Travel Season and Prescription Medications!


Deeper Dive Horizons

For more information about the author, click to view their website: Deeper Dive Horizons

Posted on

Jul 09, 2024


Colorado - Denver Metro

Traveling with Medications Safely, Effectively and Hassle-Free

Although this article pertains to all ages who need to leave town with prescription medications, it is especially relevant to the active 55 plus community.  Let’s be honest, as we get older, we often require more medications to treat a variety of illnesses.  In many instances, we are also taking care of a spouse, parent or other dependent when we travel, and must ensure they have all the required medications for travel as well.  The following are some tips to employ as you embark on your next adventure.  Simple planning ahead can save you from a host of problems, while helping you maintain your productively aging lifestyle.  Here are some things you can do before your trip, during your trip and after your trip to avoid medication pitfalls while you are away from home.

Before your Trip

First, determine the number of days you will be gone and add at least an extra week to determine what you will need as a rule of thumb.  This can account for medication emergencies, travel delays, or other unforeseen circumstances.  Medication synchronization is a process that allows you to pick up all your medications at the same time.  If possible, ask your pharmacy about medication synchronization well in advance of your trip.  If you take the time to talk with your physician or pharmacist, this process can streamline your medication pick-up to all at once.  I often encourage patients to use mail order weeks in advance of their trip. This often provides greater quantities with fewer copays.  Also, ask your pharmacist if there have been any supply issues or manufacturer shortages with your medications.  If so, discuss with your doctor therapeutic alternatives you could try in the interim.  Certain medications, such as controlled substances (pain medications or stimulant medications) often have supply restrictions and are not afforded refills.  Tell your doctor to communicate to the pharmacy that it is ok to fill these medications early.  Remember, we can’t just take your word for it that you are allowed to take the controlled substance early.  The doctor should preferably communicate via phone, electronic prescribing, or on the prescription that it is ok to fill these medications early. DO NOT (I repeat DO NOT) order your medications on your travel day or arrange to pick up medications on travel days (unless absolutely necessary)!!!!  You don’t want to miss a flight due to poor planning and get stressed by having to deal with medication issues (air travel is already stressful enough nowadays).  “Murphy’s Law”, which states “anything that can go wrong, WILL go wrong”, applies to picking up medications at the pharmacy on your travel date.  This could range from being out of refills, the prescription expiring (in Colorado, prescriptions expire after a year, even if you have unlimited refills), the medication being on shortage or backordered, the doctor may have not put in the correct dose or many other issues that could arise.  Give yourself some comfortable leeway for medication pickup prior to your fun departure.  This is especially relevant around major holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, in which your doctor may be away, and pharmacies and health clinics may be closed!!  Before your trip have a written list of all your medications to take with you.  If you are tech savvy, try the HERO app (which is through Hero Health, Inc) and input your medications and their directions.  This may be convenient if you are being asked about your medications during your travel or in case of emergency. Be sure to have a list of pertinent medical information readily available on your person, or with a spouse (such as drug and food allergies, medical conditions such as epilepsy or any other things a medical professional would need to know in case you become unconscious or ill during your trip).  Although it goes without saying, make sure to include supplies and diagnostic materials when you travel (nebulizers, diagnostic kits such as blood glucose meters, needles etc).  Look at your itinerary, before your trip, and try to determine if there are situations that could cause you to either forget your medications or could create problems.  Remember, your disease or conditions don’t take a vacation, so it is very important that you adhere to your medicines, so you don’t end up with nightmares.  Before you go on your trip, investigate how to obtain the same or equivalent medications before departure, in case a replacement is needed due to loss, inadequate supply due to travel interruptions, or the need to resupply maintenance medications if the trip is long-term.  Make sure you have your physician/health insurance information in case you have a medical emergency away from home.  When traveling outside the country some hotels and resorts have medical staff on hand to assist with medical emergencies.  Try to get information on what these medical staff may offer prior to your trip.  They may be invaluable in instances of lost or stolen medications.  What about travel to foreign countries, what things do you need to consider?  Pharmaceutical regulations vary from country to country. Some countries have limited availability of certain drugs or prohibit their importation. In addition, travelers should not plan to have someone mail (including express couriers) medications to them.

  • In the US, it is not legal for an individual to mail prescription drugs anywhere. 
  • In addition, other countries may have restrictions on unregistered drugs (i.e., medications not approved for use in that country) coming into their country by mail. 
  • Controlled substances and psychotropics are completely prohibited in some countries (e.g., the United Arab Emirates, Japan, Zambia), and possession of even a small amount of these substances for personal use may result in arrest, incarceration, and charges of drug trafficking. 
  • In some countries, controlled substances are not available at all for outpatient use (except cancer patients), even with a local doctor's prescription.
  • A limited number of countries (e.g., Japan, Zambia, United Arab Emirates) prohibit certain common prescription medications as well as commonly used over-the-counter medications; these cannot be imported nor are they available. This includes ingredients found in inhalers and cold, cough, allergy, and sinus medications (e.g., diphenhydramine; Benadryl). Banned ingredients may also include those deemed to be stimulants, such as pseudoephedrine, levomethamphetamine, the common cough suppressant dextromethorphan, and dextroamphetamine (e.g., Adderall).  I advise checking with the destination's embassy about any med restrictions before travel...especially with controlled substances.

 Again, make sure that you are taking care of your health, even on vacay.

Beginning and during your Trip

During your travels ALWAYS keep track of those carry-ons that contain your medications.  I like to put special ribbons on my carry-on and have my spouse and I double check our bag counts as we go from one point in our trip to the next (ie shuttles, boarding and deplaning).  Try to keep these personal belongings within your eyesight.  If you can, try to keep your medications in the original containers.  Although, TSA doesn’t have a rule against pill boxes (and you can travel with them filled with your meds), the latches can come undone, and scatter medications throughout your carry-on.  It is a good strategy to use your pill boxes once you get to your destination, as it can help you keep track of your medications and prevent you from skipping medications.  Speaking of carry-on, that is the only place your medications should be stowed away in.  NEVER put your medications in your checked bags.  At TSA, I have had to carry a nebulizer machine for asthma.  I anticipate that they may want to observe the product (it looks like a bomb) so I put it separately in a bin with the carrying case ajar.  The same would go for diabetic supplies and instruments. You may bring medically necessary liquids, medications, and creams more than 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters in your carry-on bag. Remove them from your carry-on bag to be screened separately from the rest of your belongings.  Try to keep your medications packed efficiently and in a neat manner (don’t have stuff strewn about your carry-on or purse, or meds out of their bottles).  When you reach your destination store your meds safely and properly.  This is done by keeping them in a dry area without sunlight.  In your hotel, try to keep controlled substances (such as pain medications) out of plain sight, as they are targets for theft.  Do not talk about your pain medications in public, this could make you a target to unsavory people. Regarding theft or loss of medications use the pharmacy information you gathered before your trip (see Before your trip section) and contact your physician or home pharmacy to get a transfer.  If you are out of the country contact the resort medical director or the U.S. embassy in case of medication loss as well as law enforcement if there is suspected theft.  In many countries—even those that require a prescription—pharmacists may have the latitude to provide short-term or emergency refills (generally for a more common, benign, chronic medication) without a prescription.  While away for pleasure, it is easy to eat, or drink in excess.  Do know your limits and set reasonable goals.  If you must visit a medical facility or urgent care while on vacation, DO KEEP the billing information as you may be able to get reimbursed by your primary home insurance.  Again, your medical conditions do not take a vacation, and you want to stay healthy to take even more vacations.  When traveling, I have heard that clients/patients get excited when they see prescription medications being sold over the counter (OTC).  It is tempting to purchase these items as they are often cheaper and readily available.  Please note that foreign health agencies do not test as rigorously for the veracity of active ingredients (as well as other properties of the medication).  There is a high probability of counterfeit medications. The Los Angeles Times, recently reported in 2022 that 55 pills purchased from 29 pharmacies in eight cities in Mexico were tested, and more than 50% of the pills were determined to be counterfeit. More than a third of the 40 opioid pain medications purchased tested positive for illicit fentanyl rather than a prescription opioid medication. Twelve of 15 Adderall samples tested positive for other substances, including methamphetamine and ecstasy. Sometimes entire bottles that appeared to be factory-sealed were tainted.  In fact, when abroad, check with the local embassy to ensure a pharmacy is trustworthy and to get tips on obtaining medications that are not counterfeit.  In some developing countries you may also see antibiotics sold as OTC items. It is a bad idea to get a random antibiotic to treat what is ailing you.  For one, the antibiotic may not be ideal (even if you used it in the past) as there can be resistance, and it may be questionable if the product has the true dose content or could be counterfeit.  If you have an infection, it is best to see a doctor abroad who can at least direct you to trusted sources of medications and can use clinical judgement to determine the nature of the infection, and if there are risks that you have not thought of.  Remember that antibiotics are often used to treat specific bacteria.  If you try to use an antibiotic for a viral infection, it WILL BE ineffective, as antibiotics treat bacterial infections. Lastly, before leaving back home, ensure you pack your meds as you did before your trip.  On my last day of travel, when I am packing, I do a run through of my hotel room to make sure I have not forgot any important items (medications etc).  DO NOT discard empty prescription bottles with your medical info away in the trash.  Your prescriptions with your name, and medications can be used to commit fraud against you.  Do a bag checklist as you did previously.

After your trip

Put your medications away as soon as you can.  It is easy to get off track when you get back from vacation, but remember, your conditions don’t take a vacation.  Be sure to submit billing receipts and to contact your insurance if you incurred medical expenses while on vacation.  While it is not a guarantee that you will get reimbursed, it is important that you submit your claims as soon as possible.  People often experience sickness after travel due to exposure to large crowds (such as in airports or on cruises).  Go see your physician immediately (especially if you have immune disorders or are on chemotherapeutic agents) to insure you are treated promptly.  Viral infections generally have a small window of time for treatment (such as COVID-19 and influenza).  Do get back to your normal diet as you likely indulged during your trip. 

I hope these tips were helpful!!!  As always, enjoy life, but stay healthy and happy in 2024.


Keith Williams (Your personal pharmacist)

Owner of Deeper Dive Horizons

Visit for details on how I can help you navigate the health care world!!!

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