Don’t forget to pack your favorite water bottle.
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.”
Dr. Armand is a neurologist and headache specialist at Montefiore Headache Center in New York City.
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Travel can be very hard for people who are prone
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to migraines because traveling represents a time
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where things can be unpredictable
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and there can be a sense of lack of control.
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With traveling, you have to adapt to a change in schedule,
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you have to adapt to a change in the environment,
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and you have to adapt to the unknown in general,
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so all of those things can create stress
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and create a situation where a migraine trigger
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can be encountered and essentially cause a migraine.
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There are many ways that individuals can lower risk
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of migraine during vacation.
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The first way is to make sure to maintain a headache diary.
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The next way is to keep things consistent.
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Try to the best of your ability to follow a regular schedule.
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You want to make sure you maintain your sleep schedule.
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You want to make sure you maintain your levels of hydration.
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And also, keep the eating regular and consistent.
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Those will set you free and allow you to enjoy your vacation.
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So you want to make sure to have an eye mask
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that you can use in settings where you can't control
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the light indoors, and to bring sunglasses,
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so you can have that when you're going outside.
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The other thing is people can have a sensitivity to sound,
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and so bringing ear plugs with you can be very helpful,
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and that can help with preventing any loud noises
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from affecting you while you're traveling.
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We cannot control what smells we encounter,
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what pollutants we encounter,
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so you might want to have a mask, a mouth mask, with you.
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If you're going somewhere warm,
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you want to make sure you have a hat.
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You want to make sure you have fragrant-free
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and unscented sunscreen to put on you.
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In order to keep levels of hydration up,
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you might want to carry an empty water bottle.
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That way you can fill it up in the airport,
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after you pass customs, and you can keep those levels
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of hydration up in order to prevent a migraine attack.
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Have some handy bars with you because you might not know
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when you'll be able to sit down to a meal.
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So you want to have something really accessible
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so you can eat, and most importantly,
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pack those medications. Okay?
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Keep them close to you on your carry-on.
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Don't put them in the bags that you're gonna check.
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That way, if you do happen to have an attack,
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your medicine is right there and ready for you to take.
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If you are traveling and you are very worried
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about having a migraine attack, I totally understand.
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Be prepared, and remember your principles
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of staying consistent.
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You want to make sure you
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keep the norm as possible, the way you were at home.
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Once you have that, and you're prepared for anything
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that comes on, that will lessen your anxiety
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and allow you to enjoy your travel.
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5 holiday travel tips from our migraine community. Mount Royal, NJ: American Migraine Foundation, 2018. (Accessed on February 20, 2020 at https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/5-holiday-travel-tips-from-migraine-community/.)
Diet and headache control. Mount Royal, NJ: American Migraine Foundation, 2016. (Accessed on February 20, 2020 at https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/diet/.)
Stress and migraine. Mount Royal, NJ: American Migraine Foundation, 2017. (Accessed on February 20, 2020 at https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/stress-migraine/.)
Top 10 migraine triggers and how to deal with them. Mount Royal, NJ: American Migraine Foundation, 2017. (Accessed on February 20, 2020 at https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/top-10-migraine-triggers-and-how-to-deal-with-them/.)