A Guide to Traveling with Medication


When you leave for vacation, it’s easy to overlook the important things. With all the time you spend worrying about what to wear, whether or not you’ve printed out your plane tickets, and if your passport is still current, it’s easy to forget daily necessities like medication. And if you do remember to pack your medication, that raises a whole other set of questions. Where do you put it? How can you avoid heat damage? Is it better to keep your medication with you or check it in your luggage? Traveling inevitably brings some anxiety, but keeping these tips in mind can help ease your mind about traveling with medications so that you can relax and enjoy the trip.

Avoid Exposure to Heat

Like food, medication can be adversely impacted by the heat. During the flight, it is not uncommon for airline cargo areas to reach temperatures that exceed 64°F. This poses a threat to many goods and personal items, including wine, food, pets, and medication! Many prescription medications come with a label that tells you what temperature range is okay for the medicine. Going above or below that temperature range can alter the effectiveness of the medicine. It’s more common for medications to come with an excessive heat warning, which means you need to take precautions when you’re flying – and less capable of controlling the heat than in your own home – to store medication properly.

The best way to avoid heat damage to your medication is to carry it onboard with you and keep it away from direct sunlight. This helps the medication avoid being exposed to temperature changes, which in turn can alter its effectiveness. Usually, most prescription and over-the-counter medications should be stored at “room temperature,” which is somewhere between 68°-77°F. If medication is stored out of this temperature range, it can render the medication more or less useless. Going slightly lower or higher (about 10 degrees in either direction) is fine.

Microbe Formulas explains that “when traveling with medication, it’s important to note how gel capsules react to heat. If you notice any discoloration in the capsule it means the heat and humidity have compromised it.” In this case, you’ll have to discard the medication that you were relying on to get you through a journey. In addition to costing you precious money, this can pose a serious health threat if your access to prescription refills and medications in your destination is limited.

How to Pack Medication

Between the hassle of keeping up with airline policies and restrictions to the inconvenience of waiting in line, many people these days are choosing to forego the “checked baggage” option when they fly. Since you have optimal temperature control and assurance about where your medication is at all times when you carry it with you, this might seem like a non-issue. However, there are times when it’s better to pack medicine properly so that you don’t end up holding up a long, frantic line of travelers or making enemies with a TSA screening agent.

Ultimately, your medication should be treated like a liquid. It should be isolated in a plastic bag and clearly labeled. Translucent bags are the best option for getting easily through an airport security checkpoint. The bag that contains the medicine should be marked clearly, and the medicine should be kept in its original container. If you need to take medicine during your flight, or if you have an emergency medication like an EpiPen, it’s best to pack the medicine last in your bag so that it’s easily accessible when you need to get to it. If you’re nervous about traveling without your usual pillbox, Assisted Living Center recommends downloading an app like RxmindMe to keep you on schedule.

How to Label Medication

Once you know how to properly store and carry medication, it’s time to move on to the labeling process. For starters, liquid medicine that you take should be put in a three-ounce container. If you take more than one form of medication, store the individual three-ounce bottles in a plastic zippered bag. TSA agents like to know what they’re looking at, so using clear plastic bags is best.

At a minimum, you should be sure to label each plastic bag containing your medication with your name and the dosage amount that you’re supposed to take each day on a piece of masking tape, which you should wrap around each individual bottle. This helps you locate your medicine easily if it becomes separated from you, and it also helps the medicine get through a TSA checkpoint without having agents perform the humiliating process of either pulling you aside for a pat-down or stopping the X-ray machine to ask about the content of your bags. Usually, your medication will have a label from the pharmacy that prescribed it. But if it doesn’t, or if you’re using over-the-counter medication, creating your own label is the next best option.

Where to Store Medicines

Generally, storing medicines in the cabin of the plane is your best bet for temperature control. According to The Economist, the average temperature of a plane cabin is somewhere between 65°F and 75°F. Rarely, the cabin can get up to 85°F when all passengers’ personal entertainment screens are running. Since this is not the norm and you have some control over temperature regulation in your area through AC control and window blinds if you’re sitting in a window seat, the cabin is a much better place than the cargo area for storing medications.

Going on a vacation is exciting, but people often underestimate the amount of planning and preparation that’s required before leaving on a trip. There are many things to think about when you travel, but one of the most important—and easily overlooked—parts is storing medication properly. By keeping your medicine in the main cabin, where there is less likelihood of temperature fluctuation, and storing your medications in clear plastic bags with labels that are easy to read, you’ll be in a much better position to breeze through an airport security checkpoint with little difficulty. Keeping your medicine within easy reach when you travel and getting extra supplies before you go ensures that you will stay healthy and safe while traveling.

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