Managing Expectations on Vacation
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This month’s engagement theme on migraine.com is travel. It’s July 1, and I’m sitting here taking a break from packing for our family vacation to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Last summer, due to financial constraints and my terrible health status, we did not take a vacation at all. This year, John planned the whole trip himself. We aren’t going too far and will basically be in the wilderness, perhaps without cell phone service or internet access. I am both nervous about this and hugely anticipating essentially being forced to relax.

I stocked up on medications and will be bringing all of my migraine comfort items, but I’ve chosen to write this article on something other than checklists of what to bring on the trip; or tips for car travel or motel stays.

Mentally preparing

I want to write about carefully managing expectations. Even for someone who has episodic migraine, it’s important to remember that an attack could strike, and is likely to, because of disrupted schedules and eating changes as well as the possibility of encountering many other unavoidable triggers.

I am chronic, with weeks when I am chronic daily and weeks when I may “only” have one or two separate attacks that are easily treated. Since June was a very rough month, I am planning for the need for an every-other-day activity schedule while we are up north. After the day of travel, resting the remainder of that day with an early bedtime that night is what I’m planning. It’s not a long drive and we hope to leave early, so if we get there at 2 pm, we can explore our room, unpack, check out the beach that is right outside, and that’s about it.

Knowing your body

Knowing that my body is going to demand rest and recovery anyway, incorporating that need into our planning will help stem disappointment and guilt. If the activity is a big one, requiring hours in the sun, travel to and from the destination, and physical activity (I’m thinking a day at an amusement park, an ocean beach, or a zoo), it makes sense to plan for the next day to be restful quiet time close to “home” or the place you’re staying.

In our case, we have reserved a modest room in a motel right on Lake Michigan. A day when I might have to spend much of it in bed would still be fun for the girls and John, who can go back and forth from our room to the beach virtually right outside. If the activity we have planned is only a short distance away, not in the sun and not too many hours, I would not necessarily think I would need a full day to recover from that. I think a fair expectation would be for the number of hours you are away and active each day, assume the same number of hours for recovery.

Dodging the guilt

By managing expectations, negative feelings like disappointment and guilt (“I’m ruining everyone’s vacation because I’m always sick”) can be diminished. If I end up doing really well, we can always add more activities in, which feels much better emotionally than having to cut plans that the whole family had agreed upon and become excited about. Adding to the positive emotional impact of this type of planning, there is also the likely effect of needing fewer medications during the week.

I just sent John a text explaining that I wanted to negotiate the week in that manner: equal numbers of hours spent in activity and then rest/recovery. He texted back “If we both feel like rockstars then we can add more in, but the expectation is what kills you.” By managing expectations and planning carefully, the activities you do undertake while traveling will be more enjoyable, providing lasting positive memories instead of disappointment.

How do you plan for vacations with migraine? Let us know in the comments!

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