BREAKING BADams – Traveling with Medication

Christopher Travel Journal Leave a Comment

Does this ease a headache or give you telekinetic powers?

Does this ease a headache or give you telekinetic powers?

One of the realities of traveling for an extended period of time is that Lauren and I won’t always be able to tuck into a corner Walgreens to pick up some meds when one of us has a cold or a headache.  There will definitely be pharmacies along the way, but it can be a challenge dealing with the language barrier and/or confirming the ingredients.

We will also need to be more strategic if and when we need professional medical care.  While we do have a traveler’s insurance policy for emergencies and other urgent care, we will need to deal with most bouts of illness ourselves.

Traveling with Medication

Breaking Badams. Cold Medicine and Japan

Lauren and I have a small bag that we put together to be our on-the-road health kit.  We even got this cool little medical patch to sew on and make it all official looking.  Our health kit contains many of the common items that one might expect to eventually need at some point in a year on the road: Tylenol, Ibuprofen, Band-Aids, Imodium, Pepto-bismal, Antihistamines, Imodium, Decongestant,1% hydrocortisone cream, Anti-itch gel or cream for insect bites and stings, more Imodium, and a few prescription medications that we take.  The CDC has a more exhaustive list as a suggestion for travelers for you here if interested.  Fortunately, traveling with medication is really not that difficult if you follow a few guidelines.

Three simple tips for traveling with medication:

  1. It is very important to keep medications – both over the counter and prescription – in the original packaging/containers.  No “mystery pills” that you’ve combined or moved to smaller containers.
  2. Keep medication in your carryon bag – if your luggage is lost you don’t want to have to replace clothes AND important medication.
  3. Bring a copy of any prescriptions and consider a note from your doctor for certain drugs.

Lauren is almost never sick but I tend to have allergy issues from time to time and will take Alegra-D or Sudafed to deal with it.  I assumed at some point (or several points) along the way we’d have to stop in customs to declare our little medical kit, explain that we are traveling long-term, and provide the copies of prescriptions from our doctor.  And we’ll likely also have to explain why we have larger quantities of things (we have a one month supply for many of the items) since it’s common for countries to limit how much you can bring in.  But we didn’t expect to get completely shut down for an item while researching our first stop:  generally tourist-friendly Japan.

Pseudoephedrine Is Illegal in Japan

As Lauren was researching random things to do, places to see, and where to eat for our eight day stop in Japan, she sent me a text message that basically said “get ready to not breathe for the first 7 days of our trip because Japan hates your allergy medication.”

Ok, maybe she didn’t say it like that, but it’s what I heard given my dependence on Allegra when I’m having allergy issues.  It turns out that in Japan, products containing Pseudoephedrine (like Allegra-D and Sudafed) are illegal.  A quick search of the information on the website of the US embassy in Japan confirmed Lauren’s message.  We’ll only be in Japan about a week, and so of all the things I had thought to research… that was not one of them.

If you are planning travel to Japan and need to take certain controlled medications, it is possible to get approval in advance by obtaining an import certificate known as a Yakkan Shoumei.  Information on this certificate and other information on Japan can be found in this handy Q&A from the Ministry of Health in Japan.  For such a short stay it wasn’t worth the hassle to us, so we’ll just meet up at the next stop with my allergy meds.

Other than the restrictions on Pseudoephedine in Japan, generally speaking if you are not carrying a quantity of medication that exceeds your stay (or looks excessive for a tourist), and if you have a prescription, then you shouldn’t have any issues.  When traveling internationally, just take what you need for the trip (with a little extra for backup in case of travel delays), keep everything in original packaging, and you shouldn’t have any issues.

It’s All Part of the Adventure

In the end, having to meet up in Beijing with my Sudafed won’t be a big deal.  Over the next year there will be plenty of things like this that will come up that we will just have to handle real time.  While we research as much as we can in advance of each stop, we’ll be moving a lot and some things will slip past our research.  If we have to leave behind a box of meds somewhere along the way, we’ll just deal with it (and will have them sent ahead to our next stop).  Or you will just be able to tell from the tone of a post that my head is all stopped up and I sound like I’m complaining about everything.

Thanks for reading,


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