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How to Manage Migraine During Summer Fun and Travel

Living Well

May 23, 2024

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Photography by AleksandarNakic/Getty Images

Photography by AleksandarNakic/Getty Images

by Beth Ann Mayer


Medically Reviewed by:

E. Mimi Arquilla, DO


by Beth Ann Mayer


Medically Reviewed by:

E. Mimi Arquilla, DO


Theme parks, tropical climates, and high-altitude areas can trigger migraine, but traveling is possible — even beneficial. Having a game plan and savvy packing can help you enjoy your vacation.

The idea of traveling with migraine can evoke worry for some.

The worries can be especially significant when considering theme parks, tropical locations, and high-altitude areas like mountains, which expose people with migraine to triggers.

Yet people with migraine deserve a break from routine, too.

Can the quality time with loved ones and the adventure of vacation outweigh the stress? Read on for tips on making your vacation an empowering rather than triggering event.

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Adapting to travel with migraine

“Migraine is not kind and can steal our memorable moments,” says advocate and 30-year migraine veteran Lindsey de los Santos. “However, it doesn’t have to steal everything.”

For de los Santos, this includes memories built during travel.

Yet just clicking “book” on plane tickets or hotel rooms can feel like a steep hill to climb.

“Traveling may feel intimidating for those with migraine, given the worry over potential triggers and handling symptoms while away from home,” says Casey Kelley, MD. “However, it’s important for them to recognize that they can participate.”

For Kelley, travel with migraine can be an opportunity to adapt to different environments and learn to manage your condition in different settings.

“This adaptability can increase resilience and quality of life, not just in travel but back home, too,” she says.

It’s helpful to have a plan. This involves packing a migraine toolkit and developing a coping strategy for attacks, regardless of where your journey takes you.

Here are tips for managing migraine during popular summer excursions.

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Managing a theme park trip with migraine

A trip to a theme park can be a rollercoaster for people with migraine. No pun intended.

In fact, a small 2021 study indicated that people with migraine are more likely to experience motion sickness after riding a rollercoaster than their peers without the condition. The authors suggested it was because of the way people with migraine process visual motion stimuli.

Other potential triggers you may encounter at theme parks include:

  • bright lights
  • loud sounds
  • vibration
  • constant stimuli
  • lack of quiet spaces
  • long days
  • sun exposure
  • dehydration
  • limited dietary options

However, it is possible to enjoy a trip to a theme park even if you experience migraine.

Plan ahead

Cannon Hodge, Director of Social at Neura Health, also has migraine. She reminds people the condition is considered a disability. This means you may have access to accommodation.

“If you’re going to Disney, absolutely sign up for their DAS (Disability Access Service) program,” Hodge says. “Migraine is a disability, and having additional support can enable you to enjoy your stay.”

Both Disneyland and Disney World offer these programs.

They include the ability to request a specific time to visit a ride or attraction. This can help you avoid long lines, which may prolong exposure to migraine triggers like heat, noise, and lights.

Hodge says other parks may have similar accommodations — it’s worth calling guest relations to ask if nothing turns up on its website.

Christopher Levert, MD, agrees that it’s best to reserve as many activities as possible in advance, especially on hot days.

“Schedule preplanned […] show times that offer air-conditioned or covered seating and restaurant reservations [at places that provide] a respite from the heat,” Levert says.

Pack light

While having a migraine kit during travel is important, it may make sense to pack light for a theme park.

“Backpacks are heavy and put a lot of strain on your back and neck, which can become triggering for you,” Hodge says. “Most parks have plenty of places to buy water [and] get cups of ice. Focus on making your park bag as efficient as possible so that you’re prepared but not encumbered by its weight.”

Choose rides that are fun for you

Roller coasters may trigger motion sickness and migraine and make you feel uncomfortable overall.

“Opting for gentler rides and avoiding intense visual stimulation can help prevent migraine attacks and ensure a more enjoyable experience at the park,” says Hammer Tsui, a travel blogger with migraine without aura.

Remember, it’s OK to have some quiet time or watch from a distance while travel buddies ride the park’s new rollercoaster.

“No one will fault you for sitting those out and then being able to enjoy the rest of the day,” de los Santos says.

What to do if a migraine attack happens at a theme park

Even with all the precautions and preparation, a migraine attack might happen at a theme park. Kelley says in these cases, it’s important to:

  • take prescribed medication
  • find a quiet, shaded place to lie down and rest
  • drink plenty of water
  • use an ice pack or heating pad on your head or neck to relieve pain

Don’t wait until a migraine attack progresses to take medication, Kelley says. If needed, the park staff can likely help you find a place to rest and provide you with hot and cold compresses.

Managing a tropical vacation with migraine

Tropical destinations like those in the Caribbean are often referred to as “paradise.”

Yet even these dreamy locales present some challenges for people with migraine — notably, the tropical weather.

“Higher temperature, barometric changes, and humidity are well-known triggers for migraine,” Levert says.

This may be due to:

  • pressure changes within the sinuses and ears
  • changes in oxygen level
  • blood vessel vasoconstriction, or narrowing

A 2017 study in a metropolitan region of North Carolina analyzed emergency room visits for migraine over 7 years. The data indicated that days with tropical conditions, like high moisture, had the most emergency room visits. Days with polar air masses, or cold days, had the fewest.

Prepare for emergency

While you likely don’t want to experience a migraine attack during a tropical getaway, it’s best to be prepared with the following tips:

  • Ensure your health insurance covers you in your destination, or purchase travel insurance.
  • Bring medical records or a card that lists your medications, chronic illnesses, allergies, and blood type in the language of the country you’re visiting.
  • Know where the nearest medical facilities are and whether they provide assistance in a language you fluently understand.

Keep cool

While the warmer weather has its perks, listening to your body is essential.

“If you feel thirsty, you are already moderately dehydrated,” Levert says. “Proactively hydrate well with water and electrolyte-containing beverages before, during, and after sun and heat exposure.”

If you do feel yourself overheating, take steps to cool down beyond shade and AC.

“Keep a cooler present with ice packs, cooling towels, migraine hats, medications, and cold drinks to cool your body rapidly if it overheats rather than just using shade and air conditioning,” Levert says.

Limit sun exposure

Levert also recommends taking frequent timeouts from the heat.

“This may look like shorter periods in the sun with frequent breaks indoors or in the shade,” he says. Or “prioritizing time in heat or sun during mornings and evenings rather than midday.”

Safe sun exposure is important for people with or without migraine. In addition to protecting your skin from UV rays, these common-sense measures may also ward off migraine triggers.

“Wearing sunscreen and protective clothing helps shield the skin from harmful UV rays and reduces the risk of heat-related headaches,” Tsui says.

What to do if a migraine attack happens in the tropics

Your pre-trip planning should hopefully pay off if you develop a migraine during a tropical vacation. However, if you need further assistance, lean into your resources.

“Talk to your lodging or hotel staff for safe and accessible emergency care locations,” Levert says. “Only go to locations recommended and provided by a trustworthy local host or hotel.”

Kelley adds that your destination’s U.S. Embassy and Consulate will also have additional resources.

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High altitudes and migraine

Mountainous, high-altitude regions can be a fun and awe-inspiring way to enjoy the great outdoors.

However, a 2017 study of more than 2,000 people indicated that chronic exposure to high-altitude settings can increase migraine symptoms.

Kelley says even shorter trips could pose some potential triggers.

“At higher altitudes, there is reduced oxygen in the air, which can decrease the amount of oxygen in your blood and trigger a migraine,” Kelley says. “People who deal with migraine can also be sensitive to changes in barometric pressure, which would occur at higher altitudes.”

Research your options in advance

Before boarding a flight or hopping in a car, take a step back and think about what you’ll need on a trip at high altitude, especially with opportunities for adventures like climbing, hiking, and zip-lining.

Ask yourself:

  • Will there be a way for you to take medication and rest if needed?
  • What do the experts in the area say about the level of altitude? Is it for beginners or pros?
  • Are there itinerary items that you could take off your list in case you need some time out?

Kelley recommends speaking with your care team to get their advice, too.

“Before traveling, consult your doctor to see if there are any other medications they recommend specifically for high altitudes,” Kelley says.

Ascend slowly

Experts recommend taking your time to get to higher altitudes.

“Give yourself time to stop at different elevations so that your body has time to acclimate,” Kelley says. “This will allow your body to adjust to the drop in oxygen levels, which can help prevent a migraine.”

Levert recommends spending 2 to 3 days at altitudes around 2,500 to 3,000 meters before proceeding higher to let your body get used to lower pressures.

After that, ascend a maximum of 300 meters daily.

What to do if a migraine attack happens in high-altitude settings

Mobile device reception can be spotty in mountainous areas. While a digital detox may be part of the appeal, an emergency game plan is key.

“Before leaving on your hike, consult park rangers or nearby medical facilities for advice and to notify them of your location,” Kelley says.

If you do have cell service, dial 911 in an emergency.

“If you’re in a different country, make sure you have their emergency services phone number on hand,” Kelley says.

Kelley recommends bringing a satellite phone or personal locater beacon that lets you send a distress signal to rescue teams.

“It’s always a good idea to let someone know where you’re hiking in case you require assistance,” she adds. “Of course, make sure you pack prescribed medications, a first aid kit, and any other emergency medical supplies you may need when hiking.”

General tips for all types of travel

In addition to the location-specific tips, it’s always good to cover the basics.

General tips for staying well while traveling with migraine include:

  • Stay hydrated and nourished at regular intervals.
  • Build in time for rest and recovery.
  • Be flexible about plans.
  • Listen to your body.

Dehydration and missed meals are common triggers, and they can be easy to succumb to during a go-go-go trip. Food options may also be limited.

“Carry a water bottle and pack or plan for regular, healthy meals and snacks,” Kelley says.

It may be tempting to pack your trip full of activities, but Kelley reminds people it’s OK to scale back and relax, especially if you’re at risk for a migraine attack.

“Overstimulation from crowds, noise, and visual stimuli can be overwhelming and trigger migraine, and continuous activity without rest can lead to exhaustion, another potential trigger,” Kelley says.

She suggests scheduling regular breaks and taking time to sit in quiet, shaded areas to prevent sensory overload.

You may have put together a dream vacation itinerary, but de los Santos shares that even the best-laid plans will change sometimes.

“Accept that some things may not go as planned,” de los Santos says. “For example, theme parks are full of options, and sometimes, we plan more than we can do. If we miss a ride or need to leave earlier than planned, that’s OK.”

To that end, listen to your body.

“I know the feeling of not wanting anyone else to miss out or just trying to make it through all too well,” says de los Santos. “However, I also know that never ends well.”

If you feel an attack coming on, take your medication, tell your party, and do what’s best for you.

“In the end, you’ll be glad you did, and so will everyone else,” he adds.

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Migraine packing list

A well-stocked migraine kit is a must. Consider bringing the following:

  • prescription and over-the-counter medications
  • clothes you can layer that provide sun protection, like wide-brimmed hats and long sleeves
  • cooling towels and gels
  • hot and cold compresses
  • sunglasses or eye protection
  • noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs
  • refillable water bottles to stay well-hydrated
  • electrolyte drink mixes
  • balanced snacks that include salt, sugar, and a small amount of protein, such as granola bars or a small bag of nuts
  • maps that include rest areas, first aid stations, and places to receive emergency care


People with migraine may be exposed to triggers during travel, like loud noises, bright lights, and heat.

Planning a vacation that balances activity with relaxation and going at your own pace are two ways to stay well. Your care team can also help you navigate travel with a migraine.

Medically reviewed on May 23, 2024

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About the author

Beth Ann Mayer

Beth Ann Mayer is a New York-based freelance writer and content strategist who specializes in health and parenting writing. Her work has been published in Parents, Shape, and Inside Lacrosse. She is a co-founder of digital content agency Lemonseed Creative and is a graduate of Syracuse University. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

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