Monday-Morning Moving: 12 Tips To Beat Seasickness — Before It Beats You

Despite the fact that some of the newer, larger ships are more stable than ever, you can still get seasick. (Daniela Harrison photo.)
Despite the fact that some of the newer, larger ships are more stable than ever, you can still get seasick. (Daniela Harrison photo.)

By Sharyn Alden

As an avid sailor and cruiser who’s sailed on ships of all sizes, I’ve been felled by seasickness several times – and I’m not alone. I’ve witnessed seasoned sailors and newbies alike turn green when the horizon was no longer horizontal.

Sea or motion sickness is a very real thing. Studies suggest it’s caused by the vestibular apparatus, located within the inner ear, which feeds the brain information about body movements. In basic terms, motion sickness is the result of the brain receiving confusing signals and not processing the information well.

Who’s most vulnerable? Women are more susceptible than men. People who are particularly sensitive to smells are also vulnerable.

When you get right down to it, seasickness can affect anyone, and one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to tackling the malady. If someone says a cure works it’s worth a try, no matter how crazy it might sound.

Years ago, cruising near Panama, I was enjoying dinner in the cruise ship’s dining room when suddenly the room began making a slow tilt. The constant motion of the ship tilting and righting itself, combined with an overabundance of food and drink (more on this later) sent waves of diners heading to the exits.

I was determined not to follow the crowds, but only a gorilla could have held me in place on this room-size teeter-totter, so I went to my stateroom (a big no-no) to lie down. A couple of hours went by and I was still miserable. A friend reached out to our cabin steward for advice.

“No problem,” the steward said. “I’ll get the salt.” We thought maybe he was thinking mouthwash, but he had something else in mind.

He instructed me to lie down and then shake salt into my bellybutton. “Give it a few minutes and you’ll be free,” he said.

We thought it was the craziest thing either of had ever heard, but at that point I was willing to try anything, so I tried the salt. Voila! Maybe it was all in my head (more about that later, too), but soon I did feel better.

I’d never heard of this odd remedy before or since. There were more to come, though, from sailors on the high seas.

Playing the position of “grinder” on the America’s Cup yacht True North off St. Martin, I was heeled over the side with my back parallel to the water as this greyhound of the sea whipped us through waves faster than I’d ever experienced. Soon motion sickness took over.

A professional crewmember took me aside and brought out saltine crackers and lime juice to settle my stomach. Then he moved on to the next trick – a bucket of ice water. “Take off your shoes and socks,” he said. “Put your feet in in the ice as long as you can stand it.”

It may have been another old wives’ tale, but the feet-in-ice approach eventually worked, too.

Here are more tips that can help make your next cruise seasickness-free.

  1. Avoid alcohol. British sailors may have sworn by their “tot” of rum, but for everyone else, alcohol just adds to the misery of seasickness. Drink plain water to stay hydrated.
  2. Eat moderately. Avoid high-fat, greasy foods and sugary desserts and snacks. While that sounds like the antithesis of the cruise experience, when the ocean starts churning, you’ll be glad you haven’t overindulged.

    Eating moderately on board is a great way to avoid seasickness.
    Eating moderately on board is a great way to avoid seasickness. (Daniela Harrison photo.)
  3. Try ginger. There are several ways to try this age-old remedy. Chew it, suck on it or dilute it in hot tea.
  4. Don’t lose sleep. Easier said than done on a cruise filled with fun things to see and do, but sleep deprivation can make motion sickness worse. Especially if high seas are in the forecast, you need to get your rest.
  5. Don’t hole up in your cabin. Enclosed, tight stuffy spaces are not where you want to be when you feel queasy. Get some fresh air on the deck and then find a spot in the middle of the ship to stretch out. Avoid the bow and stern where there’s more motion.
  6. Avoid clusters of seasick passengers. One sure-fire way to get seasick is watching other people fight nausea. Avoid the contagion; find a quiet place away on deck, away from the sickos.
  7. Keep staring at the horizon. In a rolling sea, everything you look at is moving. The only thing stationary is the horizon. Concentrating on it will help reset your internal equilibrium.
  8. Lie on your back. Avoid sitting or slouching in a chair. Lying down can prevent histamine from reaching the brain, and consequently, can reduce nausea.
  9. Avoid electronic screens or reading books. Reading encourages motion sickness. If you can’t give it up, take frequent breaks by looking at the horizon.
  10. Take deep breaths to avoid light-headedness. Practice controlled breathing to prevent hyperventilating.
  11. Try over-the-counter drugs and prescription treatments. Dramamine and Bonine are common over-the-counter seasickness remedies. Wristbands work on a pressure point; their adherents swear by them. Scopolamine patches are worn behind the ear and look like small Band-Aids. They contain small amounts of medicine that are absorbed through the skin.
  12. Trick yourself. If you believe you can combat seasickness, it’s very possible you can. Professional mariners have been known to tell themselves they aren’t going to get seasick, and they keep repeating it over and over. For many sailors, it purportedly works. It’s the easiest remedy there is, so what have you got to lose? You might want to have the lime juice, salt and Dramamine handy, though — just in case.

Sharyn Alden is a long-time travel writer with a media-relations business, Sharyn Alden Communications, Inc., based in Madison, Wis. Contact her at sharynalden@gmail.com.

Editor’s Note: Take care of yourself when you travel. Choose travel insurance from Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection — and hey, it’s salt-free! Get it here