Traveling with Migraine Disease: Top 5 Tips

When you live with migraine disease, whether episodic or chronic, it’s a fact of life that your migraine disease comes with you. Preparation and planning ahead is key to setting yourself up for success when/if you experience an attack away from home. (Unfortunately for me it’s when, but hopefully for some of you it’s an if!)

Living with chronic migraine the past nine years has given me plenty of opportunities to figure out how travel works best for me and what I need to do in advance to position myself to be able to cope with whatever comes up when I’m away from home, especially when I’m traveling alone.

My trip is a blogging conference in New York, but my top five tips are equally applicable whether you’re traveling for business, going on vacation or visiting family or friends.

(1) Make a comprehensive list of everything you need to have with you to treat and cope with a migraine attack. For me this includes:

– treatment medications
– gallon size zip top plastic bags (both for ice and for nausea/vomiting)
– sleeping mask
– ear plugs
– aromatherapy items, such as Lather’s Clear Head Balancing Balm
– relaxation and medication tracks on my iPhone & headphones
– a soft washcloth from home (Sometimes I prefer a cold cloth to an ice pack, and I like to have a soft one with me that smells like home).

(2) Practice pacing. In a nutshell, the concept of pacing is to monitor your exertion level to make sure you’re staying within a reasonable range and not overdoing it and driving yourself toward a crash.

You can put pacing to good use from the moment you begin planning your trip. It will help you with the packing process, getting to your destination and as you go about your business or fun during the trip itself. You can relax and make lists of things you need to do, then slowly accomplish the tasks a little at a time.

(3) Maintain a routine. We know for certain that migraine brains do not like change. By traveling to a different time zone, eating different, often less healthy foods, sleeping in strange places and all the other disruption that goes along with travel, we’re asking for migraine problems. Try to stick to your regular sleep schedule and bring healthy foods with you that you’re used to eating so you don’t get stuck without anything you can eat. And set alarms to remind you to take your medications. It’s always hard to remember that when you’re out of your normal routine.

(4) Treat yourself with kindness. If you need to skip out on something to take a rest or a nap, do it. You’re not going to have fun or be productive if you’re migraining and/or running on empty. You know your needs and limits, so please listen to them and build your schedule accordingly.

(5) Be in the moment. Instead of lamenting what you can’t do or experience on your trip, enjoy every single moment building memories with your family or friends. Soak it all up and be present. If you’re constantly focused on disappointments you’re only cheating yourself out of the experiences you CAN have.

What helps you cope when you travel?

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

Comments

View Comments (19)
  • careylbtkb
    6 years ago

    I am so excited to read articles and experiences about travel. I wish I had read thid information before I took off to Europe. Thank you, thank you Diana and others for giving a fellow traveler terrific advice. PS… I have been suffering from aura and migraine due to jet lag according to my doctor.

  • Not Carly Simon
    6 years ago

    As someone who has visited four countries and 12 states since I got diagnosed with migraines, I have found some ways to cope:

    1. Cover Up: Sun is one of my main triggers and it only takes 5-10 minutes of direct sunlight to set me up. Sunglasses are not enough because the sun gets around them. Because of this, I have started wearing a hat and sunglasses wherever I go.

    2. Keep Narrow Horizons: Although I’m willing to try almost anything once, too many days wasted in pain have meant that I have to watch what I’m eating. I don’t eat anything unless I know exactly what’s in it. When I’m in other countries, I don’t let what I know of American products color my view of ones in other countries. For example, Skittles in Iceland have more maltodextrin in them than Skittles in the United States. I learned this the hard way when I got a really severe headache 30 minutes after eating a bag of Skittles (a candy I’m usually okay with). I didn’t make the mistake twice and checked the ingredients in everything I ate after that, even resorting to dictionaries to translate it.

    3. Manage Your Schedule: I, too, have become good at balancing the clock. I’ve found that I need to get at between 6 and 9 hours of sleep to function well and that I need to go to bed and wake up within 4 hours of when I went to bed or got up on previous days. If either of these are off, I get a headache.

    4. Don’t be Afraid of Medication: At home, I sometimes let a migraine work itself out or treat it with OTC medication if it’s not severe enough to slow me down much. Sure, it makes life unpleasant but my migraine medications are so expensive (no drug coverage) that I don’t like to take them unless my ability to function is really impacted. On vacation, I tend to think that any moment spent in pain is a moment wasted so I’m much more likely to try to knock a migraine out with my expensive medications instead of toying with it with OTC meeds. I have so few good days and I’m not about to let a migraine take away my vacation.

  • Candy Meacham
    6 years ago

    Good tips. My own travel practices include never traveling with a group. Too much input for me. Get outside and walk away from others or with 1 or 2. When I’m not feeling good or think I’m getting a headache or too tired which is a set up for me, I’ve learned to ask myself, “What would make you feel better right now?” Also my choice of travel destinations has to do w/ places that support my feeling good – if you know what I mean. I love to swim in the ocean, so we go to Mexico once a year. I love to hang out w/ my son and partner in Santa Cruz, so we do that. I like road trips where you can wander at will, so that’s on the agenda, etc.

  • robcowan
    6 years ago

    Diana, Very nice article! I am a migraineur who travels quite a bit. In addition to the suggestions you make, here are some things that I find very helpful: When traveling gradually alter your sleep schedule so that you are on the proper schedule upon arrival. For example, when I travel east, I go to bed progressively earlier each night during the days before travel, so that I am within an hour of the new time zone. When I arrive in my destination city, I use my usual sleep schedule and eating schedule and exercise schedule starting as soon as I arrive. This may mean using a sleep aid on an overnight flight so that I am awake on arrival or staying up “all night” if I am arriving in the morning. This has been hugely helpful to me and to many others. Another useful tip is to get up and move around a bit on the plane, particluarly on long flights. Hope this is helpful

  • Writermom
    6 years ago

    Great comments, y’all. I’m off to supper now. Have a great evening, hopefully with no migraines.

  • Diana-Lee author
    6 years ago

    Writermom: If I stayed home and never traveled because I’d just be in a different location with a migraine, I’d never get to do or experience anything. I choose to focus on what I CAN do and experience despite the burden of migraine, and even though I can’t do as much as my husband or family, being around them and soaking up the new place is still wonderful for me. It’s all about perspective and attitude, I think.

  • Writermom
    6 years ago

    Diana, I think that I used to feel that way when I was younger. I have several other additional chronic illnesses, and when I was younger, I did EVERYTHING I could to participate and be a part of everything. Now that I am older, being “left behind” because of my migraine makes me feel terrible. And having certain members of your family call you a “drug addict” because you need to take certain meds for pain relief is not fun, either. I still love to travel, and try to go everywhere I can. I do have itchy feet, but I think twice or three times about when and where I go. I take into account the weather and how I’m feeling, and many other things, trying to enjoy as much as possible, without having to just be in a different bed.

  • Writermom
    6 years ago

    Besides my post below, I think Diana Lee has posted some excellent tips. These are very important and very helpful.

  • Diana-Lee author
    6 years ago

    Thank you! I’m glad you appreciated them.

  • Writermom
    6 years ago

    Good for you! So glad your migraine was not unbearable and that your meds worked for you. I’ve had them when I was away, and that was not the case. When my mother died some years ago, I was primarily the person to clear up her house. I had one the entire time I was there. I didn’t have any special meds for it then. And I had to continue on doing what needed to be done, due to time constraints. Fortunately, it didn’t get to the vomitting point, and for that I am especially grateful. I have chronic migraines, and now I am being treated with special meds, which usually help to some extent. Travel is still not the fun it used to be, though. I have to allow myself to have the extra rest I need, and many things have to be left out. Some people don’t understand what this is all about. And, they never will, unfortunately. So, I just do what I need to do to take care of me.

  • Kelly (Miss Migraine)
    6 years ago

    I second number 4! I recently traveled to Vietnam as part of my MFA in travel writing program. I warned my professor ahead of time that I might need to sit out some activities if a particularly bad migraine struck. Thankfully, I only had to miss two things on the two-week trip. I thought about pushing myself, but in the end I knew it was better to rest — we had an intense schedule with very little flexibility and a lot of moving around that prevented a good routine and often left me sleep deprived.

    Another must for me is taking a sleep pill or even just Benadryl for long plane rides or car rides. Our flights to and from Vietnam, for example, took 36 hours. On the longest of four flights, which was 13 hours, I took two Benadryl so that I was sure to pass out for most of the flight and be as rested as possible. Otherwise, it would have been a complete nightmare!

  • Diana-Lee author
    6 years ago

    Good for you for listening to your body and your needs. It can be very hard to do!

    Great advice on trying to ensure you can sleep on a long flight. That can really help.

  • CG
    6 years ago

    My suggestions include drinking water almost exclusively in high altitudes and taking more than one other person with you on vacation if possible. I spent my last vacation with ice packs, a great Westin bed and air conditioning while my spouse and two adult daughters went ahead without me. I was fine as long as they went and I could stay behind. Takes some persuasion, sometimes.

  • Diana-Lee author
    6 years ago

    Water is so important, isn’t it?!

    That’s what my last vacation was like, and it really worked for my husband and I. I was able to do some, and he was able to go ahead without me and enjoy the beach when I needed to rest. It worked well for us.

  • Writermom
    6 years ago

    But that’s not really a vacation for you. It’s just a change of venue, and maybe not a better one. You’ve changed your place but that’s about all, and maybe your migraines are worse. I usually take about 4 days to adjust to higher altitudes anyway, so unless it’s for at least 2 weeks, there’s not any point in my going. I feel the same way about leaving home in the summer. My home has everything I need, and with all my allergies and other needs, why bother to spend the money, and go to all the trouble of traveling to some other place just to stay in a different bed with a migraine? Traveling is much better when it is cooler and maybe I’m feeling better.

  • rhondagrensberg
    6 years ago

    I don’t know about anyone else, but airplane travel is pure hell for me, so I am content with taking twice as long in a car. A/C is also a must. I travel to West Texas a lot and it is 7 shades of hot there in the summer. That along with the simple exhaustion of travel will set me off if I don’t have a/c going full blast in the car.

  • Writermom
    6 years ago

    For many migraneurs, just the heat is a trigger to set off a migraine, so West Texas would guarantee that. I would try everything I would to travel there at another time of year. And travel a little at a time. Don’t try to make the whole trip at one time. That’s my thought.

  • Diana-Lee author
    6 years ago

    It’s so important to strategize that way to make the trip as good as possible. Forcing yourself to fly to save time wouldn’t make any sense. This is a great tip.

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