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The Traveling Medicine Cabinet

The Travelling Medicine Cabinet , middle aged travel, travel for over 50
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While I was planning my seven-week sojourn in Europe, I read a great deal of what the travel guru Rick Steves had to say. And while I listened to most of it, on the topic of what first aid remedies to take, he and I diverged. He said to take nothing and buy what you need along the way, except, of course, prescription medication. But I just couldn’t do that. I envisioned myself in some remote town with a pounding headache and not being able to communicate what I needed. So I settled somewhere in between the huge amount of stuff I would have taken and Rick Steves’ suggestion, and it worked out well.

If you just don’t want to be caught without the basics, here are some things to think about packing in your traveling medicine kit:

A nice big bag to put everything in: My criteria is that it is lightweight and squishy so that it can fit at the bottom of the suitcase somewhere where it will – hopefully – never see the light of day.

Prescription medication: I only take one – thyroid medication – and I was really worried about losing it. So I took a whole extra month’s supply and put it in my suitcase separately. I had one in my purse, one in my carry-on, and one in my suitcase. That might have been overkill, but it is always a good idea to bring an extra supply of something you take regularly. I have heard that it is also good to travel with the written prescription in case you lose it or need more, or if your luggage gets inspected and the inspector asks what it is. I didn’t, though, and it was never a problem.

Basics: It never hurts to bring along an antibiotic in case of any big infection. Talk to your doctor about this. My go-to pain reliever for headaches and such is Advil, but bring whatever you usually take. And for this one, you might want to keep it handy – for travel delay headaches and such – in your purse or carry-on. For pesky little scraps and bruises I had some Neospsorin in my bag, and one package of different sized bandages (if you take them out of the box and put them in a small baggy, they take up less room). Also, Arnica cream is great for muscles pains and strains. Moleskin will definitely come in handy on vacations that entail a great deal of walking. It is a cushy material that protects areas on your feet – toes, heels – that either have blisters or are just sore from shoes and walking. It usually comes in large pieces and you cut it to fit the affected area, so don’t forget to bring small scissors. If you tend towards red, irritated eyes, bring some Visine eye drops.

Cold remedies: Here is one place where I didn’t practice what I am preaching. I swear by Emergen-C or Airborne before I travel to boost my immune system and when I feel a cold coming on. I didn’t bring any actual cold remedies, though, because I don’t take them much at home. But I had a nasty cold and sore throat in Croatia and had nothing. At home I would have rested for a few days, but I didn’t want to miss a day of sightseeing, so I went to the local pharmacy and got a benign essential oil remedy that you put on a tissue and pace in your nostrils. It seemed to help a bit, but I would have liked something stronger – like Dayquil – just for a day. When I was getting a bit better, I did have some Ocean saline spray, which came in handy for a stuffy nose. And if you tend towards allergies, you should bring your favorite medication for that – you never know what kinds of new flowers and trees you will encounter on the road.

Stomach woes: This is perhaps the biggest problem for travelers – stomach problems from unfamiliar foods, different water, overindulging – that stop you in your tracks. Stocking stomach medication calls for a multi-level approach. A good probiotic that doesn’t need refrigeration, like Pearls, will keep up the good bacteria in your gut and may help keep problems away.  For the run-of-the-mill upset stomach that doesn’t seem so bad, there are Tums.  I brought several rolls because they are small and don’t take up much space. Then the heavier guns include Imodium and Pepto Bismol.  And if you are going abroad to exotic locales where the food and water is likely to give you a bad case of traveler’s diarrhea, or if you are just worried about it, ask your doctor about Cipro. While it does have some bad side effects, my brother, who is a travel medicine doctor, swears by it, and says that if you feel a bad case of diarrhea coming on, taking one Cipro quickly, followed by Imodium can be a lifesaver.  Of course, you need to talk with your doctor about all of the pros and cons.

Mental health arsenal: Sometimes “the road” can get you down. Maybe your vacation spot isn’t as idyllic as you hoped. Or, if you are on a long trip and moving often, you may feel crazy from trains, boats, and planes. Here are some self-care methods that I have found really work:

  • Give yourself some time off.  We are all guilty of it – we want to cram all that we can into our vacation, so we can’t miss a museum, gotta get to the next cathedral. Slow down and even stop for a day or a few hours. Sit at a café and sip a latte, watch a movie in your hotel room, take a leisurely canal tour. You will have renewed energy once you get moving again.
  • Give yourself a taste of home.  Sometimes a little Starbucks or Subway goes a long way. You might not even partake of “American” branded restaurants and coffee shops at home if you are like me and prefer to frequent independent establishments. But sometimes these places can feel familiar and homey. One day when I was in Budapest and felt down, I went to Starbuck’s and splurged on a mocha and then I found a MAC cosmetic store and bought mascara. It really did help.
  • Splurge! Buy something that you normally wouldn’t, either for yourself or someone back home, get a massage, get your hair done.
  • Go home. If all else fails and you feel unhappy or stressed, let yourself go home early or right away. Vacation is supposed to be fun.


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