Where you should sit in a car, train, or plane to avoid motion sickness

Motion sick
You should choose a seat near the wings of a plane to help with motion sickness. vitapix/Getty Images
  • Motion sickness happens when your eyes see that you are moving but your body thinks you’re sitting.
  • Symptoms of motion sickness involve cold sweats, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and sudden queasiness.
  • To treat motion sickness try facing forward in the direction of travel and getting fresh air.
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.

If you feel sick while riding in a car, train, or plane, you’re not alone – around one in three Americans experience motion sickness at some point.

Feeling nauseous or dizzy can make any trip more difficult, but remedies like acupressure or taking ginger can help ease the symptoms of motion sickness.

What causes motion sickness?

Motion sickness occurs when your brain can’t make sense of information sent from your eyes, ears and body,” says Elizabeth Ko, MD, a physician and professor of medicine at UCLA.

When you’re riding in a car or train, your eyes and signals from your inner ear tell your body that you’re moving forward. But because you’re sitting still, your muscles and joints send the message that you’re not moving.

The clash between these signals is what triggers motion sickness symptoms, says Adrian Priesol, MD, an otoneurologist at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.

These symptoms are common in vehicles like cars, but you can also get motion sickness while playing video games or using a virtual reality device.

How to treat motion sickness

If you start to feel motion sickness coming on, there are a few simple tricks you can try to ease your symptoms.

  1. Focus your gaze at an object in the distance. When you look at something far away, it appears more stationary than the fast-moving objects outside your side window. That’s why looking into the distance or at the horizon can help reduce the conflict between your eyes and body and relieve nausea.
  2. Face forward when traveling. Sitting backwards on a train (so you’re facing the opposite direction of travel), or turning your head toward the backseat of a car signals to your brain that you’re moving backward, which can confuse your senses even more. “Minimizing sensory conflict with environmental modification can help prevent motion sickness,” Priesol says.
  3. Try acupressure. Putting pressure on P6, an acupuncture point just below your wrist, may help reduce nausea, Ko says. You can do this using the thumb of your other hand, or wear a specialized wristband that applies pressure on the point.
  4. Ginger is a well-known treatment for nausea and vomiting, so it’s a good go-to for motion sickness, Ko says. You can consume ginger in many forms including tea or candy.
  5. Get some fresh air. Rolling down a window in the car or going to the top deck of a boat can help curb nausea, Ko says. Getting fresh air can also help reduce any unpleasant smells from inside the vehicle that might trigger your nausea.
  6. Put down the phone or book – “Reading a book in the backseat of a car that is in motion can trigger motion sickness,” Priesol says. Focusing on a still object close to your body can cause a clash between your eyes and your inner ear.

How to prevent motion sickness

There are a few strategies you can use to avoid getting motion sick during a trip. It’s best to start these treatments before you get sick, when they’re more likely to be effective, Priesol says.

  • Choose the right seat. A smoother ride can make you less likely to get dizzy or nauseous and you can reduce jostling and movement by sitting:

    • In the front seat of a car
    • In the first couple cars of a train
    • Alongside the wings of a plane
    • On the upper deck of a boat
  • Taking antihistamines, which are generally used to treat allergies, can prevent motion sickness and ease symptoms. This is because antihistamines reduce your inner ear’s ability to sense motion and block messages to the part of your brain that triggers nausea and vomiting. “Only antihistamines that cause drowsiness [like diphenhydramine and meclizine] are effective. Non-drowsy formulations won’t help,” Ko says.
  • Apply a scopolamine skin patch. Scopolamine, aka Devil’s Breath, works to prevent nausea by blocking certain signals to your brain that offset your brain-body balance. Stick a patch behind one ear about four hours before you start travelling and keep it on through the duration of your travels [if accurate], Ko says. Scopolamine patches aren’t available over the counter, so you’ll need to get a prescription from your doctor. You can also find it in a pill form.
  • Avoid eating heavy meals and greasy, spicy or acidic foods before traveling, Ko says, as these are more likely to upset your stomach.

Insider’s takeaway

Riding in a vehicle or seeing motion on a screen can trigger motion sickness symptoms like nausea or dizziness. Using strategies like sitting in the front seat or using acupressure can ease motion sickness or prevent it from starting.

If you suddenly start getting motion sick when you never did before, see your doctor to make sure you don’t have an underlying condition like a migraine or an inner ear dysfunction, Priesol says.

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