Travel Sickness Is Rife After A Year Spent At Home. Here's Why

Car journeys, bus rides and train travel appear to be leaving more people feeling queasy.

Since lockdown lifted, some people have noticed they’re increasingly feeling nauseous while travelling in cars and on public transport.

Journalist Anna Codrea-Rado realised she’d developed motion sickness as restrictions have eased. “I recently started taking trains after not taking them at all during the lockdowns and I feel so sick,” she tweeted. “Even on the tube.”

She’s not alone. In response to her tweet, dozens of people shared similar experiences. People who used to get motion sickness in cars noticed they’ve since started to feel queasy on buses and trains, too.

Some said while they’re fine in cars, trains and buses are now a no-go – leading them to suggest it might be to do with mandatory mask-wearing.

So, why do we get motion sickness? And, more specifically, why does it seem to be happening more since lockdown has lifted?

John Golding, professor of applied psychology at the University of Westminster, explains there’s a theory that motion sickness occurs as a result of sensory conflict or mismatch – where the messages from our inner ear (our balance organ) and our eyes and the rest of our body don’t quite match up – so the brain gets confused. When we travel, for instance, but focus on something like our phone or the book we’re reading, a sensory “mismatch” occurs that can cause those all too familiar symptoms like nausea and vomiting.

When I explain that, anecdotally, people appear to be experiencing motion sickness more since lockdown lifted, Prof Golding isn’t surprised. “It’s a bit like if you haven’t ridden a bike for a long time,” he says, “although you don’t completely forget how to ride a bike, it takes you a few trips to get back into it.”

“It’s a bit like if you haven’t ridden a bike for a long time.”

- John Golding, professor of applied psychology at the University of Westminster

The same goes with travelling: our brains need to get used to it all over again. If people haven’t travelled for a long time, they may lose their habituation, he says. “Habituation” is a decrease in response to a stimulus after repeated presentations – so, with travel, we learn to get used to the feeling of it and our brains could previously process that we were travelling without us feeling sick. But now, we’re having to relearn that because of the year-long hiatus from trains, buses and in some cases, cars.

Fear not, this newfound motion sickness shouldn’t last long, suggests Prof Golding. “After a few journeys, adaptation should come back quickly,” he says. “Most people will get back to normal after a few trips.

“If it doesn’t and they’re finding that this is a real limitation for them, they might want to consult their GP or visit the NHS’s page on dizziness.”