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How to Travel While Taking a Prescription Medication


You are finally going on a much-needed vacation. Your itinerary is planned, your tickets booked and your bags packed — with just one exception: your medication. Medication can be difficult to manage during your time away from home; you might be traveling out of the country, encounter extraordinary temperatures or be gone for longer than anticipated. Traveling with a health condition is stressful enough without the additional worry of whether you are correctly managing your medication during your travels.

To avoid any unforeseen disasters, here are some tips to help you keep control over your medication during your upcoming trip.

Keep Your Meds in Their Original Packaging

As convenient as it might be to combine all your meds into one container, like a daily pill organizer, you should try to keep everything in its original packaging. Then, when you encounter authorities during your travels, they can see exactly what kind of medication you are carrying and are less likely to accuse you of any illicit activities. If you do need to carry a controlled substance, like opiate painkillers, you should also bring along your prescription and perhaps a letter from your doctor to ensure your drugs aren’t confiscated during your trip.

Never Put Your Medicine in Checked Bags

Checking your bags is inconvenient and costly, and it isn’t uncommon for checked luggage to experience some kind of tragic fate. The last thing you want is for your bags to be mishandled and arrive in a different destination or for your medication to go missing after an unexpected TSA search. Checked bags also tend to undergo harsher treatment, and you wouldn’t want your prescription broken or bashed up while you are away from home. It is smarter and safer to keep your meds in your carry-on.

Notify TSA About Liquid Medications

Since 2006, TSA has imposed strict rules regarding carrying liquids on planes, which can make carrying on liquid medications more difficult than it should be. Even if you are taking less than the allowed 3.4 ounces of liquid but especially if you have more, you should notify TSA agents at the beginning of your security check that the liquid you are carrying on is prescribed. Likely, they will x-ray the liquid and return it, regardless of how much you have with you.

Research the Law of Your Destination

There are a few medications that are legal and available in the U.S. but strictly prohibited elsewhere in the world. For example, codeine is banned in Hong Kong and Greece; sleeping pills are tightly controlled in Singapore; and both Sudafed and Vicks are not allowed in Japan. If a certain destination prohibits use of your prescription, you might need to plan a different vacation or register with the local authorities before your trip.

Check and Double-check the Temperature

Most medications lose efficacy at extremely hot or extremely cold temperatures, but humidity and precipitation can affect prescription meds, too. You should have a good idea of the temperatures you will encounter during your travels, and you should avoid subjecting your meds to high or low temps. In general, this means storing your meds in a safe, temp-controlled place — not the glove compartment of your car.

Give Yourself Extra Doses, Just in Case

You might have already booked your plane back, but having a ticket isn’t a guarantee that you will get home right when you expect. You could choose to extend your vacation a few days, or your ride home could get delayed or cancelled. It is a good idea to bring along an extra two weeks of meds, which should keep you safe in case of any change to your vacation schedule.

Know Where You Can Get More, if Necessary

If the worst does happen and you run out of your meds, you need to know where you can get more. It would be wise to travel with your prescription, so you can pick up a refill at a local pharmacy if necessary. As long as you aren’t taking a controlled substance, you can also get an online prescription refill, as long as you have access to the internet.

Your prescription medication shouldn’t stop you from taking the vacation you deserve. As long as you have a plan in place and the proper preparations, your prescription should help propel you on your travels.

David Smith