What Every Savvy Traveler Should Pack in Their Pharmacy


In the middle of cold and flu season, it is a struggle to stay healthy, especially when you are far from home.  Time is so precious when you are on the road.  You may be on a once-in-a-lifetime expedition to Antarctica, but you won’t fully enjoy your trip if you are sick.  When illness strikes, having a medication “pharmacy” bag can make all the difference.

This is a true story.  I was on a beautiful Mediterranean cruise.  The ports were amazing.  The ship was magical (actually, the Disney Magic).

One day, I was on a ‘beach day’ excursion.  Walking along the sand in only knee-high water, an excruciating pain shot through my foot.  Something venomous had stung me.  I never saw what it was, but it caused extreme pain and swelling.

I saw the ship’s doctor.  He gave me crutches and recommended applying heat to break down the toxin.  With severe pain and swelling, I could not walk on the foot.

The next day’s port was Rome.  My tour was not wheelchair accessible, but I wasn’t about to miss my first visit to Rome!  I hobbled along on crutches.

While it was not ideal (I can’t remember most of what I saw that day in the Vatican Museum), I was glad for good friends, and the medications I had brought along with me…my personal “pharmacy.”

There’s a lot to be said for packing light, but I come prepared with my medications bag.  I tell people that I travel with a pharmacy.  It is compact, but effective.  And it is much easier than finding medications while on the road. (Believe me, I’ve been there!)

Your medication ‘pharmacy’ bag should be with you, in your carry-on bag, at all times when traveling.

Your medications should never be in your checked luggage.  You never know when you might need a medication, and meds may be very difficult to replace if lost.

On what I call ‘moving days’ — days of flying, train rides, switching hotels — have this bag with you, and not checked in.

Gather your prescription medications.

All your essential prescription medications are your first priority.  Whether you’re going away for a weekend, or a month-long adventure — bring your medications!

It is a good idea to bring a written copy of your prescriptions, or at least a medication list.  This is helpful in case meds need to be replaced, or in case of an emergency.

Savvy Traveler’s Tip:  How to pack your medication pharmacy 

I have found that packing medications into individual Snack-size zip-top bags really saves space!

Keep medications separate!  One medication per snack size bag.
Medication Bottles are Bulky!
Medication Bottles are Bulky!  Pack your pharmacy in Snack size plastic bags for easy traveling!
For prescription medications:

Try to peel off the original label on the bottle to stick on the plastic bag.  This label has your name, medication name, doctor’s name, and a description of the medication.  (Make sure you label the original bottle!)

If you are unable to peel off this original label, consider making a copy of the label (or pharmacy slip) to tape onto the snack size bag.

This may be particularly important when traveling internationally, if anyone questions you regarding the pills.

For over-the-counter medications:

Hand-label each individual bag with the medication name and expiration date. You always want to know when your meds are expired in order to replace them!  Again, only one medication per snack-size plastic bag.

Gather the Snack Bags Together

I gather all my little snack size plastic bags in one easily-identifiable larger bag for easy transport.  You may use a Quart-size zip-top bag (freezer bags are more durable).  The zippered plastic bags that come with your luggage or toiletry kit work well.

Snack Size Bags and Medication Bag
Snack Size Bags and Medication Bag
Savvy Traveler’s Tip:  If you choose a clear bag, it makes it easier to see your medications inside!
Savvy Traveler’s Tip: If you choose a bag with some color, it will be harder to lose your bag, or accidentally leave it behind!
Here is a Packing List to get you started*:

Pack your Prescription Medications.

Basic essential (over the counter) medication List.

Format =  Brand Name (generic name) — what the medication may be used for

  • Tylenol (acetaminophen) — pain reliever
  • Advil (ibuprofen) — pain reliever, take with food
  • Bonine or Antivert (meclizine) — anti-motion sickness medication. May cause drowsiness!
  • Imodium (loperamide) — Anti-diarrheal (use only in severe cases — consult with a doctor before using).
  • Pepcid (famotidine) — stomach acid reducer for heartburn relief
  • Gas-X (simethicone) — stomach gas reducer for relief of bloating
  • Benadryl (diphenhydramine) — for runny noses, whole-body allergic reactions, and allergic itching / hives.  Causes drowsiness!**
  • Sudafed (now phenylephrine) — for nasal congestion
  • Mucinex (guaifenesin) — for cough, loosens mucous.  Same ingredient as in Robitussin, only in pill form.
  • Consider allergy medications if you have allergies (you never know what you will encounter in a new environment).
    • Claritin (loratadine), Allegra (fexofenadine), or Zyrtec (cetirizine)
  • Consider sleep meds for the plane.***   Prescription sleep medications need to come from your doctor.
    • There are over-the-counter sleep aids also.  Herbal teas and avoiding caffeine may also help with sleep.
Note that ALL sleep medications are habit forming (regardless of drug marketing).
Sleep medications can cause a ‘hangover’ effect, or cause sleepwalking.   Try out sleep medications BEFORE you travel so that you know how they will affect you.


  • Antibiotics — check with your doctor if you are traveling to a malaria or other infectious disease zone.  You may need prophylactic antibiotics.
    • Some doctors may prescribe antibiotics for possible traveler’s diarrhea.
    • Remember that overuse of antibiotics promotes growth of superbugs (antibiotic-resistant bacteria), so use only as prescribed!
  • Solid Sunscreen Stick — a non-liquid, this is in my medication bag because sunburn can really ruin a trip!

These are some medications to consider for your ‘travel pharmacy.’

After my foot was stung along a beach in Europe, I was glad to have my own supply of Tylenol for the pain, and Benadryl to help with the swelling.

There are many times when our travel pharmacy made an uncomfortable illness much more bearable.  You don’t want to miss a precious day of travel because of illness!

Don't let illness cause you to miss a day of travel! Viewing Paris from your Balcony
Feeling off kilter?  Don’t let illness cause you to miss a day of travel! Paris from our Balcony.


I hope this helps you be better prepared, so you can continue exploring the world!

What medications do you travel with?  Is there anything you would add to this pharmacy list?  What will you put in your pharmacy bag?

Please share your thoughts!


In a future Blog post, I will share my list of medical LIQUID medications to travel with, and how the TSA 311 rules apply.

Interested in staying healthy?  See my Five Tips for Healthy Traveling here.


*Consult with your doctor before taking any new medication (even over-the-counter ones), since they may interact with your prescription medications, or worsen your medical condition!

**Some people use Benadryl (diphenhydramine) or sleep medications to help with sleep on the plane, and at bedtime to combat jet-lag.  Beware of potential ‘hangover’ drowsiness of any sleep aid!

***Try out medications BEFORE you travel so that you know how they will affect you.




The information, including but not limited to, text, images, graphics, links, and other materials contained on this website are for informational and educational purposes only. The purpose of this website is to promote safer and happier travel by assisting travelers with helpful information.  It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding your medical condition, new medications including over the counter medications – and safety for you to travel.  Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking professional medical care because of information you have read on this website.

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