When you aren’t feeling your best, worrying about medications when away from home is a stress that is often not planned for. No one wants to feel anything but their best while on vacation! While you can’t bring a pharmacy with you, there are certainly a few medications I pack regardless of our destination. Medications will be available for purchase in some capacity where ever you go (something to research ahead of time since this is destination dependent) but as a pharmacist, I like to BYO. These items take up very little real estate in your bag so I could smack myself when I leave these home and find myself in need.
Ibuprofen (Motrin/Advil) or Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
Handy medications that wear multiple hats. Pulled a muscle hiking? Headache? Fever? Ankle sprain? Cramping? Ibuprofen or acetaminophen will provide relief for you. Either one will do- acetaminophen is often better for fevers while ibuprofen is better for pain but the choice is often people’s preference in what has worked historically. Have stomach issues? Stick with acetaminophen. Plan on drinking? Stick with ibuprofen. Both of these medications have a daily maximum dose so keep that in mind and read the bottle. Don’t forget folks- generic works just the same the brand and at a fraction of the price!
Calcium Carbonate (Tums)
For those late night meals when you enjoy multiple course meals, a bottle of wine, immediately lay down to go to bed, then wake up with heartburn, there’s Tums! Calcium carbonate is a base so it counteracts the abundant acid that is working overtime to digest all that food. I never ever leave without an ample supply since I am particularly sensitive to this scenario. Especially in Europe where late nights meals are the norm, having these around is critical since no amount of passeggiata (evening stroll often after food) makes the digestion go quicker. These also work great if you are traveling somewhere there is super spicy foods! You never know what you may eat that can upset your stomach later.
For anyone that takes maintenance prescription medications (ie can’t go without it), don’t forget to add these to your packing list! If you are not taking the entire bottle with you, make sure to take more than the vacation duration. It is not out of the realm of possibility where you get stuck for an extra day or two due to weather or flight delays- you do not want to be short your prescription medications cause you can’t get more. Will you run out of pills while away on vacation? Ask your pharmacist and see if you can get your refill sooner.
While I do not take allergy medications, many people in the Northeast USA do- including many of my family members. If you suffer from seasonal allergies and take medications at home, do not assume that because you are away that those symptoms will not follow you. More importantly, these medications work by preventing the allergy from reaching your system so you must take these ahead of time (before the allergy is exposed to you) for best results. If you stop taking them and come back to your allergy (pollen, grass, etc), it can take weeks to recover your system back to normal.
Other essentials for you
Think about what you’re depending on today. Got a cold? It is no fun to be on a plane with congestion AT ALL. Bring some congestion medication such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) or oxymetazoline (Afrin) for temporary relief. Lactose intolerance? Do not forget to bring a handful of lactase enzyme supplement (Lactaid tablets)! Best way to pack the essentials for your trip is to go about your day and jot down the items you use regularly to add to your packing list.
Medications for Specific Destinations
For our trip to Galapagos, I was aware that the likelihood of getting traveler’s diarrhea or food poisoning was higher so I took a few additional items just in case. I did not know what our accessibility was going to be to these medications there and it did not take up room in our bags to compensate by bringing them. And guess what- I got sick (I am almost positive from the food stands at Santa Cruz) while on San Cristobal and I was eternally grateful that I packed these items with me. Non-medication remedies such as herbal tea, water, and Pedialyte are great aids for recovery and readily available in most places. While perhaps I could have gotten a prescription for an antibiotic from a physician (will do next time!), I was able to manage with my over the counter options. Don’t forget to check if you need any vaccines well in advance of your trip as some require several weeks to build up immunity!
Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto Bismol)
Yep, I hit the entire song on our trip – nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, diarrhea- so I was all about “Yay! Pepto Bismol!” Since I took many medications to battle the illness, I do not know how much it helped but it certainly didn’t hurt. I brought the chewable tablets since bringing the liquid was out of the question. The bubble gum flavor was delightful!
I was thanking my lucky stars I shoved this entire bottle in my bag. Since there is a maximum amount you can take in a day (4 tablets in 24 hours), I was happy to have had the bottle labeling with the instructions with me so I did not have to guess. This medication certainly helped get me out of the hotel and off exploring the beautiful Galapagos Islands again.
On our first boat ride, we were told of the luxury that we were upgraded to. How could a luxury boat cause us to be seasick? Well it happened and it happened bad! Learned our lesson the hard way. Our second boat ride, we took the medication and it was a dream. Now that I have become more sensitive to motion sickness, I have upgraded this medication to having with me on more occasions.
As always with your health, make sure you are able to take any of these or other medications before trying them… for the first time… on vacation (never a good idea)! Even over the counter medications have risks and it is important that you know your health and consult with your friendly pharmacist to make sure you can take any medication or supplement. Allergies and drug interactions are more common than you may think!
Oh and one more super important tip- if you are repackaging your pills into a smaller container to save space… make sure you know which pill is which and the directions on how to safely take each one. Packing tip- take a photo! Photos take up no space in your bag and act as a great reference. Even as a pharmacist, I like to double check the instructions just in case!
And check those expiration dates! Nothing worse that going through all of this to find out you have expired medication that may not work. Taking the above photos helped me identify that my meclizine tablets expire at the end of this month- time to get a new bottle before the next adventure!
Ok… final thing! Do not forget to check if the country you are traveling to requires or recommends any vaccines. Some vaccines require over a month for full immunity so check ahead of time- check the CDC website when planning international travel.
Happy and healthy travels!