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Annihilate Motion Sickness!

Posted in driving, Off-Roading, Racing, Rally, Tips by Leigh | March 22nd, 2011 | 5 Responses |

Prius Vomit

YuckPhoto courtesy of The Hookups.

There are few things in life more frustratingly debilitating for an auto enthusiast than motion sickness.  This mercilessly vile condition is caused by a disconnect between motion sensed by your inner ear and a lack of motion perceived by your eyes (often due to reading).  This confuses the brain which causes many of us to go green in the gills and then inevitably become the subject of an embarrassing story.

Motion sickness is especially, and understandably, tough on rally co-drivers who are responsible for navigating a car from their pace notes in daytime and at night, through twists and turns, and across jumps, gravel and other gut-churning terrain.  And even some of the best drivers on this planet are susceptible to the need, the need to heave.

Sadly, motion sickness can strike at any time, as people who could usually write a dissertation in a speeding Caterham Seven can suddenly and surprisingly become deathly ill while reading a map of the interstate.  But don’t let a weak stomach hold you back from your competitive dreams – fear not, I have you covered.  Whether you’re just starting out as a co-driver in a stage rally, competing in a TSD, or are the designated navigator on a lengthy road trip, these tips from experienced rally co-drivers will help you keep the bile down.


**Please note that I am not a doctor.  If you’re interested in pursuing the following suggestions, please consult with your doctor first about any possible side effects or drug interactions.**

Many co-drivers recommend ingesting some form of ginger before and during a rally to prevent and alleviate any nausea (even Mythbusters concurs).  Ginger supplements (pills) are easily found at stores like Whole Foods, although chewing raw ginger pieces – if you can stand it – seems to be the purest and most effective option.

If you don’t like the taste of ginger, besides the pills, some grocery stores also sell crystallized ginger coated in sugar that you can eat without incinerating your mouth.  Ginger snaps, ginger candy and ginger ale are also recommended but since most varieties contain trace amounts of ginger, the other alternatives mentioned are a safer bet.  My favorite way to consume a lot of ginger is to make ginger tea.  Just boil up a good amount of thinly sliced ginger in water for 10 minutes and add honey to taste.

rally car jump

Now would be an acceptable time to puke.

Other OTC recommendations are Children’s Benadryl and Bonine, which is like a non-drowsy Dramamine.  A commonly used prescription motion sickness preventative is a scopolamine patch.  You put it on behind your ear several hours before your event starts, and it lasts for several days.

Keep in mind that whichever medication or treatment you decide to use, make sure to test it out well in advance of your event.  You never know if it could make you drowsy or affect you in other negative ways.


Limit your greasy food intake the evening before and definitely just prior to your event.  However, don’t be afraid to eat altogether as you want to keep your blood sugar level from dropping to the point you get a headache or feel general malaise.  Eat small, preferably bland meals before the drive and bring healthy, innocuous snacks along like granola bars, crackers, and bananas.  Smells can trigger a headache or nausea so don’t eat anything pungent while traveling.

Keeping yourself hydrated with plenty of water (bottled or via CamelBak) will help stave off headaches and nausea.  Note that some people advise against carbonated drinks, claiming that they can upset stomachs, while others encourage their consumption.  I leave it up to you to decide.  But everyone agrees that alcohol is a big no-no – even on the night before.  Sorry!


Dress as comfortably as you can.  Tight clothing can induce headaches and increase your discomfort.  If you’re feeling restricted, try to reduce the feeling safely (without removing any safety gear).

One accessory that is popular among co-drivers, sailors and airline pilots to prevent motion sickness is an acupressure wristband.  There’s a type called Sea-Band that is commonly used.  It basically applies direct pressure to a certain point in your wrist, which supposedly alleviates nausea.


If at all possible, avoid being navigator if you’re coming down with something.  Even if you’re lucky enough to possess an iron stomach, a cold can easily invite motion sickness.

If you’re starting to feel queasy, get as much ventilation as you can.  Letting in cool, fresh air will help bring your temperature down and eliminate any smells that could be triggering your nausea.  Breathe slowly and deeply.  Also, looking up at the horizon whenever possible will help your body resolve the disjunction between the motion you sense and the lack of motion being registered by your eyes.

However, if you’re downright certain that, despite all of the above, you will be tossing your cookies, bring some Ziploc bags along so that you don’t have to stop the driver to yak.  Ziploc bags keep it all safely in one place, and they’re see-through too so you can gross out your driver (or the passengers).  For maximum effect, drink something brightly colored beforehand to weird out everyone in the car.

Finally, if you’re prone to vomiting, consider an open-face helmet!

snodrift pastrana

Photo courtesy of Race-Dezert.com

Got any tips of your own?

** Special thanks to pro rally co-driver Dave Shindle for several invaluable suggestions. **

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5 Responses

  1. Taylor says:

    The lead in pic reminds me of the day after a run through the Ybor City bars back in 2005. Don’t remember the night, except for starting off with a Guiness chased by a Jager shot but the next day I had to clean a dark brown stain off the side of the car and some from the back seat.

    Luckily it was a rental and we left a couple of days later.

    • Leigh says:

      Ugh I hope it was your own barf. The worst is cleaning up someone else’s. Makes me gag.

      I’ve only yakked in a car once, and like your story, it was alcohol-related (a night of soju – Korean vodka). Luckily, I had the presence of mind to puke in my handbag, but I wasn’t happy about it the next day.

  2. J D Stadler says:

    Good info! I always get motion sick when my husband is driving. I could blame his skills but I’ll chalk it up to being prone to motion sickness. It gives me a reason to always be the driver, so bonus points there =) +1 on the Sea-Bands!

    • Leigh says:

      Thanks! and oh yeah, I know the feeling… I get queasy even reading on a train. I haven’t tried the sea-bands yet myself, but many people recommend them. I’m sure I’ll be giving them a shot sometime soon. I can use all the help I can get ;)

  3. Mike Ogier says:

    Ive just taken part in my first 3 day tarmac rally and day one went really well, super ready for the next days stages. arrived at service got in the car and did 3 stages before chucking the chunks, all over me, the seat and the notes. Ruined my day we retired (due to the smell in the car) but cleaned it up for the next day. Last day went well until 3 stages from the end and up it came once more. still finished. I have never been car sick before and never want to again. I will try not to look up, will eat ginger biscuits and have been told to try to eat dry cereal.
    I dont eat while racing, but sip/swill water and chew mints. Ill be trying everything next time, ginger, motion sickness tablets, not looking up and dry cereal. Fingers crossed.

    Mike, aka “Chucky” Channel Islands