Trip Checklists --- Your Travel Medicine Kit

Prepare for traveler's diarrhea, constipation, headaches, sunburn and other maladies BEFORE trouble begins!

Animation of a man reading a newspaper while sitting on the toilet

Assuming that you and your family enjoy good health, the most likely illness you'll face on your trip will be related to the bathroom! Why is that? Because you'll be eating new foods along the way...cooked in new restaurants you've never tried...and drinking water from new sources, as well. It doesn't seem like much of a change to your conscious mind...but your bowels feel differently about it. And so, traveler's diarrhea and constipation are two of the most-encountered maladies that happen to people working or vacationing away from home.

So, the first 2 items we recommend for your travel medicine kit are remedies for both diarrhea and constipation. Don't leave home without these 2 little friends!

* Diarrhea remedies---The most effective over-the-counter diarrhea remedy is the inexpensive generic drug Loperamide. (The "brand-name" of this medicine is called Immodium.) Whether you buy the brand-name or its generic counterpart, you'll likely find quick relief of your symptoms. One or two 2 mg. tablets (for adults) and an hour's worth of rest are likely to get you back on your feet again.

It's important to follow the dose recommendations on the box exactly. You'll find the appropriate amount to give children on the box, as well. There are also follow-up dosing instructions you'll need to read in case that first dose doesn't relieve your symptoms.

Immodium, aka the generic Loperamide, only cures the symptom of diarrhea, but not its CAUSE. If your diarrhea persists, or is accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, you still may need to consult a physician on your trip; some causes of traveler's diarrhea may need prescription medications to cure. (Luckily, Southern California has plenty of walk-in emergency medicine clinics, so help won't be hard to find while you're there.)

* Constipation---

Conversely, the other common problem you may encounter during your travels is constipation. The same changes in food and water that cause diarrhea in some folks can cause constipation in others. In addition, the high-fiber foods that help a person to "stay regular" aren't often found at the fast food restaurants in which many people eat during a road trip.

It only takes a little space in your bag to pack your favorite brand of laxative. Personally, we use Correctol when the need arises. Old-fashioned Milk of Magnesia is another safe-but-effective remedy. Follow the dosing recommendations on the box or bottle of your laxative of choice.

Take your laxative in the evening, then get a good night's sleep. In the morning, don't rush off sight-seeing...but, instead, allow your body some time for the laxative to work. Eating breakfast, and drinking a hot drink will stimulate your intestines to start working.

* Vitamins---You may not be eating the same balanced meals on your trip that you would if you were at home. So, you may wish to add a daily vitamin to your routine while traveling to ensure that you'll get at least a minimum recommended amount of these nutrients while you're traveling.

There are many good brands of fact, you probably have your own favorite brand that you're taking at home already. If not, then we'll mention that we like the "Alive!" brand by Nature's Way. This brand can be found in nearly all health food stores & markets, and in many regular chain grocery stores, as well.

Trip Checklists/Travel Medicine Bag:

Painful Sunburn---a sure way to RUIN a trip!

Natali discovers seaweed at Santa Monica (California) Beach

* Sunburn---

In the paragraphs above, we talked about the common travel complaints of diarrhea and constipation. If you think THOSE problems will ruin your trip, then you really, REALLY don't want to get a bad case of sunburn! Diarrhea and constipation will just make you miserable until your pills or liquid medicines work; sunburn has no such quick remedy, and can put a damper the fun you'll have for the next several days.

In the photo at your left, you see our little Natali wearing a sweatshirt to the beach. No---I'm not suggesting that you take such a drastic measure to prevent sunburn! (This photo was taken during a January beach visit---THAT'S why she was wearing a sweatshirt!) Nevertheless, the photo illustrates a point: try to avoid exposing your skin to the sun long enough to allow burning. AVOIDING sunburn is the best way to "cure" it.

  • First of all, try not to plan a whole-day trip to the beach. Consider it a half-day event. Either get out on the beach in the morning...say around 9 am (and then be off the beach by the time the most direct sun rays are beaming down), or don't plan to arrive until about 2 pm (after the most direct rays of the sun have already hit.) Stay for 2 to 3 hours, tops---you can always return another day.

  • If you know your family won't be ready to leave after such a short visit, plan your beach trip to a location that has more to do than just swimming and sunning. For example, at Huntington Beach, California, you can rent bikes at the beach, stroll the pier, or explore the Main Street restaurant/shopping district after you're done sunning. (Just don't forget to put on a shirt for these activities, or you'll be defeating the purpose of the change in your activities.)

  • Lastly, we'll state the obvious---bring and WEAR your favorite sun screen or sun block while you're on the beach!

    Trip Checklists/Travel Medicine Kit

    What about headaches?

    A sick child is apt to feel listless, as you can see in this photo

    You may actually be MORE at risk for a headache while you're traveling than you are at home!

    If you've ever driven into the sun while on a road trip...or squinted all afternoon at a theme park on a bright day...then it comes a no surprise to you that headaches are pretty easy to get when you're on vacation! And, although they last for less time than a sun burn, while the headache is "in progress," it dampens the fun for the hour or two that you have it. (Needless to say, we're not talking about migraine headaches, which can hang on for long periods of time. Migraine sufferers: don't forget to bring your medication with you on vacation! And, strive VERY hard to avoid your known migraine "triggers!")

    You certainly already know the common cures for a headache. Don't forget to pack your favorite remedy in your vacation luggage! Here's just a word about headache relief products---

  • NSAIDs: Aspirin, Alleve (naprosyn), Advil/Motrin (ibuprofen)...all these drugs are in the same CLASS of medication. They're all in the "NSAID" family of drugs. (NSAID stands for Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, just in cast you're curious.)

    Since all of these medications are in the same "family," you CAN'T take 2 different medications from this group without risking the effects of overdose. Since you may get a super-duper headache while on vacation in the sunny summertime, you might be tempted to "double up" on medications to relieve your headache. Don't do it! One of the dangers of taking NSAIDs is stomach pain...and even stomach bleeding! * Warning: Taking 2 members of this drug family together is just inviting stomach problems to occur.* (In fact, you can get tummy tenderness on just the NORMAL dose of NSAIDs. Even one or two doses of Naprosyn can cause tummy pain to those who are susceptible.) Monitor yourself whenever you're taking any member of the NSAID family. If you get abdominal pain or tenderness, quit taking the medication right away. If the pain persists, get to a doctor!

  • Tylenol, on the other hand, is in a completely different family of drugs than aspirin or Advil. Tylenol is not an "NSAID." Therefore, if you have a super-duper headache, you MAY take one drug from the NSAID family (say 2 aspirin OR 2 Advil, for adults), PLUS your usual dose of Tylenol. The two different classes of medications will not interact, and you MAY find superior headache relief by taking this combination.

  • Of course, there's alot to be said for "sleeping off" a headache. This method, of course, is completely natural and safe. If you get a headache, why not try taking a nap?

  • Another good way to deal with headaches on vacation is to avoid sun exposure to the eyes. Wearing sunglasses while driving or engaging in outdoor activities is a good way to PREVENT headaches in the first place!

  • If you find that you or other family members are getting frequent headaches while on vacation, it's a likely sign that you're not taking proper care of yourselves. Are you "cramming in" too many activities? Are you spending too many hours in the car without regular rest breaks and meals? Are you keeping well hydrated? (Some travelers avoid drinking a healthful amount of fluids because they don't wish to use public restrooms.) Are you allowing yourself some time to relax?

    Travel Medicine Bag:

    When your child gets a headcold

    An ill child sleeps more frequently, and may nap in the car unexpectedly, as seen in this photo

    When YOU come down with a headcold on vacation, what are you most likely to do? Trudge on, of course! After all, you've looked forward to your trip for weeks...or even months. You've saved your pennies all this time, too---and once your travel money has been spent, it won't be coming back again! So, you try your best to "keep on going."

    When your child gets a cold while on vacation, the problem's not so simple. A child is likely to become either cranky or listless. He or she may wish to do nothing more than nap in bed...or may fall asleep unexpectedly while riding in the car. Naturally, if you suspect that your child has an illness more severe than a simple headcold, you will want to find a doctor or an "urgent care clinic" near your vacation spot and schedule your child for an immediate appointment. But, if you're sure that the child's illness is minor, here are some steps which will help keep your vacation running smoothly---

  • Plan ahead for the possibility of illness. Have ideas in mind in case your busy schedule must have some "down time" added to it. One parent could watch the ill child sleep in the hotel room, while the other parent & kids take a swim in the pool. Or, perhaps the others could visit a tourist attraction which wouldn't interest the ill child. (Parents: indulge yourself in buying an interesting novel or new video game so you won't feel bored or "deprived" while tending your sick youngster.)

  • Have your child's usual brand of headache & fever medication in your travel medicine bag. You've already proven "what works best" during past illnesses; stick with it! Also, a sick child will NOT be in the mood to try new-tasting remedies...which may prove to be "yucky."

  • Avoid casting blame on the child for being ill. Yes, you're losing time and money hanging around the hotel room. But, no, you don't want your child remembering parents & siblings griping more than she remembers her visit to Disneyland or the beach!

    Trip Checklists/Travel Medicine Bag -- Dealing with seasonal allergies

    If you're taking a vacation in the "great outdoors"---camping, hiking, mountain biking, etc---you're at risk to come in contact with plants that will bring on allergies. Even just by leaving your own home town, you may come into contact with new plant species...or eat new foods...that may cause you to experience an allergic reaction. What should you do?

    If you have an allergy remedy that you normally take when such problems occur, don't forget to pack it in your vacation bags!

    If you're not used to getting allergic reactions, I'll briefly describe the remedies that you'll find available in most drug stores and supermarket pharmacy sections throughout the USA.

    The two types of remedies you can buy are (1) "topical," meaning that they're creams or ointments you put onto your skin; and (2) Pills or liquids that you ingest. You may use one or the other of these two categories...or BOTH together. (Yes, you may use both an ointment AND a pill at the same time without risking a drug interaction, under normal circumstances.)


    First, we should mention that we're discussing MINOR skin irritations here. DO NOT try to treat major problems...such as poison ivy or poison oak burns, snake and spider bites, or any rash accompanied by fever, vomiting, convulsions, etc...yourself. Get to a doctor immediately!

  • An old-fashioned rash remedy you may have used in the past is Calamine Lotion, a pink liquid which you apply to the skin. Pro: It's cheap. Con: It's messy...and it might not work as well as more modern remedies. A newer version of Calamine Lotion is called "Caladryl." It's still a pink, messy lotion...but it has the drug Benadryl mixed into the formula, causing (hopefully) a greater relief of your redness and itching.

  • Benadryl cream (all by itself, without Calamine) comes in tubes of ointments and creams. There is a "regular" strength and a "maximum" strength. You'll apply the Benadryl cream directly to the rashy area on your skin and, ideally, the itching and redness will be relieved.

  • Hydrocortisone cream is another over-the-counter remedy for itching and minor skin irritations. As with the Benadryl cream, you should put it directly onto your skin.

  • If none of these creams or lotions gets rid of an itch, use an old-fashioned ice pack. Of course, you must be careful that you don't keep the ice in one spot of your skin so long that it "burns" you...but ice is a very effective remedy for getting rid of an itch.

  • For eye itching, anti-allergy eye drops are another form of topical medication. "Visine A" is one brand of eye drops with antihistamines (to fight itching) mixed into the formula. There are other brands; read the eye drop labels carefully to see which ones are formulated for eye allergies before you make a purchase. Follow the package directions. As an alternative, cool, moist compresses to the eyes can help relieve minor itching. If your eye redness "hangs on," you may have an eye infection instead of an allergy. Get to a'll be needing prescription antibiotic eye drops or eye ointments to cure that!


    There are 2 effective over-the-counter allergy remedies: Benadryl (the generic is diphenhydramine) and Claritin (the generic is Loratadine.) Either one of these medications can help relieve symptoms of allergy. There IS a difference, though---Benadryl can cause drowsiness, and Claritin does not. (In fact, Benadryl is also used as an over-the-counter sleep medication!)

    If you're headed to bed, it doesn't matter which of these two medications that you take. (Normally, the drowsiness you'll experience from taking Benadryl will "wear off" by morning time.) But if you'll be driving the car...well, it's always possible that taking Benadryl before driving could impair your abilities to handle the car.

    Which ever medication you decide to take, follow the proper dosing for you (or your child's) age/height/weight on the package. (There are special children's formulations for these medications.) And, as always...if your condition persists, consult a physician.

    Printable PDF Medicine Kit Checklist for travelers

    If you like, you may print up the medicine kit checklist that our family uses. For road trips, we tend to pack every type of medicine and bandage that we MIGHT need...because, in our experience, we're GOING to need one (or all) of them sooner or later on our vacation. Obviously, you'll need to cut back on what you carry in your kit if space is limited. Also, you'll need to add your own prescription medications to the list.

    Here's the Travel Medicine Kit Checklist that you may print out to help you decide what to pack in your own first aid bag. Simply check off each item as you add it to your luggage, and you won't leave anything behind!

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