What Do I Need to Know About Medications/Vaccinations Before I Travel?

Published: November 07, 2022
Hannah Post
By Hannah Post, PharmD

If you are traveling to another country, there are many things you need to think about. Your health and safety should be at the top of that list. Access to healthcare varies in different parts of the world, and you may need certain vaccines or medications to protect you from local diseases. Preparing ahead of time for your trip may prevent the need to seek medical care in a foreign country. A pharmacist answers your most common questions about traveling and medications.

 

Do prescription medications need to be in the original container when flying?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that international travelers leave medications in the original container. It is best to travel with your own medications because you may not be able to buy your medications at your destination and product quality is not the same in all countries.

Countries have different laws about which medications are approved for prescription and over-the-counter use. To prevent confusion or misunderstanding, ensure your medication bottles have their entire label including, your name, the medication name and dose, and the name of your doctor.

What common medications should I bring on my trip?

When traveling, things as simple as the local food, water, sun exposure, and altitude can make you sick. Activities such as flying, driving, boating, or other water activities can also make you feel ill. Traveling with over-the-counter medications for common things like heartburn, indigestion, allergies, cold symptoms, cough, congestion, motion sickness, diarrhea, constipation, pain, and headaches is a good idea.

Also consider bringing sunscreen, anti-itch cream, antibacterial/antifungal ointment, eye drops for dry eye, and bug spray with an active ingredient like DEET. If you use a medication often while you are home, consider bringing it with you on your trip.

Sometimes there are also prescription medications you can bring with you in case of emergencies. Doctors can prescribe a short supply of certain medications, like antimicrobials, for common illnesses like traveler’s diarrhea, urinary tract infections, and yeast infections.

Depending on where you are traveling, you may be at higher risk of certain diseases. Steps can be taken to prevent you from getting sick. A good example of this is taking antimalarial medicines to prevent malaria. If you have an EpiPen in case of allergic reactions, ensure you pack this with you.

Do I need special vaccines before I travel?

Depending on where you are traveling, you may be at higher risk of certain diseases. Many travel destinations require or recommend vaccines that are not a part of the typical vaccination schedule including those for yellow fever, cholera, and typhoid. The CDC has a website with all recommended and required vaccinations, including COVID-19 guidance. You can also make an appointment with a travel medicine specialist 4-6 weeks before you leave for a personalized consultation.

Travel medicine specialists and clinics can be found by searching the International Society of Travel Medicine’s clinic directory. Your primary care provider can also offer travel health and safety information and prescribe preventative medications. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get all your necessary vaccines. Some vaccines cannot be given together and must be spread out over weeks.

Pharmacist’s tips:

While you cannot control everything that happens during your travel, these are some tips to make travel easier.

  • Pack all medications and first aid supplies in your carry-on in case your luggage is lost or delayed.
  • Pack enough of your prescription medications to last you the whole trip plus a few extra days.
  • Bring a medication list and doctor prescriptions with explanations of why your medication is prescribed. If possible, have a version translated into the official language of your destinations.
  • Leave a copy of your medication list and other travel documents at home that are easily accessible to family, friends, or neighbors in case you lose your documents.
  • Research where the U.S. embassy or consulate is in each of your destinations and how to contact them. If you get sick or injured while traveling, they can assist you with finding medical care and reputable pharmacies.
  • Consider getting travel insurance if you do not already have coverage.

Summary

Depending on your travel destinations, time and length of travel, lodging accommodations, and planned activities, you may have additional health and safety needs prior to travel. Travel medicine specialists, your primary care provider, and your local pharmacist can help answer questions and prepare you for your travels. Pharmacies are one-stop shops for filling your medications, buying over-the-counter products and first aid supplies, and even getting some of the vaccines you may need.

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