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Getting the Most from Your Vacation when You Have Migraine

Woman packing the essentials for a migraine-friendly holiday including sunglasses and hat
Getty Images / miniseries

Going on vacation can be a stressful experience for people with chronic migraine. However, with the right strategies, you can enjoy your trip and even lessen your chance of a severe attack. Today, Ciara O’Rourke shares her 5 top tips for planning a vacation when living with chronic migraine. Bring on summer and bon voyage!

I love this time of year. The days are longer, the sun is starting to creep out from behind the clouds, and we can finally start talking about my favorite topic - booking a vacation!

I've always been a "sun girl." Sunny days instantly boost my mood, and I feel the brighter weather helps with my migraines. In fact, I believe the sun helps so much that I asked my consultant about migraines and the weather. He said that changes in temperature and weather could impact migraines, which I took to mean that sunshine and nice weather are good for me!

I try to organize at least one sunny vacation abroad every year. Family vacations are always fun, but they take a lot of planning. I have a husband and three children, so preparing for a vacation is more complex than it once was. Gone are the days when I could pack a few things in a bag, grab my passport, and hop on a plane.

Nowadays, organizing a family vacation starts months before takeoff. I also suffer from migraine and chronic daily headaches, so careful preparation is needed to ensure my vacation is as pain-free as possible.

5 Tips for managing migraine on vacation

The planning can be time-consuming, but the results are worth it! Here are some migraine-friendly vacation planning tips to make the most of your time abroad.

1. Choose a location that meets your needs

The location of your trip can make or break your vacation. As I said before, I love the sun, and a family trip to a sunshine-drenched country is perfect for the kids and me. However, for other people, hot weather or sudden weather changes can be migraine triggers. So, it’s essential to consider the climate when picking your vacation destination.

Likewise, while it's tempting to visit all the hot and sunny places around the world, there are a few things I need to consider before booking.

First of all, the length of the flight. I live in Ireland, so I'm lucky to have places like Spain, Portugal, and the Canary Islands nearby. A few hours on a plane is my limit. I have the kids to manage in Economy, and the cabin pressure and lack of fresh air when flying can trigger a headache.

I also need to consider the health services in the countries I visit. It may sound over the top, but the last place you want to be is somewhere that can't meet your family's health needs. Vacation packages should include travel insurance for any health costs accrued abroad. Thankfully, most travel agents and sites offer good cover - but it always helps to compare deals. If you're a frequent traveler, year-long health insurance policies are often available.

2. Talk to your healthcare provider before setting off

Once I've decided on a location and organized health insurance, I book a doctor’s appointment to discuss my upcoming trip. It never hurts to ask for travel advice or check the suitability of some activities!

I will also ensure I have an adequate supply of my prescribed migraine medication, as it may not be available when I’m abroad. I make sure to keep a letter from my doctor with me.

Unfortunately, migraine has put a dampener on trips before. I developed a severe migraine during a trip to Lanzarote and had forgotten to pack my medication. Believe me, if you've done this once, you won't forget it again. I spent two days cooped up in my hotel apartment with the blinds closed and windows open, overwhelmed by headaches, vomiting, and photophobia (sensitivity to light).

Since then, my medication pouch is never far from hand, and it’s certainly one of the first things I pack into my suitcase! It is also a good idea to keep medicine in your hand luggage, just in case the airline loses your checked bags.

3. Reduce stress-triggered migraines by packing well in advance

Packing for a family can be taxing, even with help. There is so much to remember and consider.

I am a massive fan of a "to-do list," so I usually start several weeks in advance. I'll dig out last year's clothes and see what still fits and what needs replacing. Summer clothes start hitting the shops in April, so I start building a selection of essentials such as T-shirts, shorts, swimming gear, and sandals weeks before we take off. This saves panic-buying from a massive list a few days before the vacation, which often comes with an enormous bill to match.

My suitcase contains light, breathable vacation wear. I like dressing comfortably in weather-suitable clothes, so a range of light tops, shorts, sun dresses, and swimwear is all I need. Comfortable shoes are also a must, as we do a lot of walking on our vacations.

4. Plan around your migraine triggers before you go

Talking of packing, sunglasses and sun hats are on my list of must-have items. As much as I love the sun, direct sunlight is one of my migraine triggers.

Photophobia is often one of my symptoms. It can be painful to be around bright lights, so I need to prepare for photophobia-induced migraine attacks. Wearing hats and sunglasses means I carry the shade with me, so I'm not as worried about the sun inducing an attack.

5. Map out your transfers and daily travel itinerary

I organize things to keep transfer and travel requirements to a minimum once we land. The last thing you need or want is to sit on a hot, busy bus for hours to get to your vacation resort. Tiredness and stress can trigger migraines, so I avoid long transfers and waits when possible.

I also prefer to travel during daylight hours. On one trip, the flight home didn't leave until 10:30 PM, and we didn't arrive back in Ireland until 3:00 AM. By the time we'd collected our bags, found the car, and drove home, it was 5:00 AM! At this point, the day had stretched far too long, which increased my likelihood of getting a headache.

A thumping headache delays enjoyment during the first day of your vacation and saps feelings of being refreshed after a trip. I always check that our flights time to and from our destination are in the daytime.

The takeaway

Planning takes time and energy, but many (mostly unnecessary) issues are harder to deal with abroad. I hope these few tips help. It may seem like a lot of preparation and planning before a vacation, but it can make all the difference. We're lucky to get just one yearly trip abroad, so I want to cherish every moment when I'm out there.

Take care to tailor the vacation to your and your family's needs, and make the most of your well-deserved break!

The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for the evaluation, management, or treatment of any condition.

The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen​. 

NPS-ALL-NP-01030 JUNE 2023

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