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Traveling with Migraine: Know Before You Go

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I recently experienced a migraine two hours before I had to go to the airport for a vacation. My bags were packed, and I was stoked for the week ahead. But the migraine knocked me out so hard that I physically couldn’t make it to the airport.

Not only was I sad that I had to miss out on a relaxing and fun vacation, but I was stuck in bed for days. I was unable to lift my head off my pillow, watch TV, or even make my way to the living room couch for a change of scenery.

My migraine situations are often unavoidable and unfortunate. Travel is an important part of my life, though, so I’ve picked up some tactics to mitigate any extra pain and enjoy my trips as much as possible.

Here are my tips for traveling when you live with migraine.

Don’t overdo it on days prior

Make sure not to overload yourself the week prior to travel. It’s not worth it. Nothing feels worse than pushing through a tough week and crashing before your vacation even starts.

Hydrate

Drink plenty of water throughout the days before you go. I always find that the flight itself, paired with my anxious perspiration on the way to the airport, leads to dehydration. Preparing for this in advance is key.

Pack snacks

Skipping meals is a major no-no. I always bring snacks with me when I go on vacation. Sometimes I’ll bring a granola bar, mixed nuts, popcorn, or even a salad. Regardless of the snack, it’s important that I don’t give my migraine any room to take over on my trip.

Stay calm

Staying calm is the hardest part for me as there are many things that challenge this. I have this need to finish and clean everything before leaving town. I love coming home to a clean room, with a perfectly made bed and a nearly empty to-do list.

Knowing that I’ve accomplished everything I needed to and have a warm, wonderful room to come home to makes my travels that much better.

Once my room is in a good place, my next step is getting to the airport.

This can be tough in New York City, especially if my travel falls on a Friday afternoon when there’s a lot of traffic. So, figuring out the fastest method to get to the airport (whether via ride-sharing, taxi, subway, or train) is always overwhelming for me.

I try my best to relax and give myself extra time so that I can avoid stressing out over potentially missing my flight.

Once I get to the airport, my favorite calming tactic is to find a bookstore at the airport and pick up a book that I’ve never heard of. I’ll purchase it and start reading, and often won’t put it down until I have arrived at my destination.

While this might sound crazy, it’s a perfect distraction from the stress of travel and it magically turns a wasted travel day into a day of enjoyment and escape.

Setting expectations

Traveling with me, while fun, may not always be easy for my travel partners.

Before going on a trip, I always remind my travel partner (whether they’re a friend, boyfriend, or family member) that there’s a chance that a migraine may get in the way of our vacation. Sometimes, I may even be too sick to enjoy the experience.

I’m always fine with going to bed while the other person does their own thing. Some travel partners are OK with this, while others would rather not split up or leave me alone while I’m sick.

Either way, I find that it’s best to set expectations up front so that everyone knows what they’re getting into ahead of time. That way there are no hard feelings if things don’t quite go as planned.

What I do at the airport and during the flight

Immediately when I get through security, I’ll grab a giant bottle of water and fill it with crystallized lemon packets. I find that I’m more apt to guzzle water when there’s lemon in it. The best time to fully take advantage of this time to hydrate is right when I get past security.

Grabbing a big bottle of water is always expensive — like $6 — but worth it. Just the weight of the water bottle often makes me want to drink it down so that my bag feels less heavy.

If I forgot to pack snacks, this is when I’ll scour the airport for snacks that aren’t overly loaded with salt and sugar. Even if I’m not hungry, I need to ensure that I’m prepared to not have a meal for a few hours.

While on the flight, I’ll continue to drink more water. If someone comes by with a cart, I always ask for more water and chug it down.

Don’t forget to enjoy yourself (and take breaks)

I’m always battling between enjoying myself in the moment and not pushing myself so far that I’ll trigger another migraine. I do my best to enjoy as much as possible and keep an eye out for when I’m pushing myself too hard or feeling too worn down.

Naps and taking breaks alone tend to be the most comforting during these times.

Give yourself a post-vacation break

Upon returning from vacation, I like to block off a couple of days to recover from my trip when possible.

This gives me a little bit of leeway. If I push myself further than desirable, I have time to rest and recover on the backend of my vacation.

The takeaway

Migraines can often be unexpected and unavoidable. When you travel often, it’s important to prepare for the worst-case scenario. A migraine can easily ruin a trip, but taking steps before you get on a plane will allow you to enjoy your trip as much as possible.

For more information on how to manage migraine, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team. 

MIG-US-NP-00106 DECEMBER 2018