Let’s face it, when you travel, crap happens. Sometimes figuratively and some time, well, literally. Some problems like plane delays, lost luggage or lost reservations can be a pain but you can’t do much about them so just have to roll with it. However, nothing ruins a holiday more than getting sick or injured in a foreign place. And it happens more than you think.

Planes, jet lag, pushing yourself to see and do more, different types of food or spices you are not used to, local water, dirty environment, pollution,  and a number of other factors can affect your health. And let’s not forget sprained ankles/wrists, sore knees, bad blisters or back pain from lugging around heavy luggage.

I don’t care how much of an iron constitution you have or that you never get sick at home. If you travel, sooner or later you will get sick or injured. That’s a fact and that is why travel insurance is so important.

Some health issues you can’t fix yourself and have to see a doctor. Or just rest and hope to recover quickly. But you can also help the recovery or even continue to function while sick if you have some useful medication.

I know that some medication can be bought locally in most places. In some countries, you can even buy antibiotics and other strong medication without a prescription. And in most places you can always buy the basics like painkillers or band-aids.

However, I have learned that it is prudent to have a few basics so that I am not wasting time trying to find a local pharmacy or struggling  to explain in foreign language what I need. Or worse still, getting a bad headache at the start of a long train or plane trip.

So here are my tips on what medication to take with you on your holidays. I also recommend that you take most, if not all the medications with you in the hand luggage so there is no chance of it being lost or delayed in transit. This certainly applies to all your compulsory medicine at the very least.

Compulsory Medication

I define compulsory medication as something you have to take regularly on the advice from your doctor. Heart medication, blood pressure pills, insulin injections, malaria tablets,  etc. Make sure you have enough for the trip and a little extra if the trip gets delayed or extended. Also, take the prescription renewal or a letter from the doctor just in case you get questioned by the customs officers or need to show the medication name to the doctor/chemist.

Optional Medication

The optional medication for me falls into a few categories. Before every trip, I top-up the stash by going to my doctor and get the scripts for what I need and buying the rest over the counter.

Antibiotics for infections

Developing a chest or a sinus infection is never fun but especially when you are on holidays and only have a few days in a place to enjoy the sights. I always take one course of general antibiotics with me (something like Amoxil). I figure that if I am not better after taking one the full course, it is time for a doctor’s visit. Over the years of traveling, I have only had to use antibiotics maybe half a dozen times but it sure came in handy.

Diarrhea Treatments

Let’s face it, when you travel, crap happens. Sometimes figuratively and some time, well, literally

I am a seasoned traveller. I know that I shouldn’t drink tap water or eat vegetables or fruits washed in tap water. I also make sure my drinks come from a sealed bottle or a can and not from a machine that mixes soft drink syrup with water. I even learned the hard way that eating sorbet or getting ice cubes in a drink in some countries will sideline you for a while (thank you Turkey and Greece). Even when the water is safe to drink, it can upset your stomach because of the different chemicals that are used to treat the water in that country so, yes, I always use bottled water to even brush my teeth.

But there is not much you can do when you go to one of the best upmarket restaurants in Marrakesh and then get so violently ill the next day, you need to drink water with some salt in it just to hydrate. Did I mention that I got sick on the day I was leaving on a 3 day car trip around Morocco including staying one night in the Sahara desert. Great timing Igor!

The only thing that made it possible and bearable is that I had my medication. (Oh, and a half roll of toilet paper I always travel with also came in very handy as the toilet paper is a non-essential item in many public toilets across Eastern Europe, Asia, South America and Africa). I did, however provided hours of entertainment for the car driver who constantly reminded me that I can always use the “natural” toilet, ie. the  sand on the side of the roads.

I use a prescription medicine called Lomotil. I know you can get Imodium over the counter but I prefer and trust something a little stronger if the need arises.


I am not a fan of anti-inflammatory medication at all. I think inflammation happens when there is some trauma and the body is trying to heal it. Anti-inflammatories usually don’t treat the cause but mask it instead by removing the pain.

However, when my ankle swelled up after me twisting it on the cobblestones of Krakow (no, there was no alcohol involved), the tablets fixed it sufficiently so I could continue walking around for the next 2 weeks. Or when I mildly hurt my back by stupidly using one hand to help a stranger lift their luggage up on the rack at the start of a long train ride without realising that they packed a ton of bricks and a kitchen sink in. Not fun but the train ride would have been a lot worse without the medication.

There are many different types of anti-inflammatories on the market. Please check with your doctor as most of them have some side effects. What works for me is a drug called Celebrex. I find I normally only need to take one tablet and I am good to go.

Sleeping pills

I  don’t need or use sleeping pills at home. But when I fly, I cannot sleep.

I am a tall guy with long legs and I normally  travel in economy so you can do the math. Plus I still get a little nervous during turbulence even after years of flying and hundreds of flights. So, yes, sleeping is a problem.

However, it is also a necessity when it takes you 14+ hours to get from Australia to USA, more than a day of flying to get to Europe and still function when you get there till the end of that day. So when I need to sleep based on a timezone of the country I am going to, I take half a tablet and get a few hours snooze. I don’t take a full dose as I find it makes me drowsy after.

Again, please get your doctor to talk to you about side effects for the brand you choose. After all you wouldn’t want to strip naked or pee in the aisle while sleep walking (don’t laugh, it has happened especially when mixed with alcohol ).

I use a brand called Stilnox. It seems to work ok for me. It doesn’t knock me out completely but helps me relax and snooze. Some of my friends have also used Melatonin tablets with great success and you can even get them over the counter in USA (but not in Australia).

General Pain Killers

This section is here for annoyances that are not really serious but can change a great day into a miserable one. Like a headache. No need to talk much about this as everyone has their preferred pain-killer medication.

Personally, I always travel with a small pack of Panadol.

Cold/flu medication

Getting a cold on holidays sucks! You are just unwell enough to make walking around hard work and unpleasant. And at  night you don’t sleep so the next day you feel worse. Getting a flu is even worse as now you have a temperature and body aches to content with.

So I always take a packet of strong Day/Night cold and flu tablets, preferably with pseudoephedrine as one of the ingredients. Day tablets perk me up during the day and the night pills helps me sleep and recover.

Please understand that there is no cure for a cold, your body will have to fight it. But the medication makes me feel more human so I can continue to explore the sights. Of course, if you come down with a really bad flu, listen to your body and rest for a day. No point pushing it and ending up being sick for longer.

Other Useful items

Apart from medications, I always make sure I have the following items. They do not take up much room in the luggage but come in handy for blisters, small cuts, stubborn splinters, ingrown hairs and other inconveniences.

  • band-aids
  • alcohol swipes (can use aftershave or perfume instead)
  • either cotton pads or cotton buds
  • small needle (make sure it has a thread in it and is wrapped in foil)
  • good tweezers

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Thank you for reading and have a great trip.





Igor is a travel lover, an enthusiastic amateur cook and an exercise advocate. He founded travelcrank.com to help people travel better and inspire them to travel more.


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