Patient Blogs | Migraine
What it’s Like to Vacation With Migraines
photo of rear view of girl on journey

Do you always get a migraine when you travel or go on a vacation?

The migraine brain loves routine, and traveling brings a lot of daily changes and exposure to triggers, including:           

  • Changes to your sleep schedule
  • Changes to eating plan and diet
  • A new atmosphere and barometric pressure
  • High altitude, if flying
  • More time spent in the sun
  • Changes to your activity levels

Unfortunately, traveling can cause migraine headaches because many potential triggers are involved. In addition, the whole process can be stressful for your body and trigger a migraine.

One theory is that the lack of sleep the night before trips causes episodes. And honestly, they might be on to something. But I also have started wondering if smiling is a trigger for me. My facial musculature gets sensitive when I have a migraine; I am predisposed to a permanent case of resting face. So, could smiling for extensive periods be a trigger?

Part of navigating life as a migraine warrior is being extra prepared and expecting the unexpected. I forgot to pack medicine on a trip once and, of course, got one of the worst migraine episodes of my life. It's always the one time you're unprepared. So, I always have my meds close by on flights, I drink a lot of caffeine as a diuretic to help stave off any head and neck tension, and I make sure to wear stretchy pants and looser shoes.            

Before the flight: Stay extra hydrated. I usually have a liquid IV the day before and the day of flying. Also, talk with your doctor about pre-medicating. I take half of my medication at night before boarding the plane. I hold tension in my neck and jaws, so I stretch and meditate if possible.

Migraine relief bag: I never leave home without my migraine relief bag. It includes my medications, extra liquid IV sticks, earplugs, peppermint essential oil (to help ease nausea from medications or to rub on my temples to relieve tension), and a sleep mask for light sensitivity. Also, bring a Ziploc bag for a flight attendant to fill with ice when you board (if ice helps).

During the flight: Before taking off, I pop in my earplugs and take half of an abortive medication. I keep my earplugs in until we reach cruising altitude and put them back in when we start to descend, which helps a lot with altitude changes that can trigger migraine episodes in some people. I try to avoid screens, since they trigger me, but I will listen to music/podcasts at cruising altitude. I'll also wear a floppy hat to avoid overhead lights and my blue light glasses to prevent screen glare during the flight. I am “team neck pillow.” I also do neck circles/stretches to prevent tension headaches that could trigger migraines. You want to be as comfortable as possible.

After the flight: Remember to wear sunglasses and dress in layers to keep your body cool. My body heat rises whenever I'm in a situation where I don't feel in control. So, I need to keep my body cool and remind myself to breathe and relax.

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Photo Credit: RgStudio / E+ via Getty Images

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Naki Carter

Naki Carter

Diagnosed since 2001

For nearly 20 years, Naki Carter has been living with migraine. Formerly an award-winning journalist, she is committed to ending the stigma around the invisible illness. Carter lives in South Florida near lots of family and friends, where she enjoys a daily dose of “vitamin sea.” Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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