October 03, 2022
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It can be stressful, frustrating, and painful when a migraine attack disrupts your vacation. Here is my advice for managing migraine on your next getaway.
When summer hit, I was vaxxed, boosted, and fully ready to relax with not one but two vacations planned. First up, I had a weekend girls’ trip to the beach filled with sun, sand, and a few margaritas. And, aside from one incident involving a beach picnic and seagulls, all went swimmingly.
My next adventure was a week-long family vacation. This one also involved the beach, but instead of margaritas, we had kid-friendly tourist attractions. And, instead of everything going according to plan, I had a migraine attack on day 3.
As soon as I woke up, I could feel my head throbbing. I reached for the nightstand, which is where I normally keep my headache meds, and quickly remembered I wasn’t at home.
My migraine prescription, however, was at home. That’s right, I’d packed several pairs of shoes but had somehow forgotten to pack the one thing I absolutely needed at that moment.
We had the day all planned out, and those plans certainly didn’t involve staying inside with the shades drawn. Instead, I had to find another way to deal with my vacation migraine.
If you also live with migraine, here are some tips on how to cope if one pops up on your next getaway.
Stress is one of the most commonly cited migraine triggers. Even though people often go on vacation as a way to relax and unwind, there are still stressors that come with traveling. You’ve probably heard people say, “I need a vacation from my vacation” before.
From financial strain to coordinating modes of transportation and planning meals and activities, vacationing can actually come with plenty of built-in stressors.
People are also creatures of habit. When you travel, there’s a big change in your daily routine, and that alone can cause stress.
Changes, big and small, are stressful. That’s why you might feel stressed out when something good happens, like getting a big promotion or moving to a bigger house.
What’s more, a small 2014 study showed that people can actually experience migraine episodes when their stress levels decrease significantly. It may seem counter-intuitive, but these “letdown” headaches may even actually trigger migraine attacks more frequently than other types of stress.
So, even if your vacation is super relaxing, the change of pace might still cause a stress-induced migraine.
To combat this, make sure to plan ahead for your vacation as much as possible. If you have a lot on your plate, try and give yourself enough time to get everything on your to-do list done before your trip.
Slowly decrease your workload in the week leading up to your trip to avoid a “letdown” migraine. Think of it like tapering your stress levels instead of going cold turkey.
Dehydration is another common headache trigger. While it’s not entirely clear why, research suggests there is a link between dehydration and migraine episodes. When traveling, you may be at a higher risk of dehydration.
For example, if your trip involves flying, airplane cabins are climate-controlled with dry air and low humidity. You’re also at a higher altitude level when you fly, which can contribute to getting dehydrated.
Driving can also dehydrate you. Just like in a plane, you’re in a small, climate-controlled space with a constant stream of air-conditioning.
Other factors to consider are where you’re going on vacation and what you’re doing. Warmer climates, higher altitudes, and changes in humidity can lead to dehydration. So can certain activities, like being out in the sun or drinking more alcohol.
Not to mention, when you’re on vacation, you might not be as mindful of your water intake as you are at home.
A good solution is to make sure to stay as hydrated as possible. Easier said than done, though, I know, but there are ways to make it easier.
Drinking coconut water or using electrolyte powders can help hydrate you faster than water alone. You can also add fresh lemon, or a splash of juice to make your plain water a little more interesting.
Along with making sure to drink enough water, it’s important to make sure you eat and sleep well. Vacations are a time to relax and let loose. Often, this means that people are less mindful of their nutrition and bedtime when they travel.
On vacation, it’s easy to skip meals, eat more fattening foods, or ignore the healthier options on the menu. Eating too much sugar, having irregular meals, or drinking too much alcohol can all trigger a migraine.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have dessert or a glass of wine. Instead, just make sure you’re careful. If you know you’ll be having margaritas with dinner, for example, try to stay extra hydrated during the day.
Similarly, migraine episodes can often be tied to sleep. Not getting enough sleep (or, conversely, getting too much sleep) can trigger a migraine.
Depending on the type of vacation you’re taking, you might experience either one. A trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, for instance, might lead to some late nights, whereas a relaxing getaway will give you a chance to sleep in more than usual. If you’re prone to migraine episodes, do your best to stick to your usual sleep routine, especially in the first few days.
Weather, particularly warmer weather with higher levels of humidity, can trigger migraine episodes in some people. So can being out in the sun for too long. This isn’t only due to dehydration. Bright sunlight itself can trigger migraine for those with light sensitivities.
If you’re going on vacation somewhere hot and sunny, make sure to bring sunglasses and a hat. Drinking enough water is also crucial. Wearing sunscreen is important, but if you’re sensitive to smells, then try to pick up some fragrance-free sunblock.
Being outside for long periods of time or exercising in the sun can cause a heat-induced migraine, too. Keeping your body temperature cool can be helpful, then, especially if you’re spending the day at the beach or doing something strenuous, like hiking. Cooling towels, spray bottles, or fans are great portable tools to use to cool off outside.
No matter what the reason, getting a migraine while on vacation is the worst. By being prepared, you can lessen the chances of one ruining your travel plans.
Medically reviewed on October 03, 2022
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