Misery in motion

Travel sickness is miserable and messy, and it can wreck your family holiday before it’s even begun. But there are reliable remedies to treat it.


Motion sickness, as it’s also known, is common in adults as well as children. It’s estimated that three out of every 10 people will experience it at some point, whether that’s in a car, boat, train or plane. It usually comes on between the ages of three and 12, but it can happen at any age. Nobody knows why some people get travel sick and others don’t. The good news is that it’s possible for children to grow out of travel sickness – this usually happens around the teenage years.

According to NASA, a lot of astronauts get travel sick, so there’s no shame in it!


All kinds of motion can cause travel sickness – it doesn’t have to be extreme and it varies from person to person. A child might be quite happy during a choppy ferry crossing, for instance, but sick and miserable during a smooth ride down the motorway. This is because it’s not so much the motion itself that causes the sickness, but the way your brain perceives it.

Travel sickness is caused by conflicting messages in the brain. Your eyes sense that you’re moving and the landscape changes around you. However, according to your inner ear, which contains all the equipment you need for balance, you’re sitting down. That conflict between movement and vision triggers the nausea. According to NASA, a lot of astronauts get travel sick, so there’s no shame in it!


Over-the-counter medication is a simple and effective way of dealing with travel sickness. Although children may experience a few side-effects, such as drowsiness or a dry mouth, they usually tolerate these drugs well. The main anti-sickness drug is called hyoscine hydrobromide. It helps with the nausea centre and it means that the brain doesn’t get so many mixed messages. There’s also cinnarizine, which is an anti-histamine and lasts longer. A pharmacist will ask you how long your journey is, so they can offer the right medication for your child.

Children under two can only take these medicines if prescribed by a GP. You should also speak to your GP if your child has epilepsy, as these medications work on the central nervous system. Always let a pharmacist know if your child is taking any other medication, and plan ahead if your child needs drugs. They need to be taken an hour or so before travelling. Once you get in that car or that boat, the mixed messages start – and then they’re very difficult to stop.

If your child finds it difficult to swallow tablets, try offering them with water from a sports cap bottle. When you drink out of those nozzles, it turns the throat and the gullet into a funnel and it just washes the tablet down. Get a special children’s water bottle to make your child feel special.


Ginger has been used to calm nausea for centuries. Encourage your child to nibble ginger biscuits or crystallised ginger, or use ginger-flavoured sweets. Travel wristbands work by using the body’s pressure points according to traditional Chinese medicine. A small plastic dome on the band puts pressure on each point on the wrists and can help minimise nausea. Homeopathic remedies, specially designed for travel sickness, can also help.

Many parents have found that distraction can help children who are suffering from motion sickness, along with fresh air, taking a nap in the back of the car and sucking on a sweet. So it’s worth trying some story tapes, including regular leg-stretching stops and trying to plan your journey for a time when your child will be naturally tired.

It’s also worth remembering the old advice to keep your eyes on the horizon – it really does work. If you’re in a car, shades covering the window will encourage your child to look straight ahead. Don’t let them look at a book or play with a toy, as this will mean they are constantly looking up and down.

Remedies for travel sickness can be rather hit-and-miss and every child is different. So don’t become disheartened if the first remedy you try doesn’t do the trick. Keep trying new things until you find something that’s effective.


When Alfie was two-and-a-half, he went on a day trip to an animal park with his family. His mum Emma describes what happened next.

‘He was so sick that he went through all his changes of clothes. We had to buy more in the gift shop, and on the way back he just had a blanket over him as we had run out of everything! He got better but then it came back and he started getting sick on shorter journeys after just a few minutes. We tried to restrict what Alfie ate before travelling, which is difficult with little ones.

We tried medicine but it didn’t work. Then the chemist recommended a pair of Sea-Bands and they worked straight away! The Sea-Bands have made a huge difference to our lives. We don’t have to pack epic amounts of changes of clothes and we arrive at our destination feeling so much calmer.’


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