Terrified of Air Travel? See you on the Road

I was recently looking at our migraine.com facebook page and encountered a flurry of exchanges between members on the topic of travel.   Here’s just a sampling:

“Am I the only one who panics when making a travel plan in the future? Particularly, one with a flight somewhere?”

“I am very afraid to travel and I also panic long before the actual date”

“I dread travel now as I am always plagued by migraines due to different beds and limited food options. I used to love travelling.”

A significant chorus of our Facebook members have fear about the intersection of travel and migraine, and with good reason. There is clearly a rich body of experience that fuels these fears and drives many of us to alter – or even cancel – our plans to get from point A to point B.

Travel equals disruption. It means abandoning the relatively controlled and regimented existences we have created in response to migraines. It can provide exposure to different foods, different beds, and different weather. The more adventurous among us might say that these are some of the precise reasons to travel in the first place. However, for people with migraines, these challenges can present significant obstacles. First, we do best in well-ordered environments with routines. Many of us have learned that restricting our diets minimizes our chances of an attack. And, if we have migraines frequently, we create comfort around us to mediate the pain. We have our favorite pillows, ice packs, types of ginger ale, and so on.


If our plans require air travel, we are removed from our “bubble.” We are no longer in charge of our environment or schedule. However prepared we may be by bringing our own food, medication and creature comforts from home, the environment can’t be dictated. We cannot control the noise, lighting, or seating of an airport, not to mention the plane’s arrival or departure times, and its accompanying sights, smells, or sounds.  Anxiety accompanying air travel cannot be discounted, either. For many of us, the mere thought of flying increases our blood pressure which can induce a migraine. In-flight cabin pressure change is another well-known trigger.

We all have our own war stories of how migraines have impeded air travel plans, ruined special far away events, or induced some of the worst migraines of our lives. I’ll never forget the sideways glances I received from fellow passengers while accessing syringes mid-flight to attempt an injection of medication during turbulence. Or inserting anti-nausea suppositories in a plane bathroom to try to stop vomiting. Or racing through downtown Manhattan in a taxi while vomiting on my husband trying to find the closest emergency room after a sudden exit from my sister’s big event, which we had just flown in to attend.

That final example illustrates the way that air travel, with all the stress that goes along with it, can trigger migraines that spill into whatever special event or vacation that inspired the trip in the first place.  What a ridiculous waste it is to have part or all of your trip ruined by migraine because “the getting there” started an attack that couldn’t be stopped.

It is easy to see why, when possible, so many people with migraines prefer to travel by road instead, opting for hours, or even days, in a car in the pursuit of a more controlled environment. Car travel can be a great alternative especially if you are lucky enough to have someone driving for you.  It can provide more flexibility: time to pull over, stretch out, etc. Generally, the environment is one that is easier to control. However, even the act of driving can be a trigger for many people with migraines.

Migraines take so very much from us – it doesn’t seem fair that they sideline us from attending important events, or from seeing and experiencing new places. So, I’m with many of our community members who are opting for car over air travel, whenever possible:

“Drove a 5200-mile trip last summer for my grandpas 90th birthday because of that. I felt we HAD to attend this wonderful celebration no matter what…cut down on stress and have some flexibility”

“I do often opt to drive, being I can stop if I need to. The thought of flying and perhaps being next to the smelly engine or a lady with too much perfume makes me anxious”

“I can totally relate! I would rather drive than fly and face all the unpredictable factors of a cab, airport, plane, etc any day”

`How do you handle traveling? Do you have any tips to share to make air or car travel easier?

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.

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