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Traveling With Migraines: Tips and Tricks

Posted on October 05, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D.
Article written by
Sarah Winfrey

Many people who are prone to migraine headaches also love to travel. But with symptoms like severe pain, nausea, and even sensitivity to light and sound, migraines can make travel difficult. After all, it’s hard to enjoy a trip when you’re feeling unwell. The good news is that you don’t have to stay home just because you have migraines.

The best thing that people with migraines can do is plan ahead — both to prevent migraines from happening and to manage symptoms if one does occur. Here are some tips to keep in mind when preparing for a trip to help you feel your best and enjoy your travels.

What May Cause Migraines While Traveling?

Over time, most people diagnosed with chronic migraine attacks learn what triggers the condition. These common triggers can be stress or anxiety, certain foods or strong odors, certain sensory stimuli (bright lights or sudden, loud noises), changes in sleep patterns, being outside during particular changes in the weather, and more.

Although people can learn how to manage their home environment or daily routine to avoid these triggers or mitigate their effects, it can be a challenge to do so while traveling. For example, you can’t control whether the flight is on time, how noisy your next-door neighbors will be, whether you have a comfortable sleep environment, or even what food options are available. All these factors can leave those with migraine more susceptible to attacks while traveling.

How To Prepare for Your Trip

Traveling with migraines isn’t impossible — you can still take the trips you’ve always dreamed about. It just requires some extra preparation.

Planning ahead gives you the best possible chance of avoiding migraines and being able to deal with them if they do occur. The goal is to help you enjoy your travels (and prevent migraines from interfering) as much as possible.

Talk To Your Doctor

Before you leave, talk to your neurologist or health care provider. If you take medication to manage the symptoms of your migraines, make sure that you have enough to last throughout your trip. This is especially important for extended trips, as some insurance companies won’t fill more than 30 days’ worth of medication.

If you are traveling internationally, you may need a note on your doctor’s letterhead stating which medications you are taking, their dosages, and why they are needed. Keep your medications in their original bottles from the pharmacy, even if they take up more space. That way, if customs officials have questions about your pills or search your luggage, they will know exactly what you have been prescribed.

Bring Your Migraine Medications

Make sure you keep your migraine medications easily accessible at every leg of your journey. It is a good idea to keep both your migraine rescue medications and your daily medications in your carry-on luggage. Not only will this keep them at hand in case of an attack, but it will also mean you don’t have to worry about missing medications if your luggage is lost. If, for some reason, you have to check that bag, be sure to take your medication out first.

If over-the-counter pain medications help your migraines, bring those along with you as well. Just like with your prescriptions, make sure you have enough for the duration of your trip.

If your migraine medications make you sleepy or woozy, make sure you have a plan regarding who will take care of you. A travel companion who understands your migraines is the best option. If traveling alone, you can also work with flight attendants or hotel staff to make sure your needs are met.

Avoid Known Migraine Triggers

Make sure you know what you will do to avoid your migraine triggers. Some steps to aid in migraine prevention may include:

  • Contacting your hotel ahead of time
  • Staying in a hotel chain you know
  • Researching nearby restaurants
  • Planning rest into your schedule
  • Researching your destination ahead of time

Contact Your Hotel Ahead of Time

Let the hotel staff know that you experience migraines and ask them for a room that helps avoid your potential triggers. You may ask for one that will not have bright sunlight in the morning, one that is as far away as possible from cigarette smoke, or one where other guests are more likely to be quiet.

Stay in a Hotel Chain You Know

Each hotel is different, from its mattresses to its lighting and colors. If certain hotels have proven comfortable for you, staying there again may help you sleep better and avoid unexpected triggers.

Research Nearby Restaurants

If certain foods or food additives trigger migraines, look up local restaurants’ menus before deciding where to eat. You may also want to explain your migraines to your server and ask for recommendations for dishes without your known triggers.

Plan Rest Into Your Schedule

If stress or lack of sleep triggers your migraines, do your best to make sure you don’t get stressed out while traveling. Give yourself plenty of time to sleep, especially if you will be dealing with jet lag. Melatonin, an over-the-counter supplement, is effective for some people with migraine to help regulate their sleep. Also, be sure to plan other rest periods into your days, so you don’t take on too much. If you schedule one or two busy days in a row, take the next one off to recover.

Research Your Destination Ahead of Time

If you’re concerned about triggers and migraine attacks, do some extensive research on your destination before you travel. Find out, for example, which hotels don’t use fluorescent lights or which restaurants don’t add MSG to their food.

You may also want to research your planned activities. For instance, if you are going to take a bus or train, make sure you choose a seat that is away from windows (to avoid flashing lights) in a nonsmoking part of the vehicle. If you have questions about certain activities or locations and whether you’ll be able to tolerate them, call before you travel so you know what to expect.

Limit Your Stress

As one MyMigraineTeam member wrote, “Traveling is VERY stressful because you’re out of your normal controlled environment. And usually, you’re traveling with someone, and you don’t want to be a burden with your migraine.”

Do everything you can to limit your stress. Schedule your travel so that you don’t have to change your sleep patterns, such as waking up earlier than normal when leaving for your trip. Pack your luggage a day or two before you leave to ensure you have everything without a last-minute scramble. If possible, don’t plan flights so close together that you worry about whether or not you’ll make them.

Plan the days you’ll spend at your destination wisely, too. Choose the things you most want to see and make sure they end up on your schedule, but don’t try to squeeze in more than you can handle. Give yourself time to enjoy a good meal and unwind at the end of each day so you can rest and sleep well.

Maintain Your Sleep Schedule

Try to stick as closely as possible to the same sleep schedule you follow at home. Jet lag and vacation plans can interfere with this, but keeping it as much the same as possible will help lower your chances of experiencing a migraine.

Keep a Migraine Emergency Kit Handy

Bring a migraine emergency kit with you. Just like with your medication, make sure you keep this with you at all times, even if you have to check your carry-on bag. Your kit should include items that help before or during migraine attacks. Possible items to include are:

  • A water bottle to make it easier to drink lots of water
  • A snack that doesn’t trigger migraines
  • A bag or a container in case you are nauseated
  • Earplugs to help regulate sound
  • An eye mask to help regulate light
  • Sunglasses
  • Essential oils or other scents that make you feel better
  • A hat
  • An ice pack and a heat pack
  • Anti-nausea medications or patches
  • A small pillow, such as a neck pillow
  • Peppermints, ginger candy, or other hard candy

Consider Travel Insurance

If you’re concerned about having to cancel your trip, make sure you buy travel insurance. That way, you’ll be reimbursed for any cancellations you have to make. Some travel insurance will also cover excursions you plan to go on while on your trip, so you can make a call while on your trip whether you feel well enough to do certain things.

Make sure that your medical insurance will cover any aid you need while traveling. If you have to visit an urgent care clinic or an ER because of migraine pain, this will ensure that you have the coverage you need. If your insurance will not cover you at your destination, you can purchase separate medical coverage that will be helpful while traveling.

Find Your Migraine Community Today

If you have been diagnosed with migraine, you may have questions about everything from travel to medications to triggers and more. At MyMigraineTeam, you can connect with other people who deal with migraines to find the answers you need. You can also share your own story with migraines or join ongoing conversations to help and encourage others. Before long, you’ll have a team that understands migraines and will walk with you on your journey.

How do you manage travel with migraines? Share your thoughts and tips in the comments below or by posting on MyMigraineTeam.

A MyMigraineTeam Member said:

This is spot on. I’m hoping to visit a relative soon. I’d like to drive but with the way my health has been lately, that would not be a wise choice. I have the silent type of migraine and I don’t… read more

posted 28 days ago

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Evelyn O. Berman, M.D. is a neurology and pediatric specialist and treats disorders of the brain in children. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Sarah Winfrey is a writer at MyHealthTeams. Learn more about her here.

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