I Hate to Bring this Up…Tips on Kids and Carsickness

Not sick…yet

Our only warning is a high-pitched keening noise from the back seat. If we’re lucky – very lucky – we can find a safe shoulder, pull the car off the road, fly out the door and into the back, unbuckle a fiddly five-point harness, and get the kid out the door before he empties his stomach down his shirt, into his lap, and, on those long road trips, onto all the snacks and games we stupidly packed in the space under his legs.

You know how hard it is to unbuckle a child’s car seat when you’re panicky? He’s freaking out, your face is inches from his (you’ve got to lean in close to get those friggin’ things undone), and chunks are bubbling up from below.

Kinetosis sucks, and so does motion sickness, which is the same thing. And since the most common mode of transport most of us experience is car travel, we may as well focus on that.

There are situations when the probability for car sickness is obviously increased – winding, bumpy roads and longer trips, for example. But sometimes it comes out of the blue – we drove all over Ireland on twisting, tortuous country roads and our oldest took it in stride, but on the short straight rides to and from the airport he got sick. He made it to the hotel before hurling on its front steps, and on the return trip he survived the 15-minute ride back to the airport car rental agency before retching in the car right in front of the returns clerk. That little urpp cost us 150€ in cleaning fees. The unexpected can’t be avoided, but there are things to do to lessen the chances of untimely upchucking and mitigate the hassle when it does happen.

Prevention: 

Time to bust out the sick bags

1. Avoid large meals prior to travel, as well as acidic drinks such as orange juice, but don’t travel on an empty stomach. Small, frequent snacks are the way to go.

2. If Junior says he’s feeling queasy:

  • Open a window – fresh air does wonders.
  • Tell him to look out the front of the car, and focus on the horizon.
  • Give him ginger cookies, ginger candies, or ginger tea in a Thermos. Ginger works, but most ginger ale doesn’t, because it doesn’t actually contain ginger.
  • Distract him with music, songs, and games, as long as they don’t require him to focus on reading or drawing or anything inside the car, really. ‘I Spy’ is a good one.
  • Slow down. Side-to-side motion caused by cornering is exacerbated by speed. So are bumps.
  • Take a break. Getting them out of the car for a bit helps a lot. Getting them back in may be problematic.

3. Don’t make a big deal of it beforehand. “Now Betsy, we’re going for a long drive on twisting, winding, looping roads that are going to rattle your stomach like an unbalanced washing machine on the spin cycle, so let us know if you’re going to spew bile and half-digested Cheerios all over yourself, ok?” Motion sickness is at least fractionally psychological, so you don’t want to plant those seeds.

4. Motion sickness medicines such as Dramamine and Bonine come in children’s forms, and must be taken prior to travel. Once they’re feeling sick, medicine isn’t going to help.

5. A California company called Three Lollies also puts out something called Queasy Pops (and Preggie Pops for you moms!) that come in Many Fantastic Flavors! I’ve never tried them, but they sound like they’re worth a shot.

6. Pay attention if little Bobby looks sweaty, pale, or limp. He’s gonna blow, so take another break. I know that you just want to get there, Dad, but an optional break before he hurls is better than an obligatory one after.

Before, During, and After the Fact:

Some people are better than others in these situations. Me, I’m more of a liability than an asset. As soon as that stench hits my nose, I’m out the door and puking in the roadside weeds myself. I do try to help as much as I can, but the truth is that I’m fairly useless. Just do what you can, and for God’s sake don’t get mad at the kid.

Be prepared. Carry:

  •  A large roll of paper towels.
  • Sick bags filched from flights, hidden away until absolutely needed, to avoid the power of suggestion. If things look iffy, sit in the back seat next to your child, and be ready for action.
  • Extra clothes which are easily accessible. You don’t want to have to unpack the luggage to get at clean clothes.
  • A large bottle of water for rinsing things off.
  • Large Ziploc bags for sick-covered clothes. The tight seal helps contain the stink.

At times it’s unavoidable, but you can do things to prevent car sickness from marring your trips. And you know what? Kids are remarkably resilient, and bounce back quickly from these incidents. They might blow chunks all the way to the beach, but once they get there, they’re racing around, chucking sand in their brother’s face and asking for lunch. Welcome to traveling with kids.

10 thoughts on “I Hate to Bring this Up…Tips on Kids and Carsickness

  1. Pingback: Escape Barcelona’s Ramblas for a Ramble in the Prades Mountains | Field Notes From Fatherhood

  2. jtread65: Don’t know if I’ve ever apologized about that, but, well, I’m sorry my brother. But I must ask: Who thought that giving the sick-prone kid in the trunk a bunch of Snickers was a brilliant idea? On that particular occasion, they simply didn’t satisfy. Anyone.

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  3. Then you probably won’t. It seems motion sickness peaks prior to age 6 or so, so if it hasn’t been a problem yet, it would seem you don’t have to sweat it. Lucky parents!

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  4. Oh my. I remember our worst experience with this. We drove from Ohio to Mississippi and then my daughter said she was sick. She meant it. It was a horrible, smelly mess in the overwhelming southern heat and we still had four hours to go. But that was the day we started piecing things together, asking ourselves what she might have eaten that made her sick? Cereal for breakfast, grilled cheese for lunch. Ice cream. Macaroni and cheese for dinner. All these seemed safe.

    Are you putting this together faster than we did?
    She’s lactose intolerant.

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  5. Love the honesty of this post! I remember as a little kid I would get car sick EVERY DAY just from getting to and from school, which was only a few blocks from our house. My mom would sometimes want to run errands on the other side of our little town, but I would whine and beg her not to go because I was car sick! You’d better believe my parents dreaded road trips with this kid.

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    • Sounds horrific. I was prone as well, and have fond memories of certain instances of puking in the car – once after I had surreptitiously eaten most of a bag of Snickers minis while safely hidden in the far back of our monstrous station wagon. Those Snickers ended up on the heads and shoulders of my siblings in the back seat. They were displeased. I assume you outgrew it?

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      • Ah yes……the Great Snickers Eruption of ’77. As one of the aforementioned siblings, this memory flashes unbiddenly into my head every time I hear the ‘Snickers Really Satisfies’ slogan….

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