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Motion Sickness in Children When Traveling on Buses

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We were leaving the Mexican beach of Zipolite on a six hour minibus ride to Oaxaca. Six hours seemed like a doable amount of bus time with a 16 month old — especially one who has been traveling since she was six weeks old. Traveling on buses with a child is always challenge, of course, but given that we were only making these trips every month or two at this point, it didn’t seem too bad.

From Zipolite you have to take a shared ride in the back of a pickup or a taxi to Pochutla. From there, we were told, you take either a bus ride (slower and less expensive) or a 4 by 4 ride to Oaxaca. We took a taxi to Pochutla and told the driver we wanted to go to Oaxaca. He dropped us off at what we thought was the bus station, but it was actually a minibus company that did the run as well. I have been crammed into some minibuses before, it is true, but this was truly mathematically inconceivable how they were able to fit all the people and all their baggage — as well as parcels for delivery — into that minibus. All exits were blocked, everyone had stuff under their feet, no one would be able to get out the door without someone unloading at least five huge suitcases and boxes.

On top of this, the road goes up through the mountains and then back down on the other side to get to Oaxaca. Mountain roads curve back and forth around cliffs, providing a roller coaster like ride for anyone traveling them.

Within a half hour of departure Petra got car sick and promptly threw up all over me. I was feeling nauseous myself and gripping the back of the seat in front of me, trying not to inhale the smell of Petra’s fresh puke. I had brought a change of clothes for Petra in preparation for such a scenario, so I was able to change her out of her vomit encrusted rags. I know they say to bring a change of clothes for you (the mom) in case of accidents when traveling, but while packed in a minibus with no stops there was nothing I could do except try to clean myself up with baby wipes. Petra went to sleep, only waking to throw up, which she did twice more on the trip.

I was never so relieved to jump in the shower.

But the shower didn’t ward off an increasing sense of worry and panic. How are we going to travel with a baby, if our baby gets carsick and pukes all over us every time we get on a bus?

What is carsickness?

Put simply, carsickness or any kind of motion sickness occurs because the inner ear detects that your body is motion, but your eyes, which are focused within the car, do not. This means the brain receives conflicting signals and nausea can occur.

Tips for preventing motion sickness

  • Focus outside the car on the horizon. One way to encourage your child to do this is talking about what you see out the front window or playing games like I spy.
  • Sit facing forward in the front seat. The front seat of the bus has a smoother ride than the back seat. Facing backwards prevents you from looking at the horizon and can increase nausea.
  • Open the window. Though this isn’t always possible on a bus, fresh air can make you feel better.
  • Frequent stops. This is rarely in your control when on a bus, but take advantage of any stops you get by getting out in the fresh air.
  • Eat with caution. Experts say it is best not to travel on an empty stomach. A cracker or something simple will help settle your stomach. Avoid greasy and fried foods.
  • Dramamine: a common medicine in the US. I suggest you bring this from home because it is not always found in other countries. The package says that it is safe for children 2 and older.
  • Accupressure wrist bands. These are also commonly sold in the US. They are elastic bracelets with little plastic balls that you place over an accupressure point that is supposed to relieve nausea.
  • Salt on the bellybutton (Colombia): I haven’t tried this one, but it was suggested to me in Colombia that if you put salt on your bellybutton you won’t get motion sick. When I asked how you keep the salt on your bellybutton, the girl looked at me like it was obvious: you use a bandaid of course.
  • Ginger (Colombia): Another lady in Colombia told me to give my baby a piece of ginger root to chew on in the bus so she didn’t get motion sick. I would probably try ginger cookies, or ginger candies first.
  • Mango (Guatemala): In Guatemala, I was assured that eating a little mango or drinking mango juice would help with motion sickness. I’m not sure why.
  • Lemon (Mexico): In early stages of nausea, your mouth produces excess saliva. Drying out your mouth by sucking on lemon candies might help prevent you from vomiting.
If motion sickness has already struck, the best advice I can give is to have plastic bags handy.

A sign in a bus that reads "In Case of Dizziness, Ask for A Bag" in Spanish

Do you have tips for preventing motion sickness? Is there a folk or home remedy that works for you? Share it below!
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Filed under: Bus Travel, Health, Mexico, Travel With Family

About the Author:

After traveling on her own for three or four years, Chaya met up with Wade Shepard, the editor of VagabondJourney.com. They were married in 2009, and continue to travel the world together with their young daughter. From time to time Chaya blogs about family travel and life on the road. has written 102 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

Chaya Shepard is currently in: Xiamen, China