Lavender pillows

Photo by Le Petit Poulailler

Imagine you’re on a bus.

It’s a rickety old thing, kind of like an old American school bus, but with tinier seats and even tinier padding and it’s packed to the gills with people. The weather is hot and sticky. The people are hot and sticky. The bus plods along on roads that can barely be called roads. In fact it’s so rough you might as well be in a riding a washing machine on spin cycle. The people – still packed to the gills – are starting to feel nauseous. Some of them get sick. The smell is starting to make you feel sick too. Some fresh air would really help about now. But wait. You can’t open the windows. They’re able to be opened, yes. But the other passengers won’t allow it. They say the moving air is dangerous, bad for their health, in fact! You mustn’t open the windows! They continue to be sick. You bump along, your stomach churning with every gasp of the musty air, and wonder when this 14-hour bus ride will finally come to an end.

Sounds like fun, huh?

The reality of travel is that it isn’t always glamorous, especially when making your way through developing countries. What I described above is exactly what I experienced on a grueling two-day bus journey between Addis Ababa and Lalibela, Ethiopia.

Actually, the bus ride was even worse than I described above, because during those two days of travel – 14 hours on the first and 10 on the second – we only got one break per day. About 30 minutes or so for lunch and a bit of much-needed bladder relief.

That’s one, itsy-bitsy reprieve from the bumpy, vomit-inducing ride in 14 hours.

Now, I’m not saying all bus rides are this bad. But I’ve been on a lot of buses all over the world (including another stomach-churning bus in Laos that actually crashed into oncoming traffic – but that’s a whole another story) and the vast majority leave you feeling like you stepped off a rollercoaster stuck on repeat.

In the case of Ethiopia, it suffices to say that I quickly coughed up the cash for some domestic flights after my ordeal. Best money I ever spent. Seriously.

But avoiding buses is not always possible. Nor is opening windows!

So what’s my trick for coping? Always carry lavender and mints.

Firstly, a little pillow or sachet of lavender like the ones in the picture above, are indispensable for helping you deal with bad smells, be they stinky passengers or sick ones. Rub the pillow a little to release some of the fragrance, hold it up to your nose and feel better instantly. As an added bonus, it also aids in relaxation so will help you get to sleep if you need.

Secondly, have some mints or mint-flavored gum on hand – the stronger the better. I find sucking or chewing on these can really help with that nauseous feeling, with both the flavor and scent serving to keep motion sickness at bay.

They won’t take up much room in your bag, but both the lavender and mints will go a long way towards making your bus rides more bearable.


What do you think? Have my tactics worked for you? Do you have any other hints for dealing with these kinds of bus rides?