Travel Tips for People Who Get Migraines

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on March 15, 2023
3 min read

No one wants to be waylaid by a migraine while they’re at a work conference or -- worse -- enjoying a beach vacation. But even the best-planned trip can be stressful and take you out of your routine, putting you on the path to one. You can do a few things to help keep your next trip migraine-free.

Dehydration can be a powerful migraine trigger, so it’s important to get plenty of fluids, especially if you’re headed to a hot climate or will be spending long hours on a plane full of dry cabin air. Don’t forget that caffeinated beverages can be triggers, too, so choose water instead of iced coffee or tea.

Too much or too little sleep can set the stage for a migraine, so you may not be surprised to learn that jet lag is a common trigger. It might be fun to soak up the nightlife in a new city, but try not to skimp on sleep. And don’t take long naps, even if you’re jet-lagged; you might wake up with a headache.

Stress is a major migraine trigger, and any kind of travel can be stressful. Planning ahead and giving yourself plenty of time to get to your destination can help. While you’re away, stick to your regular exercise routine to help keep tension at bay, and if your schedule is packed, make sure to get some rest breaks.

Some people with migraines have weather-related triggers, and the sun can be one of them. If you’re traveling to a sunny climate or know you’ll be spending a lot of time outside, pack a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. Put sunscreen on often, and stay in the shade when you can. If you feel a headache coming on, find a cooler, darker place indoors.

You may be tempted to indulge on a trip, but it’s best to follow the rule of moderation. Remember that many processed foods, not to mention alcohol, can bring on migraines. So can going too long without eating, so take healthy snacks along with you.

You may have planned your trip down to the minute, but travel delays can happen anyway. Make sure you have plenty of your medication on hand, and pack it in your carry-on so you won’t have to worry about it if your checked luggage goes missing. And an airplane baggage compartment can get very hot or cold, which can make your meds not work as well. (Don’t put your pills in the trunk of a hot car for the same reason.)

The cabin pressure inside an airplane can trigger a migraine for some people. Ask your doctor if an altitude sickness medication called acetazolamide, which can help prevent flight-related headaches, might be a good idea for you. Keep in mind that you may need to start taking it a bit before your trip.

Unfamiliar crowded places can be full of things like cigarette smoke, bright lights, loud blares, or strong odors. If you happen upon those, try to move to a calmer, less stimulating area. Pack a sleeping mask and earplugs (or noise-canceling headphones) to help you tune out potential triggers.