04.What to take
Travelling with your own medicine
Many countries control or restrict imports of medication, even for personal use. Check the Smartraveller website for rules on carrying medication into the different countries you’re travelling to – you may need a certain type of documentation or there may be limits to how much you can take in.
General advice for travelling with medicine:
- Take a list of current medications (use the generic rather than brand name, as brands vary from country to country) and drug allergies. It may be useful to carry a letter from your doctor explaining what medications you’re taking and the conditions they’re for, as well as an assurance they’re for personal use.
- A prescription (including the generic drug name) can also provide evidence you have legitimate use for the drugs, and may be useful if you lose yours or it runs out.
- Carry medication in its original packaging with your name and dosage instructions.
- Check the expiry date to make sure they don’t expire while you’re away.
- Take a few days’ supply in your hand luggage in case your checked baggage goes astray.
- Be aware that counterfeit drugs are a big problem in Asia, Africa and South America, so it’s best to bring as much as you need from home. If you do need to buy medicine, buy from a reputable source, not a street market.
- If medicines have special storage requirements (being kept refrigerated, for example), talk to your pharmacist about how to manage this.
- Some conditions you’ve had previously, for example asthma, may flare up again when you’re overseas.
- It’s been suggested that diabetics pack double the required insulin, putting half in your hand luggage and the rest in your hold luggage. Ask your doctor for advice on timing if you’re crossing time zones. Also take jelly beans or other quick-acting sugar-fix solutions. If you don’t have a medic-alert bracelet, consider getting one.
Some countries, including Greece, Japan, Singapore and the (UAE, consider codeine to be a narcotic, so if you take painkillers containing codeine you may need to carry documentation or take alternative painkillers. Amphetamine drugs for ADHD and pseudoephedrine (a decongestant found in cold and sinus medicines) are other commonly used medications that are restricted or controlled in many countries.
The UAE, Qantas’s new stopover en route to Europe, has an extensive list of controlled and restricted drugs including painkillers; cough, cold and flu medicines; psychiatric medications; hormones (including contraceptives); and anti-acne and anti-diarrhoeal medications. Smartraveller has links to the embassy’s website, which has the list and describes the paperwork requirements and fees – this needs to be organised before you travel.
Travel medical kit kit
If you’re not going too far off the beaten track, take a small travel medical kit to deal with common problems. Potentially useful items in developing countries include:
- painkillers (paracetamol, NSAIDs and/or aspirin)
- diarrhoea medicine (such as loperamide)
- oral rehydration salts (such as Gastrolyte or Hydrolyte)
- antiseptic lotion and/or ointment
- band-aids and other wound dressings (including gauze swabs and bandages, medical tape)
- insect repellent
- latex gloves
- a thermometer
- a pair of tweezers.
Your doctor may also suggest antibiotics for diarrhoea or severe respiratory infections. The more remote or primitive the conditions, or the more adventurous the travel, the more you should consider taking. Talk to your doctor or tour leader about extra requirements you may have.
Hyoscine hydrobromide (Kwells) is an effective drug for reducing nausea associated with motion sickness, and can be bought over-the-counter from a pharmacy. Ginger tablets or chews may help some people in some situations, although study results are inconsistent. The evidence for acupressure bracelets is less convincing, but at least they do no harm.
Although a little old-fashioned, consider taking a cake of soap with you. It can be used for:
- Washing your hands – communal bar soap in public toilets may have other people’s germs on it, although these are usually washed off your hands. Having your own soap may help provide piece of mind.
- Washing and shaving in the shower.
- Hand-washing some clothes – to tide you over between laundromats.
- Mozzie bites – rubbing dry soap on the itch is claimed to relieve it. Scented soap may attract mozzies, although citronella-scented soap may repel them.
- After contact with animal saliva (including bites, or even licking broken skin) soap helps neutralise the rabies virus. Washing the wound with soap and water for 15 minutes should be done immediately after contact, even if you’ve been immunised.