The medicines to pack for your overseas holiday

  • Written by Sarira El-Den, Lecturer at the Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Sydney

When travelling overseas, and in 2016 1.2 billion of us did this, we all want a comfortable and pleasurable stay. This involves packing the right clothes for the right conditions and bringing a good book or music playlist. But what medicines should you take?

The medicines you need will depend on what your expected needs are and what is available in the country being visited. Common medicines you may need to take include those for sleep, diarrhoea, malaria, pain and anxiety.

When deciding what to take, it’s also important to remember that even if a medicine is available at home, its supply may be restricted or even prohibited in the country you are visiting. So, you should check beforehand.

Read more: Which medicines don’t go well with flying?

Medicines for sleep

Sleeping on an aeroplane, while wedged in a tiny chair listening to a crying baby in the distance, can be very difficult for many people. As such, prescription sleeping medicines may be recommended by a doctor for short-term use.

Alternatively, over-the-counter sleeping medicines, like the sedating antihistamine doxylamine are available from a pharmacy. But sedating antihistamines should not be used for children when flying.

You should also consider whether you actually need to sleep. If the flight is too long, then being asleep or sedated may prevent you from moving around while flying. Leg movement and stretching is recommended when flying to improve blood flow and protect against blood clots.

Medicines for diarrhoea

Diarrhoea poses the highest infectious risk for travellers overseas, depending on where you are going. Diarrhoea is associated with symptoms of stomach cramps, runny poo and nausea.

Hyoscine is a medicine that may help relieve cramps by relaxing the stomach muscles.

Loperamide is useful in helping to stop diarrhoea, altogether. This may be particularly important if you’re stuck on a ten-hour flight, or have just set off on that once-in-a-lifetime jungle safari.

Otherwise, medical advice often recommends not stopping the diarrhoea. Why? Because this stops your body from flushing out the pathogen that is causing the problem, and keeps the runny poo in, neither of which is a good thing.

It’s best to let the diarrhoea pass and remain hydrated, which may include drinking more than just plain water; oral rehydration products may also be needed. These work by replacing all the lost sugars and salts in your body due to diarrhoea. They are available in sachets or effervescent tablets which can be mixed with water, making them easy to carry and use.

The medicines to pack for your overseas holiday Try not to sedate yourself for the whole of a long haul flight - it’s recommended you move about and stretch. from

Sometimes, treatment of diarrhoea will require additional medicines such as antibiotics. Either way you should consult a doctor or pharmacist before using medicines for diarrhoea, especially if it is persistent, if you experience fever, or if you see pus or blood in your wee or poo.

Medicines for malaria

For particular countries, there are medicines you may need to take before your journey to prevent you from getting sick while on vacation.

If you are going to certain areas in Africa, India and Central America, for example, you may need to take an antimalarial medicine, such as the antibiotic doxycycline. To be effective, these types of drugs need to be taken before, during, and after your travels, so it’s advisable to plan in advance with your doctor when travelling to areas with malaria.

Read more: Prepare for a healthy holiday with this A-to-E guide

Medicines for pain

Many of us use paracetamol and ibuprofen for short-term pain relief. Even though they may be available from a pharmacy in some countries, like Australia, they can sometimes be hard to obtain overseas due to language barriers or different rules about how they can be supplied.

Codeine is also often found in pain relief preparations. Some countries have restrictions placed on the supply of codeine. For example, in Australia, codeine-based medicines can only be obtained with a prescription

Medicines for anxiety

Some people experience anxiety when flying. A doctor may recommend prescription medicines like diazepam, along with psychological therapy for those who experience anxiety when flying. A side effect of diazepam is sedation, but this may be welcomed by travellers trying to sleep on a flight.

Restrictions on medicines when travelling

Some countries require documentation if travelling with certain medicines.

For example, in Singapore, a license is needed for larger quantities or doses of codeine. If travelling to Indonesia with codeine, you may need to apply for a letter from the embassy or high commission to bring such medicines into the country.

Restrictions placed on medicines are not limited to those that require a prescription. In Singapore, nicotine chewing gum that is not Singapore-registered is a prohibited substance.

What to remember

It’s important to check with your doctor or pharmacist if a medicine is suitable for your needs. Each person is different and not all medicines are safe, especially among children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and the elderly.

It is also a good idea to ask your pharmacist about the storage requirements for any medicines you’re taking with you.

And remember, regardless of how you purchase the medicine back home, it’s important to check the requirements in your destination. As a general rule, it’s advisable to check with the relevant embassy or high commission and to take your doctor’s prescription or letter, as well as the labelled medicine box with you when travelling.

Authors: Sarira El-Den, Lecturer at the Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Sydney

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