Carrying on: Medicine Edition

Traveling around the world in one carry-on and a backpack takes some planning.  (I often think of Rick Steves’ advice: “No one ever comes back from a trip and says ‘Next time, I’ll pack more.’”)  Because we get questions about this so often, we’re starting a series of posts on packing. (If you missed it, check out our post on laundry – a key part of being able to pack light.) 


I usually take the view that you shouldn’t pack based on “maybe.”  I never pack an umbrella on the theory it might rain, for example, or more than one extra outfit just because I “might” want it.  Unlike extra t-shirts, though, medicines can be difficult to find when you’re traveling, and if you discover you’re ill in the middle of the night or in a rural area, it may be very difficult to get a medicine or medicines that you feel comfortable taking.  That means that it’s worth the time and space in your bag to plan ahead and pack items you might need.  Of course our list is based on our own experiences, so you should consult your own doctor and, if you’re headed overseas, a specialized travel clinic to ensure you have necessary vaccinations and prescription medications.  (If you’re in Chicago, we’ve had good experiences at the Northwestern Medicine Travel Clinic.) Wherever you go, be sure to start early in case you need vaccinations that have to be spaced out.  You should also check out the U.S. Department of State travel advisories and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for information about particular health risks around the world.

Do also keep in mind that you need to pack liquids in sizes at or under 100 mL (3.4 ounces) in a quart sized zip bag, but, other than sunblock, I pack all of the items listed below into snack-sized zip bags and then put all of those into a fabric cosmetics bag.  (Other than my (life changing!) cubes for clothes and shoe bags (similar to these), I use either pouches from airplane amenity kits or free cosmetics counter bags for all of my packing.)  It takes up less space than a sweater and has saved many a trip from disaster.  Despite taking my medicine bag on easily 40 flights in the last year, I’ve never been told to transfer the few liquid items from it into my liquid bag, so you may or may not need to be concerned about making sure that, for example, your hand sanitizer is in your liquids bag.

With the disclaimers out of the way, here is my medicine packing list:  

·     Any prescription medication or vitamins you normally take in their original bottles.

·     Sunblock.  (Pro tip: don’t just take last year’s leftover sunblock – make sure it isn’t expired.  And even if you’re confident that you’ll be able to buy some at your destination, take a 3.4 ounce portion with you just to be sure.)   

·     Chapstick with SPF doesn’t need to go in your liquids bag, but is important nonetheless. 

·     Hand sanitizer or Small Individual Use Packets

·     Tums

·     Imodium 

·     DayQuil and NyQuil tablets

·     Cough drops

·     Pepto Bismol chewables

·     Electroyte packets or tablets to add to water  (I use Nuun tablets both to avoid dehydration and when I exercise, but just be sure to pick any variety you like so you will actually use it.)

·     EmergenC packets

·     Arnica cream

·     Some sort of cream such as Benadryl or an after bite stick

·     Cutter stick

·     A few bandages (You can buy a small First Aid kit for travel like this one – just get rid of the bulky package and put the contents in a zip bag)

·     Neosporin or similar single-use packets

·     Dramamine or other seasickness medicine if you’re susceptible

One final thought, don’t be afraid to check out a local pharmacy in a far-away destination. you may actually find something that you far prefer to your local options and find yourself stocking up when you end up in another country.

What’s in your medicine bag?