January 19, 2015 Comments (2) Food & Thoughts, Gear, How To, Travel Tips

Preventing motion sickness . . . with a vomit bag in hand

Flying on Plane

Before April 2008 I never had a problem with flying on an airplane. I’ve never loved flying, I mean really who does enjoy the lack of leg room, that smell that only airplanes have (similar to the unique hospital smell), bad airplane food, high pitch baby screams, the constant kicking from the person sitting behind you, and of course motion sickness. To me, flying is necessary to allow me to do what I love and enjoy the most – experiencing new cultures and adventures, eating authentic food, and meeting new people.

Prevent Motion Sickness

Unfortunately, what happened coming back from Puerto Vallarta was not an isolated incident and I’ve suffered from motion sickness ever since. Determined not to let that minor condition keep me from traveling, I’ve had to experiment with all sorts of things.

What happened back in April 2008 you ask? Well, I went to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for a friend’s wedding and the day before we flew back home, we all went snorkeling. The ocean appeared to be angry that day and I should have listened to my inside voice as it asked, “Joanie is this really a good idea?” I squelched that thought even as I was watching the difficulty our skipper (a very nice man named Jorge) was having as he tried to get the boat near shore so we could all hop in. He got the boat as close as he could and one by one we went into the boat. Just as I was about to swing my feet over the edge (you need to know that I’m not a very tall person, 5 feet 1.5 inches when I’m standing up nice and straight) a wave caught and one of the steel poles on the boat hit me in the back of my upper left thigh/bum area with a lot of force. I guess it could have been worse (it could have happened to one of the guys as they were trying to get into the boat and that would not have been pretty), but I did suffer a major gash and it started bleeding. Needless to say we cut the snorkeling trip short as sitting on the boat while you slowly bleed is no one’s idea of fun, and I spent the rest of my day in bed since I was feeling relatively queasy and nauseous. Seeing as it was our last night in Mexico, we all had plans to meet up for dinner at one of the four luxury dining restaurants (they served this amazing lobster soup that, pain or not, I was having one more time before going back home). With the exception of a sore thigh, I felt fine and was happy to put the adventures of the day behind me.

Puerto Vallarta.  Image courtesy of Matthew Rutledge

Puerto Vallarta. Image courtesy of Matthew Rutledge

Little did I know, the real adventure started the moment I stepped onto the plane to fly home. Approximately 15 minutes after take off, yes brace yourself please (I know I did), the burger and fries I had from Carl’s Jr. came back up. Not only was it disgusting, but completely unexpected. In all of my life, I had never thrown up on a plane before. Fortunately, the seat in front of me actually had one of the motion sickness bags (without any gum or garbage from the passenger before) and I was able to contain everything in the bag! I thought, thank goodness and handed the bag to Mike (my husband), who was sitting in the seat across the aisle from me, and he discarded it. Grossed out, but relieved and feeling much better, I sat back and closed my eyes to get some rest, hoping that the four and a half hours would go by quickly. Unfortunately, I threw up another two times and because I was so desperate to get off the plane, it was as though time stood still. That was one of the most excruciating flights of my life and Mike had to do the walk of shame another two times. You know it is love when you hand someone a sealed bag of vomit and he just gets up and discards it for you with no questions asked. I was also lucky because my other seatmate was not grossed out in the least and she was trying to calm me down by telling me it is ok. You see, not only did I feel sick and nauseous, but I was also worried about those around me, which just adds to the pressure and stress and that doesn’t help.

Unfortunately, what happened coming back from Puerto Vallarta was not an isolated incident and I’ve suffered from motion sickness ever since. Determined not to let that minor condition keep me from traveling, I’ve had to experiment with all sorts of things. These are the things that work for me when preventing motion sickness:

  • Hydrate yourself. Keeping your body well hydrated is always important, but I find it even more so before and while I am flying because the air in the cabin of a plane is usually more dry than normal and it is easy to suffer from dehydration. Also, some of the symptoms of dehydration are dizziness, fatigue, and headaches, which when combined with motion sickness can create a perfect storm and will make you even more sick and uncomfortable.
  • Do not eat greasy foods before and during a flight, keep it light and healthy. I made this mistake once, early on before I made it one of my rules, and paid for it dearly. I was coming back from Sydney, Australia, and after a 15-hour flight I was hungry. I was waiting for my connecting flight back to Calgary, so I thought it was a good idea to wolf down a burger and fries. Although the burger tasted good, it most definitely was not a good idea! I regretted this decision as I spent most of the 3-hour flight in the bathroom being sick. Since that incident, I’m all about the smoothies and granola bars.
Grilled Peach Salad.  Image Courtesy of Ralph Daily

Grilled Peach Salad. Image Courtesy of Ralph Daily

  • Wear acupressure wristbands. Every time I am on a plane I wear acupressure wristbands, which are these knitted bands with plastic studs on the inner surface of the wrists. They apply pressure to the acupressure point that controls nausea and you can wear them for as long as you need. These wristbands are great because you aren’t required to ingest anything and there are no side effects. However, make sure you put them on properly because they need to be placed directly on the pressure point in order to be effective.


You can get the wristbands at any drug store for less than $25 and they are reusable. The bands are small and easily transportable, making it convenient to use when you need them.

  • Take motion sickness medication. I don’t like to take medication unless I really have to, but since motion sickness can really affect my trip so I will take Gravol on long flights. I find that Gravol works for me, but there are other brands that you could try and always consult with your medical doctor before doing so. Gravol contains dimenhydrinate, which affects the “vomiting area” of the brain to decrease nausea, vomiting and dizziness.

Keep in mind that Gravol, and most other motion sickness medications, make you sleepy and drowsy so if you are traveling with children then you may have a hard time watching them or be careful of the timing and dosage if you have to drive when you get to your destination. Also, one of the side effects of Gravol is dryness in the mouth and throat which is another reason keeping yourself hydrated is so important!

  • Drink ginger tea or eat raw ginger. Several studies have shown that ginger is effective in treating nausea and motion sickness. I find that ginger helps settle my stomach, which is always a good thing when you are trying to prevent motion sickness, so I drink ginger tea and add a couple of slices of fresh ginger. There are other things you can take, such as ginger pills, ginger powder, ginger candy (these are always good and easy to travel with), or even Ginger Ale! If you decide to try ginger tea with slices of raw ginger, bring packets of the tea and slices of the raw ginger with you and make the tea after you go through security, that way you don’t have to throw out your tea!

raw ginger 4A word of caution is that ginger can thin the blood, so make sure to speak to your doctor if you are on blood thinning medication.

  • Do not read on the plane. This is a hard one for me because I am an avid reader and I find that it makes the time go by faster, especially when there aren’t any movies available on the flight. In the past, I found that whenever I did read on the plane I started to feel dizzy and nauseous. I think it is because I’m so focused on my book and it seems as though I’m not moving, but I really am (and quite fast too), and so my senses are thrown off. I’ve now stopped reading on planes and prefer to look up at something so my eyes see what my inner ears sense.
  • Face the direction of travel. This tip may seem trite because the seats on a plane only face one way, but often times we turn our heads to talk to the person beside us because it is considered rude not to look at people when you talk to them. I usually deal with this faux pas directly and tell people why I can’t look at them and trust me, most appreciate it because the last thing they want is for me to get sick right next to them. Also, I usually store everything that I need either in my pockets or in the pocket of the seat in front of me as this keeps me from bending down too much.

After all these steps I really just try and relax, directing my attention on something else rather than the motion sickness. I’ve even asked Mike not to talk about it because the more someone talks about it, the more I think about it and stress about it, and it just becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In dealing with motion sickness, the key for me is prevention, prevention, prevention. I find that once I get sick, there is really nothing that I can do but lay down and sleep it off. Being stuck in bed is the last thing I want to happen when I’m on vacation, so I make sure to always follow these steps. If you suffer from motion sickness like I do, give these tips a try and they may make flying just a bit easier for you!




I love food and I love to shop.As a foodie, food is often the focal point of my travels and I am always trying to add to my culinary experiences by finding restaurants that offer dishes from the region I am visiting.Also, my weakness for shopping often finds me bringing either an extra backpack or empty hockey bag (they are lighter and have wheels) on my trips because I want to bring home what I buy.I remember one time when I was coming back from Australia, the Canadian Customs Agent was shocked from how much I spent and he told me he has never seen anyone spend as much in Australia as I had (all those UGG boots add up)!

These stories and adventures give me something to smile about everyday, I hope that it brings you a little something too.

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2 Responses to Preventing motion sickness . . . with a vomit bag in hand

  1. John Cutler says:

    I loved your article and all the valuable tips to avoiding air sickness. Keep up the great work!

    • Joanie says:

      Thanks John! It really does make travelling more enjoyable and the lives of those I travel with that much easier. LOL.

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