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Key Medicines to Pack for International Vacations

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When traveling in the U.S. with my family, I trust that a drug store will be nearby, should we need it. However, for our international vacations, I have learned to pack a small number of essential “emergency items,” which I refer to as my Mom-travel-nurse’s kit.

If your child has a medical condition or perhaps an allergy, you will, of course be packing appropriate meds and/or supplies. Similarly, if your child gets seriously ill, you will obviously find a doctor or take them to a nearby hospital/ER. (If the hotel does not have a Physician on call or you do not trust their recommendation, you can contact the nearest U.S. Consulate/Embassy for assistance.)

However, for minor illnesses/discomforts, I highly recommend packing a small kit of remedies that can be used for those relatively minor, yet disruptive ailments to help get your vacation back on track.

Although it may be inconvenient to add to your already packed suitcases, here is why I think this is a good idea:

  • You won’t want to spend time searching for drug stores/pharmacies and will want to be in a position to treat your child right away, if necessary.
  • Even if you speak the language, medical terms can be confusing, so finding the right OTC medication might be challenging as is understanding how to use it, especially since foreign countries may have different dosing.
  • Finally, medications can be (much) more expensive abroad.

I developed the following list based on my past travel experiences with our children, as well as from the recommendations I received from our family’s pediatrician, Dr. Andy Bernstein, of North Suburban Pediatrics.

My Mom-travel-nurse’s kit has proved to be useful on our international vacations again and again. (Tip: I have the contents packed in a small bag, ready to go, so I don’t need to worry about forgetting something. I replace used and/or expired items when we return home, so it’s always ready for our next trip.)

  • Assorted shapes and sizes of bandages and an antibiotic ointment (such as Neosporin) to help with minor scrapes and cuts. If your family usually takes fairly active vacations like ours does, I don’t need to explain why this is a must. Even if you are a more leisurely type who prefers to spend vacations lounging on a beach or around the pool, these can often come in handy (as we experienced with our son who fell into a large cactus near the resort swimming pool during our recent vacation in Mexico).
  • A few packets of alcohol wipes. Soap and water usually work fine (and sting less) to clean minor cuts and scrapes, but they might not always be available when you’re on the go.
  • A sterile needle (can be from a sewing kit, just make sure you clean it with alcohol wipes) and tweezers. You may need to take out splinters (or, in my case, cactus spines), so these two items can come in handy and are easy to pack due to their small size.
  • Hydrocortisone ointment for temporary itch relief. Comes in handy for soothing mosquito and other insect bites or other itchy skin condition (minor rashes/topical allergic reactions). In any case, I always bring a tube of 1% Hydrocortisone ointment with us.
  • An antihistamine (such as Benadryl) for temporary relief from allergies. In the past, our children have had reactions caused by flowering plants and friends’ furry cats, and one time even by rabbits we petted. A dose of Benadryl quickly helped relieve and eventually stop the hives resulting from the allergic reaction.
  • Pain killer/fever reducer. Some doctors and/or families prefer Tylenol, others Motrin. Whatever your choice, have a full bottle ready to bring with you. And if you haven’t weighed your child under 12 lately, make sure you do before your trip.  They may have moved up in dosage.
  • Finally, motion sickness drugs. Depending on the nature of your trip, you may not need this one at all, but otherwise I suggest you bring a pack of Children’s Dramamine. It comes in kid friendly chewable pills, so they are easy to administer. I learned my lesson during our recent whale-watching trip in Mexico when my poor son’s face alternated between green and white for a good portion of our trip. Based on this, I added it to my kit.

I hope you find these suggestions useful, but that you actually never need them! Wishing you safe and healthy travels with your family!

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A native of Slovenia, Vera moved to the U.S. 20+ years ago after meeting her American husband. Together with their two children they live on the North…

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