Skip to main content

Treating seasickness and motion sickness

A boat trip in Malawi showing a small boat close to the shore.
Click to enlarge

Don’t let seasickness and nausea ruin your cruising vacation

Even seasoned travelers are sometimes struck with nausea and discomfort caused by sea sickness or motion sickness. Sea sickness is an unpleasant experience, particularly when it occurs on a trip that you were expecting to enjoy.

It may be difficult to avoid seasickness altogether on a cruise or boat trip; but for most people, seasickness passes as your body gets used to the motion, usually within the first 24 to 48 hours.

What causes motion sickness?

Motion sickness occurs when there is a conflict between what your eye is seeing and what your inner ear is sensing about your balance. When you sit in a boat, your inner ear can feel you’re moving and rocking with the swell; but your eye sees that the cabin is still because it is moving with you. So your brain releases some stress hormones, giving you a feeling of nausea and vertigo.

This nausea can be made worse by strong smells, like engine fuel or cooking, which is partly why fresh air helps when you are suffering from motion sickness.

What can I do to avoid seasickness while on a cruise?

You can make yourself more comfortable while you acclimatize to the motion of the cruise liner by spending time on deck in the fresh air and staying hydrated. A small amount of bland food can help settle your stomach. Keeping busy can help as it distracts you from the unpleasant symptoms of seasickness. Some people find carrying a sick bag helps because it makes them less worried about vomiting. The crew will be experienced at helping passengers who are seasick, so ask for advice if you feel unwell.

We have some general advice for staying well on a cruise – remember that it’s particularly important to get travel health advice before a cruise holiday, so make a travel health appointment six to eight weeks before you join your ship.

How do I avoid motion sickness in a vehicle?

If you’re prone to motion sickness, call shotgun and sit in the front seat. It can help to look at the horizon. Cracking the window will help, too, as fresh air will reduce your symptoms.

It’s good to distract yourself, either with a breathing exercise or by listening to music or chatting. But don’t look at a screen or try to read.

Are there tablets I can take for motion sickness?

A pharmacist can recommend tablets, pills and patches that reduce the effects of seasickness and motion sickness. Meds for motion sickness work best if you take them a little while before you travel, in some cases the night before, rather than waiting until you feel sick.

Some people find that ginger helps with nausea, and it’s available as capsules, or you could try nibbling a ginger biscuit or drinking a ginger infusion.

Where can I get advice about motion sickness?

You can ask questions about motion sickness and sea sickness at your travel health appointment, which you should make six to eight weeks before you depart. The travel health nurse or pharmacist can recommend simple steps to reduce the discomfort of motion sickness, and they may be able to prescribe or provide sea sickness meds. They can also recommend vaccines that will protect you from traveler’s illnesses like hepatitis A and meningitis.