10 Tips for Traveling with a Carsick Toddler

How to manage your young child's motion sickness

Driving long distances with any toddler can be difficult, but a road trip with a little one who tends to get carsick has added challenges. The unpleasant symptoms of car sickness, or motion sickness, include nausea, dizziness, sweating and vomiting, and will make your child an unhappy traveler. 

If you have a child who suffers from motion sickness, you know it’s upsetting to see your little one uncomfortable, but it also adds time to your trip, not to mention messes to clean. But there are things you can do to help manage a toddler’s motion sickness. Be ready with these tips before you hit the road for your next trip. 

Be prepared.

If you know your child has a tendency to get carsick, plan for it. Have several changes of clothing, towels, wipes and paper towels as well as plastic baggies to store anything that gets soiled. Make sure these items are accessible — don’t pack them away in a suitcase. You also can lay a towel over the child’s lap and on the floor in front of her to help minimize the mess if vomiting does occur. 

Place the carseat in the middle of the back seat.

car seat yawning
Johannes Kroemer/Getty Images

Car sickness is triggered when a child’s inner ear senses motion, but he can’t see or feel the motion — this often happens when a toddler can't see out the front of the car. When you move the carseat to the middle, the child is more likely to be able to see out the windshield and less likely to feel symptoms of motion sickness. 

Time your trip.

If your toddler will sleep in the car, try leaving close to nap time. Motion sickness typically doesn’t bother kids if they are sleeping. 

Minimize stimulation.

Most parents are prepared with books, toys and videos to entertain an active toddler on a long trip. But if your toddler gets car sick, you'll want to skip these distractions — at least until you know her tummy has settled. Instead, sing songs, talk to your little one and encourage her to look out the window. If you have an older toddler, try playing games where you spot colors or items out the window. Remember, looking out the window can help the toddler’s senses get on the same page about the motion of the car — and help prevent car sickness. 

Avoid trigger foods.

Don’t let your child eat a heavy or spicy meal, either before or during a road trip. If your trip is short, consider waiting until you arrive at your destination to eat, though some experts maintain an empty stomach can trigger car sickness. Dairy is often cited as a culprit, so avoid milk if you can. 

Stick to bland foods.

If your car trip is longer, let your little one snack on bland foods like saltines, toast, oyster crackers and Cheerios. Make sure he has something small to eat every few hours, along with sips of water. 

Let in fresh air.

This is difficult when you're moving at 60 mph+ on the highway, but if you can roll down a window, the fresh air can help a child feel better. If you can’t roll down the window, turn on the air conditioning and keep the car cool.

Try natural remedies.

While they don’t work for every child, some toddlers experience relief with ginger, peppermint or citrus. Ginger is a well known as a remedy for symptoms of motion sickness. And while soda isn’t great for your little one, a little ginger ale in the sippy cup might help settle his tummy. Other people swear by smelling peppermint or citrus. Try giving your toddler an orange to hold and smell, or you could add a few drops of peppermint or orange essential oil to a cloth for the child to smell. 

Talk to your doctor.

If your child is over 2, you can likely give her an over-the-counter medication like Dramamine to help with the symptoms. Talk to your doctor and read the medication's label carefully to determine the correct dosage for your toddler. 

Modify your drive.

A ride that's bumpy or a driver who is hitting the brakes often will likely make a child feel sicker. If possible, stick to smooth roads that don’t have tons of traffic. Also consider stopping regularly. Getting out of the car to stretch legs and breath in fresh air will help your child’s symptoms. 

Most importantly, don't get discouraged. Motion sickness tends to start around age 2, but the good news is that most children grow out of it. Even though it’s tempting to stop traveling, try to figure out what helps your child and what exacerbates his symptoms. Chances are it will be a short-lived phase of your child's life.

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