Parent Guide to Meds and Traveling

Have meds on your packing checklist

Forgot your toothbrush? No biggie. Forgot your meds? Much more of a pain. If you don’t use a checklist, write a sticky note and leave it on your front door/your phone/your keys - anywhere you will be sure to see it before you leave. 

TSA Rules

The TSA rules are vague. “It is recommended that medication be clearly labeled.” For international travel, keep your meds in their original bottles. Yeah, that’s a pain, but better than arguing with customs. Once you get to where you’re going, you can swap them back into pillboxes or whatever. 

For domestic travel, if you don’t want to lug all that around, put your pills in something convenient.

Tell TSA about liquid medications. For carry-ons, they will allow liquid medicine over the usual limit of 3.4 ounces, but you must tell officers at the beginning of the security check and they need to be in their original, labeled bottle. 

Packing meds

For my family, we use a daily dispense pill box.  We have a white one for morning meds and a blue one for evening meds. That way we can clearly see if meds have been taken that day. We throw the pill boxes in a ziplock bag for safety (don’t want that popping open and spilling all over!) and carry it in our purse or laptop bag.

If the trip is longer than a week, I will purchase another set of pill boxes and keep them in a separate ziplock bag labeled “second week” (so I don’t get confused!) These I’m okay with putting in checked luggage.

But be sure to keep your meds with you - on your person or in your carry-on. I do NOT put these meds in our checked luggage because I don’t want our important meds getting lost if the luggage goes missing.

Packing liquid meds

For refrigerated medications, TSA will let your bring cool packs if they are frozen solid. Refrigerated or not, leave extra time for the TSA to do a thorough screening of your liquid med.

On amazon, look for oral syringes with caps. You can buy packages of 100 for under $20. Bring along enough for your trip and then you can just throw them out as you use them. (Seriously, being on vacation is about not washing dishes or syringes, right?)

For a lot of medications, you can pre-draw the medicine into a syringe, cap it, and then use it later. I will do this for our out-and-about medications so I don’t have to carry the bottle. I will throw a capped syringe full into the ziplock bag with her pillbox.  Check with your pharmacist to make sure this will work with your medication. I know that you can’t pre-draw liquid tacrolimus because the medicine binds to plastic and become less effective the longer it is in the syringe. 

Around and About

Since vacation days are often long, I carry that day’s dose of meds in a pillbox in a separate ziplock bag in my purse. Or I carry a couple of days’ doses (but only if you can identify your pills - if they look the same, only carry one day). It’s useful if you are out later than you expected. I also do this for the days we travel, so I don’t have to be rummaging through tons of stuff to find her meds if we are stuck in traffic or on a delayed plane.

You can lay cotton on top of the pills so they don’t rattle or crumble in the pillbox.

Don’t leave meds in the car (even inside luggage), since hot temperatures may can affect how well they work.

Bring a couple of days’ extra

What if my purse gets stolen? What if my kid spills their drink all over the pill box and ruins them all? What if I spill some pills down the sink? Back up meds!

I usually put a couple of days worth of meds in an old prescription bottle, stuff some cotton on top, and back this in a zipper pocket in my luggage. (Some recommend bringing up to 2 weeks extra medication.) This is my fallback plan in case something goes wrong. That way I can be sure I have a separate supply until I can get more.

Getting more meds away from home

Take photos of your pill bottle labels and save them on your phone. You can also ask your doctor for prescriptions, and bring those with you as well. Again take photos of these just in case. 

If you fill your prescription through a nationwide pharmacy chain, find a nearby branch and call and ask them to transfer your prescription and give you a small supply.

If not, find a nearby pharmacy and get their number. Call your doctor and ask if they can send a prescription for a small amount to the pharmacy.  Bring your insurance card when you pick up the pills. If you can’t reach your doctor, ask the pharmacy if they’ll transfer your prescription from your local pharmacy and give you a small supply.

Prescriptions cannot be filled overseas, nor can your primary care doctor call in a prescription for you overseas. However, there’s a way around it: knowing the generic forms and other names of the same medicine. Depending on the country, you may even be able to get the medicine without a prescription

Keeping your regular med schedule

For short trips, stick to your home time zone schedule if you can. So a 7am morning dose in Seattle, becomes a 10am dose in Boston. Set an alarm on your smart phone to help you keep on track, even when you’re out having fun. Have multiple people set the alarm on their phones. That way you’re more likely not to miss it., especially if you’re taking the medication at a different time than you normally do.

If you need to adjust for longer trips, you can start shifting your medications by a 1/2 hour a day (taking them earlier or later as called for) a week or so before the trip. Be sure to shift back the same way when you come home.

It's usually safe to take medicine 1 hour early or late. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to see how to handle the switch to a new time zone.