When I was a teenager, my family went to the Great Barrier Reef. To get there (after you get all the way to Australia), you have to take a boat for about 90 minutes to a platform; then snorkel, swim, bob around in the ocean for a few hours; then back to shore another 90 minutes. That’s a lot of bobbing around in the ocean, and clearly there are a lot of people in the world suffering from motion sickness. My brothers and our friends were all very queasy, leaning over the side of the boat because there were only a couple of tiny little bathrooms, not suitable for vomiting. My friend and I were, unfortunately, on the lower deck when some woman, a total stranger, threw up from the upper deck—RIGHT ON TOP OF US. A total stranger. We thought we were sick before, that was nothing compared to what came next. After lots of screaming and crying and vomiting (us, this time), the deck hand had to hose us off right there on the deck. He asked several times, “Are you sure?!” “You bet we’re sure, just do it.” That was not a great boat ride, but certainly a great memory.
So let’s face it, motion sickness is a fact of life, for some people more than others. My daughters and I are card-carrying members of the motion sickness club. We keep barf bags from the airplane in our car, it’s so bad. Our oldest daughter has thrown up in some very scenic spots—the top of a mountain in Ireland, the Alps, a shark excursion in Hawaii, you name it. On one particularly memorable occasion when she was about 3, we were driving on an especially winding road in Utah when Zoe lost it; we then had a (more-strenuous-than-expected) hike that her very gracious Uncle Spencer had to make with young Zoe on his shoulders because Daddy wasn’t there and I was big and pregnant. Remember she’s covered in vomit. Apparently Uncle Spencer is not easily grossed out. Our other daughters get sick in the car on any ride more than a half-hour long. The last fifteen minutes of almost any airplane flight does it for me. We seem to share this gene.
A bout of motion sickness can really ruin your whole day: you won’t feel great for several hours afterwards, you might need a change of clothes or a carwash, you might have to change your plans, you might be apologizing to strangers and flight attendants.
There are a few things that can help. Here are a few ideas.
Know the risks. Which one of your kiddos is most susceptible? What sets them off? For my girls in the car, it’s looking down at their iPod. Or sitting in the way back of the van. Or not enough air circulating. Or breathing (just kidding, but only just). My girls sit closer up front, near a window (best) or an air vent (acceptable), where they can look out the front window. They do better looking at the TV screen that folds down from the ceiling instead of down at their laps.
Be prepared. Have barf bags. If you don’t have the ones from the airplane, put a big Ziploc bag inside of a paper lunch bag (because no one wants to look at that stuff). Keep cold water nearby (cold is always better than warm), or an ice pack would be even better. And train your kids to give you some warning. I remember my brother, Matt, throwing up out of the car window as were going 70 down the freeway—all over the side of the car. That’s not pretty, but inside the car is even worse.On the airplane, I make my sickies drink ginger ale and not eat anything too heavy or questionable. And our oldest loves the wrist bands, called Sea-Bands, they come in adult and child sizes; they sound a little like hocus pocus to me, but somehow they work. They especially work when paired with a “less-drowsy” Dramamine. Or let’s face it, a regular Dramamine if you don’t need everyone awake and alert for awhile. Warning, though, the dose is smaller than you think, we always cut them in half. Benadryl will also work in a pinch, and I don’t mean for the sleeping thing, but because it has some of the same active ingredients as Dramamine. If your kids are little and can’t be trusted to give you some warning, have a change of clothes (and remember, if the little ones are throwing up hard enough, they also wet their pants, be prepared for that, too. Don’t ask me how I know this). A towel or blanket on their lap is also a good idea—their aim might not be great. And have some crackers for afterwards, they’ll feel better if they eat a little bit of something.
Pull over, get off, get out. Obviously this is not always possible (there’s no getting out of that airplane), but if you’re in a car, pull over and let your little one get some fresh air. If you’re on a boat, don’t stay inside, get out on to the deck. On our most recent trip to Scotland, we spent some time driving from Edinburgh to Balmoral, to Inverness and Loch Ness, and back to Edinburgh—the scenery was gorgeous but we had to take several breaks for everyone to get some air and settle their stomachs. It added another hour or so to our drive but it was worth it to salvage the day.
Get help. I don’t mean professional help, per se, although you could ask your pediatrician if he has any hot tips but he’ll probably suggest Dramamine and wrist bands. I mean ask the flight attendant or deck hand. They’ve seen it all, and it wouldn’t hurt to get them on your side in case things really go south and you need help apologizing to the man in the business suit that your toddler just threw up on.
And one final tip:
Don’t stand on the lower deck of a bumpy boat ride if someone could be vomiting from the deck above you. Trust me on this one.