Travel Tips for Migraine Sufferers

How to Minimize Migraine Triggers During Travel

Traveling this year? There are a lot of hidden pitfalls for migraine sufferers who travel. If you are traveling by air you are subject to multiple migraine triggers: pressure changes, dehydration, time zone changes, and skipping meals. Be certain to carry high protein snacks with you and drink water frequently. It's also a good idea to pack your migraine medication in your carry-on luggage just in case you need it.

Make sure you have enough medication with you for the duration of your vacation. If you think this may be a problem because your insurance limits the number of pills you can get at one time, you may be able to ask for a "vacation override" at the pharmacy so that you can be certain to have enough to last. A good rule is to take twice as much migraine medication as you would normally need, and then you will be sure to have enough, even under the worst possible circumstances.

If your headaches are severe enough that you think you may require treatment while traveling, make certain you have a summary of your care with you. This allows a doctor who is unfamiliar with you to review your history. And don't forget your health insurance card.

Of course, changes in environment can set off your headaches also. Traveling to a new location with a different climate can be a migraine trigger, especially if there is heat and humidity. Many migraine sufferers find that high altitude can trigger their headaches.

Eating different foods and a different schedule can even be enough to cause migraines in some people. It may be wise to plan on taking it easy the first day or two in order to get used to a new environment and not push yourself too hard. It's better to do this so that you can avoid a headache and relax on vacation.

Watch out for trigger foods—watch for things like hot dogs, sausages, and other processed meats (pepperoni, salami, and similar) which contain nitrites. And need I mention alcohol? Just remember to keep things in moderation, and don't forget what your trigger foods are.

Children with migraine can be particularly susceptible to motion sickness and carsickness. If you have a child with migraine headaches, it might be best to make frequent stops and take breaks on road trips. In fact, up to 60% of adults who have migraine had motion sickness as children. Sometimes, it doesn't go away because you grew up.

Foreign travel can present extra challenges. Give yourself an extra day or two to cope with jet lag. Make certain medication is in its original labeled container when you clear customs, and carry a note from your doctor indicating which medications you are on, and that they are for personal use. Check to see if your medical insurance covers you internationally—some do. If not, you may wish to purchase travel insurance. The State Department has additional information about traveling abroad.

Let's review those Travel Tips:

  • Take extra migraine medication with you—a safe amount is twice as much as you think you need
  • Make sure your prescriptions are up-to-date in case you need a refill while away
  • If you fly, carry your medications in your carry-on luggage
  • Carry a medication list or summary of care in case you need to see a doctor while away
  • Remember to bring your health insurance card
  • If you travel abroad, check to see if your insurance covers you. If it doesn't, consider travel insurance
  • If you are taking a road trip, make frequent stops
  • Stay hydrated, especially if you are in the desert, in a hot climate, at high altitude, or flying
  • Take high protein snacks with you, especially if flying
  • Watch for trigger foods while traveling, and go easy on them if you are tempted
  • Go easy on alcohol. You are on vacation—your migraines might not be
  • Take it easy the first day or two in a new climate or time zone

Your vacation need not be full of lurking headache triggers. With careful planning, you should be able to have a wonderful time and enjoy your vacation without spending it suffering. If necessary, see your doctor before you go, and make sure you are on the right medication, and your prescriptions are up to date.

Now that you know how to plan for your headaches, you can start planning your next get-away. Go find those top 10 vacation spots, and have a wonderful vacation!

by Christina Peterson, M.D.

updated June 29, 2011