Packing a Travel Pharmacy for a Family Trip

by Adrienne Krock, staff writer

Be Prepared. Sometimes little things interrupt our vacations; a little headache here, a rumbly in a tumbly there. This week we asked our Parenting Panel: What do you pack in your travel pharmacy, just in case?

Chris, also known as GusMan, is always planning his next family trip to the Walt Disney World Resort and loves to help others plan their trips, as well sharing his experiences. Chris writes:

When packing for your Disney vacation, there is no doubt you consider variables such as the weather and how long you will be gone. For my family, we start packing a couple weeks ahead of time so that we are not rushed and possibly forget something. Besides, there is nothing worse than leaving for vacation and realizing that you forgot something important such as your poncho or toothbrush. Sure, you can pick up some simple items at the resort store, but you may not have your choice of brands or styles.

In many cases, you may not think about what to take “just in case” someone gets sick, sore, or injured. Nothing bad happens when you are on vacation, right? More times than not, something will happen to someone and you will need to take care of it to help reduce the chance of the magic being squashed by something unforeseen.

My family and I do carry a mini-pharmacy with us during our travels. It’s not that we feel like we need to, but more like we want to be prepared. In addition to the usual prescription meds that we must take, here are some other items that we bring along:

  • Pain relievers and anti-inflammatory meds – Nothing is worse than getting a headache or possibly a sore back while on vacation. Having a few doses with you can really help take the edge off.
  • Allergy, anti-histamines, decongestants – Some people may find that traveling to a different part of the country or to different climates has an effect on how you deal with allergies or sinus issues.
  • Antacids – Lets face it… sometimes you need something to calm your stomach down when you had one too many dessert or after you hit the last food cart at the Food and Wine fest.
  • Band-Aid bandages, anti-bacterial cream, anti-itch cream – From the occasional blister to the possible skinned knee, these items will have the power to convert the ordinary parent into the best doctor in the world in your child’s eyes.
  • Sunscreen and sunburn treatment – Hopefully you won’t need the sunburn treatment when using sunscreen, but it happens. And while some may think these are only necessary during the hot summer months, it is always a good idea to wear sunscreen when it is cooler.

Please remember that it comes to transporting your mini-pharmacy is that you should never forget to pack all prescription medicines and a small portion of your min-pharmacy in your carry-on bag just in case your luggage decides to go on a different vacation.

What many people don’t know is that the first aid centers at the parks do a great job at helping you in times of need and you don’t have any of the above items. We always find them to be helpful and very friendly. And if for some reason you find yourself in a situation where you or a member of your family need more immediate medical attention, they can refer you to the local urgent care or even an emergency dentist. Speaking from experience, they can even make transportation arrangements for you if that is the case. They really make what could be a difficult time a more pleasant experience.

Even though we hope that our small selection of medicines and our first aid kit never gets used while on vacation, we know that being prepared is better than wondering how to handle a situation. Most of the items we carry can fit in a small zip-lock bag and does not take up too much space. It’s a small package that is worth packing.

Parenting in the Parks columnist Adrienne Krock’s three boys are now 14, 11, and 8. They’ve been visiting the Disneyland Resort since they were each just weeks old and Annual Passholders since they were 3 years old. Adrienne writes:

I learned this lesson a very hard way: At 22 months, my eldest son experienced a febrile seizure in the car on the way home from Disneyland! I learned quickly how to stay on top of a fever, and sometimes fevers crop up when we least expect them. A child who appeared healthy in the morning may sport a headache or fever later in the day without warning.

The Disney theme park first aid centers do provide single doses of basic over the counter pharmaceuticals, but with some limitations. Many pediatricians use a standard equation to calculate a safe dosage of products such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, based on a child’s weight. These dosages often exceed the recommended doses on the product packaging. The first aid centers limit dose size to the packaging guidelines. I much prefer to bring my own products and use the larger doses. In addition, having my own supply means we can address issues immediately rather than take the time to walk to the first aid centers.

I try to carry the following with me in our backpack, to the Theme Parks:

  • Ibuprofen – Adult strength and Junior strength chewable tablets. I carried liquid ibuprofen and measuring cups when my children were younger. I find chewable tablets much easier to manage. When I still had toddlers, I also carried chewable acetaminophen tablets in case I needed to “stack” fever reducers, with my pediatrician’s permission.
  • Bandages and antibacterial ointment – A few bandages and a little tube of ointment take up little space in a bag and come in very handy from time to time.
  • Anti-histamine such as diphenhydramine – The generic name for Benedryl, Diphenhydramine may help with allergic reactions from a variety of sources not just hay fever or colds.
  • Lip balm – I tend to forget lip balm for the kids. I use a tinted kind for myself so I need to remember to pack un-tinted for the boys.
  • Sunscreen Usually we just apply the sunscreen at home or our hotel room, but I keep a small tube in my purse for touch-ups. I love bundled sunscreen packaging that includes a small tube inside, perfect for a purse or backpack.
  • Glasses wipes – Three of our family members wear glasses. We rarely leave home without a few glasses wipes on hand.
  • Eye drops Disclaimer: My husband is a chemist in the pharmaceutical industry and his resume includes several eye drop projects (this makes me very informed on the topic). I adore single-dose rewetting drops. Their small size fits easily in my backpack and I never worry about contamination in the bottles because with one application we toss the tube.

I keep the following packed in our bags at the hotel:

  • Aloe vera gel – Just in case someone gets burned, we bring along some aloe vera gel.
  • Anti-acid and anti-diarrheal tablets – These tablets fit so easily in our bathroom bags and take up little room. Usually these issues strike in the middle of the night so why not be prepared just in case.

Mary Kraemer is an avid Disney fan and travel consultant with CruisingCo/MouseEarVacations who loves to travel with her husband and children to Disney destinations as often as possible. Mary writes:

I pack my famous "lotions & potions" (L&P) bag for every trip and think I’ve covered nearly every medical contingency possible. Except I don’t have a portable X-ray machine; I let the TSA handle that.

Even when I’m in Anaheim (or some other urban location), I still pack as if I’m a million miles from anywhere because I know that when the earaches or upset tummies happen, it is more likely to be 3 a.m. when stores are closed and I really prefer to avoid the ER in the middle of the night in a strange town. So I pack the same L&P necessities for a land vacation as I do for one at sea (when you have no stores easily available but I will admit that the trip to the medical center is fairly easy and you don’t need GPS to find it).

After traveling with kids for the past 25 years, I’ve finessed the list. And you now have access to the amazing, and never-before-disclosed contents of my L&P bag. Please note that most of these items are packed in a travel-size container.

  • Toothpaste, toothbrush and floss for everyone in the family – I put these in our carryon bags if we are taking a long or overnight flight to avoid ‘dragon breath’
  • Deodorant – obvious
  • Face wash – some of us have specific brand preferences
  • Small bottle of baby wash – useful for faces or shampoo or when someone really dislikes the brand in the hotel/ship
  • Conditioner – pretty much every place has shampoo but conditioner can be iffy
  • Lotion – same rationale as the conditioner
  • Sunscreen – spray, which is lighter weight than bottles of liquid, for bodies; Neutrogena tubes for faces
  • Razor – stubble is not my thing
  • Feminine supplies – get surprised once, you never want to do that again
  • Earplugs – my beloved snores so loudly that one of the kids claimed it made their ears bleed
  • Advil
  • Children's Tylenol
  • Benedryl
  • Cough syrup
  • Small jar of Vicks Vaporub – it’s unbelievably great when you need it
  • Tylenol with codeine – in case something a little stronger is needed
  • Pepto-Bismol – for upset tummies
  • Immodium – to stop up the loose caboose
  • Ace bandage
  • Band-Aid bandages
  • Blister bandaids
  • Toilet seat covers – I have girls, and you never know
  • Small pouch of baby wipes – because they are useful for a variety of clean ups
  • Nail clipper
  • Emery board
  • Tweezers
  • Small scissors
  • Sewing kit
  • Shout Wipes – for spills and stains on clothes
  • Throat lozenges – sore throat and Vitamin C
  • Eye drops
  • Starbucks Via packets – because if there’s no decent coffee, these will do, and in my case, it qualifies as first aid
  • Hand sanitizer – I have a little bottle in the L&P bag, but my go-to bottle hangs by a caribiner from my travel purse

I get migraine headaches, so I pack specifically for that:

  • Migraine patches
  • Excedrine Migrane medication
  • Prescription migraine medications
  • Eye mask
  • Quart-size Ziploc bag – I put ice in it and wrap it in a towel to put on my head

The newest L&P traveling companion is a bottle of Cipro (an antibiotic that can be useful when something a little more serious than an upset tummy happens although I’m reasonably careful about what I eat and drink in a foreign country).

Nobody in my family gets seasick, so I don’t pack Dramamine or patches, etc. When my kids were little, there were plenty of ear infections, so I had drops from the pediatrician to numb the pain; I don’t take those along any more but they were a godsend at the time.

Shortly before we went on a cruise to the Caribbean, my daughter broke her arm. I got a Gore Tex liner for her cast, so she could go swimming in the pool (your orthopedist needs to use this Gore Tex liner instead of the cotton one that is normally used). It makes the cast very lightweight, too! We had to get a waterproof sleeve to cover her cast when she was at the beach to prevent sand from getting inside her cast. She was self-conscious about the cast, so I bought long gloves that covered past her elbow for formal night, and she looked sensational.

Last but not least (and not in my L&P bag), a small roll of duct tape. Because duct tape really can fix just about anything you need, and when your suitcase has been mangled by the gorillas in baggage handling, it’s perfect for a quick fix to get home.

It's your turn—keep the discussion flowing!

Visit the Parenting in the Parks forum on our MousePad discussion board, and share your opinions about this topic or many others, or send your suggestions via e-mail. Reader-submitted tips might be used in a future article, and you might be selected to participate in an upcoming panel discussion!



  1. By mkelm44

    As a frequent camper, my wife I have discovered that in many cases it is a lot easier to get travel sized containers for a lot of things. As Chris says, we have found that we rarely need more than a few doses of any medicine, and if we do, then it's time to break off from the vacation and go find the pharmacy. So rather than carry a full thing of 50 advil or whatever, we carry 12 with us. It lets us save on space, which is good when you're carrying everything yourself. In addition, we write out a list of dosing instructions for every medicine we carry, so if we can't remember, we have instructions for how to use the medicines. It again saves on space rather than having a bunch of seperate set of instructions

    A couple of other things I might suggest would be hand disinfectant (you can find small bottles that clip on to any bag) because even at Disney, bathrooms aren't always the most available, especially if you're making an impromptu stop for a pretzel or whatever. I'd also suggest a small washcloth or two- these have multiple purposes, from washing up (when normal wipes won't quite cut it) and maybe a small thing of soap. If you check in an outdoor store you can find a multi-use soap that will work as soap, toothpaste, shampoo, dish soap, etc) and put it in a small container for truly bad situations. Also, the washcloths are great when it's hot out- just dip them in water and use them to keep cool.

  2. By bennette

    My suitcase tends to be lightly packed with the exception of my kit. I think it's pretty close to Mary's.

    Blister band-aids are a must for us and we no longer travel without a mini canister of Body-Glide. It's not just for preventing blisters, it helps prevent heat rash for my husband as well as aid in healing if he forgets to put it on! We take some medical tape, too, to make sure those bandaids stay on!

    I've moved away from duct tape, after learning this year at least one country doesn't want to find it even in your checked luggage.

    I've never liked that Crystal Light stuff (I think Disney water tastes okay) but after being out this year in extreme heat for extended periods of time, I have learned to carry and use a hydrating powder of some kind. The single-serve packets are great.

    I also carry a few ginger candies now for nausea or to help settle my stomach. Gin-Gin's super strength candies are my usual brand.

    I now carry Cipro and an anti-nausea patch but haven't needed them yet.

  3. By MermaidHair

    I have many feet problems so I add to the general list that people have already outlined many extras to help sooth my aching feet and blisters. These include mole skin, neosporin and gauze pads for if a blister is really bad. Some safety scissors to cut the moleskin with (learned that the hard way!). Then to ease my tired feet I bring a baggie of epsom salts for soaking. I used to pack all of this in a tupperware that fits my feet for soaking but I recently got an inflatable foot bath that I will bring next time. (see here) I have also recently been turned on to soaking my feet in ice water for 10-15 minutes to reduce swelling. Quite relieving once you get used to them!

  4. By rph13

    Make sure to either keep prescription and over the counter meds in some type of original container or at the very least put the lot number and expiration date into the new container. None of the meds listed break down into harmful products when they expire but they might not be effective if the drug is extremely out of date. Especially in cases of antibiotics and pain/fever reducers, you want to make sure that those are effective, no sense carrying the meds and then not getting the desired effect.
    With that being said, the general consensus is almost all meds can be used months (and in some cases years ) after the expiration date. Your mileage may vary of course and if I was in a country that you should not drink the water, I don't think I would want to rely on expired antibiotics.

    The other thing I did not see listed that my family always carries is eyeglass repair kit. DD glasses broke one year when we were at the Library of Congress and of course no one there had any type of screw driver (highly secure area) or any type of tape, so the poor kid had to hold her glasses on her face for the whole tour.

  5. By eabaldwin

    Wow, you are all so prepared! I feel like I need to bring more "stuff" with me from now on. I should keep some allergy stuff with me because DH has been hit with allergy symptoms on a few of our trips. He usually keeps some in his bag, but we don't always bring his. I should bring some tylenol/advil for the girls as well. At least we would have it just in case. I usually just have a few band aids, some sun screen, and chap stick.

  6. By GusMan

    Keep in mind, being strategic in what you bring is a key part of being prepared. You dont have to bring "a lot," but a few small doses of this, that, and the other can go a long way. Keep in mind that the first aid centers can also help you in a pinch. After a while, you find out what is best to keep around for your family.

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