Migraines are a pain in the ass wherever and whenever they hit you. But there’s just something so specifically annoying about having a day of your holiday ruined by the stone-cold atrocity that is a full-blown migraine attack. Unfortunately, there’s just so many travel-related migraine triggers that make vulnerable heads go crazy.
Airplane travel, a different diet, a change in climate, overnight bus rides, culture shock, nervousness, dehydration, exhaustion – if you’re prone to migraines, really anything about your journey can leave you in a state of desperately trying to stop yourself from smashing that head up against the next wall.
As someone who experiences this on all of her journeys, I want to share some tips on travel migraine prevention for my fellow sufferers out there. There’s hope, I promise.
Let’s paint the picture real quick: You’ve been planning your trip for weeks if not months and are super excited (and if you’re anything like me, you’re stressed out by some last minute packing). You’ll probably have to catch a flight, which means spending some hours in air-conditioning and noise. All the while, your excitement level is sky-rocketing. And when you finally reach your destination, you’re maybe even hit in the face with super different climate than the one you came from.
Sound familiar? For me, this is usually the point where I might have the first travel-induced migraine kicking in. And there’s more: Sometimes you get way too hungry on the road because you spend hours looking for a place that feels good to you, or you got lost somewhere and simply didn’t get a chance to eat.
And sure, you know you’re supposed to rehydrate, but are you really going to drink enough water on your over-night bus ride without a loo on it? Then there’s the alcohol bit, obviously, which is always a huge bummer – but who wants to miss out on that drink with the new homies you made exploring the pagoda fields of Bagan together?
And sure, you know you’re supposed to rehydrate, but are you really going to have enough water on your over-night bus ride without a loo on it? Then there’s the alcohol bit which is an obvious bummer – but who wants to miss out on that drink with the new homies you made exploring the pagoda fields of Bagan together?
Despite all these obvious triggers, everything about migraines seems to depend on your day to day form. Something that’s guaranteed to make you ill one day could not affect you at all on another. Now, I’m not sure if this is good or bad, but we might as well make it work for us:
So here’s my migraine travel tips for every type of day.
Days when it’s all good or –
general tips for travelling with migraines
- Never ever get too hungry:
This is probably the biggest trigger for me. If I go past that point of super hungry where I’m just starting to feel irritated, dizzy or nauseous from hunger, I can almost feel a migraine creeping in. I know you’ve probably heard this one before and it might feel strange to you, but it works so well and is so easily done: Keep a little bag of nuts or whatever other snack with you at all times when you’re on the road. These are your emergency stock for when you just can’t find a restaurant that feels right to your guts (pun intended?), but your body demands nutrients NOW. It’s a lifesaver for me.
2. Keep them muscles relaxed:
This goes for long-haul flights and other means of transportation in particular, but I guess it applies equally if you’re sleeping in an uncomfortable hostel bed or have to carry your heavy luggage around all day. Many people, including myself, experience shoulder, neck and back pain with their migraines. Most often, the muscles will start hurting before the head does, which is why I used to think keeping my muscles relaxed could avoid migraines somehow.
As I was informed by doctors who are way smarter than me, that’s not how this works: Appartently, despite the feeling of it being the other way around, it is always the start of the headache that turns these muscles to stone. Personally, I can’t help but feel that if my muscles are super tight, I’m much more likely to end up with a migraine. So in my opinion, it definitely makes sense to take good care of your back muscles so they won’t affect your head in any way and turn this into a vicious circle of tension and pain.
Stretch and move your muscles whenever possible, I personally would say at least once a day. If you feel like you need it, don’t worry about people starring. I did some yoga on the floor right in the middle of all other passengers waiting to embark on a 12-hour-flight in Singapore. Sorry not sorry, I need this.
3. Get your zZzZs:
I know this is hard to achieve on many international journeys. But whenever possible, try to mess with your sleeping cycle as little as possible. If you can’t avoid turning it completely upside down, at least try to give your body all the sleep it needs on the first night of your arrival. I know it would be a lot cooler to go discover your new destination instead of going to sleep at 10 pm that night – but honestly, it works best for me to let my body rest after a journey through a gazillion times zones.
4. Don’t ditch all your habits:
In a situation where basically everything is different from your regular life, I’ve found it to be crucial to stick to at least one routine: coffee! I do not only love coffee, apparently I thrive on it. And chances are that you do too, especially if you drink it daily. My body does not appreciate it if I mess with my daily caffeine intake – it gives me INSTANT, GUARANTEED migraines if I try to skip coffee for a whole day. (Which basically just means that I’m hella addiction to caffeine, but that’s fine I guess? No way I’m changing that anyway!).
So what I do is really just surrender to my coffee routine even when I travel. More precisely, I do everything I can to keep said routine up. Even if I’m in a country that is world famous for their glorious tea and even if I can only get my hands on absolutely repulsive Nescafé-ish instant shit, I will drink at least one of those to keep my system functioning as usual. The sometimes disgusting experiences are definitely worth it if they keep my head migraine-free – although to be fair, living next to the bar that serves this heavenly cappuccino makes this rule much easier to follow.
The not so chill days or –
tips for when you feel a migraine creeping in:
5. Do it as the celebrities do:
Equip yourself with a nice, big pair of sunglasses. I’m sure this isn’t just me, but there’s this very specific sort of light from the sky some days that makes me squint my eyes all the time – and without even noticing, the tension that creates in the forehead will open the door for a much more tension to come, aka for a migraine to make you miserable. Get your shades, leave them on, problem solved.
6. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate:
Now, I know this actually goes without saying, and of course you need to drink your water on all other days, not just the ones that have you feeling a bit off. BUT, and this is why I am mentioning this here, I have managed to effectively fight off a migraine that had been announcing its arrival for hours simply by drinking A LOT of water.
Usually, as soon as I feel the first signs of a migraine, there is nothing to do but accept my fate, so I was honestly surprised when I found that after chugging down heaps of water, the migraine just disappeared. It has worked a few times for me by now, although not even close to everytime, so this is just a suggestion. I guess it can’t hurt after all. Of course a lot of water can mean something entirely different for everyone, so whatever you’re thinking, why not add more to that? When I try to do it, I will drink at least 1,5 litres in a short period of time and in addition to whatever I’ve had during the day.
7. Don’t be afraid to be uncool:
Remember the example I made earlier about not wanting to skip that drink after cruising round Bagan all day long? This is a very real scenario from my trip to Myanmar. I’d been feeling something going on in my head since midday and decided to go through with our trip anyway, which might have been fine. But it definitely wasn’t fine when I decided to still go out that night. We had dinner and got chatting, but by the time I put my fork down, I knew I should head straight to bed because the pain was getting intense. But instead, I stayed around because I didn’t want to be the one to miss out or spoil the mood. Now, this is obviously something understandable, but nonetheless highly stupid to do. I ended up with a RAGING migraine that night and I don’t think it would have been that bad if I’d just listened to my gut and gotten some rest in the first place.
We had dinner and got chatting, but by the time I put my fork down, I knew I should head straight to bed because the pain was getting intense. But instead, I stayed around because I didn’t want to be the one to miss out or spoil the mood. Now, this is obviously something understandable, but nonetheless highly stupid to do. I ended up with a RAGING migraine that night and I don’t think it would have been that bad if I’d just listened to my gut and gotten some rest in the first place.
8. Get away from your screens:
This one might be obvious, but I’m just gonna add it anyway. The last thing your frayed nerves need when they’re trying to fend off a migraine is a smartphone, computer or tv screen anywhere near. Of course, there’s many other big no-nos in that situation: could be reading, exercising, drinking, going out and anything connected to noises or smells really. While these are all very individual experiences, I think the screen thing would be something that applies to everyone, so why not try it out next time?
The really bad days or –
tips for migraine damage limitation:
9. Be prepared:
When a migraine really hits me, what I need to do is block out as much of my surroundings as possible. Well, that might be easy to do when you’re at a nice quiet hotel, but if there’s any chance you’re staying in a busy hostel dorm, you need to be prepared. That is why I never travel without earplugs and a sleeping mask. Noise and light are what’s hardest to deal with under the influence of a migraine, so you need these two tools to handle most that for you. Now, all you need to do is lay down and try to get through it. If you can open a window for some fresh air, that’s always a plus, but darkness and silence are definitely your best friends.
That is why I never travel without earplugs and a sleeping mask. Noise and light are what’s hardest to deal with under the influence of a migraine and these two tools will handle most of that for you. Now, all you need to do is lay down and try to get through it. If you can open a window for some fresh air, that’s always a plus, but darkness and silence are definitely your best friends.
10. Speaking of silence…
There’s something that at times works even better for me – and that is ASMR. As I’m not sure how widely this is known, let me just explain very briefly: ASMR, short from autonomous sensory meridian response, is a very pleasant phenomenon that some people experience from being exposed to certain audio and/or visual triggers. It is best described as feeling tingles in the head, neck and spine. There’s thousands and thousands of hours of material on Youtube, designed specifically to make the viewer/listener feel the tingles.
Now, I know I said no screen time earlier and I’m sticking with that because I never actually watch the videos but just listen to them. ASMR is definitely something I find super calming and I use not only when I’m suffering from migraines, but simply to relax.For some reason (that I don’t know of) not everyone gets the tingles though. That being said, these videos can still be pleasant and relaxing even without the actual tingle feeling.
Be warned that they are definitely not for everyone though. When I tried to show them to the boyfriend, I think his mind barfed a little bit. He couldn’t stand them AT ALL.
There’s many different types of ASMRtists (you read correctly) out there, some for example do strictly not talk in their videos, others prefer to whisper or soft-speak while creating other sounds such as scratching or tapping. So if you stumble across something that really isn’t for you, maybe play around a bit and see if you can find anything that helps calm you down.
If you ever want to give the ASMR experience a try, I personally can only recommend checking out this channel on Youtube. Charlotte aka Fairy Char ASMR just has the most calming manner and voice in my humble opinion and her videos always give me peace. If you read this Charlotte, you’re amazing!
Obvious / pro tip: When traveling you might not always have a wifi connection that is strong enough to carry you through a longish Youtube video, so make sure to prepare for that.
11. Breathing techniques:
Now, this is another very specific tip but I think it’s worth a shot. I sometimes try to ease my pain with breathing techniques like alternate nostril breathing which you might know if you’re practicing yoga. If not, I’m definitely not the most qualified person to elaborate on this, but basically it means to breath in through one nostril, then breath out through the second one, breath in through the second one, then breath out through the first one, breath in through the first one, then… You get it.
To be honest, this is often what I turn to when nothing else works.
I’m not a professional so I can’t be sure if this is specifically advisable for people with migraines, but I feel that focusing on your breath and trying to channel it can’t really hurt anyone. Plus, it can be such a great relief of pain at times. Not only does it calm you down immensely – it also distracts your mind from the migraine by giving you something very basic to focus on.
This works great when you’re on the go, too, as it can be done anywhere. Even if you have a flight to catch, you can always squeeze in a little breathing meditation to ease your pain for just a little while.
12. Stick to your regulars, but be open to new remedies:
If I was made to decide which item I’d rather keep in my carry-on luggage – my laptop, camera and every other valuable OR my migraine pills, it would always be the pills I’d keep close to me. THAT’S how important they are to me.
I’ve had migraines for the best of 10 years now and have been taking these pills for a good eight of those and I seriously don’t want to think about life without them. Now, I won’t advise anyone on what pills to take, but what I’m trying to say is: Find something that works for you and TAKE IT WHEREVER YOU GO. My pills are Almogran 12,5 mg and I would never experiment with anything else because I know these work well for me most of the time.
That being said, I think it can’t help to try out some additional (!) local remedies to your standard medication as you’re already travelling anyway. That’s how I discovered the amazing Axe Brand Universal Oil that I now wouldn’t trade for anything. I’m not getting paid to mention this by the way, I just love this stuff and hope to help out some fellow sufferers. I just smear the oil on every sore muscle and on my maltreaded head whenever I need it – guaranteed relief.
These are my tips for making the best out of your travel time despite your migraines. What do you think? How do you handle migraines when travelling? Do you have a secret cure? Please share!
If you try any of my tips, feel free to send some feedback my way! Also please drop me a line you’re weirded out or completely enchanted because you clicked on that ASMR link. Would love to know your take on this!
11 thoughts on “Travelling with migraines: 12 tips to avoid the unavoidable”
As a fellow sufferer, I sympathise. For me, one of the key triggers is neck and shoulder pain — usually these just give me a bad tension headache but sometimes they trigger a full-on migraine with nausea and weird vision and sensitivity to sound and heat. If I catch it early enough and take my migraine meds, plus painkillers, I can turn it around fast but if I’m too slow, the digestion does that migraine thing where it literally stops dead, so no meds taken after that point get digested / work. I was once on holiday in Japan and it was so severe (and that’s saying something given most migraines make me want to drill a hole in my head) that I ended up in hospital paying several hundred pounds for a CAT scan, which was clear, and it did go eventually. Uugh!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Oh my god, that hospital experience sounds like every migraineur’s nightmare come true. I’m sorry these bother you so much, too, but it seems like you’ve got some good routines figured out. It’s interesting that you feel like your neck and shoulder can cause a migraine, because I feel the same way, but my doctors insist it’s the other way around. Idk to be honest, but I guess it’s good when you find a way to avoid the pain as much as possible 🙂 All the best to you and thanks for reading and commenting!
I get migraines too and it is a true pain in the ass especially when traveling! These are fantastic tips – I use many of them to avoid migraines. I have found that drinking lots of water, making sure that I have eaten, and that I stretch does wonders to avoiding migraines.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks for reading and commenting Soraya! I think the best possible feedback I could get for this is that it works for other sufferers as well. Wish you all the best 🙂
I’ve been getting migraines since I was a young teenager and honestly it is the worst part of travel for me. Sometimes, like you said, it’s caused by the stress or travel and everything that comes with it. Other times, it can be just too much sound. I was in NYC and was going to see 2 musicals in one day. I could feel the migraine niggling during the first show, but in between we went back to the hotel to chill. We had previously agreed to eat at Guy fieri’s restaurant which, if you don’t know, is very intense and very loud! (but tasty) I have no memory of act 2 of the second show, which sucks because broadway is expensive. It got so bad that I almost had to run out as I thought i was going to through up.
Needless to say, thank you for this post! I stress alot about being the one that ‘stays home’ but I guess I need to worry more about my own well being. I’m definitely going to check out ASMR and hope it is some miracle that works for me, as well as that nose breathing you spoke about!
Thank you again ! 🙂
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you for reaching out! I totally understand that feeling when you have already made plans and don’t want to miss out, especially when you’re traveling and only get one chance to do certain things. I sure have put myself in some uncomfortable situations because of that, just like you did with those shows and the restaurant (that I’ve never heard of tbh :D). It’s not easy to be the one who “stays home” or goes to bed early, but I feel like we need to take care of ourselves – maybe sometimes a bit more than others do. Let me know what you thought of ASMR if you want – I’m actually listening to some right now! Thanks for commenting and all the best to you!
Great tips. I also get migranes and have learned the triggers for them. It’s so important to manage them while travelling.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks for commenting, I’m glad you found these useful and hope they will help you cope on your future travels 🙂 All the best!
Hydration is key when it comes to delaing with migraines – and it’s so important to be open to new remedies – especially when travelling! xo
LikeLiked by 1 person
Hi Lucy, thanks for reading and commenting! I agree, hydration is probably the number two factor for me right after having proper meals. Hope you will come across some more local remedies on your travels and wish you all the best!
These are 12 great pieces of advice. True story! I thought it was just me. It turns out that migraine attacks every traveller. Waking up early without getting enough sleep on a trip is my number one reason of headache. Water is a must-have!