I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to share this with you or not. It’s not pretty. But travel is not always pretty and certainly life is not. I hate talking about my migraines. But if there is someone out there who wants to travel but finds themselves a prisoner of their own body, then I’m talking to you. And I want you to know that travel is possible. And I want to tell you my strategy for how to travel with migraines. My re-emergence back into the world began with a new year’s resolution, so I think this is an appropriate time to talk about how to travel with migraines.
My History With Migraines
About ten years ago, I started getting chronic migraines so bad I could not leave my bed or couch, let alone leave town. Before that, there was no time Ever that I did not have a trip planned. I was always on the go and had more physical energy than I knew what to do with. Travel was my obsession.
Then the migraines came and stayed. I found myself not wanting to leave the house. The pain was blinding. I didn’t know when they were going to strike and how bad they would be. So I kept my radius close to home in case I had to high tail it back to the house and get to my ice packs. Travel was completely out of the question. The anxiety that comes with a chronic health issue is also no picnic. I did everything I could think of to “cure” them, or even get to a point where they were manageable. I’ll spare you the details.
If I Can Travel, You Can Travel
Believe me, if I can travel, you can. Being a single mom involves a lot of pressure and responsibility. Traveling alone with a child, while awesome, can add to the stress of the situation big time.
I get migraines all the time when I’m traveling. It sucks! It’s very frustrating to be in a beautiful destination and have to spend the day in bed. But you know what? It’s better than not going at all.
Make the Decision
One day the realization hit that I hadn’t been anywhere for years. Not days. Not months. Years. For the first time in my entire life. Since travel is my passion, it started to feel like I wasn’t living. I wasn’t! As a mother, it was also extremely important to me to provide my child with the experience of travel. That wasn’t going to happen on the couch. And I wanted to change that, so I decided that I was going travel again. I just had to figure out how to make that work.
Decide. That is the first step. Looking back, I don’t know how I found the strength to do it. And you might feel that way too. It might seem totally out of the question, but you can do it.
Decide What You Need to Make it Happen
You might need to plan a specific destination, or travel a certain way. I decided it was important for me to travel in luxury. I needed that layer of comfort and support to get out the door. I thought, okay, I accept that I will have migraines while I’m traveling, but what’s the difference between having a migraine at home or in a luxury hotel?
Better to have a migraine in Hawaii than on my couch. Also, the migraines were so bad that I sometimes thought I was going to die. You think you’re having an aneurysm. You think that you’re not going to wake up after your meds knock you out. Being in a hotel is actually extremely comforting. There are people that can bring you food, that can get you help should something like that happen. A lot of hotels have Kid’s Camps where you can drop off children–that way my son could do something fun while I waited out the migraine.
I’m not a millionaire, so I figured out how to do it on a shoestring and became obsessed with loyalty points. Feel free to reach out if you want to use points to travel and I will help you do that.
Migraines on the Go
One of my biggest fears was–What if I get a migraine on the plane? Or while I’m in transit? I was terrified of that and it kept me from getting on a plane. You can’t go very far if you won’t get on a plane, so you have to reconcile that and decide it’s worth the risk. Again, the upside is there are people around you. And people are kind, and they will help you. Have Uber loaded on your phone so that you can escape a situation at a moments notice. Know that there are hotels all over the place. If you land and have a migraine, you can head straight to the nearest hotel (some airports have hotels). Plan for the worst case scenario and know what you will do. Sometimes just knowing you have a backup plan is all you need.
What to do if you get a Migraine In Flight
It finally happened. I got a migraine in flight. Thank god it wasn’t one of my extreme migraines. As soon as I felt it coming on, I took my meds. This in itself is tough, because the meds make me really drowsy and add to the nausea. But you have to take them right away, don’t risk getting an out of control migraine.
Then I told the Flight Attendant and asked for some tea bags and hot water and I made myself an extra super strong tea. I also asked her to request that the passenger in the seat diagonal from me to close their window shade. The glare was like a laser beam. I hated to ask, I didn’t want to impinge on the other person, but I forced myself and she did it. And the passenger closed the window shade, no problem. I was so grateful. I put some peppermint balm on by forehead which is one of my tricks. I’m sure you have tricks too–ginger cookies, balm, icepacks, etc. Use your tricks. By the time we landed, I had it under control. Worst case scenario? If you get one of your murderous migraines–they can have an ambulance or wheelchair waiting for you when you land.
My Tricks–Here is what I always travel with:
Medicine prescribed by my Doctor.
Island Thyme Analgesic Balm (comes in a TSA friendly tin).
Eye Mask–I like this one.
Ricola Cough Drops–these are soothing and help mitigate the smell of fragrance which is an instant migraine trigger.
Zip Lock Baggies–for ice, which is a necessity.
WellPatch–for when I don’t have access to ice.
Ginger Chews or Cookies–for nausea.
Nuts like macadamia or a bag of gorp. It’s always good for me to have some nourishment on hand for when I can’t eat for long periods. Keeps the blood sugar even.
Maintain Healthy Habits
I lead a healthy lifestyle. I eat almost completely organic, I green-juice, rarely drink alcohol, and try to be active. When I’m traveling, sometimes I enjoy cocktails (never more than two), I eat desserts which I wouldn’t indulge in at home. I allow myself some decadence. That is part of the fun of travel! But I also seek out heathy food and do active things like bike riding, paddling, swimming and walking. I find I do better with migraines if I’m active. I don’t live as clean traveling as I do at home, but some green drinks, salads and exercise helps mitigate indulgence. The cleaner I live, the better I feel to a degree, but I think the nourishment you get from following your passion is just as important as food. And I think indulgence is healthy as long as you don’t overdo it.
Keep it Simple
Don’t overbook. I’d say this to anyone, not just those with a health issue. Pick a couple things you really want to see and make sure you have plenty of free time planned into your itinerary. Better yet–don’t have an itinerary!
What if Your Travel Partner Has Migraines?
Dealing with migraines is hard, but I’m sure being around someone with migraines is also difficult. I always feel so guilty when my son’s life is impacted by this. Migraines are tough because you can’t see them. Everything may seem fine one minute, then the next there is an immediate need to seek quite darkness and ice. You can learn more about migraines here, but each person is different and has their own triggers and ways of seeking relief. If you are traveling with a migraineur, I suggest factoring in some flexibility. You might have to go off on your own, and it wouldn’t hurt to have some entertainment with you like books or movies on your iPad for those times when your partner may not be able to interact.
How to Travel With Migraines Bottom Line
You can do it! If you need some support, email me at leah @ themoderntraveler .com. I will give you a pep talk. Please don’t let the pain of migraines stop you from living. Life is so short and before you know it, years go by. This is not something I have overcome, it’s a struggle and I am not where I want to be with this. And that’s okay. I am going to travel anyway.