Traveling can be stressful for anyone, but having a chronic health condition can add an extra layer of challenges. For those who are prone to migraines, traveling introduces a range of stressors and changes to your routine that are known to trigger a migraine.
“Traveling represents a time when things can be unpredictable and there can be a sense of lack of control,” says Cynthia Armand, MD, neurologist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.
But that doesn’t mean you can never travel for work, take vacations, or visit your cousin in Oregon. The keys to migraine-free travel are planning, consistency, and preparedness. If you’re prone to migraines, here are proactive tips for traveling, according to Dr. Armand.
1. Keep a headache diary
Keeping a headache diary in your everyday life can help you identify your primary migraine triggers. If you know your triggers before traveling, you’ll be more likely to avoid those triggers on your trip. For example, many people with migraine are triggered by changes in sleep schedule, dehydration, or gaps in meals—all of which are common occurrences while traveling.
2. Stay consistent
“Try, to the best of your ability, to follow a regular schedule,” says Dr. Armand. “You want to make sure you maintain your sleep schedule. You want to make sure you maintain your levels of hydration.”
If your trip is going to interfere with your normal meal schedule, make sure you always have snacks on hand to avoid going too long without eating—fasting is a very common migraine trigger.
3. Pack migraine essentials
There are certain items that may come in handy, either for preventing migraines, or for dealing with one if it occurs on your trip:
An eye mask to “use in settings where you can’t control the light indoors,” says Dr. Armand.
Sunglasses to protect your eyes from bright light. Here are the best sunglasses to prevent migraines.
Ear plugs to prevent loud noises from irritating you during travel.
A face or mouth mask to protect against strong or unpleasant smells, such as cigarette smoke.
A hat to shade your eyes and keep your face cool, if you’re going somewhere warm or sunny.
Unscented sunscreen to avoid migraines caused by fragrant skin products.
A water bottle to help you stay hydrated. “You can fill it up at the airport after you pass customs and you can keep those levels of hydration up,” says Dr. Armand. A water bottle can also help if you need to take medication.
Healthy portable snacks to avoid hunger. “You might not know when you’ll be able to sit down to a meal so you want to have something really accessible so you can eat,” says Dr. Armand.
Your medications, which should be kept in your carry-on luggage so they’re easily accessible during the flight.
4. Don’t hesitate to call your doctor
“If you do feel yourself in a position where the medicines that you’re taking for migraine attack aren’t working and you’re going on several days with a migraine attack, don’t be afraid to ask for help,” says Dr. Armand.
Your doctor might even be able to refer you to another doctor that they know and trust in the area of your travel destination.
“You want to make sure you keep the norm as [much as] possible, the way you were at home,” says Dr. Armand. “Once you have that, and you’re prepared for anything that comes on, that will lessen your anxiety and allow you to enjoy your travel.”