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Taking my medications away from home – what do I need to know?

For day trips

If you are going away for the day, or travelling to school or work, there are three main things to consider: carrying your medications, storing your medications, and remembering to take your medications. Simply planning ahead will help you to be more confident.

Carrying your medications

There are two options:

Carry each medication in its original bottle: For children, school policies often require that medications be kept in their original, labelled container. If you are sending a child to school with medications, find out about your school’s policy on medications.

The original bottle has valuable information on it: the name of the medication, the name of the person who is taking the medication, the storage precautions, the dose, and the expiry date. It is usually best to keep a single supply of medication so that you can keep track of its expiry date and storage instructions. If you must keep two separate supplies of medication, get extra labelled bottles from your pharmacist or pharmacy technician.

Carry your medications in a dosette: Dosettes are special containers (or “pill boxes”) that are used to pack up a supply of medications (usually for a day or a week). All medications that are to be taken together at a certain time (at bedtime, for example) are kept in the same compartment.

Dosettes help you to remember whether you have taken your medication. But, once the medication is packed, the information on the label of the original bottle is lost. If you use a dosette, have a pharmacist pack it for you, or get someone to check it if you pack it yourself. This is a good option for people with many medications, or people who have trouble remembering whether they have taken their medication.

Storing your medications

  • When you arrive at your destination, store your medication according to its storage instructions. Some medications have special instructions, such as keeping them in the fridge. In general, medications should be kept in a cool, dry place and out of the reach of children. Avoid excess heat and humidity, which can destroy many medications. The glove compartment of your car is a bad place to store medications, because it can reach both very high and very low temperatures.
  • If you notice that a particular medicine has a strange look (for example, a normally clear liquid has turned cloudy), smell, or taste, do not take it. Bring it to a pharmacy to dispose of it and get a new supply.
  • Check expiry dates on medications that you may have stored in different places (e.g., at work or school). Don’t continue to use medications after they have expired.

Remembering to take your medications

  • Try to coordinate taking your medication at the same time you do other routine activities. Should you decide to coordinate it with eating a meal, check to see if your medication can be taken with food. Ask your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Create reminders for yourself. Set your watch or phone to beep when it’s time for the next dose, or write the scheduled medication time into your date book or calendar.
  • If you have a busy schedule, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about simplifying your medication schedule. There may be medications that you can take less often during the day, or combination products that will save you from carrying extra medication supplies.
  • Ask your pharmacist or doctor about how you should adjust your medication schedule to account for changes in diet and routine, such as what to do if you miss a dose.

Long trips or out-of-country trips

When you will be away for a long period of time, or if your trip requires you to leave the country, you will need to address a few additional concerns:

Things to bring

  • Have extra medication on hand for the trip and consider carrying essential medication in two separate places just in case you lose a bag. Do not risk running out of medication, as your medication may not be available in all countries. Also, some countries may not have the same standards of quality for medications. If your condition is subject to flare-ups, take along enough medication to cover you through a flare-up.
  • Have your physician write a letter (on letterhead stationery), signed and dated, listing your medication requirements for your condition. Carry this letter with you at all times. If you do not have such a letter, your medications may be confiscated at certain border crossings. Having this letter may also be useful in case of emergency.
  • Carry duplicate copies of prescriptions in case your medications are lost or stolen. Make sure that the doctor uses the generic name to write your prescriptions, as trade names often vary between countries.
  • Know the emergency numbers, and keep your health insurance card with you at all times. Also, keep a list of your medications with you at all times.
  • If you have medication allergies, consider getting and wearing a MedicAlert bracelet.

Medication packing tips

  • If you are leaving the country, carry all medicines in their original containers so that they are readily identifiable. To avoid problems at the border, do not combine medications into one container.
  • Store your medications in your carry-on luggage. There is no temperature control in the cargo area, so medications may be damaged. If your luggage is lost, it may take some time to be recovered, and you will be without your medication during this time.

Questions to ask before you go

  • Discuss your travel plans with your doctor or pharmacist before you go, especially if you have medical conditions such as diabetes or epilepsy.
  • Check with your doctor or a travel medicine clinic to see whether you need to have any immunizations or take any special precautions when visiting your travel destination. Many immunizations must be given weeks in advance. Some travel destinations may require you to take medications (e.g., for malaria prevention).
  • If you have conditions such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS, or lung disease, you may need special instructions, immunizations, medications, or equipment in preparation for travel. Check with your doctor well in advance of travelling to see if there are any special instructions for people with your health condition.
  • If for some reason, you do run out of medication (or if it gets lost or stolen), you will need to see a doctor in the country you are visiting. If you have health insurance, the health insurance company may be able to recommend a doctor. You can also ask your doctor for the names of physicians in places where you’re travelling in case you need to visit one. The International Association for Medical Assistance of Travelers (IAMAT), or the international association for your condition (e.g., International Diabetes Association) may also be able to recommend doctors in other parts of the world. In some cases, you may need to pay cash for medical services in the country that you are visiting.
  • Be sure that you know both the brand name and the generic name of your medications. Brand names may be different in other countries, but generic names are usually the same.
  • Review your dosing schedule with your pharmacist, especially if you will be changing time zones. Make sure that you know the following details about all of your medications:

generic name and brand name
how to take it: dose, number of times per day, with or without food
what to do if you miss a dose
side effects
drug and food interactions (you may try different foods while traveling)

  • If you have a health insurance plan, check to see if you are covered for travel to your destination. Find out what services are covered. If you are not comfortable with the level of coverage, purchase additional medical insurance.

And finally, enjoy your trip!

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