Tips for traveling with prescription medication, according to a pharmacist

Dec 27, 2021

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In addition to packing your swimsuit, sunscreen and negative COVID-19 test, some travelers also have to think carefully about the medication they’re bringing on a trip.

The last thing any traveler wants while on vacation is to find out they’ve run out of an essential prescription with no way to refill — which can become pretty problematic if you have to extend your trip due to a positive coronavirus result.

Travelers should plan for the unexpected, particularly in this age of COVID-19 and the omicron variant, but there are some ways to make sure you’re prepared before your trip. To help navigate this, TPG spoke with a clinical pharmacist, Dr. Danielle Tawiah, PharmD, about what you need to know about traveling with prescription medication.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

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Should I keep my medication in the original container?

Dr. Tawiah: [The original container] has the pill description, quantity, date filled, your address and full name on it, so it will be known that it isn’t fake. Also, if you keep medications in a pillbox or medication keychain, it would be better to fill the box once you reach your destination to be easily identified.

Ask your pharmacy for an empty bottle with the Rx label printed on it if you aren’t comfortable taking the entire bottle of medication with you, so you only have to take what you need for the trip.

The most important thing is making sure that the pill is easily identifiable and you have [an] ID to prove that it is your prescription.

Do I need to pack my medication in my carry-on bag?

Dr. Tawiah: You should keep your medication[s] in your carry-on so they won’t get lost and keep all medications in a Ziploc bag so that they are easy to take out at TSA and easier to find while traveling.

Also, TSA allows for “reasonable amounts” of medically necessary liquids, gels and aerosols. Just let the TSA officers know in advance.

If you have diabetes, keep glucose tablets or a bag of hard candies with you as flight times can fluctuate. Plus, with jet lag, you don’t want your sugar to drop.

What if I’m traveling for an extended period?

Dr. Tawiah: Make sure your rescue medications are in-date before flying. These are medications like Albuterol, EpiPens and Nitrostat. It may be better to ask for a 90-day supply of drugs for extended trips to avoid running out.

Keep over-the-counters (OTCs) on hand that your provider says are OK for you to use, such as loperamide, meclizine and acetaminophen for nonemergent medical needs like diarrhea, motion sickness and headaches.

Do I need to know my prescription’s name in the local language?

Dr. Tawiah: If you are a veteran or active-duty military, you can go to the nearest military base to get your medications filled if you already receive their medications through the VA or Department of Defense.

For civilians, it may be best to ask the hotel to assist you with this to ensure that there is no language barrier between the visitor and the pharmacy.

Prescription costs can vary depending on the country, so consider that insurance may or may not pay for medications filled abroad –especially if you don’t have a prescription or an empty bottle to show what you have been taking. That may require a visit to a local urgent care center or emergency room if you need a prescription, and there should be translation services there.

It is also important to have apps like “MyChart” on your phone that show your most up-to-date medical information and show that you need your maintenance medication filled. However, I would inquire with your insurance company as this may be very costly.

When should I get my prescription refilled if I’m traveling soon?

Dr. Tawiah: If you need refills, do not wait until the day before your trip to do it, in case the pharmacy ran out and either needs to order more, or you have to go to a different location to get it filled.

My destination has a time difference. How can I remember to take my medication?

Dr. Tawiah: You should set alarms on your phone to still take your medications daily due to time zone differences. Note that some medications can be time-sensitive, and a missed dose can cause a medical event.

Featured photo by Kenstocker/Getty Images

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