The Travelling Migraine

Traveling and vacationing is supposed to be a fun, relaxing time to create memories with loved ones.  Preparing for and planning a trip, whether for a week or a weekend, is time consuming and takes a lot of energy.  When you have Migraine, Chronic Migraine or any other debilitating headache disorder, worrying about your pain interfering with your travel plans is a very real issue.  We can’t always stop an attack from occurring, but we can do our best to avoid triggers by having a plan.  I haven’t gone on a vacation in almost ten years, but my family does take small trips out of state to visit family in Buffalo, NY which is an eight hour drive from our home in Virginia.  It is extremely important that I know in advance that we are going out of town.  It gives me the opportunity to schedule how I will prepare for our trip.  It is imperative to pace myself when getting my family ready.  What works for me is making lists and setting goals for each day.  Here are ten things that you can do to help you prepare for a trip:

  1. Pace yourself.  Give yourself plenty of time to prepare.  Make a schedule and try to stick to it.  Don’t overwhelm yourself with too much in one day.  Spread it out over a few days and you’ll be less stressed in the end.

  2. Make sure that you have enough medication (preventive, abortive and rescue) to last for the duration of your trip.  If needed, refill medications as soon as possible.  This also applies to any medical equipment, such as oxygen tanks for cluster headaches.

  3. If you do not have one already, have your migraine specialist or neurologist prepare an emergency room protocol for you that has the medications/treatments that help break a migraine attack when visiting the ER or urgent care.  That way, you can be assured that you will be treated correctly and won’t have to deal with being looked at as a “drug seeker” and not given adequate care during an emergency.  Keep a list of all medications you currently take, including any supplements and vitamins, as well as all medications you are allergic to or cannot tolerate well.

  4. A few days prior to your trip, start preparing your luggage.  Begin doing laundry and if you have pre-teen or teenaged children, have them help you sort the laundry, fold and pack.  There is no reason for you to have to do it all by yourself.  It’s okay if it takes a few days to get it done.

  5. Keeping a list of what you need to bring helps also.  Brain fog and trouble concentrating is common among migraineurs.  Having a list and checking items off as I pack helps to keep me organized and less forgetful.

  6. If you have fur babies, secure a place for them to stay or ask a neighbor to pet-sit.

  7. Check your Migraine toolkit and replace/refill any items that may be missing or in need of re-stocking, such as ice packs, heating pads, anti-nausea pills, essential oils, OTC medications, sleep masks, ear plugs, small snacks, ginger ale, chews, tea bags for nausea, instant coffee or caffeinated soda, etc.

  8. If you follow a strict diet (gluten free, sugar free, dairy free, etc.) and are able to, pack a small cooler with some food staples to ensure that you will be able to eat when travelling.  I like to bring my gluten free bread, refrigerator oats, and shelf stable almond milk with me when we drive out of town.

  9. If you are like me and also suffer from Fibromyalgia, sitting for extended periods of time can cause tremendous pain and fatigue all over your body.  If traveling by bus or car, get out and walk/stretch whenever you stop, and if traveling by air or train, get out of your seat and walk up and down the aisle frequently.  Wearing a back support helps me combat my chronic back pain and wearing compression garments can help with swelling in the lower extremities.

  10. Travel with a refillable water bottle.  The Brita water bottles have filters in them, so you can refill them anywhere and have fresh, filtered water.  Staying hydrated is very important!! (If traveling by car, keeping a case of water in your trunk is a good idea also.)

We all want to enjoy ourselves whenever we are away from home.  Taking the stress out of traveling is very possible, even when living with chronic pain.  The key is to pace yourself.  Assign one task a day before moving on to the next one.  Elicit help from your spouse, friends, children, and neighbors.  You do not have to do it all by yourself!  We tend to try to make up for our inability to do it all by trying to do it all anyway and burning ourselves out.  The same amount of stuff can get done, it may just take longer than we’d like.  That’s okay!  The important thing here is self-preservation.  Taking care of your needs and only doing what your body will allow you to do will make life a little easier (and hopefully a little more pain-free).