For most people, a vacation is something to look forward to without hesitation. An experience that’s new and exciting! A break from routine! The chance to do whatever you feel like!

You might feel that excitement too… but your migraine brain disagrees. It hates change, and it hates stress. So how are you supposed to travel when you have migraine? We have some advice.

1. Try to manage stress in the days leading up to your trip.

Preparing for a trip is always stressful. You scramble to get your work done. You worry about getting everything packed, about finding your passport, about finding someone to feed the cat. You can’t wait to get to your destination and leave all this worry behind — but when you do, a migraine strikes.

We all know that stress is a powerful migraine trigger. But a reduction in stress also can cause a migraine attack — this is called the letdown effect.

One study found that a decrease in stress was associated with the onset of migraine the following day. “Results were strongest during the first six hours where decline in stress was associated with a nearly five-fold increased risk of migraine onset. The hormone cortisol, which rises during times of stress and reduces pain, may contribute to the triggering of headache during periods of relaxation,” said study lead author Richard B. Lipton, M.D., director, Montefiore Headache Center, professor and vice chair of neurology and the Edwin S. Lowe Chair in Neurology, Einstein.[1]

Pay attention to your stress levels in the days leading up to your trip. Pack early. Try to space out your must-do tasks (or push them till after you return). Practice stress reduction strategies. And if possible, build in a few buffer days between the end of work and the beginning of your vacation.

2. Get travel insurance that covers pre-existing conditions.

The morning of your long-planned vacation, a migraine attack hits you with seismic force. You can’t stand up, let alone drive to the airport. Does this mean you’re going to lose all the money you spent on the trip?

Not if you have travel insurance. Travel insurance with trip cancellation benefits can reimburse you for prepaid, nonrefundable trip costs in case you have to cancel the trip for a covered reason. A serious illness can be a covered reason, if it’s disabling enough to make you cancel your travel plans. To prove that your migraine attack meets this criterion, you’ll need a doctor to examine you before you cancel your trip, or very soon after.

When you’re buying your insurance, just make sure it will cover pre-existing conditions like migraine. Many plans will, as long as you buy your plan within 14 days of making your first trip payment and you meet the other requirements, such as being medically able to travel on the day you buy your plan. Check with your travel insurance company before you buy.

woman wearing neck pillow on airplane

3. Practice migraine self-care when flying.

Air travel is especially challenging when you live with migraine. You encounter loud noises, bright lights and triggering smells in the airport and airplane alike. Then there’s the stress of navigating the airport, getting through security, dealing with delays, and increasingly, encountering rude and pushy passengers.

You can’t control all these external triggers. You can, however, take steps to defend yourself. When flying with migraine, bring your migraine toolkit, which might include:

  • Migraine sunglasses or blue-light blockers to protect your eyes
  • Earplugs or noise-canceling headphones
  • Migraine-friendly snacks
  • Migraine medication, including motion sickness/anti-nausea medication
  • Migraine-friendly aromatherapy, such as lavender oil
  • A sleep mask
  • A neck pillow
  • Plenty of water to stay hydrated
  • Your CEFALY device (yes, it’s TSA-compliant!)
  • Extra CEFALY electrodes
  • Your CEFALY travel case to keep the device safe in transit

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On a long flight, try to stretch and move at regular intervals. Avoid alcohol, caffeine (unless it’s part of your routine already), and junk food.

Here’s a bonus tip: Bring a leakproof insulated mug with slices of fresh ginger, honey, and lemon wedges (unless citrus is a migraine trigger for you). Once you’re on your way, ask the flight attendant to please fill the mug with hot water. Voila: hydrating, refreshing ginger tea. “It’s also good for stuffy noses and dry throats, and extremely healing for upset digestions,” writes The Kitchn editor Faith Durand, who came up with the idea. “It’s a little mug of magic. Jet lag be gone!”

4. Stick to your sleep-wake routine.

Migraine brains hate change, but travel is guaranteed to disrupt your regular schedule. What are you supposed to do?

To the best of your ability, try to continue your routines, even though you’re away from home. This means adhering to your normal bedtime and rising time, and doing your best to get eight hours of sleep.

If jet lag is a problem for you, try one of these remedies:

  • Light therapy: If you’re traveling east, try waking up an hour early in the three days before you depart, and get at least an hour of morning light exposure. If you’re traveling west, delay your bedtime by an hour and get evening light exposure.
  • Melatonin: Your brain normally produces the hormone melatonin as the evening darkens, signaling that it’s soon time to sleep. If you’re heading east, take melatonin at your destination’s bedtime until you adapt.

Some people swear by the jet lag diet. Four days before your trip, you adjust your diet (alternating “fast” and “feast” days). Then, on the day of travel, break your fast by eating a large meal at the breakfast time for your destination. This approach may not work well for people for whom fasting triggers migraine.

5. Don’t skip your migraine prevention routines.

Whether you meditate, take supplements, take medication or use your CEFALY to prevent migraines, keep doing it while you’re traveling!

CEFALY’s 20-minute PREVENT program should be used daily to reduce migraine frequency and intensity over time. Consistency is key. In one significant study, patients using CEFALY saw an average 30% reduction in migraine days after three months of preventive treatment.

6. Do pay attention to how travel affects your migraines.

Every person living with migraine experiences it differently: different symptoms, different triggers, different remedies. To learn how travel affects you personally — and what works to make you feel better —  record details of your migraine attacks with the free CeCe migraine management app from CEFALY Technology. Logging the frequency, intensity, length and symptoms of your migraine attacks can reveal trends and patterns over time and better equip you to deal with them.

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