A Guide to Taking Your Medications on Vacation!

Spring is just around the corner, or so the warmer weather tells me. Spring is the first ‘break’ of the year, and many people go on sunny, tropical vacations. Medications seem to be the last thing on many people’s list of stuff to bring with them on vacation, and often get left at home. While it is ok to go a day or two without some medications, missing a few doses of others could have more serious consequences for your health. Regardless of where you’re going this spring break, here are a few general tips to keep in mind when it comes to medications:

  • Bring a few extra days’ worth of medications in case you get stuck or stranded somewhere so you don’t miss a dose
  • Be familiar with the generic names of your medications and what medical condition you take each one for
  • Have the contact information of your doctor and pharmacist on hand

Traveling within the United States

If you are traveling within the United States and forget to bring your medication or run out of it, you can usually go to a local pharmacy and ask to have your medications transferred if there are refills left. You will need to remember to have any refills transferred back to your home pharmacy when you get back home. There are also limitations on the transfer of certain controlled medications (like Ambien and Xanax), and regulations on transfers differ from state to state.  We also cannot legally transfer controlled medications like Norco or Adderall, so it is especially important to remember to bring those medications with you when you leave for vacation.

Medications are only guaranteed to be effective at specific temperature ranges. If they’re exposed to a temperature outside of this range, your medications may not work as well.  If you’re flying, it’s best to bring your medications with you in your carry-on bag as it’s difficult to know what temperatures they’re being exposed to if they’re stored in your checked baggage. Checked baggage seems to get lost all the time, another reason it’s a good idea to bring your medications in your carry-on bag. Even if you’re going on a road trip, make sure not to leave your meds in the glove compartment or trunk for the same reasons!

Flying with Medications

Flying can be hectic, especially when you don’t know what you can and can’t bring through security onto the plane, so I have included some tips from the TSA regarding traveling with your medications.

  • Liquid medications: According to TSA guidelines, liquid medications are allowed on carry-on bags in quantities reasonable to flight, even in amounts greater than 3.4 ounces. You don’t have to place them in Ziploc bags like other liquids, but you must tell the screening officer that you have liquid medication in your carry-on. You should be aware that your medication may be subject to additional screening.
  • The TSA does not require you to have your medication in the prescription bottles they came in. Be aware that some states have laws that dictate labeling requirements on medications, so it is a good idea to keep them in the original bottles. You can bring a pill box with you to use once you have arrived at your destination.
  • If you have diabetes and are bringing insulin and supplies with you, notify the TSA officer that you have your supplies with you. Your insulin supplies need to be accompanied by insulin and be clearly labeled and identified.
  • Some people have asked about nitroglycerin tablets and spray, and the TSA guidelines say that these have always been permitted.
Medications on Vacation inset image. A picture of a travel bag with various pill containers around it.
Don’t forget to keep your medications together. This Rockwell travel bag works great!

Traveling abroad

Many countries have restrictions on items you can bring into the country, including some medications. Some common, over-the-counter medications you can get in the United States are actually illegal in other countries! If you’re traveling abroad, you can check with the embassy of the country you’re traveling to and learn about any laws they may have regarding traveling with certain prescription medications. Some countries also limit the amount of medication you can take to their country, such as 30-day supply maximums. You may be able to receive permission ahead of time to bring more.

Going somewhere sunny or hitting the slopes? Remember to protect your skin!

Did you know that some medications can make your skin more sensitive to the sun and sunburn? It’s always important to sunscreen-up when you’re spending time in the sun, but it’s essential if you’re on one of the following medications:

  • Doxycycline
  • Sulfamethoxazole-trimethoprim (Bactrim)
  • Ciprofloxacin
  • Amiodarone
  • Furosemide
  • Isotretinoin
  • Topical tretinoin
  • Other, less common medications

Recommendations regarding skin exposure are different depending on what medication you are taking, but a good general idea is to avoid direct sunlight, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. If exposure to the sun is unavoidable, make sure you’re wearing sunblock with an SPF of at least 15. Like I said before, exposure to too much sunlight while on these medications can have serious side effects besides sunburn.  When exposed to too much sunlight while taking amiodarone, your skin can actually start turning blue-gray. If you have any questions regarding your medications and how they may make you more sensitive to the sun, ask your doctor or pharmacist.

Need More Answers? Ask Your Pharmacist!

Traveling with your medications may seem like a headache but figuring out the logistics of travel restrictions is better than the negative side effects you may experience without your meds! The tips I outline above are a great starting point to make sure you can bring all your medications on vacation with you. If you have questions about specific over-the-counter medications, be sure to check out the TSA’s article on specifics. If you have more specific questions about medications and vacations, feel free to talk to me our one of our pharmacists any time. We’re here 7 days a week!

Written by Hannah, PharmD

Hannah started working for Oswald’s Pharmacy in 2018. Hannah is a pharmacist focusing on service and pharmacy innovation.