Posted by: seattledizzygroup | July 31, 2013

Travel Tips for the Dizzy Adventurer

Mexico & Mentoring Potluck photos 2 058

Traveling with Dizziness

(Adventures in “Dizzyland”)

by Cheryl Rowe
Founder/Owner/Director of Seattle Dizzy Group

Helpful strategies for overcoming the challenges of traveling with a vestibular disorder.  Practical suggestions for how to prepare for, make the most of, and recover from travel adventures of all sorts.

(These travel tips have helped members of Seattle Dizzy Group.  You’ll need to find out what works best for you.  Be sure to consult your doctor before taking any medications).

Preparing for a Trip

Pre-Travel Planning Considerations to Set Yourself Up for Success:

  • Compare the costs and benefits of traveling by plane, boat, bus, car, train, etc. as well as exploring on foot.  Choose means of transportation that offer you greater benefits versus health costs.  Some costs to your health may be worthwhile (for example, some temporary discomfort or mild motion sickness), but try to avoid means of transportation that will result in extreme costs to your health that may cause you to be too ill or fatigued to enjoy your trip (for example, avoid travelling long-distance by car or going on a cruise if this sort of travel will result in severe symptoms/motion sickness).  Taking transportation impacts into consideration, you may choose to plan a vacation closer to home or explore on foot when you reach your destination.
  • Consider how the weather conditions of a travel destination may affect you and choose a location that will not aggravate your symptoms.  (For example, if you are sensitive to heat or humidity, choose a destination with milder weather).
  • Know your limits regarding length and pace of travel so that you can avoid overdoing it.  Plan to incorporate rest periods during your trip.
  • When purchasing an airline ticket, consider whether a window or aisle seat will be best for you.  (You may be able to visually stabilize a bit more in a window seat if you can see the ground, but you’ll likely want an aisle seat if you have feelings of being “trapped” or if you are more sensitive to engine noise or vibrations).
  • If you feel anxious that your vestibular symptoms may be too severe to travel as planned, consider purchasing travel insurance for greater flexibility.
  • If you have food sensitivities or dietary restrictions (for example, a low-salt Meniere’s diet), consider a time share or other accommodation with a kitchen.
  • Prepare for your trip by getting a lot of rest.  A few days before your trip, try not to have any big plans or a busy schedule.
  • Create a packing list document so that you won’t forget anything important due to “brain fog.”
  • Pack a travel kit with medications & travel aids so that you can travel as comfortably as possible.

Making the Most of a Trip

Travel Considerations to Manage Symptoms and Maximize Enjoyment:

  • Medications:  Antihistamines may help your body better manage motion sickness.  (For example, Dramamine Original Formula/Dimenhydrinate, or Meclizine/Bonine/Non-drowsy Dramamine are available over the counter without a prescription).  Another option to manage motion sickness is wearing a prescription Scopolamine patch behind the ear.  Some people also find that Valium helps reduce dizziness.  For air travel, decongestants may help keep nasal passages open during a flight.  Try taking Sudafed or using Afrin Nasal spray 15-30 minutes before take-off.  Take as low a dose of medications as possible to minimize side effects and avoid drowsiness.  (For example, you may find that breaking a pill into 1/2 or 1/4 may be enough of a dose to effectively manage symptoms without causing side effects/drowsiness).
  • When traveling by car, most people find it is better to sit in the front passenger seat or in the back middle seat.  Some people actually find that they feel less dizzy and nauseated if they are the driver rather than a passenger.  (If you choose to drive, be sure it is safe for you to drive and that you are not impaired by vestibular symptoms!).  On a longer road trip, plan to stop and get out of the car briefly about every 2 hours to help manage symptoms of motion sickness.
  • When traveling by train, try to sit facing forward towards the front of the train and remain on the lower level (where there is less sway/rocking).  Avoid looking out the window at close objects which pass by quickly.  Instead, focus on the horizon or objects in the distance or something stable inside the train.
  • When traveling by boat, sit above deck rather than in a cabin below.  Focus on the horizon to reduce motion sickness.
  • When traveling by airplane, consider pre-boarding.  Ask to pre-board at the gate and explain that you have a vestibular/balance disorder that makes you dizzy and unsteady/imbalanced and causes it to be difficult/overwhelming to be jostled by others.  When you board the plane, ask someone to help you lift heavy items into the overhead bin.  Be sure to keep your travel kit with everything you may need accessible at your feet.
  • For air travel pressure changes, try chewing gum, swallowing, or yawning.  EarPlanes help manage air travel pressure changes and may decrease nausea and other symptoms that result from ear pressure.  (If you have small ear canals, the child size EarPlanes may be more comfortable than the adult size).  If you are very sensitive to air pressure changes, consider wearing EarPlanes the entire flight rather than only for take-off and landing.  (Be aware that wearing EarPlanes for an extended time may cause some mild ear discomfort).
  • Especially if traveling alone, you may wish to notify the flight attendant(s) and/or other travelers around you about your vestibular/balance disorder including what a vertigo attack might look like and what help you might need.  You may wish to bring an information card regarding your condition to give to others.
  • Visually stabilize/re-orient yourself by looking at the ground outside the plane window or the horizon or a distant object if traveling by car/bus/train/boat.  Or, focus on something stable inside the plane/car/bus/train/boat.
  • If you are sensitive to visual stimuli and lighting, consider wearing a hat and/or sunglasses.
  • To increase sense of balance through proprioception, sit up straight with head supported and facing forward, place arms on armrests (or try to get as much surface contact as possible), and plant feet flat on the ground.  If your legs are short, place a bag so your feet can rest on it.  For neck support, use a travel pillow or roll a towel, blanket, sweater, etc.  Placing a hand flat on top of your head may also help bring you a sense of balance.
  • To avoid exacerbating nausea and motion sickness when traveling, avoid or limit activities that may strain the eyes or increase “Sensory Mismatch” like reading or using the computer.
  • For all types of travel, SeaBands (acupressure point wristbands) may help with nausea and motion sickness.
  • Try to relax.  Breathe/meditate.  Sleep if possible.  Wearing an eye mask may help you to relax and sleep.  Noise-cancelling headphones in combination with your favorite mp3s may also help you to relax.  (Be sure headphones have a hollow center if also wearing EarPlanes).
  • Aromatherapy:  Many people find lavender essential oil relaxing.  Or, you might try Di-Vertigo:
  • Homeopathy:  You may wish to try Nux Vomica (for nausea) and/or Cocculus Indicus (for vertigo).
  • Stay hydrated.  Drink a lot of fluids during your trip to prevent dehydration which may increase symptoms and cause headache and/or muscle cramps.  Coconut water is very hydrating and some enhanced water drinks have vitamins and electrolytes (for example, Vitamin Water Zero).
  • To decrease nausea and settle your stomach, sip a carbonated drink, eat bland snacks (like crackers, oatmeal, rice, etc.), and/or munch on something ginger (for example, candied ginger or ginger Altoids).  When traveling by plane, bring snacks and purchase water and/or a carbonated drink after going through security and before boarding the plane to carry on with you in case you find that you need something to eat/drink prior to food/beverage service.
  • Bring a barf bag in case you get sick.  (It’s best to always be prepared!).  Purchase novelty barf bags:
  • Once you arrive at your destination, plan to have some downtime.
  • Throughout your trip, try to get adequate sleep, pace yourself, and incorporate rest periods.
  • Know your limits and try not to overdo it.  For example, it may be more enjoyable to explore a destination on foot rather than taking a bus or boat tour that may cause motion sickness and leave you feeling sick and “trapped” until the tour is over.
  • Consider taking some reasonable, worthwhile risks like trying a new activity.  Pick a short, easy activity.  For summer travels you might try going on an easy hike, floating in an inner tube down a quiet river, snorkeling near the shore, or kayaking/canoeing on still water.  Or, for winter travels you might try snowshoeing or cross-country skiing a short distance.  You may be pleasantly surprised to find that you enjoy the activity and you’re capable of more than you thought.  To reduce anxiety about trying a new activity, plan an exit strategy and go with others who will understand if you are unable to continue the activity due to increased vestibular symptoms.  Be careful not to overexert yourself and take some time to rest and recover after the activity.
  • Try to stay safe during your trip and avoid activities that may greatly aggravate your vestibular symptoms or put you in danger.  Be especially careful in the water and avoid activities like scuba diving and diving in general which can increase symptoms and cause disorientation.  If you feel disoriented in the water, be sure to stay in shallower areas where your feet can touch and you are able to keep your head above the water.  After swimming, you may want to use alcohol ear drops to remove any trapped water in your ears which may be irritating or disorienting.  For example, Auro-Dri:
  • Focus on what you can do during your trip rather than what you can’t do.
  • Try to make the most of your time, create good memories, and enjoy your travels.
  • Whatever happens on your trip, remember it’s all part of the adventure!

Recovering from a Trip

Post-Travel Considerations to Restore Balance:

  • Upon returning from your trip, plan to rest and recover.  If possible, don’t schedule anything for at least a few days following a trip.
  • To help your body recover from a trip, get a massage, chiropractic adjustment, and/or acupuncture treatment.
  • You might be more imbalanced and/or sensitive to changes in head positions following a trip.  Use balance strategies and head precautions until dizzy symptoms subside.  Make an appointment with your vestibular therapist to treat positional vertigo with particle repositioning maneuvers.
  • You may feel more sick and fatigued for a few days or even up to a few weeks after a trip.  Try to remember that the trip was worth it!
  • Reflect and make note of what travel medications and aids worked for you and what strategies were not effective.  This information will be helpful for your next trip.  Keep trying different strategies each trip until you find what works well for you so that you can travel as comfortably as possible and enjoy all sorts of adventures in “Dizzyland.”
Articles with more info about traveling with a vestibular disorder:

Travel and Vestibular Disorders

Travel Tips from Meniere’s Society

Air Travel and Dizziness

Motion Sickness

Ideas to Kick Car Sickness to the Curb

Mal de Debarquement Syndrome (MDD or MdDS)

*Seattle Dizzy Group does not officially endorse any products mentioned in this post*


© Copyright 2013, Seattle Dizzy Group. All rights reserved.

Post updated December 2015.


  1. New Views of Motion Sickness – Wall Street Journal Article

  2. Reblogged this on Seattle Dizzy Group and commented:

    Traveling with Dizziness post updated with additional tips and suggestions.

  3. Article about how “Sensory Conflicts” cause motion sickness.

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Seattle Dizzy Group

Providing support & community for people living with chronic dizziness & imbalance -- in Seattle & beyond

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