I have a show about travel coming up at the Leicester Comedy Festival called The World Is Your Oyster Bar – the title is taken from a song I sing in the show that questions, with more than a little incredulity, the presence of seafood bars in airport departure lounges. I mean, I like seafood, but nothing, and I mean NOTHING, would make me want to chug a load of oysters or sample some shrimps right before I get onto a big metal tube with hundreds of other people with whom I will be in close proximity for many hours. People must go to them or they wouldn’t exist. Who are these loonies? Presumably, simply people who have never had the joy of throwing up on a plane, and realising quite how horrendous an experience that is.
When I flew into Beijing a few months ago I witnessed what my husband, who works in a theatre and has seen it happen amongst many a group of school visits, tells me is known as a “vomit storm”. A small child, apparently without any warning, was suddenly spectacularly ill, somehow in multiple directions all at once. The combined shock, accompanying smell and turbulence that had presumably caused this in the first place set off the woman behind him, then the gentleman two seats away from her, a teenager behind him and so on. By the time we landed the poor flight attendants looked broken as they surveyed the carnage. I was mildly amused, having overdosed on Stugeron before and during the flight – amusement tinged with relief and pride that I was getting off the plane unscathed.
I get sick on everything. I once got motion sickness on the big slide at the Olympic Park. I struggle on Pendolino trains, on many fairground rides and in pretty much all cars. Even aircraft (generally OK) can catch me off guard if the turbulence is bad. And I love travelling (or, rather, the part of it that involves being somewhere else and exploring new places). I now even have a job that involves regular trips on coaches, occasional transatlantic flights, and many an impromptu trip in an Uber. My work calendar is peppered with reminders like “TAKE TRAVEL SICKNESS MEDS!!” and I permanently have a plastic bag in my bag, just in case. And my boss teases me mercilessly about it.
Motion sickness isn’t just feeling a bit dodgy in a car. It’s all-encompassing and thoroughly awful. If I start to feel travel sick I know that it’ll be a few hours before I feel fully better, even if I get out of the situation pretty much immediately. My head starts to ache. I feel clammy, sweaty, dizzy, weird as though I’ve had far too much coffee. I can’t focus. My stomach feels empty and full at the same time. If I actually throw up (and fortunately I usually manage not to), I can feel shaky and generally below par for several hours. If I don’t, I often get that ominous feeling that I might need to throw up for a little while afterwards. This is annoying on holiday, the first day of which is often a write-off for me as I’m either ill or drowsy from medication to stop me feeling ill, and utterly impractical at work. Where work is concerned (and this matters as I really, REALLY love my job), I’m worried the joke will wear thin after a while – a couple of weeks back, my normal tube line was down and I had to take a circuitous route involving a long bus ride, constantly stopping and starting in thick London traffic. I made it into work but was then impressively sick in one of our not-at-all-soundproof bathrooms. Twice. I had to hand over the talk I was meant to be doing to a colleague while I recovered, then went directly to a meeting with my boss. I have absolutely no memory of what that meeting was about: painfully aware I’d played the travel sickness card before, I spent the meeting nodding and making what I hoped were vaguely intelligent noises of approval whilst desperately hoping I wouldn’t have to make a run for it.
And I can’t offer any advice to fellow sufferers – think of this post as group therapy rather than a cure, because I don’t have the magic answer. I wish I did (apart from anything else I’d make a fortune!) I’ve scoured the internet and found “hilarious” videos of YouTubers’ unfortunate mates chundering on various modes of transport with title like KEVIN LOST HIS LUNCH, vlogs by cheerful bright young things touting their various “natural” solutions (Peruvian tree frog, anyone?) or medical pages talking very sensibly and making my greatest woes sound like a mere minor irritation – ginger is great, they say (I’ve tried it, the result being I now associate the taste of it with throwing up); try pressure bands (I have – I’m either not doing it right or am completely unable to suspend my disbelief to an extent that any placebo effect will kick in). There is a plethora of tablets available and they actually work brilliantly (see aforementioned Air China flight!) but a) they make you sleepy and b) they involve forward-planning, which I can’t do if, say, my normal commute is disrupted unexpectedly or I need to take a student somewhere in a taxi (usually because THEY are not well – which makes feeling ill myself all the more awkward!) Then there are tips for managing symptoms: look at the horizon (in a cab in London?!) lie down flat (again, in a cab in London?) sit in the front, breathe fresh air, try not to talk and instead focus on your breathing (in a… OK, you’re getting the picture now.)
So, in short, I don’t have a solution (though I’ve found peppermint tea helps me recover afterwards a lot more quickly), just a desperate wail into the abyss to please make it stop! My advice is more to be prepared – take tablets if you can, and always have a bag available for minimum embarrassment. On the plus side, though, the horror of Ryanair removing free sick bags (this seems foolhardy at best) and the fact that one gentleman shares my obsession with receptacles (presumably for different reasons) to the extent he has created a “virtual museum” online for them, has at least given me sufficient material for a full-hour one-woman show, inspired perhaps by this marvellous Goodies Song.
But seriously, who IS visiting those seafood bars???