Traveling with Medications
A valid concern when traveling is the thought of getting sick. But what if you already live with a chronic condition – one that requires you to be continually on medication? Should that prevent you from following your extended travel dreams? Jenny Leonard of Where Is Jenny? shares tips on how she is able to travel long-term while on medication.
I started my location independent graphic design business straight out of college so that I could pursue my dreams in whatever way I wanted to at any given time. For a while it was racing competitive motocross (2000-2003), then it was volunteering in Vanuatu (2006), then backpacking South America (2008-2009), and now I’m going to sell everything I own to travel indefinitely (Jan 2011). My business was less than a year old in 2003 when I was involved in a serious car accident. After several surgeries, procedures, and years of physical therapy I finally found a doctor whom worked closely with me to find a solution. As a result I attend pain management every month and take a cocktail of medications daily (including Schedule II narcotics) to alleviate my symptoms.
Medication and medical care is easy to take care of if you live in one place and see the same doctor every month. It quickly becomes tricky when you hit the road for an extended or open-ended period of time. I’ve found it very difficult to find good information on the web surrounding this topic so I’m going to detail how I’ve addressed traveling around the world for extended periods of time with prescription medication.
FIND THE RIGHT DOCTOR
The most important link that helps make extended travel even an option for me is my doctor. My doctor understands that the decisions I make in life are mine and that only I can make risk assessment choices, not him. Therefore, he doesn’t sit around and lecture me on how skateboarding will make my injury worse, but rather helps me continue doing an activity that makes me happy. If your doctor is giving you a hard time about what you’re doing in life whether it’s skateboarding or traveling the world, shop around. It took visiting dozens of doctors before I found one that I’m thrilled with. I found many to be traditional, conservative, and judgmental towards my unconventional life. They also didn’t give me the treatment I deserved because of it. The doctor’s job is to support and give you the tools and resources you need to live the life you want to live. Don’t settle for less.
It takes at least 6-months to plan things out with your doctor before departing on an extended trip so be sure to start early. Every month my doctor and I discuss our plan of action that is tailored to my specific condition, lifestyle and Texas state laws. Since the laws surrounding Schedule II narcotics and prescriptions vary from state to state what works for me in Texas might not work everywhere else. In Texas, my doctor is allowed to write a 90-day supply of medication, but with indefinite travel on the horizon I’m eventually going to run out. This is where it becomes very important to have a doctor that is 100% on board with your traveling plans. Try to get your medications from your doctor a few days before departure, this ensures that you have the maximum amount of medication.
HAVE ALL YOUR DUCKS IN A ROW
There are many things that can go wrong on the road from being stopped by officials to having your medication stolen. It’s important to have the right documents on hand for any situation you may come across.
- Have your doctor write a letter on the office letterhead describing your medical condition, patient history (with him), list of prescribed medications (along with generic equivalents), and contact information. Treat this document as if it were your passport. (Scan the letter and e-mail it to yourself should it get lost.) If you get stopped by any officials you have documents stating you’re not a drug trafficker. If your medication runs out then you have the documents needed to get a refills from that country.
- Have a list of generic alternatives and alternate names for all of your medications. The names for medications vary according to what country you’re in.
- Some medications are outlawed in certain countries. Before you enter ANY country check the embassy to see what medications are considered illegal.
- Keep your medication in their original bottles at all times. The only exception to this rule is having a small pill case holding 2-3 days worth of medications to carry with you at all times.
- Bring copies of all your prescriptions. Scan them and e-mail to yourself should they get lost.
OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER
In order to keep your medication safe on the road there are a few precautions you should keep in mind:
- Never put your medication in checked luggage. You never know what could happen to your bags when they are out of your sight. It could get lost or stolen and then you’d be in a real pickle.
- Ensure that you keep your medications at the correct temperature. Some medications lose their effectiveness in humid climates.
- Try to get more medication than the time you’ll be away. Anything can happen on the road and it’s good to have a cushion.
- Use a Pac Safe. Not all hostels have lockers or lockers big enough to hold a backpack. Whenever you have to leave your bag unattended ensure that you lock it up using a pac safe or hostel locker. I’d like to think that backpackers don’t steal from each other but every group has bad apples.
- Have a medication fund to use in case of emergency. Should your medication get lost or stolen you’d have money set aside to go to a hospital and pay for the prescription.
- Should you be carrying Schedule II prescriptions, keep it a secret as best you can. If you stay in party hostels your medication could be a target for theft if they knew about it. What people don’t know, they don’t go looking for.
DON’T PUT ALL YOUR EGGS IN ONE BASKET
Divide your medication into several different groups and put them in different bags and hiding spots. Don’t just put your medication in a pocket. Hide it well within your bag such as inside a pair of socks. With your medication separated should you get pick pocked or someone finds and steals it, they wouldn’t get all of it. It would be a loss, but not a huge one. Then carry a small pill case on you at all times with several days worth of medication on you. Should something happen to your bags and all of your medication is lost, then you’d at
least have a few days to figure things out.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU RUN OUT OF MEDICATION
Should you find yourself in another country without your medication immediately go to your embassy. At the embassy you can get information about doctors in town that can treat you and prescribe you the medication you need. If that doctor needs any information ensure that they have a way to contact your home doctor. My doctor gives me his e-mail address, cell phone number, and has staff notified of my travel plans in case of emergency.
Part of my plan during my travels through South America was to have my medication mailed to me. Given the slow Argentinean mail my package didn’t arrive on time and I was left without my medication. I was able to see a doctor, give him my doctor’s letter, a copy of my prescription, and my medication bottles. He was then able to treat me and give me a new prescription for my medication.
Traveling with prescription medications takes some pre-planning, but it shouldn’t keep you from doing something you want to do. Ensure you have a great doctor and he’ll work with you to figure out how to make it all happen. Each time I come into the office my doctor shakes his head and tells me to do it while I’m young… and that I am.