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Tips for travel sick kids

My childhood car journeys were punctuated by emergency stops as I gave a three second vomit warning and was hauled from the child-locked back seats to the front and out of the door in a parental game of Russian roulette. Unlike most people, as an adult I somehow never grew out of the sickness, yet managed to become an avid traveller, and of all things a travel journalist!

Yes, I’ve thrown up in some top places: the Eurostar to Paris… a helicopter over the Athens Olympic site… on a snorkel boat mid-way through swimming with whale sharks… on a boat trip to Capri (my embarrassed now-husband hosed my half digested spaghetti and clams off the deck).

Once, when the wind got up in the middle of New Zealand’s Milford Sound, I begged by kayaking partner to let me out on a rock with some seals.

seals milford-sound-215713_1280

Pleeeaaaaseee let me join you

It’s humiliating and is somewhat bewildering to non-sufferers when, for instance, I decline an offer of a shared cab in London and take the Tube instead, or err get out of a flashy red convertible in a traffic jam in California and walk hyperventilating down the central reservation with everyone staring (my cheeks are still burning at the memory of that one).


‘Are we nearly there yet? ‘Cos I’m gonna….’

On the plus side, I’m far more able as an adult than I was as a child to recognise the trigger points and do things to try and help myself. So, if you’re not a sufferer but you have a child who is, then check out my tips below – it may save you the fate of my dad who once received a lapful of chunder from me exactly half way on a journey between Surrey and Oxford.


Stop-start traffic

A jam, or pretty much any city driving is the worst. Add in rainy weather and a warm, steamed up atmosphere and you’ve got travel sickness Top Trumps.


Top Trumps, right here

Obscured view

Us sicky-ones need to see clearly forward at all times. That means sticking the poorly prone in the middle seat at the back of the car or preferably in the front if they’re old enough and feeling rough. Likewise, make sure they and their teachers know they have to sit at the front of the coach on school trips – even if all the fun is happening at the back.

Reading, watching screens etc.

This is a big no-no. On long journeys try an ipod with music or a talking book instead. If you can avoid giving non-sick siblings screens too, not only will it stop envy but cut out the temptation for your little puker’s eyes to wander from the road.

Travelling backwards

Trains (if they’re not the high-speed, leaning variety) are generally kind to sickness sufferers but face the queasy one backwards on anything other than a slow stopping service and they won’t last five minutes as I discovered to my cost on the Eurostar.

back seat-1099622_1280


Sloping seats

It’s a frustrating feature of modern cars and most coaches that the passenger seats are fixed sloping backwards. This is a big but little-recognised sickness trigger. I even have to drive with my seat bolt upright. Use cushions to wedge your child vertical and on public transport improvise with a rolled up coat.

Simulator rides in theme parks

Thankfully, this has a simple solution; as the rides don’t physically move that much, if your kid feels bad they can shut their eyes.


Just. Any. Boat. I’ve felt seasick on a pedalo… and swimming in waves. Yep, swimming. Motorised boats that zip along fast can be OK as they roll less but check the skipper won’t be cutting the engine and letting it rock about at any stage.

speed boat-828659_1280

Speed is good


DO Recognise the signs. Your child may not realise they’re feeling travel sick until quite late in the process but you can. They’ll go hot and limp later on but yawning or gasping breaths are the first symptoms.

DO keep the car well ventilated. If they’re feeling bad, wind down the windows or put the aircon on full blast with vents trained on their face.

DO make them take deep slow breaths if they feel queasy – in to the count of five, then out to the count of five. It’s the number one think that can help. Those labour exercises you learned can come in handy again.

DO line their stomachs. You may have read that it’s better not to eat before a journey. Cobblers. In my experience being hungry is the quickest route to chunder city. Just avoid overeating, or greasy or acidic foods, including tomatoes.

DO make long car journeys after dark if you can. Without the visuals, and with a settled post-dinner tum, travel sickness is far less likely.

DO have some sick bags handy. I had an emergency sandcastle bucket with kittens on. Nowadays you can buy proper sickbags online – or pocket a few next time you’re on a plane. Keep them in easy reach of your child, not least to stop their rising panic if they feel unwell.


subtle labelling

DO make your child lie flat if they’re ill on a boat, as near the middle as possible. Ignore the typical advice about looking at the horizon. You can hardly ever find a spot where you can’t see the edge of the boat bobbing as well.

DON’T make them talk. They need to be taking deep breaths if they’re feeling bad, not trying to answer your constant quizzing about their wellbeing. Talking makes you feel worse – MUCH worse.

DON’T cuddle them …as an ample-bosomed teacher once did to me on a school trip – you’ll be restricting both their breathing and their view.

DON’T reverse into a parking space with them if they’ve been feeling rough. Get them out of the car first.

DON’T get onto a small boat until the last minute. It may be a nice motorised one that won’t cause too much trouble once it’s underway but if they sit on it while it bobs at its moorings, or stand on the floating jetty, they’ll be feeling sick before they’ve even set off.

DON’T assume anti-sickness drugs will work, but do experiment. It took me years but I found a type abroad that suits me. Remember, most will make your child drowsy for a few hours so factor that into your plans.

DON’T say things like: “It’s a calm day/big boat/smooth car, you can’t possibly be sick”. You have no idea…


Got something that works for you and yours? Please share below…

Find more ideas here


4 comments on “Tips for travel sick kids”

  • louwhelan August 19, 2016

    Poor you Debbie! Just reading this makes me want to hose you down and stroke your hair 🙁

    • debbieward August 19, 2016

      LOL! I’ll give you a call…

  • sharonryan August 19, 2017

    oh GOD! This is bringing back memories. My mum was once very proud of me, though, for choosing to puke on her ‘friend’ Shirley. For once I hit my target! 🙂

    • debbieward August 19, 2017

      Ha ha brilliant. Did you have to take Joy Rides? Those nasty pink tablets? Just the taste of them made me want to hurl and they did zero to stop travel sickness


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