Planning an autumn staycation? 12 ways to manage a migraine while travelling

Even during Covid, autumn staycations will be on the cards. And with new research showing that stress, anxiety, weather changes and change of routine are all common triggers for those living with chronic migraine, travel for work or even a break away can be challenging

“There can be a perception that people are being dramatic or exaggerating it. They think it’s just a headache and they'll say ‘just go to bed, take a tablet and you’ll be fine’.” But it doesn’t work that way," Debbie Hutchinson, communications and information officer at the Migraine Association of Ireland told previously.

Migraine is Ireland’s fifth leading cause of disability – it’s classified by the World Health Organisation as a disability – affecting almost one in eight people, according to a recent study Novartis and the European Migraine and Headache Alliance. Migraines are not simply headaches, but a debilitating neurological disorder.

Related: 'Not just a headache': It's time to talk about migraine


The study of over 130 Irish people with frequent and severe migraine said that almost all were fearful of their next attack, especially when it came to organising time abroad.

On the back of the survey, and after speaking with your doctor about pain management, these simple tips and actions can help to manage migraine pain on your travels. There's no cure for migraines but symptoms can be managed:

1. Bright, direct sunlight is a common trigger. Wearing sunglasses at all times, including while driving, is advisable.

2. Dehydration leads to tiredness and fatigue, which can prompt an attack. Carry fluids at all times, including indoors, as many buildings are without air-conditioning.

3. Holiday planning and travelling itself can be stressful – stress itself can be a trigger – so give yourself plenty of time …and that includes not leaving suitcase packing to the last minute!

4. Keep to a planned daily routine with regular meals and not too many late nights.

5. Pace yourself. Whether you’re sightseeing or attending a work dinner, opt-out if you feel you need to rest instead.


6. Migraine attacks can strike at any time. Keep your medication to hand - a clear bag makes it easier to find and don’t forget to a copy of any prescriptions as a backup.

7. Schedule breaks on long drives, make sure to have water and food if unsure of stops along the route.

8. If travelling by bus/train, book a seat in advance so you're not travelling backwards or sitting at the back of a bus with bad ventilation.

9. Pack earplugs / noise-reducing headphones as well as an eye pillow, eye mask and medication/ginger sweets/drinks for nausea

10. Pack cool packs to use on your neck if an attack starts.

11. It can be hard to avoid perfumed beauty halls and stronger smells on a flight. If smells are a trigger, an essential oil such as peppermint or eucalyptus can be helpful to block them out plus, they can double up as a relief for sore neck muscles during an attack.

12. Drink plenty of water in the 24 hour period prior to travel day so you're well-hydrated in advance of the trip and avoid alcohol.


The Migraine Association of Ireland has a card you can carry explaining what you may need during an attack, which can be very helpful, for example, especially if your speech is affected.

Dr Eddie O’ Sullivan, GP and Clinical Director of the Headache/Migraine Clinic, Cork University Hospital, recommends that people keep a detailed headache diary so their migraine, and likely triggers, can be accurately identified and diagnosed for effective treatment.

Migraine diaries are available through the Migraine Association of Ireland and other supports and resources are available from the Migraine Association’s website

Main photograph: Unsplash

Read more: All of a sudden I was really struggling' – One person in Ireland dies from asthma every week

Read more: PMS: It's time to start talking about premenstrual syndrome


Read more: Living with MS: What it’s like to care for someone you love

The image newsletter