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Making big plans when you don’t know what your health situation will be

As a lifelong travel addict, I am very lucky that, despite my very limited personal budget, I am awarded the opportunity to travel pretty frequently for both work and pleasure.

In 2012, the first full year my bookshop was up and running, I limited my travel. By any regular person’s standards, I still spend a fair amount of time out of town, but nearly every trip was work-related and brief. I am of course still thankful for the time, but my travel-addicted self was not satisfied with my limited travel plans.

Cue the crazy year of 2013, when I spent a significant portion of my time out of town for myriad reasons. I ended up out of town for at least forty days! The amazing nature of this news is tempered by this fact: I had at least one migraine per vacation/trip, regardless of my reason for traveling.

Like many of you, flying in an airplane is a trigger for me. The general stress of traveling plus the altitude shifts plus the dehydration combine to make a pretty potent potion for those of us with migraine disease. I have been lucky enough to avoid the flight-induced migraine a couple of times (usually due to my focus on drinking lots of water and trying to book flights at times that would minimize the stress of commuting to and from the airport).

Being out of town means I’m out of my routine, which is something that can trigger a migraine.

Being at conferences tends to involve bright overhead lighting and a lot of noise.

Being treated to delicious and raucous publisher dinners often means I end up in a loud, small room full of good-natured people who are somehow able to stay up way past their bedtime and awake without a migraine.

Being on my period virtually EVERY TIME I LEAVE GEORGIA means I very often have my seemingly unavoidable menstrual-related migraine when I am far from home.

Clearly, all these migraine-related factors indicate it is nigh on impossible for me to take a trip out of town without having to be prepared for at least one migraine attack. I find myself resenting the “normal” people when it comes time to make travel plans. I have said no to a conference before because it fell the same weekend when my menstrual-related migraine is usually at its worst. I have booked flights so the plan arrives a full two days before any of my commitments do—that way, in theory at least, I have time to medicate and recover if a migraine attacks before duty calls.

I tend to worry about making big plans, travel-related or otherwise, because I worry I will end up not feeling well. I sometimes say no to plans in order to hedge my bets—if it seems a migraine is very likely, why not say no now instead of at the last minute when my friends are left scrambling for a companion?

Does migraine factor into your travel plans as well? Do you feel restricted even in your free time due to the unpredictable nature of your illness?

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.


  • Pkaplan
    4 years ago

    I’m wondering about the effects of living in high altitude (7,000 ft). Do you acclimate to the altitude over time? I know I experience migraine for the first few days of being in high altitude, but I’m wondering if that gets better. We are thinking of purchasing a mountain home and I would love to have feedback on this issue.

  • lk26
    5 years ago

    Has any one every had someone else decides that you shouldn’t travel? A friend since high school (30+ years), had recently come in to alot of money, from her mother’s recent death. So for her 50th birthday, she decided she wanted to go to New York for 5 days and to ask 5 friends to go with her, her treat. I thought it odd that on FB our mutual friends making various references to New York. I finally just asked her about it. She responded that she really debated about asking me to go, but finally decided not to. Her reasoning being it wouldn’t be fair when my (migraine)pain was bad and I would have to stay in the hotel room while everyone else is out having fun. It was so hurtful and even more so when they posted many, many pics on FB. I have spoken to her very little since. Just to clarify, most of us live in a very small, southern town in Texas, population less than 600 people. That is why going to New York was such a big deal.

  • Pkaplan
    4 years ago

    I always make sure that the people I travel with are sympathetic to my medical needs. I have passed on trips that involve traveling in large groups, but I still go many places with my family when I know I will have control over my schedule. I generally can still have a good time as long as I have my triptans with me!

  • Gail
    5 years ago

    I feel your pain! I try to pretend that I can do it, travel…but it’s very hard, and sometimes I can’t fake it and have to give in and take a time out. I now know that I may have to miss out on some trip aspects. I have to really watch my food triggers, so really have to resist taking any food/drink chances eating out.Same as what everyone else said…it is asking for trouble. I have been struggling if it is worth it or not. I hate holding anyone back,putting a damper on my companions.One day at a time, I guess one trip at a frustrating now that I am retired.

  • Marsha
    5 years ago

    I don’t avoid traveling (which I do for work, mostly), but I’ve become more and more committed to putting my health as a top priority. Rather than booking that early-morning flight that would take me into client meetings at a convenient time, I take a later flight and schedule client meetings accordingly. (Sleep disruption is a huge trigger.) While hard to do, I try to drink water continuously, as dehydration is also an enormous trigger. And, I need to be mindful about eating regularly and well (tough to do, of course, while racing between airports, meetings, hotel). Even with those efforts, I get a migraine nearly every trip. But, I feel much better than I otherwise would. Thankfully, I’m able to control the pain of migraine pretty well with Zomig.

  • Writermom
    5 years ago

    Janet, I don’t know how you travel at all. I am sort of in Luna’s position. I have chronic daily migraine. I can’t see spending all the money it takes to travel, when I will have the migraines while I’m away from my comfortable home. I used to travel a lot, often enduring the migraine, so I know that I will have them no matter where I am. Some days are not as bad as others. Some days are awful. Until I can get them under control, I probably won’t go anywhere. I hate being restricted this way because I have family and friends far away and I, too, enjoy travel, with the exception of the flying today. Airline travel is out of the question because of many issues. So, yes, I and my husband, who always goes with me, are restricted due to this illness.

  • Katie M. Golden moderator
    5 years ago

    Janet- I hear you!!
    My boyfriend and I are bi-coastal since his family lives in California and his job is flexible with him working out of the office. Last year, I was blessed to be able to spend 35 days on the West Coast. I wish the weather there made a difference on my Migraines, but it really doesn’t.

    Next week, we’ll be going back for only 5 days. Usually it’s longer so that I can adjust and have some recovery time. Either the trip is going to be great or I’m going to struggle through. Luckily our family and friends there are very understanding about my condition and know what to expect from me now. It’s frustrating, but I don’t want to miss out!

  • Luna
    5 years ago

    Because of my sensitivity to odors I do not travel. Can’t be in crowds with all the odors that cling to people. That means no airplanes, trains, boats, not even anyone else’s auto. Can’t stay overnight anywhere. Not even with relatives. Don’t visit people for more than a short time if at all because of the odors in their house. There are some stores that have too much of an odor to go into. Incense is deadly. This is just a fact of my life. My life is limited but I have made a good life inspite of it. Until I can find how to not be so sensitive to odors I am a recluse and mostly enjoy it. Walking in my woods today I found another spring wild flower haven’t seen in some time. Was afraid they had died out. What a blessing. I take delight in simple things.

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