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Travel Packing Medications

Packing Prescription (Rx), Over the Counter (OTC) medicines

Note Permitted (allowable) carry-on items vary by country and airline. See how to pack Travel Toiletries and liquids in carryon bag or checked luggage.

How to pack medications for travel is one of the most asked travel questions. Know that you can always take your medications with you when you travel. NEVER put prescription meds in your checked luggage. It can be a huge hassle to replace it if your luggage goes missing. More importantly, you may be without vital meds when you ned them. Liquids and gels of any kind in your carryon luggage must be in a clear plastic bag. As well, I put all my meds in a clear plastic bag in my carryon bag.  (Vaccinations and other travel health info is on this page.)

Keep prescription (Rx) meds in the original containers if you can, for easy identification by you, by any doctors you happen to consult while away, and by curious customs agents.. Some blister pack meds have all the identifying information on the back of the pack, so you don't need the box.

  • You can check a large bottle of vitamins, antacids, etc., but keep a few in a small pill container in your pocket or purse for the flight.
  • OTC packaging clearly identifies the contents. Replacing OTC items is usually easier to do, so if it's lost, it's not as big a deal.
  • Watch antihistamines and similar products: What may be an OTC med at home may be available only on prescription elsewhere.
  • Consider putting the daily allotment of any pills into a flat 8-compartment plastic pill keeper (see your pharmacy). These small cases are good for vitamin supplements, too. This also serves as a memory aid when you are on long trips over numerous time zones; ask your doctor beforehand if the daily dosage should be adjusted for long travel days.

Travel packing prescription medications This bears repeating: The first and inviolable rule is NEVER EVER pack your prescription medications in your checked luggage. I cannot stress this enough. Carry them on your person or in your carry-on bag. Your luggage usually reaches your destination at the same time you do, but you can't count on it.

Should the luggage be delayed or misplaced, you will have a difficult time trying to replace the meds, and you'll  spend precious holiday time hunting for clinics and pharmacies!

Travel packing OTC (over the counter medications) For OTC (over the counter medications that do not require a prescription). Since you don't need a doctor's prescription to buy OTC medications, you can pack them in your checked luggage, But keep enough aside in your carryons or pockets to tide you over should your luggage go astray. As for which OTC meds to pack, think for a moment: Imagine it's the middle of the night, and you're in a strange place where you don't speak the language.

What OTC and First Aid Meds to Pack

  • Imagine that your stomach's upset, your head aches, or you have diarrhea, sunburn, hives, hay fever, insect bites, a scrape, a blister, a small cut, a cold, a rash, or any other minor complaint. In short, you feel miserable.
  • What you would like to have at hand? Pack it. Not the large, economy bottles of cough syrup, etc. Just enough to see you through a night or two. Remove blister packs from bulky packaging, being sure to save the dosage instructions. Put OTCs in small, zippered, clear plastic bags for easy identification and packing.
Travel Health: As you make your medications list (consult with your family doctor or travel health clinic while you're at it), consider items like antacids, pain killers, bandaids, upset stomach and diarrhea remedies, cortisone creams, cough drops, antihistamines, antifungals and topical disinfectants. If your health professional issues a proactive prescription (with explicit instructions about when and how to use it), fill it before you leave home.

Written Prescriptions are NOT valid outside the country (and sometimes the province or state) in which they are issued.

Be sure you understand how, and when, the medication is to be used. Of course, you can seek medical advice at your destination, and have a new prescription issued, if warranted and if required (Substances that require a doctor's prescription in one country or state / province may be offered over-the-counter elsewhere). But be aware, too, that some specific medications may be in short supply or stale-dated in some countries.

Packing food for travel -- Why? I began packing food for travel after one particularly uncomforatable trip some years ago. I was booked on an short haul early afternoon flight. I was running late, so I skipped lunch, thinking I would be fed on the plane. (Remember those days?). Was I wrong! The flight boarded an hour late, then had a further one-hour delay on the tarmac for 'mechanical problems'. During Hour Three, each of us received one tiny finger sandwich. Then, the flight got rerouted to a further destination before heading for the one we wanted.

What should have been a 2-hour flight became a 7-hour flight, and we hungry passengers were threatening mutiny. (The airline responsible is no longer in business.) Since that day, each and every time I travel, I have food and water with me.

Of course, travelers with blood sugar issues know full why the reasons to carry food. Flights are delayed for many reasons, and meal service stops during turbulence, so be prepared. On a trip to Costa Rica, one passenger got into some distress when we were held for a few hours in a transit lounge.

And when you pack food to your destination, you'll have something on hand for middle of the night, jet-lag munchies. And there's a bonus: When the food is gone, there's room in your suitcase for souvenirs!

Travel Packing - Which foods? I allot one meal replacement bar (available at pharmacies) for each day of my trip, but usually have room for no more than 15 or so. A few go into my backpack, and the rest lie flat the bottom of my checked suitcase, under the zippered lining.

These bars have the added advantage of vitamins, minerals, protein and fibre. Try several varieties before you go to be sure you like them. These bars are handy to pack for day trips, too.

I also take along those pouches of powdered foodstuffs that can be prepared with boiling water (many hotel rooms provide kettle, carafe, coffee maker) such as hot chocolate, cafe au lait, cappuccino, instant soups, instant oatmeal and a few tea bags with a few sugar packets.

Pack a few plastic utensils, and a corkscrew-bottle opener. Buy some juice, fruit and yogurt at the market, and you've got a meal! Not fine dining by any means, but if you have to wait for meal service, you will be much more comfortable with something tasty to tide you over.

Generally, if foods and snacks are in manufacturers packaging, customs and airlines have no issues with them. If you do take along some fresh fruit etc then you may be required to eat or dispose of it before entering a country.


Upon Arrival : Declare Foods on Customs Arrivals Cards

This is very important. Different countries have different laws about what foods are permitted. If you find out you are inadvertantly bringing a banned foodstuff into a country, it will likely be confiscated, but you will likely not be fined.

The foods I have packed in my suitcase are all processed foods in their original packaging.


Water for travel or when you are on the road

  • You can take a bottle of water TO the airport, but in most cases you will have to empty it before taking it through security. I refill my water bottle once I get through at a water fountain (in places where the tap water is safe to drink!) When you're touring around, whether hiking or just out shopping, it's a good idea to carry a bottle of water with you.
  • Even if the water is safe to drink, local tap waater may contain other minerals, etc. and drinking a lot of unfamiliar water when your body is not used to it can cause stomach upsets. If you will be in a hot climate, make sure to drink water often, in additon to usual drinks, as you can become dehydrated before you know it.
  • Watch the heat! My own family doctor, who has extensive work experience in hot climates, told me to add an extra spoon of sugar to my tea, and not worry about cutting back on salt too much. Check with your own doctor before travel, especially if you are on prescription medicines.
  • Hot Climate = Sweating more = Drinking More Water + Diuretics This can be a Perfect Storm for electrolyte imbalance. Taking BP meds with a diuretic, and limiting salt intake can result in low blood sodium levels, etc. Ask your doctor if you should be drinking half-strength Gatorade or similar electrolyte products. One traveller to hot climates packs Gatorade in crystal (powder) form, and adds a half capful to her water bottle.