What to Pack in Your Medical Bag for a Summer Vacation

Healthy Living

June 21, 2022

Summer vacations should be carefree adventures. Unfortunately, that’s not always how they go. Your regular medical needs are sure to follow you on vacation. And new healthcare issues may come up while you’re gone, too.

How do you ensure an accident- or sickness-free vacay? Well, you can’t. 

While you may not be able to guard against every possibility, you can do your best to cover your bases. And that starts with what you throw in your suitcase. Your luggage should contain medication, first aid items and essential documents.

These are the kinds of vacation must-haves that you don’t want to think about and hopefully won’t have to use. Nevertheless, stick ‘em in there just in case — because being prepared isn’t just a nifty catchphrase. 

It’s a good way to worry less when you’re on the go.

First and foremost, remember your medication.

If you need pills at home, you’ll need them on vacation, too. Pack any medicines that you use on a regular basis. That includes both prescription and over-the-counter varieties. 

Forgetting something like a toothbrush isn’t always a big deal. Chances are you can pick one up at a convenience or grocery store wherever you’re going. Even the airport or your hotel might offer such sundries.

But medication can be harder to replace, sometimes impossible depending on where you’re going and how your insurance works. If you forget everything else, don’t forget your meds. These won’t be as easy to reproduce as a toothbrush.

We realize that packing your medicine may seem like an obvious point. You take it every day, after all. But it can be surprisingly easy to forget such things in the hustle and bustle of getting out the door.

How Much to Bring

Return trips sometimes get delayed. Always bring enough of your prescriptions to cover a few extra days. Spares are also handy in case you drop a pill on the floor of your hotel bathroom.

Don’t forget your vision prescriptions, either! Pack a spare pair of glasses or contact lenses if you have them. They’ll take up space in your bag, but it’s worth it. Broken glasses can be tricky to replace on vacation.

Tips for Packing Medication

It’s best to keep medicine away from extreme temperatures. High humidity isn’t good for medication, either.

If you’re traveling by car, don’t pack your medicine in the trunk. Keep it in the main area of your vehicle instead. Refrigerated items should travel in a cooler with an ice pack. Bring an insulated bag, too. That’s a smart place to stash shelf-stable items when the car’s sitting in a hot parking lot.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) oversees rules for traveling with medication on airplanes. According to the TSA, you can bring as much medication as you need. All medicines must be screened, but you don’t need to tell the security officer that you have pills.

You do need to tell the security agent about liquid medications, though. The officer may examine the bottle or open it. Unlike other liquids that you take on planes, medication isn’t subject to a quantity limit. Also, you don’t have to place it in a zip-top bag.

According to TSA rules, medication can travel in any container. But it’s usually best to travel with the original pill bottles anyway, and some states require pharmacy packaging. Plus, original containers may help speed up the screening process.

Medicine can go in checked or carry-on bags. It’s usually best to choose the carry-on option, though, if you can. Medication may be exposed to moisture, heat or cold in the cargo hold. There’s also the risk that your bags could go missing.

Stock a basic first aid kit, too.

Even on vacation, accidents can happen. It’s smart to travel prepared. A well-stocked first aid kit may come in handy more than once on your trip.

What to Pack

The same first aid items that you use at home could be helpful on vacation, too. Suggestions include:

  • Adhesive bandages
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Aloe vera gel
  • Antacids
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Anti-itch cream
  • Bug spray
  • Cold or allergy medicine
  • Diarrhea medicine
  • Elastic bandages
  • Gauze and medical tape
  • Moleskin padding
  • Pain relievers
  • Scissors (checked luggage only)
  • Sunscreen
  • Thermometer
  • Tweezers (checked luggage only)

Traveling with young children? Bring kid versions of over-the-counter medications as well as adult varieties.

Cars, planes and boats can be rough on some travelers’ stomachs. The people in your family may need motion sickness medication, special wristbands or ginger lozenges.

Some trips call for special supplies, too. For areas with questionable drinking water, bring purification tablets and a diarrhea prescription. Doctors can also prescribe medicine to prevent malaria. Ask about altitude sickness pills for mountain trips as well.

How Much to Bring

Unless you’re going to a remote area, don’t go overboard. Stick with the first aid items that you’re most likely to need. Pack just a day or two’s supply of each item — enough to hold you over until you can restock.

You can pop into a pharmacy for more bandages or antacids as needed. If you’re laid up, a delivery service could bring essentials to your door.

Don’t forget to bring important paperwork.

You know to pack your driver’s license or passport when you travel. There are medical documents to bring, too.

Medical Information

Type up a sheet with basic info about you and your medical needs. List any health conditions or allergies. Include your current medications and their dosages. Put down the name and number of someone to call in an emergency. A printout like this can be especially important for solo travelers.

You may need a medical ID bracelet, too. It can let healthcare workers know that you have epilepsy or diabetes.

A physical copy of this information is good for times when your phone has no service, but there are apps that can be helpful here, too. Your smartphone may already have a health app built in that lets you save this information. There are also emergency apps, like ICE Medical Standard, that can help emergency workers identify you and your health stats in an accident. 

No matter how you present it, have your medical readily info available just in case.

Health Insurance

The health coverage you use at home may not do you much good on vacation. Check ahead of time to see whether your plan offers a national network. Even if it doesn’t, carry your insurance card. It may still cover an ER visit anywhere in the country.

For broader protection, look into travel medical insurance or a short term health insurance plan that covers a wider network. You may get into an accident or fall sick during your trip. A travel policy could help pay the hospital bill.

Medical coverage is sometimes included in general trip insurance packages — but not always. Be sure to read the fine print. If needed, you can buy a separate travel health plan. Carry a copy of your policy with you. Bring the insurer’s contact information, too.

For travel out of the country, buy a policy that covers international trips. Consider adding coverage for emergency medical evacuation as well. That could help pay for an airlift back home for treatment.

Also, check with your credit card company if you use it to book your trip. Some credit cards include travel insurance as a card benefit, which might even extend to medical emergencies depending on the situation.

Vaccination Records

It’s smart to make sure that all your shots are current before traveling, especially if you’re traveling internationally or to an area with diseases not typically seen in the U.S.

For example, yellow fever is a concern in some parts of Africa and South America. Depending on your destination, a yellow fever vaccine may be recommended or even required. You’ll receive a certificate as proof of the shot. It’s often called a “yellow card.” Plan ahead because the shot needs 10 days to take effect.

Covid-19 rules vary from country to country. Some governments say that international visitors have to be fully vaccinated. You may need to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test, too. Some places test only unvaccinated travelers, but others test all visitors. Because these rules fluctuate, it’s best to look up where you’re going before assuming.

Learn your destination’s rules and bring proof of compliance for any necessary vaccines. Not only will getting inoculated help to safeguard you against infection, but it could also streamline your travel plans in countries that require stricter traveling applications.