10 OTC Medicines to Carry When Traveling Abroad

10 OTC Medicines to Carry When Traveling Abroad

Here is a list of 10 essential over-the-counter medicine to carry when travelling abroad. Illnesses are bound to happen no matter where you are, or what you’re doing. But with the additional changes that travelling introduces, your routine is thrown out whack, and sometimes your hygiene routines might relax (hello beach picnics without washing your hands because clean running water isn’t nearby!). As such, it’s no wonder that it feels like illnesses happen a lot more frequently when you’re away from home.

Consequently, packing medication with you when travelling is a must! In this post you’ll find:

  • A list of all the medicine to carry when travelling abroad
  • The generic medicinal ingredient names of the over the counter medication (in case you run out of the medication when you’re abroad and need to buy backups pronto)
  • The preferred dosage strength of the medication to carry

Disclaimer: We are not health professionals! The information provided in this article is for general travel advice and information only. Just because we use the medication without any major side effects, does not mean you will either! Please consult with your physician if you’re planning on using any of the items in conjunction with your prescriptions. It is important to know how your prescription drugs may interact with any of the listed over-the-counter medications. Furthermore, this information does not replace a personal consultation with any travel specialists or other physicians.

Presenting the first-aid travel bag – my plastic baggie

Maria's Plastic Baggie of Travel Medicine
Maria’s Plastic Baggie of Travel Medicine

Did I hear someone say yikes? I know, I know. It looks like it had better days and it has. This plastic baggie is my essential first-aid travel kit and it has travelled across the world with me five times over and will continue to do so until a hole appears or the seal breaks. This has saved me so many times that the bag and I are basically inseparable. If I could, I would carry it everywhere… like even if I’m attending a person’s wedding (okay maybe not that, but seriously it’s saved me more times than I could count!)

This traveller-friendly first aid kit holds:

  • all the medicine I would ever need to last at least a week
  • a rotating list of first-aid accessories (as-needed) like alcohol wipes, bandages, wound/infection ointment, anti-itch etc.

Today, we’ll be focusing on the pills that fill this plastic baggie (aka all the OTC medicine) and explain what they’re used for, why I chose the particular dosage strength, and why I carry all this medicine around with me all the time.

Common Travel Illnesses

When you travel, you place a number of stressors on your body including adapting quickly to a different timezone, eating different foods, trying new activities, and experiencing different climates. While the best treatment for travel illnesses is prevention, it’s always best to pack for common illnesses – you know, just in case it ever does happen. For me, it doesn’t matter how many precautions I take, my body just seems to really suck at handling stressors. I inevitably am the only person, or at least, will be the first person in our group to become sick while on vacation. Thankfully most of my illnesses are actually pretty common, and my essential first-aid travel kit is packed to combat the most common travel illnesses:

  • Allergies (Antihistamine)
  • Cold, Congestion, Sore Throat, and Sinus Infections
  • Constipation (Laxatives)
  • Diarrhea
  • Heartburn / Indigestion
  • Fever & General Pain
  • Motion Sickness

When travelling, keep all of the medicine you carry in its original packaging to reduce any potential security issues. I haven’t encountered this myself, but it isn’t uncommon for travellers to get stopped at security checkpoints when it looks like you’re carrying a bag full of pills in a loose bag.

OTC Medicine to Treat Common Traveler’s Illnesses

The table below is a summary of all the over-the-counter medicine that I carry when I travel abroad. I’ve listed out the medicinal ingredients and dosages in case people are looking for the generic version of the same medication to help treat their symptoms. The dosages strengths are listed as well, but that’s really for me (hehe). Should I ever run out of medication (and I do!) while abroad, I know that even if I pick an unfamiliar brand, I’ll have the confidence knowing that the correct medicinal ingredient I need can be found and can be bought at the familiar dosage levels that I use.

Additional medicine to add to the package:

While over-the-counter medication can provide relief against common traveller issues, remember to pack any additional medication that you need to take on a regular basis and pack medication you know you need in the off chance something happens:

  • Prescription medicine – if your medicine requires syringes or needles, bring enough + a few extra to last your entire trip and carry a medical certificate from your health care provider explaining what they’re for
  • Inhalers/puffers
  • EpiPen (epinephrine autoinjector)
  • Destination-specific medication – check with a travel health clinic – Canadians can get advice on where to find one here – if additional medication or vaccinations are required (e.g. malaria pills, high-altitude sickness, prescription anti-diarrhea, etc.)

Medicine Details

Allergy/Antihistamine Pills

Allergies can hit unexpectedly and from anywhere really. For people who are prone to environmental allergies (hi! That’s me!) there could be all kinds of allergy triggers lurking on the plane that you’re boarding, inside your hotel/AirBnB, at that museum you’re going to, and even in the wind on the beach. If you know you’re allergic to something, check the allergy season at the location you’re travelling to, and throw those allergy packs into your bag anyway. An unexpected allergen may trigger even worse allergic symptoms! So play it safe, and pack it in. Even for those of you that have no known allergies, it’s still good to pack them, especially when travelling with others. When your friend is turning into a sneezing, watery-eyed, drippy-nosed mess, they’ll be the ones thanking you gratefully for bringing it with you.

Allergy Dosage Selection

I carry Allegra with me, an allergy medication that many people consider as ‘second-generation’ antihistamines. Compared to the first generation of otc allergy medications, second-generation otc allergy medications are non-drowsy.

If you’re looking for non-drowsy medications, avoid first-generation otc allergy medicines which include ingredients such as:

  • Brompheniramine (e.g Children’s Dimetapp Cold)
  • Chlorpheniramine (e.g.Chlor-Trimeton, Actifed Cold)
  • Dimenhydrinate (e.g. Dramamine)
  • Diphenhydramine (e.g. Benadryl, Nytol, Sominex)
  • Doxylamine (e.g. Vicks NyQuil, Tylenol Cold and Cough Nighttime)

Cold, Congestion, Fever, Sore Throat, and Sinus

Why You Should Carry Cold, Congestion, Sore Throat and Sinus Medication When Travelling

Chest congestion, nasal congestion, respiratory infections, head colds, and the flu – I’ve experienced it all. And it absolutely SUCKS to be the one with the sore throat, runny nose, and cough in the group. Trying to go about a jam-packed day bearing all those symptoms without relief is terrible. But what’s even worse than that is to push your body through that, only to have it transform into something worse.

That exact scenario happened to me when Anson, Kent, and I were making our way across South-East Asia. We were wrapping up our experience in Vietnam when I felt the first tingle of a sore throat and the first signs of a headache. For me, the combination meant that in the next couple of days, I’ll be having a head cold. I didn’t have to pack any cold medication then and only packed sinus medication. Sadly, no one else in my group had packed any cold medication either and we didn’t see any pharmacies along our itinerary. I forced myself to go out every day in Vietnam without relief. I didn’t want to miss out on any experiences and didn’t give my body a break. I pushed all the way until we landed in Cambodia.

As luck would have it, we were only stopping by Cambodia for a few days, and on the first day we arrived, my body said “No more”, and some respiratory illness and fever took over. I was in the hostel the entire time in Cambodia, bedridden. Luckily, Anson had some fever medication to help break the fever. I was really thankful that was he had that. If it wasn’t for the fever medication, I think I would have been out of the journey for much longer than just three days.

I was (and still am – four years later!) really unhappy that I was sick for the entire Cambodia period of our trip. I missed out on seeing almost everything we planned out. From then on I vowed that if there was anything that I would overpack in my carry-on, it would be in pills and medication. I certainly don’t want to travel with a cold without any medicine ever again (seriously, I don’t want it to turn into an even worse monster illness)!

Cold, Congestion, Sore Throat, and Sinus Dosage Selection

The Betadine Sore Throat Spray uses povidone-iodine, an antiseptic to treat sore throats. This product has recently replaced cough drops in my pack because I feel like the effects of the spray to the back of the throat provide a more effective and targeted treatment of sore throats than a lozenge. Also, as an antiseptic, this treats a variety of sore throat causes (viral, bacterial, and fungal infections) – all without the burning sensation that other sprays leave. Furthermore, according to the description on the bottle, this is also great for treating and healing canker sores!

If possible, I would buy the Tylenol Cold & Sinus nighttime pills if I could since the biggest issue when you’re congested, is the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. The combination of pain relief, nasal decongestant, and antihistamines (with drowsy-inducing antihistamines!) is the perfect combination that seems to always put me on the path to recovery.

Pack the cough and cold medication that you know works best for you. When you’re travelling, it’s not the best time to try new medication combinations since the goal is to back to your best fast.

Mucinex, an expectorant-type medication is also found in my medical travel bag. On the off-chance that my head colds and allergy flare-ups lead to lung irritations and infections, an expectorant will help relieve chest congestion symptoms. The ability to loosen mucous and phlegm for the system and expel it out of your system (spit it out into a napkin – don’t swallow that gunk!) productively is actually pretty satisfying. I haven’t had any chest congestion issues while travelling yet, but it’s there in the case I need it. It sounds gross but how satisfying is it to have EVERY cough expel stuff out compared to coughing for minutes on end without relieving the congestion!?

Constipation and Laxatives

Ever heard of traveller’s constipation? Yes. This is real. Yes, it happens. Changing timezones, trying new foods, and changing what you drink and how often will disrupt your body’s natural rhythm and your friendly gut bacteria sometimes can’t keep up! It could either way. Constipation or diarrhea, either way, that’s still an upset stomach.

For me, it happened for as long as 10 days out of stubbornness and a refusal to acknowledge my issue. I tried extra fibre intake, increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables, eating yogurt… nothing helped. I don’t want to experience that again, and I don’t think anyone else should. Just bring a couple of single-serve packs of laxatives and stay regular.

Constipation Dosage Selection

Just follow the package’s instructions for whatever laxative you end up picking. Don’t overdo it, stay hydrated. For RestoraLax, the dosage strength per package is: Polyethylene Glycol 3350 – in 17 mg.

Diarrhea Medicine

On the opposite end of the spectrum to constipation is.. diarrhea. Imagine you’re hiking over a beautiful landscape, when suddenly! The pain strikes you hard. You know it’s going to be a bad time in the washroom, but even as your eyes scan the horizon desperately, there’s no relief in sight. At this point there really is no other option than to try and hold it in, cold sweating to the next desperate leg of the journey with a washroom, an outhouse, anything really. Then spending the next few hours exhausted, unable to enjoy your time travelling.

OR, just pack a few fast-acting pills in your travel first-aid kit and you’ll be worry-free and that much more of a happier traveller.

Note: if you’re going to be travelling somewhere for more than a month, and your travel health clinic advised you to take vaccination against traveller’s diarrhea (like Dukoral), just do it. You might still get some case of stomach illness or diarrhea, but you would be significantly protected against E Coli illness.

Diarrhea Dosage Selection

Follow the recommended dosage frequency for the type of anti-diarrhea medication you selected.

Fever and General Pain

Most people have their preferred medications to help treat their ‘general pain’ symptoms like:

  • Headache
  • Muscle Soreness
  • Migraines
  • Muscle and Joint Pain
  • Fever

I’m no different. I actually carry two different types of pain and fever medication as my regular travel group (Kent, Anson, and Angelo) all have their preferred fever and pain relief types, so it is always better to carry both in case any one of us needs something. For myself, I prefer Tylenol (acetaminophen) for fever and general muscle soreness, but I find that Advil (ibuprofen) works better against the types of headaches and migraines I experience in general.

Fever and General Pain Dosage Strength

You’ll notice that the dosage strengths that I keep in my bag are regular strength. I prefer to err on the less is more side, and that if I can find relief with less medication, I’d prefer to do so, especially for ‘general pain’ relief. If there are days where the dosage is not enough, I’m much more comfortable regulating and adjusting with lower dosage pills (while still keeping under the daily maximum!). For my needs, I find that regular strength dosages are more than sufficient to treat the general symptoms that I get while travelling.

Motion Sickness

Are you the type that doesn’t have motion sickness and thinks they don’t need medication for this? Yeah. I was like that too. I didn’t think I would ever need motion sickness medication because I grew up reading in the car and figured that if that didn’t give me motion sickness, I’d never get it. Unfortunately, I had my first encounter with what motion sickness was like and when we took a ferry from Hong Kong to Macau. I thought that boats would never give me any kind of motion sickness, but I’ve never been in a small boat going through choppy waters. Thankfully, Anson packed some Gravol then, and while Anson was the only one who took one on the ride from Hong Kong to Macau, we all took one on our ride back to Hong Kong. I didn’t think the entire group could look so green, but we did.

Nowadays, I’ll just throw some Gravol in my travel bag and just keep it there. I haven’t had to use it since I threw it in, but just in case I meet my match again, I’ll be better prepared. Plus pills are small and lightweight, so what’re another few more pills in the bag?


What’d you think of my medicine to carry when travelling abroad list? Are there any other over-the-counter medications that you carry when you’re travelling? Let us know if we missed anything else that you think is super important to bring!

Finding Additional Information

While carrying over-the-counter medication when you travel is great, there is a number of additional health and safety issues to consider before, during, and after your trip that you might want to consider. We aren’t medical health professionals, so it’s always important that when travelling, you should always consult with a physician before making any decisions! Here are some additional resources that I also take a look at when planning a trip. I’ve found these useful to help plan for any additional first-aid items I should carry (e.g. sunscreen, insect repellent, or polysporin) and if I need any vaccinations.

One comment

  1. Sabrina says:

    When travelling with medication, storing your meds in a lockable bag is also helpful especially when you are carrying medicine that could cause addiction like opioids. You might want to check this site https://cardinalbagsupplies.com/ and some lockable bags that would meet your preferences.

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