What’s worse than catching a bad cold right before a vacation? Catching that cold while you’re away and you don’t have the right medications to treat your symptoms.
Pharmacists say you can easily avoid that by taking some time before you depart to run through medications you might need while away from home.
1. Make sure your prescriptions will last through your trip
At least one week before your departure date, go through your prescriptions and make sure you have enough to last you through your trip—and then some.
“I would recommend bringing a few extra days of each medication just in case you decide to stay longer or your trip is extended for any reason,” says Karen Berger, Pharm.D., a pharmacist at Plymouth Park Pharmacy and a member of the SingleCare Medical Review Board.
2. Store medications safely.
“Pack all of your usual prescription medications, and always keep them with you in a carry-on bag or in your purse in case your luggage is lost, stolen, or delayed,” Dr. Berger says.
If you take medications that need to be stored at a certain temperature, you might consider a cooler bag. You’ll also want to remind yourself with an alert on your phone to properly refrigerate any drugs that need it once you arrive at your destination.
3. Check TSA rules.
As long as your medication is not a liquid, there aren’t many special considerations. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) does not restrict travel with prescription medications. Meaning, you can bring as much as you need without a doctor’s note. If you’re traveling with medication internationally, you may want to check with the country’s embassy to make sure any necessary prescriptions are allowed.
4. Don’t forget over-the-counter treatments.
Next, create a checklist of over-the-counter (OTC) items you may need while away.
“The three most common self-limiting issues that individuals encounter while traveling are diarrhea, cuts and scrapes, and sunburn,” says Michael D. Hogue, Pharm.D., the dean and professor at Loma Linda University School of Pharmacy.
For those issues, you’ll need to pack antidiarrheal (such as generic Imodium, loperamide), an OTC antibiotic ointment (such as bacitracin), and a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
But if you wind up with a sunburn, Dr. Hogue suggests taking a mild over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. You may also want to bring an aloe vera gel to soothe the burn.
5. Consider your travel destination.
Those traveling internationally will want to take some extra time to review what they may need. Because of jet lag and crossing multiple time zones, for example, many travelers pack over-the-counter sleep aids containing diphenhydramine that helps with sleep on the first or second night after landing.
However, Dr. Hogue warns, “use caution, because diphenhydramine can be dangerous in people over age 60 and individuals with certain underlying diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Talk with your pharmacist before putting this in your bag.”
He also suggests checking the U.S. Department of State website for country-specific information prior to taking medications into other countries.
That’s because, “many of the things—like diphenhydramine—that we consider OTC here in the U.S. are restricted in other countries and could result in your baggage being confiscated upon entry into another country.”
6. Check into vaccines.
What’s more, depending on where in the world you will be, you may need certain vaccines before your trip begins.
“Check with your doctor before traveling internationally; if you are traveling somewhere where malaria is prevalent, you should ask your doctor about Malarone (atovaquone-proguanil),” says Dr. Berger. “You should also figure out if you need a measles vaccine, as most outbreaks come from international travel.”
When traveling out of the country, check with the CDC. The organization’s website allows you to select your destination country, and then outlines what vaccines are needed to travel there.
“Be sure to start the process early so you have plenty of time to arrange appointments for vaccines and gather all of the supplies you need to take, so you’re not scrambling at the last minute,” she says.
7. Think about your activities.
For those taking an active trip—be it white-water rafting, hiking the country’s National Parks, or biking in Europe—packing bandages and the aforementioned antibiotic ointment is “a must” says Dr. Hogue.
“In addition, when hiking, don’t forget to take a mosquito repellant,” he says. “It’s also important to keep a tube of hydrocortisone cream, not ointment, in your bag in case you come into contact with poison ivy or another skin irritant.”
If you’re going on a cruise, you may want to pack an OTC motion sickness medication such as meclizine, or ask your doctor about Transderm-Scop, a small patch (available by prescription) that is placed behind the ear and helps prevent motion sickness.
8. Pack for the whole family.
Kids will need their own medications. In addition to any vitamins or prescription medications they take, parents may bring fever and pain relievers in child-friendly doses, and emergency medications that may not be needed often, such as rescue inhalers or an EpiPen (double check expiration dates for those drugs you don’t use often to ensure your child’s medication is not expired).
“It is also a good idea to have something on hand for the kids in case of a mild (non-emergency) allergic reaction,” says Dr. Berger. This includes diphenhydramine, or Benadryl, which will cause drowsiness, or loratadine, which is in non-drowsy Claritin, for example.
Forgot something? “The good news in all cases is that according to the American Pharmacists Association, over 90% of the U.S. population lives within five miles of a pharmacy, and community pharmacies are readily available in most countries around the world,” says Dr. Hogue. “Finding what you need once you get to your destination is likely just a short ride away.”