Over-the-counter medications you might want to add to your travel checklist right now

When was the last time you had an awkward case of explosive diarrhea or suffered from painful gas and bloating while traveling?

Never? Lucky you. Not recently? Well, be grateful.

Getting sick is hard in general, and when you’re not in a familiar place, it gets even trickier. Plus, if you don’t speak the local language fluently enough to explain your symptoms, that adds another level of stress to your situation. That’s why I’ve compiled a list of over-the-counter medications you might want to add to your travel checklist right now.

DISCLAIMER: This article was written to give general travel tips only. It is not intended to be an endorsement of any drug manufacturer or a replacement for personal consultation with a medical practitioner (which I, categorically, am not). Please check with your doctor or local pharmacist for all possible drug interactions with your current prescriptions. Also, as an additional precaution, kindly seek information on side effects that can worsen other underlying conditions before taking of these any over-the-counter medications.


Contaminated food or water are two of the most common ways pesky bacteria and parasites enter our bodies. When that happens, uncomfortable abdominal pain and loose, and inconveniently frequent bowel movements follow. But those are not the only triggers, so watch out for tap water, tempting street food delicacies or even uncooked veggies in high-end restaurants. Food intolerances to products with diary, fructose, and artificial sweeteners, as well as reactions to medication can cause them too.  

Imodium A-D and K-Pek II are two common treatments for diarrhea. Getting adequate rest and keeping hydrated are also recommended. If brands are different overseas, the key scientific ingredient to look for is Loperamide (lo PER a mide) Hydrochloride.  Get out your translation app and ask for that at a local pharmacy.


If you experience headaches or migraines, a painful period, arthritis symptoms, or minor aches and pains from a cold, flu or sore throat on the road, chances are you’re going to need a pain reliever.

If that happens, Advil, Genpril, Midol, and Motrin can be your solution. I’ve read that Motrin is especially suited for reducing swelling and inflammation.  If you’d rather not pay the price of the brand name products, get the store label which has Ibuprofen (eye BYOO prue fen) in it.


Getting to explore regions and landscapes different from our own is often a blessing, but it can also expose us to foreign substances that trigger allergies. For example, things like pollen from plants we’re not used to being around, as well as mold or dust mites popping up in unexpected places can cause nasal congestion, sneezing, a runny nose, or an itchy rash on your skin (also called hives).

Antihistamines like Claritin, Clear-Atadine, QlearQuil, and Zyrtec help to reduce those allergic symptoms. If none of those are available, look for products with Loratadine {Lor AT a deen) as the active ingredient.

Meds for travel

Motion Sickness and Nausea

If long journeys by bus, car or train, or leisurely cruises on yachts and catamarans cause you to become lightheaded or woozy, Bonine and Dramamine are two over-the-counter medications you can usually depend on for relief.  They prevent nausea, vomiting, or dizziness caused by motion sickness. Bonine is also used to prevent and treat vertigo (extreme dizziness. or a feeling that you or your surroundings are spinning around). The scientific name is Meclinizine (MEK li zeen) Hydrochloride and it generally causes drowsiness.

Swelling, itching and skin rashes

If you ever run into problems with rashes, insect bites, dermatitis, poison oak/ivy, eczema and a variety of conditions that cause itching, you’ll want to have a corticosteroid ointment in your medicine stash.

Topical creams like Anusol HC, Cortaid, Cortizone, Neosporin and Proctozone are used on the skin to reduce swelling, redness, itching and allergic reactions. This type of over-the-counter medication is for external use only, so be careful not to ingest it by mouth and do not get it in your eyes. Special care may also be needed when applying it to kids or seniors.  The scientific name is Hydrocortisone (hye droe KOR ti sone).


Let’s face it, going three days or more without a bowel movement is not something anyone would wish on themselves – even at home. So, imagine what that level of discomfort would do to you on a bucket list vacation you planned and saved for, for months. Trips cause changes to your normal eating patterns and disrupt routine daily activities, and those factors, along with others, can lead to constipation.  The best way to combat that is to ensure you have enough fiber and water in your diet, and stay active. But if that’s not possible or doesn’t work, mild laxatives can push your bowels along.

I’ve read that stimulant laxatives are the fastest acting, and those include products made from aloe, senna compounds (Ex-Lax, Senokot), bisacodyl (Dulcolax, Correctol), and castor oil.

Other important things to note:

Before you begin taking anything, please do research to find out which medicines may interact with any other drugs you are taking.

Report any negative side effects to your health care profession or doctor as soon as possible.

Do not take doses higher than those prescribed by your doctor or listed on the label.

Follow the storage instructions and keep containers tightly closed to protect items from moisture and heat.

Check for expiry dates and adhere to them.

Talk to your pediatrician regarding the use of any medicine with children.

Editors Notes:

I’ve had my tummy give me the rumbling sign in many inopportune places. The most embarrassing time was just as I was about to check into a hotel in Medellin, Colombia, and out of nowhere, the tell-tale cramping sign started. In hindsight, it must have been the fruit juice I drank on the flight from Cartagena because I was fine up to that point.

“¿Dónde está el baño, señorita? “ Like a hovering guardian angel, those long lost vocabulary words from my high school Spanish classes rapidly surfaced.

“Al final del pasillo y a la izquierda.” The stunned receptionist responded.

Thankfully, I was able to ask for, and find, a bathroom in a timely manner. Honestly, I was out of commission for so long that my sister almost sent a search party to look for me because she was stuck watching our bags. When I finally got back to the desk to complete my transaction, the pleasant enough front desk employee asked a million questions with her eyes.

As the saying goes: “Once bitten, twice shy.”  I now know the benefits of packing over-the-counter meds in my carryon.