted to car and sea travel, you can also get it on train journeys and air travel as well as on fairground rides and swings.

Travel sickness is most common in children. However, many children become less susceptible as they get older.

Symptoms of Travel Sickness

If you have travel sickness you may have several symptoms, including:

  • Feeling sick

  • Vomiting

  • Dizziness

  • A headache

  • Sweating

  • Looking pale

  • Rapid breathing

  • Drowsiness

Symptoms get better when the motion stops. They also tend to get better or go away completely on long trips, such as on a ship as you’re likely to adapt to the motion and gradually recover.

If you find you get severe or frequent travel sickness, see your GP.

Causes of Travel Sickness

Although travel sickness isn’t fully understood, research suggests that it’s caused by movements when travelling, such as tilting and shaking, which can confuse your brain.

Normally, your vestibular system, which is located in your inner ear, keeps track of your body, head and eye movements. This helps you to change position and control your balance. However, during travel, the motion your vestibular system senses doesn’t match what you see. This conflict between the senses is thought to cause travel sickness. Anyone can get travel sickness and no one knows why some people are more sensitive than others.

Treatment of Travel Sickness

Your GP may prescribe you medicines that help prevent travel sickness. There are also many over-the-counter medicines available from a pharmacy.


Some examples of medicines that are used to treat travel sickness are listed below. Ideally you should take these before you travel. Always read the patient information that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist or GP for advice.


Hyoscine hydrobromide is one of the best medicines for preventing travel sickness. It works by blocking the confusing nerve signals from your vestibular system. You can buy tablets containing hyoscine over-the-counter at a pharmacy (eg Kwells, Joy-Rides). You need to take them about 30 minutes before you travel and their effect lasts for about six hours.

Hyoscine is also available on prescription as a skin patch (Scopoderm TTS). You stick the patch onto your skin behind your ear five or six hours before travelling. It can prevent travel sickness for up to three days. The patches are only suitable for adults and children over 10. Hyoscine may cause side-effects such as drowsiness, blurry vision and dizziness.


Antihistamines (eg cinnarizine and cyclizine) can help reduce travel sickness. You need to take antihistamines about two hours before you travel. Rarely, these can cause drowsiness.

Complementary Therapy


Some people find that wearing bands that apply pressure onto your wrist – at an acupuncture point called P6 – can help with travel sickness. There is some evidence that acupressure may help pregnant women with morning sickness, but there hasn’t been much research about its effect on travel sickness.


Ginger is a traditional remedy for travel sickness. There is some evidence that ginger may be effective for pregnant women with morning sickness and it may also help patients feel less sick following surgery. But there have been few studies on its effect on travel sickness. You can take ginger in many ways, such as in tea or as capsules containing ginger powder.

Preventing Travel Sickness

As well as the methods listed under Treatments, there are several things you can do to help prevent travel sickness when you’re travelling.

  • Your position can affect your chances of getting travel sickness – wherever possible, drive a car instead of being a passenger, sit in the front seat of a car or bus, sit over the wing in an aircraft, or sit in the centre of a ship or on the upper deck.

  • Keep your eyes fixed on the horizon.

  • Keep your head still.

  • Don’t read – try listening to story tapes instead.

  • Open a window to let fresh air in.

  • Don’t smoke before or while travelling.

  • Don’t drink alcohol before or while travelling.

  • Try to distract yourself – play travel games or listen to music.

Some people find that lying down helps but this isn’t always possible if you are travelling by car or plane. Others find that the best way to deal with travel sickness is to close their eyes and go to sleep.

Published by Bupa’s Health Information Team, March 2010.


All content on this website is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. Always consult your own GP if you’re in any way concerned about your health.

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