Tips for Packing Medications When You Travel

Tips for Traveling with Medications

For those of us who have medications we need to take every day, packing them can throw a kink in our packing plans. It requires more planning than it might for travelers who don’t have medical conditions to deal with.

But even travelers without medical conditions may be carrying prescribed Cipro or anti‐malarials to prevent illnesses in certain parts of the world or birth control pills. No matter your situation, packing medications can be a pain during the preparation period, but makes the trip run smoothly once you leave! Here are a few tips to get you started when it comes to packing medications.

Medications in Your Carry On or Checked Luggage?

Depending on what you’re traveling with, you might wonder whether you should bring it in your carry on or if it’s okay to be checked. I would recommend always putting medications in your carry on as you never know what might happen to your bags. You might be asked to check it, even if you had planned on carrying on, or it might go missing for a few days, leaving you without important medicine. It might throw a wrench in your plans, making you skip out on planned activities when you arrive.

It’s better to be safe than sorry!

Over‐the‐counter medications and vitamins, however, should be fine to be left in your checked luggage.

Bring the Written Prescription

Even if you do carry on your medications, something might happen while you’re traveling. It’s also smart to bring the written prescription with dosage from your doctor if you’ll be traveling for a while or if you need it immediately. That way, you can walk into a pharmacy and show it to the employees to get the same medication, or a close version. I’ve done this many times overseas, including in Germany and Thailand, where many of the medications are cheaper than in the United States.

Some countries, however, won’t accept your foreign prescription, but might be willing to give you an over‐the‐counter version available there. And for some medications, namely pain pills, anti‐anxiety medications and syringes, it’s smart to also bring a doctor’s note explaining why you have it.

packing medications when you travel
Keep medicine in its original container, and bring a prescription from your doctor.

Importance of Original Packaging

While I’ve never had any trouble with airport security questioning my pill containers, I have had trouble with medicated lotion whose label had worn off. Since then, I’ve learned to put a clear piece of packing tape over it so that, if nothing else, you can see my name on the bottle. A clear bag with your pill bottles should do the trick.

Note: Security checks are not equal in all countries, so plan for the worst and hope for the best.

packing medications when you travel
Pack your medications in a clear bag.

Remember that if your medication is a liquid, you don’t have to worry about the TSA liquid rules as long as it’s prescribed. Just be sure to mention it to the security officer so they don’t think you’re trying to sneak larger liquids on board.

packing medications when you travel
Prescribed liquid medications do NOT have to be 3.4 ounces/100ml or less!

Accessories for Packing Medications

I recommend keeping your prescriptions in the original bottles when possible, especially as it may be easier to show to a pharmacist overseas if you need an emergency refill, but you can put other items in a travel‐sized pill case. For example, you might be prescribed baby aspirin for your heart or over‐the‐counter medicine for stomach pains. These are fine to put in a separate container, as long as you remember which is which.

There are dozens of travel pill organizers on the market, much smaller than the one you might use at home, so check out websites like Amazon and TravelSmith.

If you’re a traveler with diabetes, use insulin or have other medications that require climate control, packing a cooler is an easy way to make that happen. Bring freezer packs that can be re‐frozen in hotel mini‐fridges as needed. Some airlines or hotels may also let you keep items in their fridges in between.

Small coolers and insulated bags can be found in most outdoor retail stores as well as your local Walmart. Ebags makes the Crew Cooler, originally made for flight attendants and pilots, that has room for “dry” items like snacks as well as the bottom cold compartment. It can slide on top of your suitcase and will fit under your seat. Speaking of which, it’s also important to bring a water bottle to take your medicine and snacks.

packing medications when you travel
Bring a cooler bag and ice pack to keep temperature-sensitive medicine cold.

For travelers who use auto injectors and syringes, consider a way to dispose of them while you’re on the road. Some places may have sharps disposal containers in public places, but it’s good to be prepared. You can purchase a smaller container to keep them in, like this one on Amazon, or use a sturdy water bottle instead. It can be clear or you can label it to avoid confusion. Leave the used syringes in your checked bag and toss them when you get home or find a disposal.

packing medications when you travel
Store used syringes in a container or water bottle until you can throw them away.

Also remember that if you have to take medication at the same time every day, make some sort of system so that the time zones won’t mess you up. This simple website can help you convert those times.

And you might find that you want to switch times of the day, as I did when taking my anti‐malarials in Southeast Asia. I switched from first thing in the morning, which made me feel nauseous, to right before I went to bed. Your system might include setting an alarm on your phone or other device.

Do you have any additional tips for traveling with medication?

Written by Caroline

Caroline Eubanks is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but has also called Charleston, South Carolina and Sydney, Australia home. After college graduation and a series of useless part-time jobs, she went to Australia for a working holiday. In that time, she worked as a bartender, bungee jumped, scuba dived, pet kangaroos, held koalas and drank hundreds of cups of tea. You can find Caroline at Caroline in the City.

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Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


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Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Robin says

    A note on powders: For years I traveled with a medication in powder form, and its density was such that it looked like a liquid on the X-ray, which caused a lot of backups in the security line. I started 1) taking it out and sending it through the machine separately so TSA could ask me about it right off, and 2) keeping it in a bottle labeled “POWDER NOT LIQUID”. All that sometimes earned me a chuckle and no delay, and even when they wanted to take me aside and test it, they usually weren’t as annoyed with me as when they’d had to dig it out of my bag.

  2. Zoe says

    A bit like travelling with money, sometimes it’s a good idea to keep medication in multiple locations, in case one stash gets lost – one in your day bag and one in your toiletries bag for example. Also be sure to tell your travelling companions where to find your medication if it’s something they might need to help you with. I usually travel with my partner who has to carry medication and we store pills in the same places on each trip, so in an emergency no-one is rummaging through bags looking for a tiny packet of pills!

  3. Emily says

    For diabetics – Frio packs are really good for keeping insulin cool. They are activated by cold water so you don’t need to find a freezer or fridge. It’s been so useful in southeast Asia.

  4. Clariza says

    Check the expiration date for everything to make sure it will all be good for the duration of your trip.

    I try like to carry the blister pack versions whenever possible. It protects the medication, i.e., from getting wet or crushed and it has the important information on it for each pill. Check if the blister pack has the expiration date, as they don’t all do. If not, I usually write it on just to help me out. Also, cuts down on waste as if I don’t know when something expires, I throw it out when I unpack.

  5. Stephanie Biggers says

    I am looking for information on traveling with a CPAP machine that requires distilled water. Can we take the distilled water on the plane or can we find distilled water at our destination? we are traveling to Scotland and Ireland. I thank you very much for any advice you can provide.

  6. Caroline says

    Thanks for the tips! I’m 23 years old, travel quite often, and dependent on daily medication – so this is an issue I have encountered quite a few times. Despite carrying a doctors note, and bringing my meds in blister packs (in my country only blister packages are allowed now), I sometimes take out more than one receipt, and then bring my medicine in both my carry-on and my checked-in luggage. Better safe than sorry.

  7. Suzanne says

    A note about the liquid meds and the container being over 3 oz. A friend had a bottle that was bigger than 3 oz and security made her take some of it before letting her pass through. I think if is was 3 oz they may have let her pass. Just a thought I had to share. Also, you can go to the pharmacy and ask for smaller bottles (at least for pills) and they will give them to you and even reprint labels for that bottle. This can save lots of space in your bag and its still in the “original” container. Thanks for this post. Its nice to see that I’m not the only one having fun travel while dealing with meds. Nothing will stop us from traveling : )

    • Brooke says

      Thanks for sharing, Suzanne! It’s frustrating because with security you never really know how it’s going to go. Great tip on getting smaller bottles from the pharmacy.

  8. Dianne W says

    I do think travelers in their 20s and 30s might get more scrutiny from security on medications. All the above suggestions are good.

    For Rx medications (gels and creams) in tubes, they might not have the label on the tube. Just take the box they came in (which does have the label), cut off extraneous ends, fold flat, and put in whatever you carry all your meds in. I’ve never had any security questions this way, they never even notice the little Eagle Creek mesh pouch where I keep my Rx’s. I’m scrupulous with any meds that are painkillers and the like, they’re always in their own bottles.

    I use the mentioned eBags Crew Cooler on USA train trips. Amtrak only has Pepsi products, I take my own soft drinks in the cooler.

  9. Phyllis Hawkins says

    I have a bottle of Metformin that looks a little larger than three oz, that I take everyday ! Will they confiscate it because that is the original bottle it came in ? I’m so confused!

    • Rebecca says

      I didn’t think they did metformin in a liquid form? If it’s the pill bottle, pills can be in any sized bottle. And if it is a liquid and more than 100ml, as long as you have the prescription sticker on it, it’s not subject to the 100ml rules.

  10. Rebecca says

    I never knew this about liquid medication until recently. I wash my armpits with Hibiscrub and ran out while I was in the US because I had only brought 100ml for a three week trip! I get it in 500ml bottles, but I think I might ask the pharmacy if they can give it to me in two 250ml bottles so I don’t have to lug 500ml with me, but also don’t have to put it in my liquids bag. Thanks for this! I’m also on Zuneryt, and that is in a small bottle, but I might leave it out of my liquid bag too since it’s a prescription.

  11. Kel says

    Hi I am a long term chronic pain & illness suffered about to head off on a long trip of a lifetime to Europe & UK. Of course, I have to take a LOT of medication with me, some in big boxes, and as we are trying to fit a family of four into as few bags as possible I was trying to come up with a solution. My pharmacist suggested this packaging system similar to the blister packs called packettes. Basically each day’s dose is packed in a small clear packette that is sealed & given a seriel number, with the medications & doses written on the outside. Any class A meds like OxyContin etc they put into seperate packettes. Everything is written on the outside & you still have your letters from your doc, your prescriptions, a list of meds included from the pharmacy & I guess any special permissions you might need for various countries eg United Arab Emirates requires you to get permission to bring in certain medications.
    I am just really concerned that this is packaging system might make customs harder than it needs to be & I should just take them in their boxes.
    Thoughts anyone???

  12. Tess says

    If you see this, what did you end up doing? I am in a similar situation. I didn’t know about this packaging option and was going to ask pharmacist.

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