September 7, 2023

What To Know Before Take-Off: Packing Medications for Vacation

Make it easy on yourself by checking airline regulations and keeping meds in your carry-on

person packing medication for suitcase

Arguably, the downsides of vacation trips are jetlag, in-flight food and … packing. Unless your favorite pastime is getting everything to fit into a tiny carry-on, you probably know the stress of having to make sure everything fits (and weighs) just right.

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Traveling with medications adds a whole new factor to the equation. But don’t stress! There are some simple rules and tips to follow when bringing your over-the-counter painkillers, vitamins or prescription medications on-the-go.

Marcia Wyman, RPh, PharmD, BCPS, talks about how to store medications before take-off.

Tips for traveling with medication

Here are some ways to prepare before your trip:

Keep your medications in their original containers

Ideally, your prescription medications should be kept in their original containers, complete with the pharmacy label still intact. Sure, it may not feel like it’s the most space-conscious way to store them, but this helps you and airport security identify medications.

If you do end up having to store your medications in a pill organizer, label it with the medication name, dose, frequency and expiration date. Or just take a photo of the original bottle so you have all that info on hand. You should also talk to your healthcare provider if certain medications need to be stored in a specially sealed container.

“Oral medication that comes in individual unit-dose or unit-of-use packaging should generally not be removed from the packaging until just prior to use,” notes Dr. Wyman. This may include sublingual tablets such as:

  • Nitroglycerin.
  • Oral disintegrating, chewable tablets and films.

As for over-the-counter (OTC) medications, pain killers or vitamins, you shouldn’t have any obstacles. You can transfer OTC medications into a pill organizer if you want, just make sure you have the right amount.

Dr. Wyman also recommends checking with your healthcare provider regarding over-the-counter products as well. “Most OTC products, pain killers and vitamins may be temporarily stored outside their original containers unless they are in individual unit-dose packaging,” she says.

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Bring documentation for prescription medications

While you’re allowed to bring your prescription medications with you on a flight, it’s important to have some sort of documentation with you. Carry a copy of your prescription or a letter from your doctor that states the need for the medication. This can be helpful if there are any questions or issues during security checks or customs inspections.

Check airline and destination regulations

Before your trip, research the specific regulations of the airline and the destination country regarding the transportation of medication. Some medications may be restricted or require additional documentation, especially for controlled substances.

You can look up the rules and regulations of your destination by checking their embassy page. In most cases, you should be allowed at least a 30-day supply of medication, but be sure to double-check and call if you’re unsure.

If your destination doesn’t allow traveling with certain medications you need, talk to your healthcare provider about other options and alternatives.

Keep medications in your carry-on luggage

Many of us know about the ups and downs of flying. Especially when it comes to luggage, things sometimes are out of our control. So, make sure to have all of your medications in your carry-on when you’re traveling so you have easy access and they can’t be lost with any misplaced checked baggage.

Pack extra — just in case

Again, it’s hard to predict what obstacles you may hit while traveling. That’s why it’s best to plan for the unexpected, especially when it comes to your health.

Take extra medication with you in case your flight is delayed and you need to stay away longer than planned. Depending on how long you’ll be out of town, you can ask your healthcare provider to give you a refill ahead of time.

Keep your timed medications on track

If you need to take medication at specific times, consider adjusting your medication schedule to account for time zone changes during your travel. Consult with your healthcare provider for guidance on how to adjust the timing of your medication.

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How to safely store medicine when packing

After reviewing any safety guidelines, airline rules and embassy pages, it’s time to get to packing.

Here are some general tips for packing your medication, as well as storing them at your final destination:

  • Pack a few days’ supply of your medication in your carry-on, and pack the rest in your checked luggage, if needed.
  • Store medications in a waterproof, separate compartment or pocket in your suitcase for easy access.
  • Always keep medications out of the reach of children and pets during the flight or at hotels.
  • In general, keep medications in a dry area and away from direct sunlight.
  • Keep your medication tightly capped in its original container when not in use.
  • Keep a travel health kit of other first-aid items you may need like bandages, hydrocortisone cream, eyedrops, etc.
  • Use a clear, resealable bag for storing medications. This makes it easier for security officers to inspect your medications during the screening process.

How to pack refrigerated items

Depending on the type of medicine you’re traveling with, you may also need to keep certain medications refrigerated. In general, Dr. Wyman recommends talking with your healthcare provider and/or pharmacist about what kind of storage your medications require during travel.

If needed, here are some tips on how to store refrigerated medications:

  • Use a medical-grade cooler to store medication.
  • Keep medicine in the shade as much as possible.
  • Don’t add too much ice — freezing medication can damage it.
  • Have a thermometer while traveling to keep track of the temperature.

How to store liquid medication and other medical equipment

Storing and packing pills is one thing, but there are other types of medications that need special attention when taken on vacation. Be prepared: If you have liquid medications, those may need to be X-rayed or opened separately.

Also, keep supplies such as freezer packs, IV bags, pumps and syringes together for inspection. Use insulated bags or cooling packs if necessary, and let the flight attendants know if you need refrigeration during the flight.

The bottom line

Traveling with medications is something important to plan ahead for. It’s a good idea to ask your healthcare provider for any other things you should know about your specific medications. This way, you’re as prepared as possible before your day of the trip — and you can enjoy your travels without stress!

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