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The Best Medicine

If no other meds are available, try laughter.

Ruh roh. It seems that in all my packing wisdom, I’ve been making a potentially terrible mistake.

You’ve probably heard the advice that you should pack prescription medicines in their original bottle and carry a copy of the prescription. (Confession: I, um, don’t always do this.) You surely know not to travel with illegal drugs. And hopefully you remember my advice about getting all your vaccines.

You may also remember my suggestion to pack a variety of “just in case” remedies in your first aid kit. After all, getting sick on your travels is a bummer, and you may not be able to easily find the medicines you need, particularly if you don’t speak the language. My suitcase contains a veritable mini-pharmacy of cold medicine, cough drops, pain killers, and stomach remedies.

But I recently learned that this may be a bad idea. It turns out that many drugs that we consider ordinary are actually banned in some countries. Things like Sudafed and sleeping aids. Getting caught with banned drugs or even with too-large quantities of your personal medicines can earn you a fine or even land you in jail.


There’s unfortunately no definitive source listing all of these drug restrictions, so you’ll have to do some homework before you leave home. You can start with the State Department’s travel information page, where you can look up information about every country. For example, their page about Japan includes a link to the Japan Ministry of Health website, where I found a page detailing the country’s restrictions on drugs and cosmetics. (It says you can only bring 1 month’s supply of poison and 24 lipsticks, by the way. Just in case you were wondering.)

I hate having to add another “to do” to my pre-departure checklist, but this seems important enough to merit a spot on the list.

If you don’t have time to do the research, the old rule about questionable food in the fridge can apply here, too: When in doubt, throw it out (of the suitcase, that is). I’d rather put up with the sniffles as a free woman than be healthy in a foreign jail.

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