I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to some incredible places, and I’ve been unfortunate enough to throw up at every single one. The Great Barrier Reef, the Great Rift Valley, the mountains of New Zealand, the chateaus of the Loire Valley—my stomach is indiscriminate, and easily provoked.
I was 14 years old the first time I boarded an international flight. It was my first time on a plane, and I was staring down the long trek to Australia. Three layovers, 36 hours, and an unfathomable amount of airplane food stood between me and the South Pacific, but I wasn’t deterred. At least, I not until I learned that the motion sickness that had plagued every car ride longer than 15 minutes would also make flying a nightmare. If traveling was going to be a lifelong passion, vomiting into exotic ditches would have to be one, too.
Motion sickness is one of those horrible phantom afflictions that barely seems to make sense. I have had so much practice that my family earnestly refers to me as “a very good puker.” For me, it takes a perfect storm of all-too-common conditions for my stomach to start doing flips: movement and heat are the only two must-haves, but weird smells and exhaustion definitely help things along. And, as it happens, traveling often brings all those things together in just the right formulation.
But that hasn’t stopped me, and if my struggles sound familiar, it shouldn’t stop you, either. Why stay at home, safely removed from erratically moving vehicles and stale airplane air, when you can travel the world? I’ve learned a thing or two while dry heaving into fast food bags during traffic jams, and I’d like to pass on that sacred knowledge.
Trust no one. When you reveal a tendency for motion sickness, people may try to spin you old wives tales about how ginger or magical bracelets will help. They mean well, and of course different cures work for different people. But all the same—do not trust them. I was told Dramamine would make me feel better. Dramamine only made me more sick, and failed me on a ferry ride along the Australian coast. The Australian coast is not where you want to get sick. It is beautiful, and a horrible place to vomit.
Be proactive. I never head out on a long car ride without supplies. Baked Ruffles and red Powerade are my medicine. Don’t ask me why. I do not know. All I know is that these items not only help keep my nausea at bay, but they also help me recover post-roadside puke session. Know what makes you feel better, and embrace it without shame. Gummy worms and Sierra Mist? Go for it. Chicken tenders and Fanta? You do you. If your travel partners cast shade on these emergency items, take heart in the knowledge that if you weren’t snacking, you’d be puking, and they would be even more horrified.
Abandon dignity. Look, if I’ve learned anything at all, it’s that maintaining a sense of elegance is hard while you’re vomiting in a Home Depot parking lot in suburban Maryland. You simply cannot worry about seeming chill when the contents of your stomach are threatening to reveal themselves. Once those warning bells start going off, you have to enter survival mode: press your face against a cold window, put your head between your knees, glare at literally everyone who dares question your behavior. I’ve spent an entire flight curled up into a ball with a slightly damp Maasai blanket draped around my shoulders, wishing I could have my stomach surgically removed and replaced with a desensitized plastic bucket. This is what professionals call “self-care.”
Banish FOMO. Once, in Kenya, I had to skip a dawn safari drive because I could sense that my stomach was not into it. I’ve had to miss out on ancient forests, shipwrecks, and plenty of other neat shit that would have been awesome. But you know what’s more awesome? Not puking all over those things. Say no when you need to, because giving your stomach some time to hang out now will mean more adventures later in the day.
Don’t apologize. Obviously, if you throw up on someone, say you are sorry because that is rude and unpleasant. But don’t apologize for having a sensitive stomach. Some people may not appreciate the delicate balance needed to keep your lunch inside your body, but it’s not your job to cater to them—your nausea is not negotiable. Handle things the way you need to handle them, laugh it off, and thrice damn the haters. Or, you know, puke really close to them.
Let it suck. We hype travel a lot. Trips overseas are supposed to be life-changing, and domestic trips are supposed to be relaxing. But in reality, every single vacation involves some stuff that totally blows. Delayed flights, lost luggage, awkward language barriers, yelling at flight attendants as you try to make it to the bathroom before vomiting on your neighbor—it’s all part of the journey. Take a deep breath, find a patch of grass, and take comfort in the fact that today’s puke is tomorrow’s funny anecdote.
Bridey Heing is a freelancer writer based in Washington, DC. More of her work can be found here.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.