How to Manage Your Medications While You Travel

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on September 21, 2023
3 min read

Passport? Check. Itinerary? Check. Prescription medicine? Oops. If you're going on vacation, don't forget your meds. Bringing them along can be complicated, though, especially if you're going overseas. How do you pack your pills? Can you stay on your dosing schedule? Will there be problems with security?

Here are ways to get you and the medicine you need safely to your destination and back again.

Going to Honolulu? Don't let your medications end up in Timbuktu. Keep them in your carry-on bag for safety -- and for easier access en route. Remember, though, it will need to get through security.

On plane trips, using carry-on bags will help protect your meds from sitting out in extremely hot or cold temperatures, which can affect how well they work. 

Traveling by car? Never leave medicine in the glove compartment or the trunk, even inside luggage. For medications that must be refrigerated, like some liquid drugs or meds you inject, put them in an insulated lunch bag and add a freezer pack.

For carry-ons, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration will allow liquid medicine over the usual limit of 3.4 ounces, but you must tell officers at the beginning of the security check. They may want to X-ray it. 

Make your way through customs more easily. Be sure your pills and liquid meds stay in their original, labeled containers.

Take a copy of the prescription along. Also bring a letter from your doctor explaining your condition, especially if you're taking a medicine you inject or a controlled substance such as painkillers. This holds true for needles, syringes, and oxygen tanks, too. 

Just because a medication is legal in the U.S. doesn't mean it's allowed in other countries. Before you go abroad, check with the U.S. embassy at your destination to make sure.

Make sure you have enough meds to get through the trip -- plus a little extra. It's a good idea to bring an additional 2-week supply in case you stay longer than expected.

Another useful strategy: ask your pharmacy about ordering pills in "multi-dose" packages. Your meds will be grouped into packets according to the day and time you need to take them. It makes it easier to pack into your bag and keep track of your medicine schedule.

In case you need a refill while you're away, write down the generic name of the medicine. Brand names may be different in other countries. Sometimes, drugs with the same brand name could contain different ingredients.

Worried about having enough or want to plan for all situations? Ask your doctor for a new prescription and tuck that in your bag.

Traveling across time zones? That may complicate your medication schedule. Set an alarm on your smart phone to help you keep the same interval between doses. 

It's usually safe to take medicine 1-2 hours early or late, but don't double up doses. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to see how to handle the switch to a new time zone.

Some drugs, including certain antibiotics and statins, can make you more sun-sensitive and increase your risk of sunburns. Find out if any of your medications are "photosensitive."

Too much heat can be a problem, too, especially for medicine patches. So if you're going to a warm climate, be aware that the meds in your patch may be released too quickly.  Ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice.