OTC medications can save your trip. Really!
No matter how experienced a traveler or trekker you are, at some point you’re going to feel sick, get a scrape, or be rushing to the toilet. around the world stand ready to help, but it’s so much handier to head back to your room and pull out your favorite remedy. No searching at odd hours, no language barrier, no unfamiliar brand.
Before you leave home—for a weekend getaway or a grand tour—follow the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and pack a few medications that can get you through some common travel ailments. These over-the-counter drugs, called “OTC” medications, may already be in your medicine cabinet.
These photos are of common brands. I’m not recommending them, just showing you what packaging may look like. Of course, generic forms are fine, too. (Saves money for a gelato!)
Ibuprofen. Effective for pain, fever, and reducing inflammation. After a day of walking or exploring, your aching muscles will thank you. When I walked the Camino de Santiago, it was common practice to take Ibuprofen before we set out in the morning and before bedtime.
1% Hydrocortisone cream. Some countries (Austria, Netherlands) do not sell cortisone cream without a doctor’s prescription, so bring your own. This OTC medication sells for less than $5. Use it for insect bites, rashes, and itchy irritations. A 2-ounce tube will last a long time.
Antihistamine. Be careful! This is the only OTC medication on the list that you need to check on before you pack it for international travel. Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) is not allowed into some countries, including Mexico and Japan. Avoid legal hassles by choosing a different antihistamine, such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine).
Anti-diarrhea. Nothing stop a vacation in its tracks faster than diarrhea. Be prepared with Imodium or Lomotil (loperamide) pills or Pepto-Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate) tablets. They’re easy to pack and carry. You do NOT want to be searching for a pharmacy when the “need” strikes!
Laxative. To deal with the opposite type of discomfort, bring a mild laxative, such as Ducolax (bisacodyl). Taken in the evening, it should produce a bowel movement in 6-12 hours.
Antacid. Don’t get sidelined by simple indigestion…new foods can cause discomfort. Get a roll or two of your favorite tablets. Pepto-Bismol tablets can do double duty to calm your stomach. Or tuck Rolaids or Tums into your pocket.
Antibiotic ointment. A small tube or packet of triple-antibiotic ointment will help the inevitable cuts and scrapes stay clean and heal quickly. You’ll need an antibiotic to treat a blister. Some ointments also have a topical pain ingredient. You’ll want to pack a few bandaids, too. As they say, an ounce of prevention…
“Achilles Heel” medication. We all have our health foibles. What is yours? Include the OTC drug for your special circumstance: motion sickness, dry eyes, insomnia, etc.
All of these should easily fit in a small zip-lock bag. Unlike your prescription medications, the OTC drugs can travel in your checked baggage. (If you do carry-on, the creams and ointments must be transferred to the “3-1-1” zip-lock bag.)
Two more tips before you go:
- Ask your doctor to review your OTC medications before you travel, to make sure there are no conflicts with your regular prescriptions.
- Check the State Department’s “Learn About Your Destination” page to learn any special restrictions regarding your OTC or prescription medications.
Have a safe–and healthy–journey!
Read more about how to to stay safe and healthy when you travel: