How to travel with your medication

Posted on July 14, 2014


Summer is here…one of the most exhilarating seasons; along with trips, travels, adventures and memories to keep you going till next year. Whether you plan on backpacking in Europe, bumming on the beach, or taking a road trip, there is no greater way to ruin the perfect vacation than not having your medication handy and in good condition. 

According to the Transport Security Administration (TSA), one of the most popular questions they get from travelers is: “Can I travel with my medication.”…and the answer is “Yes, you can”. Here are some tips and qualifiers on travelling with your medication:

  • For smoother inspection at any security checkpoint, it is not compulsory but always advisable to have a clear copy of your prescription with you. It also comes in handy if your medication gets lost and you need to see a doctor in another country. Showing this doctor your original prescription may expedite the process of getting a refill. 
  • All prescriptions medications should be in their original containers with labels that have your full name, name of drug and doctor clearly printed on the container. For non-prescription medications, consider buying travel size packets. If your medications or devices are not in their original containers, you must have a copy of your prescription with you or a letter from your doctor.
  • Try to take only personal use quantities, a rule of thumb is “no more than a 90 day supply”. However, if you are only going for a few days, you don’t even need to take all 30 days worth of your medication. Ask your pharmacy to give you an extra labelled bottle, so you can put just enough to last your trip including a few extras “just in case”.
  • If you are going to be out and about at your destination, consider getting a “pill organizer” to put your days worth of pills in it. Note: you should do this only after your pills have gone through all airport/immigration checks in their original containers.
  • Carry all your medications in your carry-on luggage in case the airline loses your bags.
  • Liquid medication, including insulin, in excess of 3.4 ounces is allowed in carry-on bags, and they don’t necessary have to be placed in a zip-lock container. However, you must tell the officer that you have medically necessary liquids at the start of the screening checkpoint process. Medically required liquids will be subjected to additional screening that may include being asked to open the container. 
  • if you are only going for a short while, it is advisable to ask your pharmacy to pour your liquid medication into smaller bottles for travel.
  • Take note of optimal storage requirements for your medications. Most medications need to be kept in a cool, dry, dark environment so avoid placing them in direct sunlight, near the bathroom or storing them in the glove compartment of your car where heat builds up. Remember that insulin can be stored at room temperature for up to 28 days.
  • For drugs that need to be refrigerated, you may carry them in a small, insulated cooler bag with an ice pack for short periods of time. If traveling for more than a few hours, they may be wrapped in bubble wrap and placed in a travel cooler, then packed with ice. Put a thermometer in the cooler and check it every few hours, adding ice as necessary to maintain the optimal temperature. Also, your flight attendant may be able to put your medication in the airplane’s refrigerator or provide additional ice if  your ice pack melts. Upon reaching your destination, ask your ho(s)tel for a small refrigerator (if available) or ice-refills for your cooler. 
  • Ask your pharmacist if any of your medications can cause you to be more sensitive to the sun. If yes, be prepared. Buy sun screen with the appropriate SPF, and wear appropriate clothing which to cover and protect exposed skin from the sun. See this article for more information on protecting your skin against sunlight.
  • When travelling through different time zones, your usual medication schedule may be altered. It’s important that you not skip doses nor take too much medication, therefore you should talk to your pharmacist about how to make temporary changes to your schedule, and how to change the time you take your pills, especially on the day of travel when you may be losing or gaining time. 
  • If you have Internet access while you travel, consider setting up a medication dosage reminder so you can stay on schedule. Apps such as MedsLog, Medsy, MotionPHR Health Record Manager and Dosecast are good examples.
  • Brand name of drugs may be different and unfamiliar in the country you’re traveling to, therefore it may be helpful to have a list of your generic drug names. So that if you run out of your medication abroad, your physician/pharmacist will be more likely to know the generic name and you can get an emergency refill.

Happy (and safe) travels!