You're climbing the Great Wall of China or visiting the Louvre in Paris when you feel a massive headache coming on. Luckily for you, someone in your ILP group packed some Tylenol and has it in their bag (well, hopefully).
Make sure you're the one that's prepared. It's all too common to get excited about packing for a trip and what you're going to pack, but completely forgetting or overlooking the need to include health care. There are some over the counter medicines you can find abroad and some you can't. And even if it is there, it's harder to track down. Here's the lowdown.
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Usually you can find generic medication or their equivalents while you're traveling or living abroad, but the best rule of thumb is to just bring things that you're already familiar with. To help you out even further, this post has affiliate links for your convenience (which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link, we earn a small commission). Just know that we only share products that we ourselves have used and loved, that other volunteers have recommended, or that we think just look like they'd be pretty useful!
Can't I just buy them when I get there?
As an ILP volunteer you're not going to have a car so if you're not feeling well and need something like cold medicine, you might be jumping on a bus or walking through the snow to get to the store. It's just not as quick and easy as it is back home ... it's usually not a big deal, but when you're feeling sick that's no fun. Also, the medications are likely to be in another language and by a brand you're not familiar with.
When I was living in China someone in my group needed some Tums so we took the bus to a little pharmacy, but when we got there we realized everything was in Mandarin. Luckily someone that worked there spoke a little bit of English, but still you're not totally sure you're getting exactly what you're in need of because of the language barrier.
Our suggestion? Bring all the things you may need. If it's something more major and you need to see a doctor, ILP has resources to help make sure you have a translator and the transportation you need to get there, but for smaller issues like this it's just so much to already have what you need.
What Health Aids Should I Bring?
This list can spark some ideas of things you may not have thought to pack before. Let's make sure you're extra prepared for every scenario. A note? Your bag could get pretty heavy if you bring allllll these things. I prefer to focus on things I've needed more of in the past, and then pack small amounts of other things that I think I may need. You can usually buy more while you're traveling, but I like to have a little bit to at least get me by in the beginning.
*Disclaimer — these are all simply recommendations from someone who's been in your shoes! I've lived abroad as a volunteer before and have lots of friends who have too, so these are just words of advice from our experience. It's always up to you (and your health care provider) what type of health care you "need".
For When You're Sick
Environmental Allergies — If you've never had allergies before, you might want to wait and see if you're affected once you've moved in to the new country because you can always buy them when you arrive (and this isn't a super common issue). But if allergies are something you're prone to, I'd pack them. Think things like Allegra, Benadryl, Claritin, etc.
Upset Stomach + Diarrhea — We've got to add this because it's pretty common. Your diet is going to completely change when you're living in a new country, so it can take a toll on your body while you adjust. For diarrhea prevention, Diaresq and Travelan are two of the top recommendations on the market. Of course there's also Pepto Bismol and diarrhea specific probiotics such as Culterelle (Lactobacillus GG), and Brewers Yeast (Saccharomyces boulardii).
Pain relief — You probably already have specific ones you prefer, but things like Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, etc.
Cuts — I like having a small first aid kit that fits in my backpack or purse and comes everywhere. Include Band Aids, Bacitracin, Neosporin, etc.
Cold — Colds are common for European travelers, especially those who will be there during the colder months. You know what you like, but consider DayQuil/NyQuil, Robitussin, Sudafed, Theraflu, cough drops, etc.
For When You're On Vacation
Topical Relief — If you're headed somewhere sunny and tropical, think about bringing things like aloe gel, anti-itch cream, sunscreen, bug and mosquito repellent, etc. These items are often more expensive if you wait to buy it when you get there.
Long Plane + Train + Bus Rides — Everyone's different, but I have the hardest time sleeping when I'm traveling. And if you have a 10+ hour flight or bus ride, a nap is exactly what I'm looking for. I like to bring a sleep aid, so consider things like Melatonin or other sleep aids (here's a few the Mayo Clinic covers).
Motion Sickness — Again, everyone's different on this but there's been many winding roads on trips where I was traveling via bus and was oh so glad that I brought something to help fight off the nausea. Dramamine came out with a product that utilizes ginger that really worked for me, but you could also consider things like Gravol, Diflucan, Ondansetron, etc.
For Everyday Health
Like we mentioned, when you move to a new country your body is going to go through it! You're introducing a new set of germs your body isn't used to, an entirely new diet (which is likely lacking the combination of nutrients you were used to previously), and you're probably going to have some high stress situations that every traveler encounters because that just happens when you're stepping out of your comfort zone.
Especially when you're going to live abroad for 4 months, it's important to make extra effort to give your body the support it needs.
Supplements — A good multivitamin would be a great start (especially since it's compact and easier as a traveler). But considering your personal health history and the country you're going to, you might consider specific things like Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Iron, etc. Not getting enough protein is a big complaint I hear from a lot of volunteers who live abroad. Our diet in the U.S. and Canada is often protein-focused, and it can be quite the switch when you go live abroad. Some volunteers like bringing protein powders so they can supplement their diets that way.
Prescriptions — If you're currently taking a prescription, you'll want to continue that during your semester abroad. Talk to your doctor ahead of time and explaining that you'll be out of the country for an extended period of time. See if you're able to get an extended dose so that you can take enough to last your entire trip (prescriptions aren't something you want to receive through the mail while you're traveling).
Hydration — This one is huge for your health and we often forget it when we're traveling! Bring a re-useable water (you could grab one of our rad ILP water bottles, or there's discounted brands too at places like Costco as well).
You usually can't drink the water while you're traveling, but if you're an ILP volunteer you'll have filtered water at your house (if you aren't able to drink the tap water) and so it's easy to fill up. Another tip? There are products like Nuun tablets, Liquid IV, and even simply flavor packets that can help you stay hydrated if you want something different than just water (I'm a big fan of True Lemon and it comes in lots of flavors, found in most grocery stores).
What OTC Medications Are Not Available In Another Country?
Basically, you might find a brand you're familiar with when you're traveling ... but often times that's not the case. You'll probably find another product from a foreign brand that treats the same symptoms. That works, but like I mentioned, if I'm not feeling great I prefer to just reach in my bag and grab a product that I've used before and know how my body reacts to it.
Overall, we've found it better to be over prepared so you can enjoy your trip abroad to the fullest! Whether you are playing tag with your students on ILP, tasting every type of taco Mexico has to offer, or snorkeling in the Dominican Republic, being prepared can be your savior to having the best trip of your life!
Have concerns about volunteering abroad?
International Language Programs provides the opportunity for people to travel and serve children in another country! Whether you are looking for something to help build your resume or you just want to be in another country, the uplifting and life changing experience of ILP is something you won't want to miss.
We'd love to talk to you and answer all your questions. ILP has representatives who have all volunteered before and would love to get in touch and help you out! Just click that button and we can reach out with a text.