Travel Sickness: The Cause And The Cure

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Different people have different remedies that work for them. Some common suggestions include: sitting in the front seat of a car, facing the direction of travel; taking breaks frequently to get fresh air; focusing on a distant, fixed point; and avoiding discussion of motion sickness or vomiting.

If you’ve never traveled in a small boat before and plan to travel in one in a few days, it might be a good idea to be prepared for the worst. Planning a contingency is a good idea, particularly because most people will experience some kind of sickness when they travel in a boat or a ship for the first time. The name of this affliction: seasickness.

This is a very common phenomenon, and pretty nasty one too. Do you know what actually happens inside your body when you feel light-headed, drowsy, or nauseous while traveling in a boat, a car, or an airplane?

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What Is Motion Sickness?

Seasickness is a type of motion sickness. This phenomenon occurs to a human being when there is a difference between their perception of movement and their vestibular system’s sense of motion. This means that there is a significant difference in what your eyes and ears perceive and what your body is experiencing. This illness has many names (and types), including kinetosis, travel sickness, car sickness, airsickness or simulation sickness. Many people feel nauseous and tend to vomit when they are traveling in a rapidly moving vehicle, especially if the road is very windy, as is often found in mountainous regions.

Aside from these issues, people may also experience the same symptoms when they themselves are not even moving! This happens when someone is watching a very shaky video or playing video games. People often feel sick when they are subjected to virtual reality, just as pilots tend to experience headaches and nausea during flight simulations.

Credits: Jakub Zak/Shutterstock
Credits: Jakub Zak/Shutterstock

Also Read: How Do Motion Sickness Patches Work?

The Science Behind Motion Sickness

In short, motion sickness occurs when two contradicting signals reach the brain, i.e., signals from the vestibular system and signals from the general perception of movement by the body. In other words, whenever there is a difference between what the eyes see and what the body is perceiving, there is a good chance that you may experience motion sickness.

What Is This Vestibular System?

The vestibular system in humans (and most mammals) is the system that provides vital information about one’s sense of balance and spatial orientation, which is important to maintain balance and ensure proper movement.

Vestibular system
Vestibular system of humans

When you are in a boat, the main parts of your vestibular system, i.e., your eyes and inner ears, sends that sensory information to the central nervous system through the cranial nerve. However, this information is contradicted by the body’s general perception of motion, as the body doesn’t have any prior experience related to such a random (bobbing) movement. When in motion, the fluids inside the inner ear are also moving, along with the entire body, and although the brain should register that you are in a moving boat, it labels the movement as an incorrect stimulus, thereby inducing motion sickness.

Also Read: Travel Fatigue: Why Does Traveling Tire You Out?

Types Of Motion Sickness

Motion sickness comes in three types:

  1. Through motion that is felt, but not seen (car sickness, seasickness, air sickness and so on)
  2. Through motion that is seen, but not felt (shaky videos, video games, simulations)
  3. When motion is detected by both systems, but the two systems do not correspond (the feeling of uneasiness when riding on a bike on a bad road)

Credits: Syda Productions/Shutterstock
Credits: Syda Productions/Shutterstock

How Can You Get Rid Of Motion Sickness?

Unfortunately, there is no ‘cure’ for motion sickness; the uncomfortable sensations can only be diminished. The following steps can help you deal with motion sickness:

Consider sitting in the front seat of the car when traveling over long distances by road, rather than in the back, as you’ll feel less of the motion of the car, particularly bouncing over a rough road.


If not the front seat, then make sure that you sit facing in the same direction as the motion of the vehicle.

Avoid reading books or watching videos on tablets or smartphones (as this requires you to focus on a specific spot).

If possible, have a source of ventilation. If traveling in a car (or bus) make sure that the window next to you is open so that you could can get fresh air.

When at sea, focusing on the horizon (or any distant fixed point) helps to reduce the sensation of motion sickness.

Also, you don’t want to be anywhere near a person who has struck up an interesting conversation about motion sickness and vomiting, as even the mention of these uncomfortable feelings can make you sick too!

Our bodies are strange and wonderful things!

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References (click to expand)
  1. Motion sickness - Wikipedia. Wikipedia
  2. Motion sickness | University of Maryland Medical Center -
  3. Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) - ENT Health. The American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery
  4. Motion sickness - NHS. The National Health Service
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Ashish is a Science graduate (Bachelor of Science) from Punjabi University (India). He spearheads the content and editorial wing of ScienceABC and manages its official Youtube channel. He’s a Harry Potter fan and tries, in vain, to use spells and charms (Accio! [insert object name]) in real life to get things done. He totally gets why JRR Tolkien would create, from scratch, a language spoken by elves, and tries to bring the same passion in everything he does. A big admirer of Richard Feynman and Nikola Tesla, he obsesses over how thoroughly science dictates every aspect of life… in this universe, at least.