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Posted by Jessica on Apr 9, 2010
Filling Prescriptions While Traveling

Hi Amy! Jessica here.

Thanks so much for your email and your kind words about our travel blog. It's always great to hear from fellow travelers! And congratulations on your upcoming RTW trip. You must be super excited! You've asked some great questions about prescriptions, so let me take a stab at answering them.

When we went on our RTW trip, we had these prescription medicines with us:

  • Ortho Tri-Cyclen (my birth control pill)
  • Ciprofloxacin or Cipro (to help with bad cases of traveler's diarrhea)
  • Doxycycline or Doxy (our choice for malarial prevention)
  • My EpiPen (which thankfully we never needed – I'm allergic to lobster and crab)

(We also had a variety of over-the-counter medicine with us – aspirin, Dramamine, Imodium – but, as you've probably guessed, you can get those easily anywhere.)

For my birth control pill, we had a script for 12 months written by my gynecologist. (This was on top of the 3 or so months I had left on my current script that I was using while we were still home.) I just explained that we'd be traveling abroad for 12 months (that was before we knew we'd be gone for 18 months!) and she was totally fine with it. (On the off-chance she wasn't fine with it, I was planning on asking our travel doctor to write the script for me.) I filled my remaining 3 months and the new 12 months with my pharmacy. Sadly I had to pay out-of-pocket for them since my medical insurance only covered 1 pill pack a month.

When we headed out, we only took 6 months of birth control pills with us. First, we didn't want to take up too much space with so many pill packs. And second, we didn't want to lose all of my birth control pills if my bag was stolen during the trip. (We didn't have any trouble with pill storage on the road – even in warm countries, our bags never seemed to get dangerously warm inside so as to effect the pills efficacy.) We left the remaining pill packs with Tim's mom (along with our extra Cipro and Doxy). Then, when we were in England and about 5 months into our trip, she mailed us 6 more pill packs (and more Doxy and Cipro). By the time we reached Southeast Asia (and by now had extended our trip well past 12 months), we were realizing that the end of my birth control pill supply was nearing. So we asked Tim's mom to call my old doctor to explain the situation ("They're traveling a bit longer, can you write another 6 month script?") and then she mailed the script to CanadaDrugs.com who filled them (for a pretty cheap price too!) and mailed them to "me" at Tim's parent's house. Then Tim's parents sent along the refills to us in Bangkok.

Now if you know for certain how long you'll be on the road, you won't have to do that extra song and dance like I did at the end of our trip! But it's good to know you can do that if need be. Also it's entirely possible your pills will be available in other countries AND you won't even need a script for them (more on this below). That said, we were very discouraged to find that my birth control pill wasn't available anywhere we went outside of the US. (Which was seriously odd given that Ortho Tri-Cyclen is one of the most popular pills in the States.) If I wanted Ortho-Lo or any other number of birth control pills, I'd be set! But I didn't want to mess with my pill while we were traveling...so a bit of the song and dance I wrote about above was well worth it. (I also take my pill to help prevent ovarian cysts that my body likes to create, so the song and dance was worth it two times over!)

One interesting tidbit – All of the medicine we needed during our trip which was considered prescription medicine in the States, was actually over-the-counter medicine in other countries. You just walked into the little pharmacy, said/wrote down what you needed, and voila! Of course, that might be different depending on what countries you're visiting...but I'm guessing you'll still find it's the case. We've yet to come across a country where we've had difficulties.

One tip – Make photocopies of all your scripts before turning them into your pharmacy. Carry these photocopies with you during your RTW in case a customs official asks about your medicine. They also might be handy if a pharmacy elsewhere doesn't understand what you need and/or actually does require a script. We left a few copies with Tim's mom too. When she mailed our extra pills to us, she included a copy of our scripts in the care package in case the package was opened by border control. We never ended up needing these copies, but it was reassuring knowing we had them.

One more tip – Make sure you'll still have a few birth control packs for when you get back home. If you're like me, visiting the gynecologist right after getting back from a RTW trip will not be at the top of your to do list! Same goes for your other medicines too.

Now for our Doxycycline (malaria preventative), we only took a few months worth with us for our first 6 months (the South American portion of our trip). We knew we wouldn't be in malarial areas for long (and that Tim's mom would be sending us that care package later on in the trip), so it was a good space saver to only take what we'd need rather than our whole supply. The same thing with the Ciprofloxacin (traveler's diarrhea cure and the best medicine in the world for any backpacker!). We packed around 6 courses of Cipro with us in the beginning, and then Tim's mom topped us off with the care package in the sixth month. Both of these prescriptions were written for us by our travel doctor and we had them filled at our pharmacy. (Our insurance was a bit better covering these pills, though they still didn't cover them all. Luckily Doxy in particular is dirt cheap...speaking of which....)

Given what we know now, we would have only taken maybe a month's worth of Doxy and two courses of Cipro with us at the beginning of the trip (just to get us started). Both of these medicines were so widely available over-the-counter and incredibly, incredibly cheap that it makes more sense for us to get them abroad. And actually, that's exactly what we did in Southeast Asia when we depleted our entire supply of both. And it's exactly what we do when we travel now too! We just make sure to have a bit of the medicine on us to start with (in case we can't get to a pharmacy in the first few days/weeks) and then we just get them in whatever country we're in. Easy as pie.


One thing you might want to consider – If you have a pill that you're particularly attached to (like I am with my birth control pill), don't bet on being able to find it abroad. For example, if one of your migraine scripts is really standard (and perhaps there are several similar pills like it on the market) but it's not the script you really, really depend on for relief, then you'd probably be fine just filling a smaller batch in the States and then getting more of it (or something like it) on the road. But if your second migraine medicine is something you definitely can't mess with or be without, it'd probably be a safer bet to fill as much as you can ahead of time and/or have extra supplies mailed to you while you travel (until or unless you discover it is easily available abroad). Getting sick and feeling uncomfortable when you travel isn't very fun! So it's a good bet to set yourself up for success as much as possible before you hit the road, even if it means the scripts will be more expensive to fill at home.

Okay, I think I've touched on everything, but let me know if I've missed something or if anything doesn't make sense. I remember we were worried and a bit overwhelmed by these same questions before we left on our RTW trip. So just shoot us another email if we can help out in any way!

Happy travels!


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