I tend to be a fairly well-prepared traveler. I almost always remember to throw a bunch of over-the-counter drugs into my luggage. Still, at this particular moment, on this particular trip, the upset-stomach medication I was so desperately looking for may as well have been 3,000 miles away at home. Names and details are being withheld to protect the innocent, so, suffice it to say that a member of my traveling party wasn’t feeling so hot.
After futilely rummaging in my backpack and waiting in a seemingly interminable line to buy some Pepto-Bismol at a visitors’ desk, I vowed never to be caught so off-guard again. (Of course, only after the need had passed did I find the pill bottle lurking at the bottom of my bag.)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that international travelers put together a health kit for their trips, but domestic and regional travelers should have one, too.
“Take what you think you’d use, the stuff you keep in your medicine cabinet," advises Gary Brunette, branch chief of travelers’ health for the CDC. “You don’t have to be thinking about exotic medications or exotic items. It’s the kind of stuff you know you’ll be using."
Especially if you’re going abroad, don’t assume that you can or would want to buy your medications, particularly prescriptions, once you reach your destination. In certain parts of the world, the odds of being given a counterfeit drug may be higher than 30 percent, according to the CDC’s Yellow Book. It’s also important that travelers take drugs in their original packaging for ease of identification, Brunette says.
If you don’t feel like assembling your own kit, commercial kits are an acceptable alternative. You may need to swap out some of the items to fit your own needs, though.
Just remember to keep the kit in your carry-on luggage, complete with three-ounce gels or liquids that can be easily removed at security. Look for dopp or toiletry kits that come with detachable quart bags.
Traveling to foreign destinations where water quality and diseases such as malaria are a concern requires some extra planning and supplies. For those kinds of trips, you should consult resources such as the Yellow Book and your doctor.