5 Tips for Traveling with Chronic Migraine

May 27, 2019

Traveling and seeing the world has been my biggest dream since I was in 10 years old. I took my first flight when I was 18 for a photojournalism trip — and my second flight (after a 7 hour layover) was from New York to Russia. I got a little sick in flight and had a horrible stomach issue the entire month long trip. While I had health issues it’s rarely the thing I remember when reminiscing and it ignited my inner wanderlust that’s still burning strong today.

I fell in love with everything that involves traveling. Researching, planning, packing, even going through security, boarding, the flight itself — none of this has ever phased me as anything but all part of the journey. Of course I have had a few bad experiences from time to time (cancelled, delayed or missed flights) but I’ve remained a cool, calm, collected traveler. It wasn’t until I traveled with my husband for the first time, that I realized traveling can be a very anxiety and stressful experience for others.

Traveling with migraine has been a new experience for me. One where I am constantly adjusting to.

If you’ve ever had a migraine in flight you know that it’s probably one of the worst place to be, in air, no way to retreat to a dark quiet room. All your senses are heightened and if you’re like me I become hyper aware to light, sounds, and smells, which are already my biggest triggers. Knowing all this I can become prone to anxiety waiting for the possibility of an attack. However, tools like listening to Music for Migraines, using breathing techniques, and following meditations like Calming Flight Anxiety via the Calm app — all help me through the travel day.

Because traveling has always been a top priority for me, I wanted to share a few tips that have been essential to travel a little easier with chronic migraine.

1. Pack Light + Minimal

Image Credi: Eliane Tu

Maybe this isn’t something you have thought about but when I’m trying to save my energy for a trip I realized packing lighter is the first step. I’ve usually been a light packing but lately I have struggled to not bring every single home comfort with me. Of course there things that I absolutely need, like my own pillow or a small white noise machine.

To balance this out and not make my carry-on weigh a ton… I scale back by packing fewer clothes, choosing basics that can be mix-and-matched or worn multiple times. I also wear any of my heavier items on the travel day such as boots or sweaters that take up a lot of room. I know I won’t regret bringing things that keep me comfortable during a migraine but I will regret bringing multiple outfits that go un-worn.

2. Apply for TSA Pre-Check

This is something I never considered doing but once I realized I would be traveling more frequently for work it just made sense. No more standing in a long airport security lines — and no more removing shoes, jackets, laptops or liquids. Talk about saving so many spoons!!

The process to get TSA Pre-check was extremely easy. I applied online and scheduled my appointment online at my airport. This was most convenient for me but they have multiple locations you can choose from when booking online. At my appointment I was finger-printed using a flatbed scanner (yay to no messy/toxic ink), then photographed and a week later I was approved.

You can go to tsa.gov/precheck to apply.

3. Ask for Pre-Boarding

Image Credit: Steve Halama

There have been a few times I got stuck in the back or near a screaming child and it would have been amazing to get off the plane asap! To ensure getting the seat I want (especially since Southwest is open seating) I have paid to upgrade my boarding slot. That being said, after reading the article 10 Tips for Traveling with Chronic Migraine by Amanda Ingrassia, I really will have to try her tip to request to be pre-boarded due to a disability.

4. Take the Window Seat

Image Credit: Linda Rose

I usually prefer the window seat to look out but it’s also so I can close the shade if I need to. When I’ve had to take an isle or middle seat I feel awkward asking for it to be closed. The window seat also makes it easier to rest and not be disturbed if other passengers need to get up and use the bathroom.

5. Ask the Flight Attendants for Help

There have been multiple times now that I have leaned on a flight attendant for their help. From asking for ice in my ziplock bag, or requesting they turn down the cabin lighting (yes!! really). I have been met with sympathy, understanding and patience.

Traveling with migraine will always have it’s uncertainty and complications. However, I have learned that it’s okay to ask for help and most people want to help.

The Essentials In My Personal Bag

  • Healthy Snacks
  • Reusable Water Bottle
  • Abortive Medication
  • Eye Mask
  • Dark Sunglasses
  • Face mask (for the smells you can’t avoid)
  • High Fidelity Earplugs and Headphones
  • Peppermint Oil 
  • Neck pillow
  • Ziplock bag to request ice from the flight attendants

Is there a tip here you haven’t tried yet? Is there something that works for you that I didn’t mention? Let me know in the comments below.

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