Pharmacist’s Travel Medicine Kit

14 non-prescription meds for travel.

First things first, you are getting prepared to travel…you have an idea of what things to bring but you don’t want to miss anything because buying over-the-counter (OTC) medications abroad can be tricky.

As pharmacists, we are not all about drugs and more drugs. We are trained to empathize the non-drug measures to reduce the chances of having to take a medication in the first place.

So, here are some essential non-drug tips to remember before traveling:

  • Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) – From the CDC website, you can get up-to-date health information (e.g. recommended vaccines, medicine) about the country you are planning to visit.
  • Travel clinic – Whenever possible visit a travel clinic so that you can get the appropriate vaccines and prescription medications needed for your destination. Also important to check what you need to do with the medications that you take on a regular basis.
  • If you are unsure of the water quality, here are some tips to prevent traveller’s diarrhea:
    • Drink only bottled water or carbonated beverages
    • Remember: alcohol does not sterilize water or ice
    • Avoid ice cubes unless you made them with sterilized water
    • Brush your teeth with bottled water and keep your mouth closed when showering
    • “Boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it” – Avoid salads, fruits and vegetables if you cannot wash it with sterilized water

Here are the list of OTC medications that are typically recommended by pharmacists for travel. Now, these are general guidelines for a typical healthy adult so remember to always speak to your pharmacist to confirm safety and efficacy of each medication! *Note: liquid/gel/aerosol restrictions for carry-on luggage*

Pharmacist’s 14 non-prescription meds for travel:

  1. Analgesic – Tylenol (acetaminophen) is your go-to painkiller/fever reducer. It also comes in chewable tablets if water is limited. Advil (ibuprofen) would be a second option.
  2. Antacids – Tums (calcium carbonate) for acid reflux. I would be very cautious when using more potent acid reducers like Nexium or Zantac because reducing the acidity of your stomach increases your risk of infections.
  3. Anti-nausea – Gravol (dimenhydrinate) although marketed for motion-sickness, because its chemically similar to Benadryl (diphenhydramine) it can be used as an antihistamine. The drowsiness side effect may help when you need to take it at bedtime.
  4. Anti-diarrheal – Imodium (loperamide) if you are having watery stool without any other red flags such as stomach pain, fever, blood in the stool.
  5. Oral rehydration tablets – Whenever you are having diarrhea, you’re losing water and electrolytes so you need to replenish your fluid level with something like Hydralyte tablets dissolved in sterile water.
  6. Water purification tablets – if you’re unsure of the water quality. There are products that don’t contain iodine or have that unpleasant taste in your mouth. Example: Aquatabs.
  7. Laxative – With or without a stool softener for constipation. Consider Metamucil capsules (psyllium fiber) for longer trips.
  8. Anti-itch cream/ointment – Hydrocortisone 1% can be purchased over the counter but be aware of liquid/gel restrictions for carry-on.
  9. Anti-bacterial ointment – Original Polysporin or a generic will do just fine. Be aware of liquid/gel restrictions for carry-on.
  10. Insect repellent – Your typical DEET bug lotion/spray is safe and effective. Picaridin or Icaridin 20% is just as effective if you are looking for less odour and grease but it can be more expensive. Be aware of liquid/aerosol restrictions on the plane.
  11. Sunscreen – Get broad spectrum and at least 30 SPF. If you’re needing to apply DEET as well, apply sunscreen first, wait about 20 minutes then apply your DEET. This way, you maintain the original SPF of the sunscreen.
  12. Condoms
  13. Anti-fungal: For females, consider 1 dose of fluconazole or an antifungal cream like Canesten for yeast infection
  14. Emergency contraceptive: For females, consider PlanB or a generic emergency hormonal contraceptive (most effective when used within 72 hours of unprotected sex).