8 Air Travel Tips for the Mildly Motion Sick

I inherited my motion sick tendencies from my mother and although I’m not constantly motion sick while traveling, it has led to me ‘throwing up’ on a twelve hour flight to Asia, sick on a short cross-country flight in South America, and led to one trip to the ER to regain fluids and combat continued stomach upheavals.


Here are a couple tips and tricks I’ve learned over time (or per the doctor’s recommendation).

[Please note that I have done zero scientific research, this is just personal observations from miles upon miles of flights. All bodies and experiences are different. Listen to your body and do what feels right for you!]


1. Be careful what you put into your body.

I’ve noticed that my body reacts poorly to sugar and caffeine on a regular basis, so I don’t know why I assumed that run to Starbucks for a sugary coffee drink at the airport was a good idea…even if it was 5 in the morning and I was on the 20th hour of my 27 hour trip.


According to the doctor that I saw, here are some foods that I was told to avoid while traveling:

  1. Caffeine – No coffee, no soda, no energy drinks, and no tea (although I’m not the best at avoiding a good Arnold Palmer).
  2. Dairy – I love milk and I love ice cream, but this was one of the more simple things to rid myself of while traveling by plane.
  3. Sugary Foods/Drinks – This for me meant no pop or frufru coffee drinks. I have started to try and avoid both altogether because my body is over them in general and I have noticed the way they make me feel “off” and slightly nauseous in my normal day to day.
  4. Alcohol – This was a given for me. Although it means I can’t order a beer on a nice layover or a glass of wine on a plane, I already knew that alcohol makes people’s heads spin. Spinning heads for motion-sick people is worse than riding a roller coaster over and over again.


Here are some foods and drinks that I have started to travel with…and although not fool-proof, I feel so much better while doing it:

  1. Water – Stay hydrated! Not only does air travel dehydrate you, but dehydration is a trigger for dizziness and nausea!
  2. Fruits & Vegetables – I don’t know if there is any science behind it, but a light salad or a cup of fruit has usually been enough to help me from feeling woozy from lack of food and to keep the contents of my stomach light enough that they don’t start fighting against me. I also don’t fight to consume foods that I don’t like. There is nothing worse than fighting the bad taste in your mouth for the sake of health. I’ve usually been able to find alternatives that suit my palate.
  3. Crackers & Other Bland Foods – I don’t know if you’ve heard of the BRAT diet (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, Toast) that was once commonly recommended for children with upset stomachs (& diarrhea), but those were also my doctor’s orders when I was trying to keep down food and build energy post ER visit. Bland food is my favorite when the thought of the smell of greasy food makes me want to hurl.


2. Don’t sit in the back of the plane.

The more in the center of the plane that my body can be, the better. You may be tempted to sit as close to the bathroom as possible for fear of making a fool of yourself running back there as you get sick, however it isn’t worth it! Sitting in the back of the plane can lead to a bumpier ride and the feeling that you are being flung around a lot more (think back seat of a roller coaster). I have been my most sick in the last seats of a plane.

I usually sit by the window because I like the view, but I noticed in my last two aisle seat flights, I also felt more centered and the turbulence didn’t make me want to run to the bathroom.

If you have the choice, choose seats near the front, around the wings, and in the aisle. A benefit of those seats is that you get off the plane sooner, it is a calmer ride, and an aisle seat means you have an escape if you do start to feel sick.


3. Get adequate sleep.

Not having adequate sleep makes me feel nauseous in my normal day to day, no vehicles involved. Therefore, I try and get a good night’s sleep the night before and/or sleep as much as I can on the plane ride. The less I’m awake, the less I have to focus on not getting sick.


4. Take medicine as needed or prescribed.

I was prescribed some medicine to help with my motion sickness. In Brazil it was OTC, but I’m not sure if I’d have that same luxury in the US. Most of the time however, OTC pills like Dramamine work for me. Depending on the time of day and the length of the flight, I’ll take either the drowsy or “less drowsy” formula.

I do not take medicine every time nor do I get sick every time I fly. However, if I’m starting to feel sick, it is already too late to take it and I have to focus on other coping strategies (like breathing). I do try and make sure I take something if there is bad weather, I’m on a small plane, or I haven’t followed my travel dietary restrictions and my body is feeling off.

See your doctor and talk to them about ways to get you traveling. Motion sickness is awful, but it shouldn’t be the reason you miss out on an adventure or vacation (if it can be helped).


5. Avoid all activities during take-off or landing.

Take-off and landing are the moments when the pressure and movement of the plane are the most dramatic and constantly changing. For me, this means that I am more susceptible to making any oncoming motion sickness worse (or getting motion sick) if I am doing anything…especially reading. Although sometimes I can read while flying or taxing, I always close the book until the plane is done with its large movements.

On a side note, if I feel motion sick, then all activities involving focused eyes — reading, writing, correcting papers, watching movies, etc. — are off the table for the entire flight.

To the people that ask me why I don’t “get things done” while traveling…they’ve obviously never been motion sick. Goodbye productivity for the day. Travel days are almost always wastes for me.


6. Open the air vent and let the “fresh” recycled air chill you.

Air blowing on my face has always helped me feel a little better. In a car, we would always roll down the windows (no matter the temperature outside). In a commercial airplane that is a little more difficult (read impossible).

Make sure to always have the air vent above you open to the max before the flight takes off, this avoids needing to reach up and open it when it is already too late for you. It also prevents not being able to reach it or intruding on the personal space of others to open it.

On a 12 hour flight to Thailand, there was no air vent (above my back row seat at least) and the flight attendants brought a cool wet wash cloth for me to put on my face/neck. It wasn’t as great as constant air, but it helped!


7. Focus and breathe.

Already motion sick?

I’ve been there too.

Stop and breathe. Focus on the deep breaths and close your eyes…or keep them open and focused on something in the distance (you know your body, listen to it). Close the shade on the window if necessary, and wait it out.

Not all seats have paper bags in case you can’t make it to the bathroom and get sick (or to breathe…?) so if you are nervous about that, perhaps pack a small one for yourself. Fingers crossed you won’t need it.


8. Don’t overdress in terms of warmth.

Sitting in a warm jacket and other warm clothes is one of the fastest ways to disorient my body. I’ll begin to feel nauseous and then I’m fighting harder to regain my balance. I like to bring a blanket or a sweater that I can use as needed while blasting the chilled and recycled air on my face.




Extra tidbit: Ginger has never worked for me, so I don’t necessarily benefit from its all healing properties, but I do like smelling certain powerful nose-clearing (mind clearing) scents. (Vick’s vapor rub!!)


Do you get motion sick? How do you deal with it to continue with any travels you want to (or need to) make? Tips and help is ALWAYS welcome!