Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Travel Sickness

4 minute read 

The Keeva case (me) 

I suffer from travel sickness. I always have done, and although it's improved in time, it's always a central consideration for me when planning a trip. If you're reading this and thinking "no way I'll travel with her, she'll get sick on me", please don't abandon our travel plans, I haven't thrown up in about nine years. I just feel sick, I don't get sick!

"Dog ate my boarding pass."
One of the reasons I'm writing this post is to send to friends when they say things like: "but you couldn't really get travel sick, you've done so much travelling". If you've just received a link to this page from me, I can see why you'd think that, but I swear I'm not just making an excuse to avoid your birthday, bat mitzvah, funeral, or other exciting event.
Although the amount of travel I'm done in the past year may seem to indicate that I have a steel strong vestibular system, I really don't. I wouldn't be able to face a bus trip from Galway to Kerry, or Galway to Donegal without feeling very ill. I know this for sure because when I was a child we lived in Kerry and drove to Donegal most Christmases. It was quite awful. The last bus I got from Donegal to Galway was in 2012 after my dad's car broke down, leaving us stranded in Letterkenny and having to get the bus home. This was the first time I'd visited Donegal in just under ten years, and managing the car journey up there was already an achievement. After a mild nervous breakdown, I trudged up the steps and onto the coach. Despite taking motion sickness tablets, I felt overwhelmingly nauseous from hour two to hour four and actually cried for the entirety of the last hour. Fortunately for everyone on board as well as myself, I didn't get sick, but after I rushed home to bed I lay there thinking "I am never taking that bus, or any bus like it, ever again".

What is motion sickness? 

The truth is, nobody really knows why motion sickness occurs. The leading theory is that a mismatch between the inner ear and the eyes (e.g. inner ear senses motion but your eyes don't sense the same degree of motion if you're if looking at a book, other passenger, or even out the window) causes the brain to think that you have been poisoned, which triggers nausea in order to reject the ingested poison. The main advice I've received over the years is to try to overcome that mismatch by keeping your gaze on the horizon. This isn't always possible, but I do it when I can and assume it's helping.
There is huge motivation to cure this ailment, because it impacts some of the world's biggest industries, including the space and aerospace military industries. More recently, with 3D movies and more depth of field in movies and video games, motion sickness affects these media industries too. I don't know if there is there is a cure out there, but it's nice to know that some of the world's best researchers are out there trying to find it.


I've been to see a neurologist and an ENT specialist, and neither of them could offer a cure for travel sickness. Since I've started taking migraine prevention medication, I think it's eased off a little but it's hard to remember. If I'm taking a bus trip or a long train trip that I'm concerned about, I arrive half an hour early to get a front or window seat if possible (if you know someone who seems neurotic about which seat they sit in while travelling, this could be why). I take Stemitil but it doesn't stop it, it just eases it. I took Sturgeon once but it made me so drowsy that I couldn't keep my eyes on the horizon, so that made me feel sick anyway. I eat ginger before travelling in case it improves it but it doesn't stop it. If you're reading this and you have a solution that I don't know about, feel free share in the comments below.

Friendly Europe

Travelling around Europe is great because it's cheap (especially if you're flexible) and very smooth sailing motion sickness wise. To put the following information in context, anyone who gets travel sickness knows that the hierarchy of doom, in doom descendent order goes like this: Boat, bus, car, train, plane. Here are all of the routes that I travelled in 2016:
Dublin -> Prague -> Dresden -> Prague -> Dublin
Dublin -> Bristol -> Dublin
Dublin -> Edinburgh -> Dublin
Dublin -> Bratislava -> Vienna -> Salzburg -> Munich -> Barcelona -> Dublin
Dublin -> Athens -> Budapest -> Dublin
Dublin -> Nantes -> Rennes -> Nantes -> Dublin
Dublin -> Brussels -> Dublin
My motion sickness comrades will be happy to know that I was able to travel all of these routes without ever getting a windy bus of any kind. In fact, the Galway -> Dublin Airport bus is the longest bus journey I've taken all year. Aside from that bus, I covered these routes without ever having to endure more than a 30 minute airport shuttle bus (none of which were challenging) or more than a 4 hour flight or train journey. I rarely needed to get a bus at all, and never needed to get on a boat. I probably just wouldn't do the trip if it involved a boat. Thanks, Europe!

Here's to 2017! 

If any of you reading this suffer from travel sickness and want to ask or offer advice on medications, prevention tactics or routes to take or avoid, go ahead and get in touch. I'll be travelling more this year and hopefully my reflections on travel at the end of 2017 will be as flawless as those of 2016. In the meantime, let's hope that NASA do some good work in the coming years!

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