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Traveling with the family—especially with multiple generations–strengthens our bonds with the ones we love most. But sometimes that travel requires the addition of medical equipment and a multitude of prescription medications. And it’s not just grandparents. Children and adults of all ages can suffer from medical conditions that require extra items added to the packing list. From EpiPens to inhalers to a bottle of Sudafed, we’re sharing tips for travel with medications.
Guide to Traveling with Medications
For years my multigen family traveled extensively. Those trips provided special memories we’ll all treasure for a lifetime. The day the medical supply store delivered R2-D2 – an oxygen concentrator – to my house felt like the day road trips and flights to new places ended.
How could we continue our travels if we were tethered to the couch by medical machines, prescription pills and bottles of over-the-counter medications?
Grandparents who love to travel need not define themselves by their medical conditions and doctor’s notes. And the children who grew up traveling with them can keep the same traveling pleasures alive for their kids.
Aging isn’t the only enemy to free-spirited travel. Children with severe allergies, asthma and a host of other medical conditions are faced with their own set of challenges.
With the help of advice from your healthcare provider and armed with knowledge of the rules before you go, everyone can forge ahead into the world. Yes, even with prescription medications, regimes and machines.
Don’t fear traveling with medications. Embrace the realities and see the world.
Start with knowledge.
Cars are easier to pack with meds and medical devices, but leaving the United States for far away shores allures us all from time to time. Start your planning with flight facts. Carry-on bags or checked luggage are part of the research.
Plan for TSA but Anticipate Surprises
Set aside some follow-the-rabbit-trail time when you open up the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website. Categories are clearly delineated on this website, but oh my! a multitude of links also pop up to learn a bit more. Everything looks simple and straightforward until you look a little closer.
For instance: State laws vary regarding prescriptions. And CDB oil, which also needs FDA approval. And medical marijuana.
“TSA does not require passengers to have medications in prescription bottles.” That’s verbatim from the website.
So is this: “but states have individual laws regarding the labeling of prescription medication with which passengers need to comply.”
Turns out that’s only the Transportation Security Administration giving travelers a heads up if they encounter state officials on the road — traffic stop maybe? Before asking, I struggled, wondering if I needed to know laws for departure, arrival and layover cities.
Those bottles of 90-day original container prescription supplies are much too large for efficient luggage packing.
TravelingMom Tip: Call TSA Cares with questions. 855-787-2227. Perhaps my experience was too good to be true, but the call was quick, efficient, pertinent.
What Can I Bring is the section to seek on the TSA website for specifics on traveling with medications. Antlers and artificial limbs are both on this lengthy list–artificial skeleton bones, too.
Scroll down to “Medical” which is illustrated with a simple graphic in a grid of nine categories.
The set-up is clear with “Checked bag” or “Carry-on bag.” Yes is green and No is red.
However, chances are good the things medical travelers need to know require clicking on the yellow link for Special Instructions in many topics.
Heads up: There are a lot of yellow links. Allow time.
External medical devices such as a CPAP sleep breathing machine must be displayed to the agent.
For the body-part types of medical devices, the question is, “Can you disconnect for inspection?” No kidding. Even a feeding tube and ostomy bag are on the Transportation Security Administration list wondering that.
TravelingMom Tip: If you’d like to be discreet about your personal parts, order in advance a TSA Notification Card via the website. Then you can hand the card to the agent. Also, 72 hours ahead of the flight, call to request passenger support. That’s PSS for Passenger Support Services.
Getting Medical Liquids Through TSA
Medically necessary liquids can fly in amounts larger than the 3.4 ounces standard for shampoo and toothpaste, or routine liquids and gels. “Reasonable quantities” is the description uses for traveling with medications in quantities that are over the limit.
That might mean different things to the people using and the people checking. Ask well in advance. The liquids will be subject to security screening and x-ray. And you will likely need to open the container.
Systems to keep meds cool such as freezer packs are allowed, too. But the key seems to be planning ahead. Prepare before you go to share information and items with the agent. And strive not to freak out about examinations.
Regulations on traveling with controlled substances vary between the United States and other countries, so do your research before you go. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control can provide information on the rules for traveling with controlled substances between travel destinations.
Generally speaking, narcotics and psychotropics (used to treat certain mental disorders) present the most complications when traveling with controlled substances. For these, you’ll need a doctor’s note. Typically up to a 30-day supply is permitted.
EpiPen Traveling with Medications Requirements
For liquid medications such as an EpiPen or inhaler, immediate access is necessary. Be sure to pack these in your carry-on luggage. Another tip, putting these other prescription medicines in a plastic bag or labeled container helps you avoid overlooking anything as you go through screening.
TSA doesn’t require a doctor’s note for an EpiPen. But be sure to inform the TSA officer that you are carrying the pen as a medically necessary liquid. A note is a good idea, but not required, when your minor child is traveling alone. A doctor’s letter stating your child’s name, age, gender, specific allergens and any other medications needed should an allergic reaction occur can save precious life saving moments.
Preventing Severe Allergic Reactions in Flight
Besides having immediate access to your EpiPen, inhaler and other medications in your carry-on luggage, there are other things you can do to reduce your risk of an allergic reaction while flying.
- Consult your healthcare provider about your risks during travel and any precautions you can take.
- When booking tickets, ask about foods and snacks that the airline serves on each flight. Foods such as peanuts can trigger a reaction even if someone else is eating them.
- Bring your own food. Dry snacks, fresh fruit, meats and other foods are perfectly acceptable to carry on.
- Speak with the airline staff at the gate and let your flight attendant know about severe allergies. They might be able to assist by changing your seating or asking passengers around you to refrain from eating your trigger foods.
- After boarding, remove your EpiPen, inhaler and emergency medicine from your carry-on bag and keep them close at hand. Every moment counts when anaphylaxis begins.
- Before you go, know the location of a hospital and allergist at your destination.
What Happens When Trouble Strikes?
Money helps, or access to cash when sickness strikes, especially outside the United States. When I got suddenly sick (oh the nausea) in Jordan, the hospitable Kingdom readily provided access to medical care. That included an easy-in clinic plus a doctor visit to my hotel. Actually, two came to my aid, presumably for protection from allegations of impropriety.
After a diagnosis, cash payment was required. They did walk with me to the hotel lobby ATM, and back to the door of my room.
For unexpected medical intervention, be sure to have cash access when you travel internationally.
Can Oxygen Fly or Sail?
Research is required to figure out if your oxygen-using travel partner can organize a reliable system.
Airline rules vary by carrier so don’t plan to find the answers with TSA. Call the airline directly.
Portable oxygen machines run on batteries that last no longer than five to seven hours, so airlines require back-up battery power for delays. That’s expensive and heavy.
Batteries recharge with electricity but the problem is the time in-air or additional time stuck on the tarmac. Don’t forget to make allowance for time zones.
Twenty years ago my oxygen-using husband was able to order small canisters to store in the overhead. Not so likely now.
Cruise Ship Challenges
One Mediterranean cruise leaving from Barcelona required us to have local currency (cash again!) to pay for oxygen canisters delivered to the ship. We complied but the purser charged it to our cabin instead. That was a pile of bills to convert back!
A simpler, shorter Caribbean cruise introduced us to the oxygen canister failure. The tanks leaked.
Ship’s solution: move into the infirmary. Our solution: take the canisters to a dive shop at the first port of call to repair and refill.
Ready to take a vacation with the grandkids? Get all the help you need from our Traveling with Grandkids Facebook Group!
Roadtripping With Medications
Car reviews ought to address available (and ingenious) spaces for meds and equipment for families who travel together with medical needs.
Where can the grandchildren sit if a rollator fills the back seat?
Hips need to angle easily into seats. Good chance if a traveler needs medical devices, he or she is not a candidate for stepping up to a tall SUV.
Think the drink holder spaces in the car doors were great auto improvements? Traveling with medications can mean a discreet place to hold the urinal to avoid undesirable spills.
That particular problem also influences planning road trip rest stops.
Plenty of funny family stories recalling “Dad wouldn’t stop; he told us to use the mayonnaise jar.” Not so funny when it’s Granddad in need.
My traveling with medications family has learned to skip the highway welcome centers because the walk is too long from the parking lot to the bathroom. Fast food handicapped parking spots give closer access.
TravelingMom Tip: The curb cut is often on the driver’s side, not the passenger so consider backing into the space.
Read More: What happens if you get sick at Disney?
Getting the Car Ready
It’s no small feat packing all this stuff so I recommend paying attention to the caregiver who is most likely also the driver.
Night-before packing is hardly possible since the meds and machines will be in use.
This is the time to plan ahead and ask for help. If you can, do a “test pack” to make sure you know where everything can fit in the car. If that feels like too much trouble, give yourself plenty of time for packing on trip day. Enlist a helper if possible. Depending on how much equipment you’ll take, it could require several tries before you come up with the right packing combination that ensures the critical items are easily accessible and everything else is safely stored.
Checklist for Road Trip Meds
Road trips give the allure of plenty of space. All travelers feel the inconvenience of having just too much stuff. There’s no need to look for a master checklist to help. Travel with medications is personal.
My situation works best with one labeled container for the daily vitals and another for just-in-case. Emotionally, snazzy medical luggage is more uplifting. We use a hand-woven basket for the major meds and a zippered picnic tote for the others.
Vital for my packing? Nine prescription medicines, 7 over-the-counter supplements, nebulizer machine (and don’t forget the mouthpiece since you washed it after the morning dose), CPAP machine and the various forms of oxygen.
Personalize your list to prevent dangerous left-behind lifesavers. And check out this list of 100 things to pack in an emergency kit for your car.
Head Colds and Flying
Today, with COVID-19 being a major concern for travelers, head colds accompanied by a fever will likely keep you from boarding a plane. And any time you do fly, face coverings likely will be required.
While it’s not possible to know how this virus crisis will permanently change the way the world works, it’s likely that at some point, someone (you?) will get on a plane with a cold.
Of course, none of us should sneeze on the other. So what is there to do when you can’t, for whatever reason skip the flight?
TravelingMom Deb Steenhagen is sensitive to all the others in her sneeze trajectory. Here’s her advice for traveling with a head cold.
She also knows the value of keeping an inhaler in her purse, even though symptoms cleared after her original prescription for a breathing issue.
My Traveling with Medications Perspective
My traveling with medications perspective comes from a 40-year marriage with the last 20 involving medical concerns beginning with that R2-D2 oxygen concentrator for my husband. His COPD, diabetes, leg lymphedema and spinal stenosis triggered other assorted conditions. But, we wore out suitcases in spite of it all.
We treasured every minute of those 20 years filled with a dozen cruises, including across the pond, road trips throughout the southeastern United States, fishing for trout in mountain streams, and international flights to visit our children in their academic and professional journeys.
You will treasure your traveling memories too. We hope this information helps you with your planning!