Motion Sickness on the Road

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I am currently recovering from Motion Sickness on the road. This is a very real, very difficult condition to deal with, and something to be aware of, especially if you’re traveling solo.

In this fantastic world of full-time travel (four years and counting for me, at the time of writing), a tapestry of experiences is woven together, incorporating the colours and flavours of the hundreds of interesting places I’ve been and people I’ve encountered all over the world.

Long Term Travel has a downside, and it happens when you go too fast for too long, alone. Here's what happens. #longtermtravel #travelfatigue #fulltimetravel #TheProfessionalHobo

This post was originally published in 2011. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content. 

Travel is exciting.

Everything is new. You’re constantly meeting new people, visiting new places, navigating foreign streets, and discovering new things about yourself in the process. This act of (literally) broadening your horizons produces a gentle constant adrenaline rush; one that can often give you the energy you need to keep going despite a few too many sleepless nights and the initial onset of travel fatigue.

travel is exciting

But, what about roots?

Full-time and long-term travel generally negates the ability to have roots. In packing up and traveling for an extended period of time, you cut ties to the place and community that is “home”; a place and community that can be grounding.

Don’t get me wrong – to cut roots and spread your wings is a beautiful thing to do, and something that can be very revealing. But if you’ve cut your roots on a semi-permanent basis to travel full-time, motion sickness can set in after a while.

Motion Sickness (pron: mo-shon sik-ness)

…The state of being dizzy or nauseated because of the motions that occur while traveling in or on a moving vehicle…

…Motion sickness, also known as Travel Sickness, is a condition in which a disagreement exists between visually perceived movement and the vestibular system’s sense of movement…

…generalized discomfort experienced when an individual is in motion…

Although these definitions refer to the literal act of being in a moving vehicle like a car or boat and feeling sick, here are a few parallels between the literal definitions of motion sickness and “motion sickness on the road”:

Motion Sickness comes from being on the move, without a constant thing to focus on. One of the remedies for motion sickness in a car, for example, is to look out at the horizon. Seeing – and feeling – the grounding consistency of the horizon can help your body to understand its place in space and time, as opposed to focusing on your immediate surroundings (such as the seat in front of you, which isn’t moving, but actually is) and to have the blur of the world moving past you in your peripheral vision.

In the world of full-time travel, there often isn’t a figurative horizon to focus on.

Although full-time travelers will spout rhetoric like “the world is my home” and “everybody is my family” – and I’ve said such things myself – I’m starting to question the long-term sustainability of this ideology.

being in motion

Are you here for two years, or two weeks?

If you spend two years somewhere, you – and everybody around you – will act very differently than if you’re only staying for two weeks.

Of course in both cases, you can develop in-depth relationships with people. But in two weeks, you will only get to know somebody in a limited fashion, and it’s a different form of relationship. The person you meet isn’t going to invest in the friendship the way a highschool friend might.

Knowing that you are moving on creates invisible walls between you and these fast friends you make. And although you may plan to stay in touch and reconvene somewhere else in the world, the relationship remains somewhat superficial.

But if you plan to spend two years in one place, you can develop much deeper connections with the people, the land, and the society you are living in. You share a myriad of experiences with the community in which you live, and that connection provides the fundamental roots that can be considered “home” – if even only for a limited time.

“Home”: That Dirty Word Again

I’m constantly fielding questions like “Where’s home for you?” and “When do you think you’ll go home again?” with light-hearted responses about “home” being the contents of my bag and the pillow I lay my head on each night.

Traditional society dictates that “home” is a physical construct with walls, a roof, security against the elements, and filled with items that provide comfort. Although I don’t believe that home needs to be such a tangible physical thing, I also find myself doubting the loose definition of home I’ve been standing by for the last while.

Having a Constant “Horizon” on the Road

Despite the remedy for motion sickness being a constant horizon to focus on, I believe that you can still travel full-time without getting motion sickness. You can do this either by maintaining a slow pace of travel, or by having a “horizon” to move along with you.

When I filmed the pilot episode for a travel television show last September, I was with a cast/crew of about 10 people on a whirlwind trip through France and Nepal over the course of a month. We were on the move constantly, sharing close quarters with one another with very little privacy.

And after almost eight months of solo travel at a fevered pace with a constant flow of new friends coming in and out of my life, I’d have thought that this television experience would have put me over the top, knocking the wind completely out of me.

Instead, I found the exact opposite; I was energized by traveling and living with this crew in the tight community that we formed.

travel with people

Travel Partners being your Horizon

For the first three years of my travels, my grounding effect – my horizon to focus on to prevent motion sickness – was Kelly, my former boyfriend. He was somebody with whom I could share my travels; somebody who provided context and understood my history and personality as we both had fresh new travel experiences and incorporated them into the travel tapestries we each were weaving. This contextual understanding of one other also formed the ability to support each other through both good times and bad.

Whether a romantic partner, friend, or even a television crew, it’s the people you are connected to that provide the fundamental roots that can be considered “home” on the road. And it’s these relationships that can prevent motion sickness from kicking in, despite the pace of travel you keep.

friends on the road

Don’t feel sorry for me

Before you get all teary for me and surmise that I’m lonely, don’t! I’m doing just fine, thank you very much.

See also: Pros and Cons of Solo Travel, Couple Travel, and Family Travel

But I also haven’t been moving around too much in the last few months, and have little intention of expanding my horizons much beyond the north island of New Zealand for at least a little while longer. This is because I’ve found a community of supportive people with whom I have a deep connection, which in turn is giving me the sense of context – the horizon – that I’ve been craving lately.

It seems that both travel fatigue and a sense of motion sickness on the road have lent their way to my stopping for a little while, developing some deeper relationships, and letting the world stop spinning around me long enough to get a good look at the horizon.

Once I lock in on the horizon again, the world will be my oyster. I have lots of ideas for the travel adventures that lay ahead, and a lifetime to make them all happen.

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15 thoughts on “Motion Sickness on the Road”

  1. Who said traveling has a set timing? I love slow traveling, that’s the single most important factor that keeps us sane. I love that you found a community that you connect with, that’s what roaming through this big beautiful planet is all about. Enjoy your time in NZ and when spirit is inspired, you will set out again.

  2. @Lainie – Thanks for your support! I do feel that slower travel – or rather, the freedom to travel quickly, then slowly, and however we so choose – is really what being The Professional Hobo is all about.

    There are no rules! For me, that was the point of selling everything; to embrace this true freedom. 🙂

    @Kate – No, that’s not me! 😉 But my hair is getting long(er). It will probably be below my shoulders by the time we see each other again.

  3. As new parents who plan to travel the world with our child in the near future, the topic of roots is paramount to me and has been on my mind a lot lately. So, I enjoyed your timely post which reinforced some the solutions I think I came up with:-). I suspect sometimes one needs roots as much as wings, or perhaps the latter cannot really be spread wide unless the former are attended to or run deeper in the (metaphoric?) ground. Take it easy, the road ahead is long and beautiful …

  4. I think that final phrase is the key – you’ve got a whole lifetime to make the adventures happen. If you’re happy somewhere then stay till you’re not, or until the feet get itchy again. You are your own “brand” of traveller and you can decide how long you want to stay somewhere. I mean, look at me, for all intents and purposes I’m thoroughly grounded at “home”, with a husband and child two suburbs away from the suburb I grew up in, but I still think of myself as a traveller, just going through a phase of life where I stay still a bit more often!

  5. You can, of course, have both travel and the roots of a home base. It’s just expensive—you have to pay for both the place you’re actually staying and the home that’s sitting vacant.

    Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be terribly expensive. The key is to grow your roots someplace where it’s cheap to live (and that preferably provides easy access to travel infrastructure).

    If you plan for it, it’s pretty easy to set your home up so that you can leave it for months at a time and still have it be homely when you return. You lose some things—you probably can’t have a pet. But you can still have most of the things that a home base provides—neighbors, a garden, a library, your own bed and favorite chair….

  6. “But I also haven’t been moving around too much in the last few months, and have little intention of expanding my horizons much beyond the north island of New Zealand for at least a little while longer. This is because I’ve found a community of supportive people with whom I have a deep connection, which in turn is giving me the sense of context – the horizon – that I’ve been craving lately. ”

    – Amen to that! I don’t really think that being a world traveler is jumping from one place to the next, collecting passport stamps. It’s all about connecting to a place and the people around you. And if that means staying in a place longer and cultivating relationships, then so be it!

    By the way, your interview is up. Thank you so much, I learned a lot from this Q and A


  7. @Amanda – I think we are all our own “brand” of travelers. But somewhere in the mix, I became very concerned with a segment of the population who had very specific ideas of what “traveling” and “travelers” were, and I was afraid that maybe I didn’t fit the bill any more.
    This is why I actually had quite some trepidation around writing so truthfully about how I – The Professional Hobo, full-time traveler no less – am feeling about traveling. But it’s amazing how many others seem to identify with what I’m feeling and have much more forgiving definitions of travel than I ever did! Thanks.

    @Philip – It has struck me that maybe what I need is a home base from which I can travel. But like you say, it doesn’t make a lot of financial sense, even if you can live cheaply. For the time being, I think I’m still happy with setting up temporary home bases, and leaving my favourite chair in storage. This too, shall pass though, I’m sure… 🙂

    @Prime – Thanks again for the great interview. Maybe one day, we can be neighbours!

  8. Fatigue is inevitable… it’s just the universe telling us that we’ve found a good place to chill out for a while. 😉

  9. It’s great that you’re taking your time. That way you really get to enjoy where you are and explore it. I hope I could do the same. Travel for me is at most a couple weeks in one place, I guess, because that’s the most time off I can get from work.

  10. @Nick – I like that theory. And indeed, I have found a good place to chill out for a while.

    @Tripgirl – I suffered a different kind of travel fatigue when I took 1-3 week vacations from my job each year: I ended up trying to see so much, I normally came back needing a vacation to recover from my vacation! 🙂

  11. Great article ! I will celebrate 1 year on the road next week and can relate to all you have said about solo travel. There is a reality to long term travel that can only be realized through actual experience similar to the acceleration of passing time as we age. One thing I might add is solo travel can be just the thing for those who are experiencing a period of self realization !

  12. After 4 years living abroad I can relate to so much of this. I moved to Europe not knowing a soul and the first year was rough, with a lot of FOMO-ing going on over “losing my place ” at home. I agree that creating a world network is the way to go. If we’re being honest here, some of the friendships I’ve forged abroad are deeper than the ones from home. Here my friends are all bonded by the fact that we have risk taking in our DNA. That, and we take better care of each other because we are all far away from our families. I feel like I count more as an expat than I did in my home community. Now I’m putting these ties to the test as I transition into a more nomadic way of life in the next 6 months… a whole new type of motion sickness tp get used to…

    • Hiya,
      Great observations about the depth of relationships in an expat community! I hadn’t thought of that, but I do agree with you that there is often more of a nurturing community environment among expats.

      I’ll be interested to see how this idea translates for you in a nomadic environment. Unfortunately for me, my experience is that when
      just passing through a place, it’s harder to forge those deep connections. There’s simply not enough time, nor are many people wiling to invest in a relationship that ultimately has an end-date.

      Then again, it depends on how long you stay somewhere, and who you interact with. Anything’s possible!


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