Which Travel Medicine to Bring with You as a Digital Nomad – Podcast 027

In this episode B and Jack talk about which travel medicine to bring with you in the context of a digital nomad life. First, they talk about if it makes sense to bring medication or not as a digital nomad. Then, they discuss where to carry your medication and well as how to use it. Following that, they present a number of precautions and observations to do with medications and travel. Finally, they present an extensive list of the medications (both over the counter and prescription) they carry with them in their day-to-day digital nomad life.

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The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. We are not doctors, thus you should always double-check the information provided here concerning mosquito-borne diseases with an expert.

1. Summary

1.1. Travel Medicine to Bring within the context of the Digital Nomad Life System

  • The Digital Nomad Life System is a 6-step system created by us at Nomad Tactics that aims to explain how someone can go from living a non-nomadic normal life to living an optimized digital nomad life.
  • The topic today fits the first step of our system, which is the “Nomadic Life Prep”.
  • Nomadic Life Prep can be understood as the actions someone needs to take beforehand to optimally transition from a normal stable life to a digital nomad life. There are many areas we will cover in this step of the system. The main areas being finances, logistics, and psychology. The question of what travel medicine to bring with you as a digital nomad is something you need to decide before you transition to a nomadic life (granted that you will need to top up the medications along the journey as a digital nomad once in a while). That is why we place this topic into this step.
  • To have a general overview of the Digital Nomad Life System you should listen to this episode.

1.2. Why should you bring medications with you as a digital nomad

  • There are two ways you can go about it in terms of your medication. You can either carry medication with you or buy it whenever you need it in the place you are currently staying.
  • There are a couple of reasons to adopt the first approach and carry medication with you as a digital nomad.
    • You will have medication always handy for you to use.
    • Sometimes it is bureaucratic to acquire medications in certain countries.
    • Certain medications will not be available in some countries.
    • Sometimes you might only find poor quality (i.e. manufacture on an unknown lab) or counterfeit options for a medication depending on the country in which you are staying.
    • Nowadays usually there will be no issue entering a country with your medication (assuming you follow our tips).
    • Sometimes you might need a medication prescription to get a certain medication. Getting a consultation with a doctor (for the sake of medication prescription) might be costly in some countries

1.3. Where to carry your medications

  • More specifically the question here is if should you bring your medication in the carry on luggage or the checked luggage (if you have such). There is no clear cut answer here. You can theoretically do both and be ok.
  • The main benefits of carrying your medications in your carry on luggage
    • You can have access to the medications during the flight
    • The place within a plane where the checked luggage stays varies a lot in terms of temperature (i.e. can get very hot and very cold). This constant change of temperature is bad for medication and it might reduce its effectiveness.
  • The main benefit of carrying your luggage in your checked luggage
    • If you caring the medication in the carry on luggage there is a considerable chance that the person in the security control might want to check exactly what you carrying as your medications. Ultimately you will not get in trouble but this extra scrutiny on the behalf of the airport’s staff might be time-consuming to you. You will not have this same problem if you put your medication in your checked luggage.
  • The way I personally handle do is the following:
    • There are three types of medications I bring with me in my carry on luggage, these are: medications I might use during the flight (e.g. pain killer, motion sickness medication), medications that are essential to me and I cannot lose it no matter what, medications that require a medical prescription (I can show the prescription to the airport staff then and there if he asks to)

1.4. How to use your medications

  • I know the title of this section sound kind of dam, I will admit. But hold on I will explain. Since you will be travelling with a reasonable amount of different medications things can get a bit confusing. So that is why I think it is relevant to talk about “how to use the medication”.
  • There is a couple of different ways in which I advocate for digital nomads to use their medication.

Cheatsheet:

  • Since you will be travelling with so many medications I think it is a good idea to write down a cheat sheet on your smartphone or laptop as soon as you buy the medications you will take in your digital nomad journey. By doing so you can use that sheet cheat as a reference before taking any medication on the road
  • The things I would write down in the cheat sheet:
    • Type of use: Write down if the medication is fine for you to take by yourself or if you should check with a doctor before taking it due to the medication strength or any other relevant factor
    • Brand name: Write down the commercial name that is in the package that you will use to identify the drug
    • Drug name: This is the name of the actual compound or substance (which is different from the drug name). It is relevant to have that information handy in case you need to buy more of the same medication in the country in which you are stays
    • When to use it: Write down for which conditions the medication should be used (e.g. headache, stomachache, fever, etc.) 
    • Dosage: Write down the minimum effective dosage, the normal/usual dosage and the maximum dosage allowed for each medication. Also include the maximum amount of that specific medication you can take within a day.
    • Precautions/instructions: Write down if you should follow some specific guidelines when taking the medication or not. This does not apply to all medications but applies to some. For example, when you taking the antibiotic doxycycline (which is prophylaxis for Malaria) you should not have it with milk.

Remote medical consultation:

  • For the majority of the drugs (especially the over counter ones), it is fine for you to take them by yourself. Nonetheless, there are some medications where it makes sense to consult with a doctor before taking them, either because you might not be sure if taking the medication is relevant in your current situation and/or if the medication is strong.
  •  Then it comes the good news. Even though Covid-19 was overall a really bad thing to the world, there are some upsides that came about from it. One of such upsides is the popularisation of remote medical consultations. This means that nowadays more and more doctors are ok for you to have a consultation with them over the phone or a video call.
  • Given the possibility of such remote consultations, you can always arrange a call with your doctor back in your home country if you need to ask about taking a specific medication. My only advice here would be for you to talk to the doctor you go frequently back in your home country and explain to him the situation. Say you will go travelling and perhaps you might require a remote consultation with him once in a while. Thus you can get a  direct way to reach him if necessary, like his FaceTime or WhatsApp. An alternative method, which is surely cheaper, is to find a doctor in your family and/or a friend of yours to do this same thing.

Local medical consultation:

  • As a last resort, you can always contact your health insure and book a consultation in the country in which you are staying to ask about taking a certain medication. Nonetheless, this is surely the most time-consuming option. Also, there is the possibility the local doctor will not be familiar with the medication which you have with you, thus he cannot really give you advice very informative advice on the matter. By the way, if you still haven’t got health insurance the one I recommend is Safety Wings, I used it for a long and never had an issue.

1.5. General precautions and observations about using your medications

  • Check for banned medication in the country in which you are going: You should always check if the medication you intend to take is banned in the country in which you intend to go. For instance, Codeine (a strong pain killer) is a medication that is banned in Russia and parts of the Middle East. You can get in big trouble if you enter this country with this substance. The best way to check if a country is banned in a country is to simply google “country X banned medication list”, usually you will be able to find this information.
  • Have the medical prescriptions of the controlled drugs you might be carrying: It is very important to carry the prescription of whatever controlled drugs you might be carrying with you. Thus, if someone in the board control asks for it you will be allowed to come in the country with the medication and avoid trouble.
  • Be careful with pharmaceutical compounds: Pharmaceutical Compounds are medication that was created in a personalised way (in terms of dosage and active substances) for a patient. You should be careful with this type of medication because the people in the board control tend to be iffier about this type of thing. This is because with this type of thing is harder to establish exactly what is inside the pills. If possible substitute pharmaceutical compounds for the normal industrialised versions of the same drug(s). You will spend less time in the airport by doing so.
  • Keep the medications in their original package: Try to keep the original package of the medication. Not necessarily the medication box, but, at the very least, the blister pack in which the tablets come in. The reason why it makes sense to keep the original package is that, by doing so, the person in the airport inspecting your luggage will be able to easily identify the name of the drug you are taking with you. Which will make the whole process quicker. Also, the person will scrutinise much less what medications you carrying with you if these are in the original package.
  • Be careful about sharing medication with people others on the road: If you share medication with other people while you are in your digital nomad journey, and something happens to this other person (say a serious side effect) then you might be held responsible. I personally saw an instance where that happens, so always be very careful about sharing medications with others on the road, especially if the mediation is controlled.
  • Avoid carrying excessive amounts of medications: There are two reasons why it makes sense to not carry medications in excessive amounts. The first reason is that you might get in trouble in the airport (especially if it is a controlled substance and you do not have a medical prescription) since the person inspecting your luggage might think you intend to sell said medication. This can lead you to trouble. The other reason why it does not make sense to carry medication in excessive amount is that most likely many of such medication is likely to expire before you have a chance to use it. This is money down the drain.
  • Check the expiration date of the meditations when you buying them: When you buying a medication always make sure it will not expire soon. Only buy medication that will expire, at the very minimum, in 1-year time.

1.6. List of possible travel medicine to bring as a digital nomad

  • Once again remember we are not doctors and we are not providing medical advice. We are simply stating the medications we personally take with us. Always consult with a doctor prior to start taking any sort of medication.
  • The distinction between over the counter and controlled medications below might vary a little bit from country to country.
  • Keep in mind that the list below is very general. If you have any special health condition (e.g. diabetes, high cholesterol, etc.) you might need to top up medication on top of the drugs recommended below.
  • Most likely some of the medications listed below you never have taken before. The advice I received from a doctor before is that you should always take a medication for the first time when you are in your home country. This is because you can check if you will have an allergic reaction to it. If you develop an allergy then you are in a familiar place and it is easier to look for help, like in a local hospital. Also, once you tried a certain medication at least once, and no allergic reaction happens, then you can be pretty confident that nothing will happen when you take that same medication on the road.

A. Over the counter travel medicine to bring

  • Motion sickness medication
    • As a digital nomad you will take a lot of public transport, thus it is likely once in a while you will experience motion sickness.
    • Just keep in mind that some of this type of medication might cause drowsiness as a side effect.
  • Diarrhoea medication
    • Sometimes we might eat something that doesn’t go down well when we are a digital nomads. It doesn’t happen every day but as a traveller once in a while we will go to a place where the hygiene standards are not that great or the food is spoiled, thus this leading to diarrhoea.
    • Sometimes the medical advice is to actually allow yourself to actually have the diarrhoea in order to try to eliminate whatever is bothering you inside your body. Nonetheless, sometimes you might not be in the appropriate place to do so (e.g. public transport) so the medication comes in handy.
    • You should not take this type of medication before talking to a doctor if you have a fever alongside diarrhoea.
  • Anti-nausea medication
    • This kind of medication is useful to alleviate symptoms of food poisoning. In the same say that sometimes we eat something wrong and it might hit the intestine, thus causing us diarrhoea. It might also hit our stomachs, thus causing us the urge to vomit. Nonetheless, sometimes you are not in an appropriate place to do so (e.g. public transport) so the medication comes in handy.
    • This kind of medication is useful to alleviate symptoms of food poisoning. More specifically the drug I usually use is called metoclopramide.
  • Laxative
    • This medication is useful against constipation. It is quite common to have difficulty to go toilet while you travelling. This can be due to a number of reasons such as change of schedule, stress, changes in the kinds of things you eat, among other things.
  • Allergy medication
    • Allergy medication (or what is called antihistamine medication) it is a very useful type of medication to fight allergic reactions.
    • Allergic reactions should be understood in a very broad sense (e.g. bug bits allergies, medication allergies, food allergies, dust allergies, etc.)
  • Skin infection cream
    • As a digital nomad you will go through a number of different environments, thus a skin infection not being unlikely.
    • It is advisable to find a topic cream that has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory (e.g. corticoid) substances.
    • Due to the anti-inflammatory (corticoid) substance, you can also use this cream on insect bites.
  • Fever reducer/pain killer medication
    • Fever and pain are the types of conditions that can literally afflict anyone, including digital nomads of course. Therefore, it is such a basic type of medication that you should always carry with you.
    • Some examples of such drugs for this purpose are paracetamol, ibuprofen and aspirin.
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
    • Sometimes (not always) fever reducers/pain killers are also anti-inflammatory drugs (especially if these are taken in higher dosages). You should also consider having some of this type of medication with you.
    • We suggest you follow the principle of versatility for your belongings that we outlined in this episode and preferably choose the medications that have multiple uses, rather than a single one. Some of the fever reducers/pain killers drugs that are also anti-inflammatory drugs are aspirin and ibuprofen (not paracetamol).
  • Cramps/stomach ache medication
    • Just like with fever and pain, cramps/stomach aches can happen to anyone, including digital nomads. Therefore, it is such a basic type of medication that you should always carry with you.
  • Antiseptic eye drop
    • These are medicated eye drops (not simple lubricating eye drops that you can use when your eyes are tired).
    • This type of eye drop is good to fight against light forms of viral conjunctivitis.
    • Look for this type of eye drops that contain zinc in its formula.

B. Controlled travel medicine to bring

  • Generic-use antibiotic
    • Some antibiotics have very specific uses. Others are considered more general (i.e. these can be used to treat more or less effectively a number of conditions caused by bacteria). Since you are not sure of the specific type of condition you might develop on the road, then it is always a good idea to walk around with at least one general antibiotic in case you get sick due to a bacteria. The one I carry with me is amoxicillin.
  • Malaria prophylaxis
    • Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease. We talked about mosquito-borne diseases and how to prevent those in this episode. Worst of all Malaria is very common in many popular digital nomad areas like Southeast Asia. Therefore, it makes sense for you to carry around with you some prophylaxis for Malaria (i.e. a medication that will decrease the likelihood of you contracting the disease). Two of the main drugs for this are hydroxychloroquine and doxycycline.
  • Altitude sickness medication
    • This kind of medication is perhaps the most specific of the list so far. Some individuals feel really bad in high altitudes and others tolerate it well. Anyhow, independent of who you are if you are planning to go to a place with high altitude, (places like Nepal or Peru) then it makes sense to carry this type of medication, just in case.
  • Travellers’ diarrhoea antibiotic
    • As we were talking about when we were talking about anti-diarrhoea and anti-nausea medication travellers diarrhoea or food poisoning are quite common problems for travellers like digital nomads. In very extreme cases these conditions might require you to take some antibiotics. There are different antibiotics that can be taken for travellers’ diarrhoea. Yet one antibiotic for this condition that I saw to be recommended time and time again is azithromycin.

2. Transcript

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3. Resources