Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer

Knocked upside the head

Y’all. I was so proud of myself yesterday. While I travel a lot for both work and pleasure, I don’t always have my ducks in a row in advance and end up scrambling and frantic as I’m rushing to leave for the airport. Right now I’m in Denver, Colorado, in town for my favorite book conference of the year (it’s a conference for independent booksellers called Winter Institute, and we call it heaven). With only one exception in the last many years, I get at least one migraine attack—if not several days’ worth—every time I attend a conference.  Long hours, interrupted sleep, changes in time zones (sometimes), changes in altitude (if I have to fly) or long car trips (if I drive), harsh overhead lighting, constant social stimulation, slight anxiety over having to speak in public, too much time on my feet, eating and drinking things I know I probably shouldn’t, lots of noise, etc.  Wow, describing all the triggers at once was pretty intimidating. Yech.

Let me rewind.  In sum, conferences/workshops are my jam and I love going to them so much, despite the migraine minefields that await.

When I had a recent health coaching session, I told my coach about how I wanted to get ahead of the curve and try to do what I could do prevent the migraine that seem to be part and parcel of this type of work travel. She had me list all the potential triggers while she wrote them down. We then decided to think about a few triggers in particular—ones I could control at least in part—and brainstorm ways I could diminish the chances of getting a migraine from these triggers.

One of the main themes was preparation. Knowing that I often feel hungry during conferences or have lots of drops and leaps in my blood sugar level (one of my lifelong triggers), I decided to buy a bunch of my favorite nut/protein bars. I started being a little down on myself when I told her how much I loved the ones with chocolate and peanut butter—not the company’s healthiest choice.  She asked me if having the flavor I preferred would increase my chances of eating the bars regularly. When I gave an enthusiastic yes, she said something like, “It’s only a week. Why don’t you take the kind you know you will actually remember to eat?”  She asked if I needed any kind of reminder to eat regularly (I said no in this case since the conference has a few meals a day provided plus I know I’ll happily eat the peanut butter and chocolate bars).

We also talked about the little things that stress me out: getting to the airport in time, making sure I had everything packed, parking affordably, etc.  I actually booked my parking in advance, sparing me the frustration of seeing the “lot full” sign at the ever-busy Atlanta Airport. I ended up getting really cheap parking at an offsite place that picked me up at my car—they have shuttles that run every 6-8 minutes, so even though I’m parking away from the airport, I’ll get back to my car faster than if I walked the football field-length economy lot at the airport proper.

I used a handy-dandy packing checklist to make sure I packed everything (only forgot my headphones—a bummer but not too bad!), and I printed out my parking pass, airline boarding pass, and hotel confirmation and put them in an easy-to-access folder so I could grab each paper easily as I needed it. A few days before the trip, I finally set up my Uber app on my phone (easily the cheapest way to get from the Denver airport to a hotel, according to my local friends) so I was familiar with how it was set up and so my payment information was already waiting.

Everything went smoothly. The security line at the airport was a little annoying, as is typical, but it took more than twice as long as it normally does to get to the actual screening station. I tried to breathe deeply even as my watch indicated I was getting closer and closer to when the boarding period would end. (Spoiler alert: I got there in time.) I had eaten breakfast that morning and had a protein bar and the rest of my water on the shuttle from the parking lot to the airport, thereby making sure I ate while I had a second and that I consumed my water before they made me dump it all out in the security line.  Heck, I even had just enough time to use the restroom and text my husband to tell him I’d made it safely to the flight!

A few hours later, I was in Denver waiting for my Uber. For some reason, I decided to help lug my hugely heavy checked luggage into the back of the driver’s car even though he was right there helping me. I simultaneously hurt my lower back (just slightly) and hit my head on the corner of the trunk lid (not so slightly).

Within thirty minutes, I felt a migraine coming on, and my head was tender where I’d hit it.

Part of me felt like laughing. I went to all this trouble to be organized and to minimize migraine risk only to hit my own danged head on the sharp, metal corner of a trunk. Ouch. Of course I don’t know if it was the head bump that really triggered my mild migraine yesterday evening—it might’ve been the bright light driving to the airport, the barometric pressure in Atlanta (a storm is moving in), the changes in altitude on the flight, hormones, or so many other factors.  In any case, the head bump was icing on the cake.

Have you ever meticulously worked to prevent migraine—especially as related to travel—only to have an unexpected trigger come and knock you upside the head (proverbially or literally)?  Please share your story below! 

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • kmh
    3 years ago

    I know you got a migraine, which really, really stinks. But you also did so much to take care of yourself during a stressful trip. Making sure you are eating regularly, staying hydrated, being organized – so many great examples of self-care. And you never know – it’s likely that the migraine may have been worse if you didn’t take those preventative measures.

  • Jenny
    3 years ago

    Oddly, yes – my migraines (the lovely hemiplegic variety) are triggered by my hormones, and in September I came off medication which had put me into the menopause and stopped them, to dramatic effect. The migraines came back as chronic rather than cyclic and I was in a lot of trouble.

    Two months later, on the car journey back from a work conference, we were rear-ended and I hit my head pretty hard on the headrest…cue two trips to A&E, confusion over whether I’d fractured my skull, whether I had whiplash, if so how bad it was, how much was being caused by the ‘stress’ of the accident and its effect on work, how much was ‘normal’ migraines, how much was my neck, how much was the head injury itself etc. etc. etc. etc. etc….

    At the same time I’d started taking a different medication for the migraines and officially ended up with no idea what was causing what. Me and the multiple doctors involved (none of whom will talk to each other) are just starting to pick it apart, and a poor physiotherapist I’ve just started seeing for what seems to be persistent whiplash symptoms has absolutely no idea what to think.

    Thank goodness I have a supportive GP who keeps telling me to keep going and not lose hope, because I sometimes think I’m going to end up losing my mind!!

  • Poll