Travelling with medications
For day trips:
If you are going away for the day, or travelling to school or work, there are three main things to consider: carrying your medications, storing your medications, and remembering to take your medications. Simply planning ahead will help you to be more confident.
Carrying your medications:
There are two options:
Storing your medications:
- Carry each medication in its original bottle:
This is a good option for children, because school policies often require that medications be kept in their original labelled container. If you are sending a child to school with medications, find out about your school's policy on medications. Using the original bottle also works well for people with only a few medications. The bottle has valuable information on it - the storage precautions, dose, and expiry date. It is usually best to keep a single supply of medication so that you can keep track of its expiry date and storage instructions. If you must keep two separate supplies of medication, get extra labelled bottles from your pharmacist or pharmacy technician.
- Carry your medications in a dosette:
Dosettes are special containers (or "pill boxes") that are used to pack up a supply of medications (usually for a day or a week). All medications that are to be taken together at a certain time (at bedtime, for example) are kept in the same compartment.
Dosettes help you to remember whether you have taken your medication. But, once the medication is packed, the information on the label is lost. If you use a dosette, have a pharmacist pack it for you, or get someone to check it if you pack it yourself. This is a good option for people with many medications, or people who have trouble remembering whether they have taken their medication.
Remembering to take your medications:
- When you arrive at your destination, store your medication according to its storage instructions. Some medications have special instructions, such as keeping them in the fridge. In general, medications should be kept in a cool, dry place. Avoid excess heat and humidity, which can destroy many medications. The glove compartment of your car is a bad place to store medications, because it can reach both very high and very low temperatures.
- If you notice that a particular medicine has a strange look (for example, a normally clear liquid has turned cloudy), smell, or taste, do not take it. Dispose of it and get a new supply.
- Check expiry dates on medications that you may have stored in different places (e.g. at work or school). Don't continue to use medications after they have expired.
Long trips or out-of-country trips:
- Try to co-ordinate taking your medication at the same time you do other routine activities. Should you decide to co-ordinate it with eating lunch, check to see if your medication can be taken with food. Ask your doctor or pharmacist, or find your medication in our drug library. [link]
- Create reminders for yourself. Set your watch to beep when it's time for the next dose, or write the scheduled medication time into your date book or calendar.
- If you have a busy schedule, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about simplifying your medication schedule. There may be medications that you can take less often during the day, or combination products that will save you from carrying extra medication supplies.
- Ask your pharmacist or doctor about how you should adjust your medication schedule to account for changes in diet and routine, such as what to do if you miss a dose.
When you will be away for long period of time, or leaving your country, you will need to address a few additional concerns to the ones listed for day trips.
Things to bring:
Medication packing tips:
- Be sure that you have more than enough medication on hand for the trip. Do not risk running out of medication, as your medication may not be available in all countries. Also, some countries may not have the same standards of quality for medications. If your condition is subject to flare-ups, take along enough medication to cover you through a flare-up.
- Have your physician write a letter (on letterhead stationery), signed and dated, listing your medication requirements for your condition. Carry this letter with you at all times. If you do not have such a letter, your medications may be confiscated at certain border crossings.
- Carry duplicate copies of prescriptions in case your medications are lost or stolen. Make sure that the doctor uses the generic name to write your prescriptions, as trade names often vary between countries.
- Know the emergency numbers, and keep your health insurance card with you at all times. Also, keep a list of your medications with you at all times.
- If you have medication allergies, consider getting and wearing a Medic Alert bracelet.
Questions to ask before you go:
- If you are leaving your country, carry all medicines in their original containers so that they are readily identifiable.
- Store your medications in your carry-on luggage. There is no temperature control in the cargo area, so medications may be damaged. If your luggage is lost, it may take some time to be recovered, and you will be without your medication during this time.
And finally, enjoy your trip!
- Check with your doctor or a travel medicine clinic to see whether you need to have any immunizations or to take any special precautions when visiting your travel destination. Many immunizations must be given weeks in advance.
- If you have conditions such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS, or lung disease, you may need special instructions, immunizations, medications, or equipment in preparation for travel. Check with your doctor well in advance of traveling to see if there are any special instructions for people with your health condition.
- If for some reason, you do run out of medication (or if it gets lost or stolen), you will need to see a doctor in the country you are visiting. If you have health insurance, the health insurance company may be able to recommend a doctor. You can also ask your doctor for the names of physicians in places where you're traveling in case you need to visit one. The International Association for Medical Assistance of Travelers (IAMAT), or the international association for your condition (e.g. International Diabetes Association) may also be able to recommend doctors in other parts of the world. In some cases, you may need to pay cash for medical services in the country that you are visiting.
- Review your dosing schedule with your pharmacist, especially if you will be changing time zones. Make sure that you know the following details about all of your medications:
- Generic name and brand name
- How to take it: dose, number of times per day, with or without food
- What to do if you miss a dose
- Side effects
- Drug and food interactions (you may try different foods while traveling)
- Be sure that you know both the brand name and the generic name of your medications. Brand names may be different in different countries, but generic names are usually the same.
- If you have a health insurance plan, check to see if you are covered for travel to your destination. Find out what services are covered. If you are not comfortable with the level of coverage, purchase additional medical insurance.
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