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That queasy feeling

Nothing puts a damper on a long-anticipated vacation cruise like a bout with motion sickness. Those queasy feelings—and the headache, cold sweats, drowsiness and occasional diarrhea that can accompany them—happen when conflicting signals from different parts of your body reach your brain, say scientists who study the phenomenon.

Mixed messages

As you travel, your brain receives input from your eyes; your inner ears, which help you sense movement and balance; and the sensory receptors in your skin, muscles and joints. If you’re reading on a bus, for instance, your inner ears transmit the sensation that you’re moving, but your eyes, fixed on a book, signal stability. Those mixed messages, scientists think, cause symptoms of motion sickness.

You’ll fare better if you avoid nausea-triggering alcohol and large meals—especially high-fat foods—before a trip. Over-the-counter medicines like Dramamine or Bonine may bring relief, but since these can make you drowsy, avoid them if you plan on taking the wheel at some point. Ginger root tablets, available at health food stores and some pharmacies, may also help prevent motion sickness.

If you suffer from severe motion sickness, talk to your doctor about prescription options and their side effects. And try these tips to make your passenger experience more pleasant:

If you’re in a car or bus …

  • Sit facing forward and fix your gaze on a distant object. Reading or focusing on close objects (like your knitting) can trigger queasiness.
  • Resist staring out the side window; watching the rapidly passing scenery can make you feel dizzy.
  • Sit in the center of the bus for a smoother ride.

If you’re on a cruise …

  • Go on deck and find a seat in the middle of the boat. Look out at the horizon. Seeing that you’re moving agrees with other messages your brain is receiving, plus the fresh air will help.
  • If seasickness gets you down, visit the ship’s doctor, who can give you an injection to stop seasickness cold.

If you’re on a plane …

  • Sit over the wings where there’s less motion.
  • Lay your head on the headrest to minimize sharp movements.
  • Keep your mind occupied—listen to music or enjoy the in-flight movie—so you don’t think about becoming airsick.

In general, try not to anticipate nausea from bad experiences. Anxiety about traveling can increase your chances of developing motion sickness, so do what you can to relax and enjoy your trip.