While this post is gear towards people who are travelling after a concussion, it is full of great tips for all travellers, especially newer travellers.
Flying After a Concussion
It is generally okay to fly after a concussion as long as it has been a few days since the injury, your symptoms are improving, there is no brain bleed or skull fracture. I highly recommend speaking to your doctor before you do travel though to get the all-clear from a medical perspective. since some people do find flying exacerbates the symptoms of the concussion.
Also, contact your travel medical insurance company since insurance companies want to know that all your medical conditions have been stable for 6 months prior to your departure so they may not cover you medically.
Even when you are cleared medically, travelling after a concussion is nerve-wracking. Our bodies are all unique and sometimes symptoms can be brought on from a variety of factors that can be difficult to control.
Every mTBI (mild traumatic brain injury) is unique. For some people flying is no worse than being a passenger on a long road trip. Others experience headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and nausea from flying. This may be from decreased oxygen levels and changes in cabin pressure.
Here are 20 tips to help make your trip enjoyable and to cope with possible side effects. I used many of these on my trip.
Tips and Tricks to Enjoy Your Trip
Having a brain injury means that often anxiety is heightened and memory is impeded. Making lists allows you to have a reminder of things you need or want to do when you are in the moment.
I save them on my phone so that I have them regardless of where I am. Lists help me keep track of what I need to pack or have packed in my luggage so I can double-check whenever I move from one hotel to another to make sure I don’t leave anything behind. They also let me keep track of things I want to do or see in different places so I don’t miss something I really wanted to simply because my brain forgot in the moment.
Along with lists is planning ahead. While I do enjoy some spontaneity, having a general idea of what I want to see or do and where I want to go or stay helps minimize stress and anxiety. Having a sense of what you really want to experience on your trip will allow you to feel in control and more relaxed on your trip.
Make sure you leave a bit of room for local suggestions you may not have found on the internet when you were searching because those can be some of the most rewarding moments and make the best memories.
Another thing to consider is paying for a preferred seat. If you know you want extra legroom or a specific seat like aisle or window, it can be helpful to pre-book these and remove the anxiety of picking a seat during check-in.
If you take medication and are changing time zones, you will want to adjust your dosage cycle. Talk to your doctor about the best way to do this based on your medications.
Build in a Rest Day
Some people with concussions and post-concussion syndrome find that all the hustle and bustle of getting to their destinations can be draining. Planning for a day to rest when you arrive, and to rest when you get back home, will allow you to take the time you need to recuperate and be ready to go the following day.
If you find that you aren’t as impacted by the hustle and over-stimulation, you now have a bonus day to explore without feeling as though you are missing out on anything you really want to see and can enjoy the hidden gems.
Sometimes the symptoms hit a day or two after the trigger for some people. If you know your pattern, this can help you to know when to plan that rest day.
Bring Earplugs and Noise Cancelling Headphones
Sounds can be some of the most challenging side effects of a concussion. I always have earplugs and noise-cancelling headphones when I travel to help drown out the excess sounds. Sometimes I don’t even have music playing, I just wear the noise-cancelling headphones to help drown out noise and let people know I am not available for a conversation.
For earplugs, my personal choice is Eargasm Earplugs because they have a variety of options to suit my exact needs. Another option is EarDial HiFi Earplugs. These earplug options drown out ambient noise but still allow me to hear conversations going on around me. They come in a stainless steel case that can clip onto a keychain or anywhere that has a hole.
I also bring the foam ones you can get from Eargasm Earplugs or the drug store in case I really need to drown out noise, especially if I am staying in a large city. The air pressure ones can be really helpful for takeoff and landing.
Bring an Eye Mask and Sunglasses
Light is also a common issue for people with concussions. Having an eye mask and a pair of sunglasses give you the opportunity to dim lights if you need to whether on the plane, in a car, or anywhere.
Eye masks are great in case you happen to be in a brightly lit city for the night and the curtains don’t fully block the light or if you are on a plane and the person beside you wants to read or watch a movie and you want to sleep.
A quick note, if you need to wear your sunglasses to dim internal lighting, having a note from your doctor to explain this for Security will be helpful so they can accommodate you, if possible.
Arriving early to check in for your flight or to an attraction that can become busy can help minimize stress. You will be able to go through slower and take your time rather than rushing and worrying you might have missed something. You can also avoid more crowds when you arrive earlier since often the crowds peak mid-day for many attractions.
Bring an empty water bottle and fill it up once you are through secrituy at a water fountain. That way you have plenty of water for your flight. If you are driving, then make sure you fill it up before you leave.
Bring an Ice Pack
Some people have found that an ice pack helps with their symptoms. A fillable one like the Neotech Care Ice Bag is collapsable and can fit in your carry on in case you need it on the plane.
Bring a Travel Companion
Having a friend or family member along with you can help take the focus off you. They can step in to handle tasks or answer questions if you just need a few minutes to rest. They can also assist you if you begin to feel really symptomatic and need some help. If you need to drive anywhere they can be the driver and do the multi-tasking involved with that task.
If you can’t bring someone along, let your airline know ahead of time that you may need a little more time to board and any other requirements you may need during the flight to see if they can accommodate you. Some airlines will provide escorts to help you through the airport from check-in to boarding and again on the other side.
Eat Healthy Snacks and Meals
Eating nutritious foods and snacks especially while travelling will give your brain and body the nourishment it needs to give you energy. I always have a couple of RUVI packets in my bag so I can make a smoothie whenever I want, or need, the extra boost of fruits and veggies.
Use a Travel Neck Pillow
A neck pillow will support your head while you sleep minimizing the stiffness and possible headaches that can come from having your head held at a funny angle for an extended period of time. I often put mine on backwards and connect the ends behind my neck so my head doesn’t drop when I sleep on the plane.
Check Your Baggage
While not having to wait after you land can be nice, not having to worry about lugging the extra suitcase or backpack around can make a huge difference. Try to travel light though. The less weight and things to remember the easier it will be. Most people pack way too much anyways.
Keep Things in the Same Spot
Decide when you are packing where the best place is for your items in your carry on and keep them in the same place. I use bags to group my items together (cords for electronics; liquids and gels; snacks; etc.).
I also keep my passport and boarding pass in the same spot all the time so I know which pocket I need to look in to minimize the anxiety when I am in line and need to pull it out.
Bring Pain Relievers and Anti-Nausea Medication
Pain relievers can help if you start to tense up from stress. Ginger or Gravol can help with an upset stomach or any nausea you may experience. Remember to always read labels and follow your doctor’s instructions on dosage and which one is right for you.
Rest Before You Go
Make sure that you are well rested before you travel. Have a nap if you need to before leaving. This will give you more stamina to handle everything that you will need to. It will also help with jet lag if you are changing time zones. The Sleep Foundation has other recommendations for coping with jet lag that you may want to check out.
Travelling for any length of time can be exhausting and being dressed up can make it uncomfortable. I always wear relaxed clothing that I feel I could sleep in or move freely in. I don’t want to be restricted by what I wear. I always wear layers. A t-shirt or tank top and a sweatshirt so I can be comfortable depending on the temperature of the plane or vehicle.
Make sure to wear shoes you can easily slip on and off in case you need to remove them for security and if you want to slip them off while on the plane.
Plan Your Route
Look at maps of the airports, the cities you will be visiting and if possible, the layout of the museums and other places you want to see. This will give you an idea of what to expect and you can plan the shortest routes ahead of time. At the airport, knowing where the lounges or quiet areas are located can give you some peace of mind. If you plan to use public transportation, many cities have transit maps online so you can even look at those.
Have a Variety of Activities for the Plane
You may discover that even though you can listen to music, read, or watch tv at home, you’re unable to on the plane because of the pressure changes or onset of symptoms from navigating the airport. Have a variety of options to do to pass the time.
If you can listen to music, make sure you have some playlists downloaded. Three key ones are a playlist for when you are napping or sleeping; a playlist of your favourite songs to make you feel good; and a playlist of background music that you can listen to while you are doing other activities and block out the noises on the airplane.
I personally also like binaural beats as background music or sleep music. These are sound waves that can be set with other music. There are different frequencies but I generally stick to delta, theta, or alpha.
The delta pattern is linked with dreamless and deep sleep. The theta pattern is said to improve meditation, creativity and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. The alpha pattern is said to aid in relaxation.
One of my favourites is Nu Meditation Music. They have great songs (some that are long enough for an entire flight) on YouTube and also other playlists on the major streaming services so you can download them for the flight.
Check in periodically with your breathing, especially if you are feeling anxious. You want to make sure you are breathing from your diaphram and not from your chest.
Place one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest and close your eyes. you should feel your stomach move and your chest should remain still.
If you notice your chest is moving and your stomach is not, or it feels like it is contracting, focus on making the hand on your stomach move and your chest to remain still and that will adjust you to breathing from the diaphragm or “belly breathing”. It will also occupy your mind and hopefully distract you from whatever is making you feel more anxious.
Use Public Transportation
Trying to drive in an unfamiliar location can be extremely stressful and challenging even without a brain injury. Save yourself that headache and use public transportation whenever possible. Most places have good transit systems. Just research ahead of time if there are any important things to know such as how to use it or how to stay safe on it.
Uber and taxis are other options if you need a quieter ride and to avoid crowds. They may cost more, but if you need them, then it is worth it so you can enjoy your trip.
In an airplane, the air pressure changes and therefore the oxygen level in your blood does too. If you drink alcohol on a plane you will likely find that you become drunk quicker. We don’t need to mix the symptoms of being drunk with the symptoms of the concussion or post-concussion syndrome and risk the trip.
Be Kind to Yourself
Travelling takes us out of our routine. Don’t berate yourself if you need to take things slower or ask for help. If you crave sugary or salty snacks, have them. If you don’t feel up to doing someone you were planning to do, skip it or adjust your schedule if you can. The fact that you are trying is the important part.
I believe in you! Now get planning and tell me how it goes!
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