“Somebody who gets seasick so easily has no business being on a boat!” uttered the passenger to whom my friend had just revealed my little secret. I was standing right there and that stang for a moment. But I was having too great a time to care: I was finally cruising the Galapagos Islands, a dream I had had for a long time. I just remember thinking if everybody had this attitude, humans would have never walked on the moon!

Motion sickness

But the truth of the matter is that I’ve suffered from motion sickness all my life. As a traveller, it’s my Achilles’ heel. Some travellers have food allergies, or bad reactions to insect bites, or burn really easily. I start feeling nauseated after too many kilometres on a bumpy curvy road, or after a few minutes of side-to-side motion on a boat.

Travel is motion. And I get motion sick!

When I was 24, I went out on a sailboat for the first time with my boyfriend and some of his friends. After a couple of hours, I got so seasick that they had to abandon their long week-end plan, anchor the boat for the night, and turn around the following day. Seasickness felt so dreadful that I swore never to go on a sailboat again!

This was a sad state of affairs because I love being on the water. I love feeling the wind and the sun on my face, breathing in the sea air, and hearing the sound of the waves. And I love the feeling of freedom and adventure you get when you’re on a ship.

Just give me drugs

I started using Gravol, an over-the-counter medication (similar to American Dramamine) but its dry mouth and drowsiness effects were less than ideal. Beside boats, turbulence on planes also caused me grief, and I always made sure the seat pocket had a barf bag. As I discovered in Hawaii, helicopters are worse!

I managed to stay off boats until 2005. And then I somewhat “impulsively” booked an Antarctica cruise. This was a big boat (104 passengers, 50 crew) so I figured it would be fine. But further research revealed that we would be crossing the Drake Passage, described as having some of the roughest sea conditions in the world. Oh Crap.

Going on an excursion, Antarctica

Going on an excursion, Antarctica

This trip would require something stronger than Gravol or pressure point bracelets if I was going to survive the 40-hour crossing. I bought scopolamine transdermal patches and hoped for the best. This was the strongest medication sold in pharmacies against motion-sickness. Once stuck behind the ear, a patch was effective for three days.

I went to bed on the first night of the cruise, and when I woke up in the morning the boat was pitching and rolling so badly that I couldn’t stand up in my cabin without feeling severely nauseated despite the scopolamine. I sent one of my cabin mates to fetch the ship doctor. He arrived with what was apparently the strongest available drug against motion sickness (Promethazine) and proceeded to inject it into my gluteus muscle.

It didn’t work either. It was a rough 40 hours. I discovered that the best thing to do was to lie down as much as possible. And fortunately, this boat had a lot of barf bags hanging from everywhere. By contrast, the next four days, exploring the islands of the Antarctic peninsula on calm waters were amazing. Pure bliss. Was it worth all the suffering? Absolutely!

This was followed two years later by a couple of hours of pure hell on a catamaran in the Greek Islands and then…

Are Paihia bombs the solution?

While in Paihia, New Zealand in 2009, I heard about a local miracle drug nicknamed “Paihia Bombs”, a combination of two pills that protect against sea sickness for up to 24 hours. Of course I went straight to the Paihia pharmacy and bought them.

I got to put the Paihia drug to the test the following winter during a two-day sailing trip in the San Blas Islands, off the eastern coast of Panama. It was a success! For sure, the boat didn’t roll like that ship in Antarctica, but given my sensitivity I could tell that it was doing something.

Cruising the San Blas Islands, Panama

Cruising the San Blas Islands, Panama

When I ran out, I discovered that I could order them by e-mail and have them shipped to Canada. I was ecstatic. Could it be that I had solved my seasickness problem?

Last winter, I put the Paihia bombs to a more serious test: seven nights on a 96-feet motor sailor in the Galapagos Islands. By the second night, I started feeling nauseated and had to lie down immediately. I took some ginger Gravol on top of the Paihia pills. I wasn’t sick. The third day was better. And by the fourth day, I wasn’t even noticing the motion of the boat anymore; I was feeling perfectly normal. I never quite believed people who said that you get used to the motion after a few days, but it’s true! I was still taking the Paihia pills, but I was able to enjoy all the activities with no further issues.

Cruising the Galapagos

Cruising the Galapagos

Well, I consider this a victory. I am looking forward to the next water adventure to test myself some more. (And I just received my new order of Paihia bombs).

I normally try to avoid taking medications unless absolutely necessary. However if they let me go out on the water around amazing parts of the world without that “I just want to die” seasickness feeling, bring them on!

So, why am I telling you all this? I guess my point is that you shouldn’t just give up and automatically accept that you cannot do certain things because of a lifelong impediment. There might be workarounds, or solutions you haven’t even considered yet. Don’t give up on your dreams too fast. It may sound cliché but “Where there is a will, there is a way”!

What do you consider your Achilles’ heel as a traveller? What are you doing about it?

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