404 Over-the-counter drugs

Over-the-counter drugs


My overall tip for packing for a trip is less is more. Most things can be purchased abroad. No need to bring everything.

The exception, for many reasons, are over-the-counter drugs.

This mostly applies to international travel or any types of travel where it may be hard to find a drug store, target, or CVS. But, it is still a good idea to pack some basics so you don’t have to go out in the middle of the night looking for something for your kid.

Why bring over-the-counter medication on your trip?

Difficulty finding over-the-counter medication

In some countries, you can’t get OTCs over the counter. You have to speak to a pharmacist. In many European countries, pharmacies are open regular shop hours. That’s not a lot. They could be closed on Sundays, some Saturdays, after 6pm. You just don’t know.

Difficulty finding English speakers or English instructions

Plus, there’s the language barrier. While everyone in the world will likely say, “don’t worry people who work in pharmacies KNOW English,” you can’t depend on this. In my city I have three pharmacies within a 5-minute walk from my apartment. My chance of speaking to someone in those pharmacies who knows English? Slim. (Side note: it’s ok because my German can usually get me by, but this is not the case when I’m outside of Germany.)

Even if you do get an English speaker, the instructions will likely not be in English. And you do not want to be up at 2:00am trying to understand the pamphlet of information using Google Translate.

Difficulty finding the types of medicine you have back home

Different types of medication. You flat-out get less for your buck in some places. This can be anything from less-effective medication, to fewer actual pills. You can definitely get stronger medication if needed, but those usually require a prescription, which requires a visit to a doctor, which requires figuring out how to make a doctor’s appointment, which requires paying for the doctor’s appointment, which requires more and more time – when you could have brought drugs that were probably just as effective with you and saved the hassle.

What kind of meds should you pack?

This depends on you, your kids, and the trip you are going on. Bring a few things for regular colds and fevers, something for allergies, diarrhea, bee-stings, anti-bacteria cream, and a thermometer is a good place to start.

For a more complete list of recommended items, check out the CDC’s website. They also have information about packing prescription medication.

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  1. Great reminders Ann and most of those things don’t take up much space when traveling. I also am a light packer but some things are just plain necessary and come in handy when you can’t get out to even try and find a pharmacy. Things like Pepto pills! 🙂

  2. Thank you for the shout out above!

    I pack a selection of medicines when going to somewhere like China, but don’t bother at all for the States or Europe for obvious reasons. Sometimes, it’s easier to get things abroad which would be on prescription at home (UK). E.g. when my husband got a bug in China he was easily cured when we got to Hong Kong and could buy antibiotics almost without question. Better not to get the bug in the first place though! Someday, I will write a travel book about places where he’s had stomach upsets. Sometimes being a vegetarian, as I am, has advantages!

  3. Ann, I do bring things I might need, but it’s hard to think about what might ail you. I have found that walking into a pharmacy that doesn’t have an English speaker, using hand gestures goes a very long way!

  4. A great travel tip that many people are unaware of! We struggled to find acetaminophen in Europe because it’s called something different. I don’t know if we ever actually figured out the name or just kept asking for acetaminophen until a pharmacist knew what we were talking about.

    We also realized that while painkillers like this can be bought anywhere in Canada – gas stations, grocery stores, convenience stores, – in Europe they are only really at the pharmacy, which isn’t always open. And the prices aren’t always as cheap as at home.

    • For anyone reading in the future, I’m pretty sure it’s Paracetamol.

      It’s one of those things that I felt would be more similar around the world than different – every one gets sick. But, yep, it’s surprisingly different.

  5. Man, you know how many times we’ve needed baby panadol while travelling and I ALWAYS forget to pack it. One time was in Prague and I was terrified to give him the wrong dose! Great advice.