Motion sickness or car sickness in young kids is unfortunately as common as it is gross! With one easily motion sick parent and two very easily motion sick kids, we have tested all the theories out there over many years and across many more trips. We have pulled together our top tips on how to prevent and manage motion sickness while traveling with your small children. Don’t let motion sick prone kids keep you from traveling more often.
Food: Stick with a bland pre-departure meal; for our kids, a bagel with a little butter is a perfect NY breakfast heading out of town. Not into bagels? Just avoid dairy, greasy foods, super sugary or super salty foods as these naturally can upset little ones stomaches even under perfect conditions. Throughout your trip offer snacks at normal times and don’t push meals too far outside your child’s normal schedule. Being overly hungry can be just as bad for motion sickness as a fast-food meal.
Air: Crack those windows and breathe in some fresh air (stinky asphalt or truck fumes? back up they go!). Most important, don’t let the car get too warm. If your kid is starting to feel nauseous, encourage them to take long slow deep breaths and crank-up the A/C or roll the window down even more. Deep breaths work wonders for our oldest to keep creeping motion sickness at bay for 15-20 minutes. This is usually enough time for us to get to a rest stop or pull-off to give him a 10-minute reset-break (see below).
Take Breaks (but not long breaks): Try to get out of the car at least every two hours to give everyone a chance to stretch their legs, reset their nauseous brains, burn some energy, and even have a snack. With a car sick kid, heck, for any kid, turning a 5-hour drive into a 10-hour trip is worse than puking on your car seat.
Activities: Our kids fare best when we can keep them engaged in songs, games, storytelling and listening to podcasts. DO NOT allow your car sick prone child to play with tablets/screens or read books; unless you like such things to be covered in… you know what. For us, this means one adult drives while the other adult assumes the role as full-time entertainment captain. On solo parenting drives, we queue up the podcasts!
Car Seat Logistics: I am not a car seat or safety expert so do consult the instructions specific to your seat, child’s age, and weight, etc. Wherever you have determined they are safest, aim for looking out the front or back windows as much as possible (that flat horizon line is better than the rapid motion of the side windows. Do NOT turn a rear-facing child forward “early” to reduce car sickness. I have searched and I cannot find any data to support the theory.. My kids still puked when I turned them around and especially young toddlers are much safer rear-facing (this point data does overwhelmingly support).
Dealing with the Mess
Even with the best prevention our oldest and most car-sick prone has an episode or two every single long trip (basically over 20 minutes and the puking is going to happen). There are some helpful clean-up details below that I wouldn’t read while having my lunch.
Listen for Cues: Our oldest starts to cough, our middle starts asking for snacks with a stern persistence that is unlike his usual carefree personality (nausea can feel a lot like hunger to a young kid). When these things happen I know its time to spring into duty and get the cup ready. On twisty or bumpy roads I give them a cup at the onset to hang onto in their seat.
Teach them to use a container: We love red solo cups for the occasion. They are opaque so no one has to look at the contents, deep enough to hold quite a bit of volume, and can be temporarily stored in a side door cup holder until you reach an appropriate trash receptacle. The design makes them easy to hold onto, they are easily available at gas stations should you need to restock mid-trip. And environmentally friendly, we no not at all. But I have no interest in reusing any container serving this purpose. We toss a wipe on top for obvious reasons.
Other supplies: At all times we have a pack of wipes, stack of solo cups, plastic bags, alcohol-free hand sanitizer (low-odor!), and roll of paper towels in the car in a small reusable grocery bag (the only eco-friendly non waste element of this messy operation). I also pack extra easily accessible outfits and their travel water cups. Confession time, I didn’t always pack extra outfits. In the photo above I was indeed scrubbing banana out of the straps, but Mike wasn’t getting an outfit right out of the car, he was running across the parking lot to an Old Navy.
If your child’s motion sickness is severe, consult with your doctor about over the counter medications or other treatments. When our oldest was just over two his motion sickness was at its peak (5-7 episodes during a 2-hour drive). We knew we needed to try something new when he began to cry hysterically whenever we pulled his car seat down from our loft (before we owned a car). We worked with our pediatrician to identify a low-dose medication to take the edge off of his nausea without knocking him out and it worked wonders for those really tough years.
Hang in there. This too shall pass.