I am a nurse infected with wanderlust. If an opportunity to explore a new place presents itself, I jump at the chance– sometimes with or without the means, much to the chagrin of my piggy bank, er …”savings account”.
Because of this passion for new experiences, and as a byproduct of my day job training, I travel with a small pharmacy for all of those “just in case” scenarios. Taking these precautions has enabled me to turn what could be a really terrible vacation into just one unpleasant day, for myself and my traveling companions.
When it comes to the aforementioned “just in case” situations, I am most commonly the one afflicted. From GI bugs in Bali and the Dominican Republic to strep throat from a rented snorkel in Hawaii– all little ol’ me. My bevy of drugs have also been helpful for friends with carsickness, food poisoning, panic, and insomnia. So, what, pray tell, is on my “essentials” list?
For starters, the OTC, or over the counter stuff:
Pepto bismal – always my first line of attack for any stomach issue. A doctor colleague of mine takes a prophylactic Pepto pill every day when traveling abroad to “coat [his] GI tract” and help prevent bugs from catching. Whether or not there’s actual science to that, I have no idea, but it sounds good. And who doesn’t enjoy a black tongue and black stool on vacation (both normal side effects of taking Pepto)? Kidding!
Melatonin- sleepless nights are a sure way to ruin a good time and melatonin is the most gentle and natural way to combat insomnia. When going for a long trip, you can even start taking it a couple days in advance at the time you intend to go to sleep in your destination (or the reverse, before you head home).
Now, onto the list you’ll need to see a doctor or nurse practitioner to prescribe:
Ambien- I don’t like to rely on this at home, but when you go to sleep in Los Angeles and wake up in Auckland, sometimes melatonin won’t do the trick and staying au naturale isn’t as important to me as being bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for my early morning arrival. Sleeping on the plane is sometimes a must.
Xanax- I like to spend my money on my actual trip activities, so always fly coach. Xanax is my way of tricking my body into thinking we’re in business class. Almost 30 years of horseback riding has riddled me with a bad back that is prone to muscle spasms from sitting in bad chairs for too long. Can we collectively say “airplane seat”? Since it’s a benzodiazepine, xanax or alprazolam also bears some muscle relaxing properties. It’s really lovely to have a relaxed mind (and body) when settling in for an 18 hour flight in coach. Everyone responds to drugs differently, but for me, xanax doesn’t put me in a coma, so I’m still able to wake up and stretch my legs. The risk of blood clots increases exponentially due to long flights, so it behooves you to go easy on the sedation.
For the potential stomach bug-
Ciprofloxacin- this is only to be taken when truly needed (I’ve taken it twice). Cipro can take that traveler’s diarrhea and knock it right out. A friend, who shall remain nameless, had her 4 day hike to Machu Picchu completely saved by this drug. Damn raw tomato tried to take her down, but cipro enabled her to have just one terrible day and one underwear casualty. **I am not giving actual medical advice, just tips to bring to your doctor. Many travel clinics are very used to sending people on vacation with meds for the just-in-case scenario**
Zofran- for nausea/vomiting. This is a non-drowsy absolute gem! It has helped me when I just don’t feel right, when altitude is bothering me, and when I’m actually ill. Zofran is up there with Xanax in my travel bestie category. I’m a self-professed vomit phobe, so I never leave home without zofran, literally.
Diamox- if you’re traveling somewhere with high altitude, speak to your doctor about diamox. My favorite effect is that you can actually sleep at altitude when taking it. That being said, it has some weird side effects like tingling extremities and odd taste alterations. Everyone is affected differently, but I was helped immensely when in Peru at elevations of 12,000-14,000 feet.
Again, I am not peddling medical advice, but passing along tips to ponder and, possibly, mention to your physician/nurse practitioner. A few of these medications have helped me immensely while traveling.