Tips for helping kids with travel sickness

This post is answering a reader question from last year’s survey. You can see more of my answers to reader questions hereIf you would like to ask me a question to answer on the blog, you can leave me one in this year’s survey here and I will do my best to answer it.


“I just read the post about preparing your kids for travel. What wasn’t addressed though, is kids that get motion/car sick. I find this to be the biggest set back for us and traveling and I know many other parents experience this too. It’s hard for the child to enjoy the travel experience when they are worried about feeling and being sick along the way.”

Firstly let’s look at what motion or travel sickness is:

Children between the ages of two and 12 years are particularly prone to motion sickness.

In part, motion sickness is thought to take place when there is a mismatch between the information that the brain receives from the inner ear balance mechanism (vestibular system) and what the eyes ‘see’. For example, if the eyes tell the brain that a person is stationary (such as looking at the interior of a cabin on a ship), but the vestibular system senses head movements (due to motion of the ship), then this is thought to cause a mismatch of messages to the brain and leads to motion sickness. {Source}

I suffered terribly from travel sickness as a child. Just a few of the highlights I can remember are throwing up:

  • in a friend’s brand new car on a three hour drive – her dad tried to show he wasn’t unhappy!
  • on a fairground ride and it went all over me!
  • almost every 30 minutes on trip from Mildura to Melbourne with my grandparents!

I think it was after that trip with my grandparents, that I started taking travel sickness pills before I travelled anywhere that was over an hour. I can still remember being nervous about having to travel in a car for longer than an hour for many years.

While none of our kids are quite as bad as I was, we have had many episodes of travel sickness on our regular trips to Mildura. Our record breaking trip was less than two years ago and wasn’t actually travel sickness, but was an outbursts of gastro, where between the two youngest kids they threw up 11 times.

So I do have some personal experience to draw from in terms of coping with travel sickness. Here is how we approach car travel knowing we have kids prone to motion or travel sickness:

  • I try not to talk up the travel sickness element – I focus on the adventure of the trip and talk about all the planning we have done to make the trip as comfortable as possible for them. (That is tell them about the rest of these points!)
  • Talk to them about letting me know how they are feeling  – I encourage them to let me know along the way how they are going. I plant the trip so we have plenty of time to stop and take breaks if they feel they want to get out of the car.
  • Have a travel sick pack on board – this includes a towel, a small container/bucket, a number of plastic bags, a damp face washer and moisture wipes.
  • Keep the car cool and lots of ventilation – once the kids get hot or feel like the car is stuffy the chances of travel sickness occurring rises significantly.
  • Teach them simple deep breathing techniques – breathing in deeply through the nose (for about 4 seconds) and slowly exhaling (again for about a count of four) has a calming affect which they can then use if they start to feel unwell on the trip.
  • No screens or reading while traveling – the movement on the screen or of the words on the page simply increases those mismatched messages mentioned above.
  • Small snacks and small sips while traveling – while it is often easy to keep kids quieter in the car with sweets etc, I have found that the better they eat, the better they feel. Eating smaller snacks and sipping small amounts of water, has tended to work better than big meals on our trips.
  • If they are old enough, allow them to sit in the front seat – this allows them to look straight ahead and not have to look through objects in the car.
  • Avoid direct sunlight coming in on the child –  we don’t have tinted windows in our car, so will use a light blanket or a towel to block out any direct sunlight from coming down on the travel sick prone kids.
  • Take the straightest route possible – even if that means a longer drive! Twists and turns are horrible for kids who suffer from travel sickness, so planning a route that avoids them where possible is the best way to go.
  • Ginger – is renown for helping to prevent or treat nausea in motion sickness so you could try ginger biscuits, ginger drinks or ginger tablets if you think your kids would consume them.

What else would you add to help kids with travel / motion sickness?