Traveling: What you need to know before vacationing abroad or within the US

October 27, 2014

Photo of an airplane in the sky

As the winter months forge ahead, it is easy to get caught up in planning your next big vacation. There are a few things to consider when booking a trip, whether it be recommended vaccinations, how to travel with prescription medications, and what to pack in an emergency health kit. In today’s post we have compiled a go-to source to answer those questions.

Do you need vaccinations before traveling abroad?

When vacationing outside of the United States travelers may face health issues that are not common at home. In order to protect yourself it may be necessary for you to get vaccinated or take preventative medications to prepare for travel. It is within good practice to schedule an appointment with your primary care provider about one month before departure in order to provide an adequate amount of time for the body to develop immunity if vaccinations are recommended. Additionally, some vaccinations and preventative medications have specific timelines for proper administration. The vaccinations recommended for traveling are specific to the country you are visiting. You can check out the CDC’s website for a detailed explanation and breakdown of recommended vaccinations by country. According to the CDC, vaccinations are of three categories: routine, recommended, and required. There are only two vaccinations that are “required” by International Health regulations. They include (1) yellow fever when traveling to certain countries in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America and (2) meningococcal vaccine for pilgrims visiting Mecca and/or Medina for the annual (Hajj) or at any time (Umrah).  Documentation of vaccinations may be necessary by countries that require either the yellow fever or meningococcal vaccine. Examples of recommended vaccinations or preventative measures include: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid fever, Rabies, Japanese Encephalitis, and malaria. It is recommended that all routine vaccinations are up to date. These are typically ones received during childhood and include; Dipththeria/tetanus/pertussis (Tdap), Hepatitis B (HBV), Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), measles/mumps/rubella (MMR), and poliomyelitis (IPV).

What do you need to do when traveling with prescription medications?

According to the CDC, as of 2012 about 117 million people have one or more chronic medical condition and thus will need bring medications on vacation. Before traveling it is important to make sure you will have enough of your medication to last the length of the trip. This may require refilling a prescription before its due date. However, many insurance companies will allow for vacation overrides to ensure medication adherence, but make sure to tell your pharmacist in advance of any long term traveling that may require an override. And lastly, don’t forget to pack all your medications and take them with you before heading out of town!

You may ask “How do I travel with my medications?” The TSA has a few tips for traveling with medications including:

  • You can bring any medications in pill or solid form in a personal use quantity (ie. no more than 90 day supply) as long as it is screened by the TSA.
  • Liquid medications are allowed in carry-on bags in excess of 3.4oz if it is needed to be used during the flight. You must tell the TSA agent that you are traveling with liquid medications so they can be screened separately. The remainder of the liquid must be stored in your checked baggage.
  • The TSA does not require you to have medications in prescription bottles but it is encouraged that they are in order to comply with individual state and international laws.
  • Pack a note on letterhead stationary from the prescribing physician for all controlled substances.
  • Medications requiring refrigeration (for example: insulin) may requiring packing a cold pack and cooler for traveling. The cold packs may be screened separately.
  • Policies for use of in-flight-oxygen vary among airlines. Generally airlines require 72hr advanced notice before your flight if you plan to travel with oxygen. Make sure to bring a physician’s statement signed by your doctor that verifies your need for oxygen therapy and have all needed airline-specific medical forms filled out at least 10 days before travel. Air carriers typically will offer two basic options for oxygen therapy during flight 1) carrier-supplied compressed oxygen or 2) use of personal portable oxygen concentrators (POC). For a list of approved POC’s visit the FAA website:
  • CPAP, BiPAPs, and APAPs are allowed through TSA checkpoints once they have been screened by TSA.

What to pack in a travel health kit?

The following is a list of recommended medications to have with you when traveling abroad or even within the states:

  1. Antidiarrheal medication (Pepto-Bismol, Imodium)
  2. Antihistamine (Claritin, Allegra, Benadryl, Zyrtec)
  3. Decongestant (Sudafed)
  4. Anti-motion sickness medication (Dramamine)
  5. Medicine for pain or fever (ibuprofen, aspirin, acetaminophen)
  6. Mild laxative (Dulcolax)
  7. Cough suppressant/exportant (Robitussin, Mucinex)
  8. Cough drops
  9. Antacid (Zantac)
  10. Antifungal and antibacterial ointments or creams (Lotrimin, Neosporin)
  11. 1% hydrocortisone cream
  12. Optional: antibiotic prescription for traveler’s diarrhea

We wish you happy, healthy, and safe travels on your next vacation!



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