Your Carsick Kid Plan-Ahead Survival Guide

Ever had a carsick kid? Trust us, it's not fun. This plan-ahead guide will help you be ready when disaster strikes while you're on the road.

Have you ever had a carsick kid? If you haven’t been down that road yet, count yourself as one of the lucky ones.

But don’t expect your luck will hold forever. All it takes is one episode to scare any car-owning parent out of their complacence. Trust me.

Alas, we’ve been down this road enough times that I’ve got the drill down to a science. To the point that (except for keeping her from throwing up in the first place) every aspect of our latest episode worked like clockwork. Everything we needed to deal with the ensuing mess was right WHERE we needed it, WHEN we needed it!

So unless your child is physically incapable of vomiting, you might want to take a page or two from our master playbook on

How to Prepare Your Car for a Carsick Kid

As many of you know, we have two daughters. One, I don’t think has EVER thrown up in the car.

The other has done so more times than I can remember. Not just from motion sickness, but from concussions, stomach bugs, and (most recently, about 36 hours ago) food poisoning. (She’s upchucked all over family and strangers alike on airplanes, too.)

I wish she hadn’t thrown up, of course. We had just left a day-long doctor’s appointment for the other daughter at a regional medical center, and still had a long drive ahead of us. And my poor mama, who was visiting and wanted to come along for the appointment, got half-covered by virtue of sitting between the girls in the backseat.

Still, though, this was the best test yet of our preparedness level for dealing with a carsick kid. My car was stocked to perfection, and passed with flying colors.

We’re about to take off for a family vacation in my hubby’s car, so I’ve made sure his car is emergency-ready as well. This, therefore, is what we’ve done to our vehicles so they’re ready for any crisis involving a carsick kid, or one who’s nauseous for any other reason:

Cover the bases

Literally. As in, the backseat where your child is sitting. (And the back of the seats your child faces, if your vomiter is known for projectile reach.)

My kids never sit on my upholstery, and not just because they’re still in carseats. The entire length of the back seat is covered with old waterproof diaper changing pads, with old bath towels layered on top of that. These layers are my car’s first line of defense, and they’ve done their job more than once. (And that’s regardless of which end the problem was seeping out of, if you catch my drift.)

Arm yourself

You know that center armrest in the front seat of many passenger vehicles? With the encouragement of our pediatrician, each of our cars has a package of chewable children’s dramamine tucked into the armrest compartment. We double-check the supply before every extended car trip.

I can’t say it’s stopped every round of nausea in its tracks, but it has certainly helped. We even carry it in the girls’ travel toiletry kit now, as well – just in case.

(A tin of strong mints is also always in reach, though not just for when someone is sick. Sick Child appreciates being able to get the taste out of her mouth, but they’re also good for when the kids are hungry in the backseat, or the driver needs a pick-me-up in the front seat.)

Stock the compartments

The little side compartments in the doors of our vehicles are stocked with carsickness supplies. We don’t keep anything else in these compartments, and the girls don’t store toys or anything else in them, either. That way, no matter which side our unhappy traveler is sitting on, she can instantly reach exactly what she needs if she feels a bout of nausea coming on.

And what are those supplies, you ask? The most important are airsickness bags, an assortment of leftover grocery-store plastic bags, and a can of handi-wipes. (We used to have a bunch of individually-wrapped plastic cups from a hotel back there, so she could grab a clean cup and hold it to her mouth. But we finally remembered at one point to start snagging motion-sickness bags whenever we were on a plane, so now each car has several at hand, on each side.)

Notice I said a can of handi-wipes. Not a flat, resealable package. I find that the cans not only stay moist longer, but run out less quickly – meaning less need to refill, and less chance you’ll forget to do so! (Since the cans are so easy to access, we can just grab a few when hopping back in the car after ice cream or playing in the park.)

Stock the backup supplies, too

In addition to all these supplies that the girls can reach as needed, we have additional cleaning supplies in every car. (For those of you who read my recent post on must-haves for summer car adventures, many of these will sound familiar.)

Besides the plastic bags and cleaning wipes in the backseat, we make sure that whoever’s in the front passenger seat can also reach some cleaning wipes and plastic bags. And a bag of napkins (a zip-top bag where I stuff leftover unused napkins from meals out, for when we need them). As well as a roll of paper towels and – you guessed it! – more backup bags in the trunk.

(If nausea and/or diaper blowouts are a frequent problem for your kiddo, keep on packing that spare set of clothes for him or her for as long as needed. That was the only thing we didn’t have on hand the other night.)

Why so much redundancy? Because supplies run out over time. Or you’ll move them to the other vehicle for a family trip, then forget to put them back.

That is what happened the other night when Child of Mine got sick. As we soon realized, the bag with the heavy-duty cleaning wipes and the roll of paper towels had never made it back into my car. (I’d grabbed it for last week’s vacation at the last minute, rather than supplying Dear Husband’s car with its own set of these things. Oops.)

Fortunately, from the front seat I could grab a plastic bag, a fistful of napkins, and a half-empty can of wipes, so I could feed them back one at a time to my poor mama as she mopped up Child of Mine, said child’s clothes, and the surrounding areas while Dear Hubby kept driving.

Keep these supplies handy for when you get home:

As soon as we were home after this latest car episode, we extracted Child of Mine from her carseat vest (which, fortunately, is easier to toss in the washer than a booster-seat cover!), wrapped her in her messy towel/waterproof pad, and waddled her into the house. After we got her cleaned up and off to bed, and the first round of laundry running, I grabbed the cleaning supplies that are always on hand in our garage for times like this:

Since this particular incident came out as nausea first, and THEN the other end, there was a non-trivial amount of overflow onto the backseat of our car, in spite of its protective layers. But in about 10 minutes, I had everything scraped off, blotted clean with the Folex, and then sanitized/deodorized with the spray. (When Other Child of Mine and I ran some errands earlier today, we decided that another round of spray was in order, to take away the last traces of barf smell; but after another pass at the seatbelt holder and another spray, all smells fine now.)

Has your family struggled with a carsick kid or two over the years? Did your child eventually outgrow this tendency? What were YOUR must-haves for dealing with the mess? Let us know in the comments!


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