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Which over the counter meds and products to pack and which to buy in Europe?

I've read that I need to pack neosporin and ibuprofen. What else is better to bring with you? I've heard I should purchase shampoo at my destination. What else is easiest to buy once you arrive? thanks!

Posted by
484 posts

1) pack small hand sanitizer (2 oz size is airplane allowed) 2) flushable wipes - can be used to clean hands, emergency toilet paper, even as nose tissue - take at least 1 or 2 packets. Easy to find in grocery stores or big box retailers. 3) If you are going to do laundry - take unidose packets of laundry soap. Wal-Mart travel section near pharmacy has small packets of Tide. I have used Purex laundry sheets where the soap is embedded in the fabric sheet. Easy to pack. 4) small packets of nose tissue 5) empty plastic bags (gallon zip-lock or the type used in grocery stores) Good for wet items, dirty shoes, dirty clothes, garbage. 6)Go ahead and pack some small plastic bottles (2 oz size) of shampoo or sample-type packets 7) For Europe, I wouldn't worry too much about medications unless you currently are taking med.s for current medical issues. I would be more concerned about places like Jamaica, Haiti, Central or South America. Europe has good sanitation and medical standards. The major companies that make and sell medicines in USA - sell the same stuff in Europe. The companies are truly global. For example, Colgate sells toothpaste in most countries. If you have trouble with stomach upset, you can take Rolaids or similar. Colds - take some Nyquil or Dayquil caps. Allergies/Sinus - Claritin. Really, don't stock up on OTC medications unless you currently have medical issues and need them. You can spend a lot of money on stuff that you don't use. Overspending and overpacking on OTC med.s is a mistake I once made on a trip to Central America. I no longer carry so many med.s.

Posted by
2081 posts

Ruth,

HEre is what i bring. Mind you i dont bring individual bottles, but put several of them in one bottle the size of a pop can.

Ibuprofen
Tylenol or non Ibuprofen product.
Pepto Bismol tablets
immodium AD.

Bayer aspirin. the real stuff
Tums
Benedryl
fav OTC allergy med.

I put some bandaids in a ziplock bag

I also put about 2 sticks of lip balm in with my stuff

Happy trails.

Posted by
260 posts

Gentle reminder: with few exceptions, you can buy most items in Europe. On my most recent trip (to S.America, but would be same for Europe) I did something radical: took solid shampoo (made by Lush, available online) and conditioner (liquid kind, but I note that Lush now also makes this). Rationale: unless you are staying in very very cheap places or apts., shampoo is virtually always provided, but conditioner rarely so. BTW: buy 3 ounce bottles for stuff like conditioner: that is accepted in the quart baggie thingies US airlines still insist you show them (no longer true in S.America at least). I agree with other posters: ibo is sometimes hard to find (not so other aspirins however) as is Tums (Americans seem more obsessed by digestion than Europeans!). Baggies are great to have - I now pack sunscreen for the day in a tiny pill baggie which I put in my pocket, for example. And the larger ones are also useful. It's hard to find small amts. of tissues so these are nice to have with you as well. However, you can also take a quart size baggie, slit a hole in the center (like a tissue box) and bring your own tissues (cheaper and you can take a lot for no weight at all). I also found toothpaste pills (yes, really, available cheap from Amazon) which again, takes away the bother of the quart baggie thing. But remember: you can buy toothpaste everywhere in Europe - you'll find same brands usually as in the states (used to be more fun years ago when uniquely European brands were available though!). But if you bring your own, look for the larger size (think they are 3 oz.) usually available in Walmart in their travel size section. There's my two cents!

Posted by
833 posts

If you do just bring what you think you need with you (including a small thing of shampoo) then when you use it on the trip, it frees up space in your bag to bring souvenirs etc home with you. It's all personal preference.

Posted by
2081 posts

I choose to carry what I listed since it takes little space (foe me) and I'd rather have it than to use my vacation time looking for it.

To each his own.

Happy trails

Posted by
186 posts

Just in case of a serious problem, we always carry a refill of prescription strength anti-diarrheal and cipro. Usually don't need either but I never know when a UTI will hit or stomach problem that will not respond to Imodium. Our doctor is also a traveler so he understands. I agree with the other posts. I have been told that ibuprofen is expensive in Europe but do not have any experience buying since we carry a full supply of most over the counter meds.

Posted by
3307 posts

The issue with quite a few otc meds is not that they're unavailable, it's that they can only be purchased at a pharmacy. Also, the prices are much higher than here. I once forgot to pack my ibuprofen, which I take daily for bad knees. My purse supply ran out after a short time. I reckoned that by the end of the trip, 3 more weeks, I had spent around $40 on it. I think that would have bought me about 3000 tabs in the U.S. It also came in a maxmum size, I think 24. I was taking 4 -6/day at that point, so I needed many packets. I had to be sure I always had enough to get through Sundays, when the pharmacies were closed, so I could avoid the time waster of hunting down the one open in the area. There is one more consideration. Some products are either unknown or illegal in Europe. A friend tried to get Peptobismol in Vienna and was told by the pharmacist that one of its ingredients, bismuth (?) is considered too dangerous for human consumption. I just figure out what and how much I'm going to need and bring it, along with some likelies, such as antihistamines. I really think the advice to buy when you get there is poor, both from the financial and from the convenience angles.

Posted by
18312 posts

In 2012, in the Bavarian Forest of Germany, I found I was using Ibuprofen (pr. E-buprofen) faster than I had anticipated, and I bought a few week's supply and a package of band-aids for a very nominal price. This last fall, my S.O. ran out of Neosporin in Germany and found that they don't sell it without a prescription over there. However, they have a very suitable substitute that is sold over the counter.

Remember what Rick says, "If you think you can't buy it over there, ask yourself how 400 million Europeans do without it". Hint: Europeans don't fly to the U.S. just to purchase OTC drugs.

I never take anything with me I might not use.

Posted by
108 posts

I'm in the camp of bringing more with you when it comes to medicines. Certainly, there are medications available in Europe to treat most maladies you'll encounter, however, I'd rather not deal with trying to explain what I need in another language and find the equivalent, which may or may not be exactly the same and may or may not require a prescription, when I'm not feeling well. I've had the experience of being sick while living overseas and having to try to sort out medications. Of course, I managed and got what I needed, but it was so much extra effort when I was already feeling pretty yucky, that I'm really not in a hurry to repeat the experience.

So, I tend to take DayQuil, NyQuil, Tylenol, Pepto Bismol tablets, Tums, bandaids, Neosporin, Bag Balm (they sell 1oz tins as well, and it's super handy for dry skin, areas that get rubbed raw from extra walking, etc.), sunscreen (depending on the season), powdered pedialyte servings, Emergen-C packets, antiseptic wipes, Q-tips, etc. I don't take large quantities of anything, and usually use travel sizes so the whole first aid kit fits in a small cosmetic bag.

I'm usually fine with buying things on the fly if needed, but I think that medicines/first aid supplies are worth bringing along because I'd just rather not deal with having to find the meds I need in a foreign language and in forms that might be different than I'm used to at home and/or require a prescription, when I'm under the weather.

Posted by
503 posts

To bring or not to bring... that is the question.

Recent trip to Italy for 2 1/2 weeks which included a trip to the ER in Venice brought this question into focus. As to OTC meds....

YES you can find them in Europe - however, not every corner has a 24 hr. pharmacy (as we learned in Venice - had to try 4 before finding one that was open on a Saturday.
YES - OTC is more expensive in Europe than in the US.
NO- not all OTC meds have the same equivalents in the US and depending upon the language skills involved you may, or may not, end up with what you want/need.
My advice? Take "the basics" in sufficient supplies to last 4 days - that gives you a large enough window to purchase more if you need it and to translate your desired medication name into the local language.

"The Basics" - Advil, Tylenol (whichever one you take).
Stomach relief - Pepto Bismol, immodium, etc. (i.e. whichever one you take)
Dayquil/Niquil - or equivalent
Benadryl - or equivalent
Small selection of bandaids/blister bandaids and small packet of neosporin.

Tea bags, emergen C and small packets of salt (for gargling) aren't bad ideas either.

Posted by
11613 posts

I only take prescription meds with me, I buy what I need at pharmacies in Europe. I noticed that Ibuprofin, for example, is more expensive but the dosage per tablet is double the OTC equivalent that I buy in the US, so ask the pharmacist how much to take!

Posted by
990 posts

Small amounts of OTC meds weigh virtually nothing, but if you need them, you won't want to be roaming the streets looking for someplace to buy them. I sprained an ankle in Berlin and was grateful that I had a handful of naproxen sodium to hand and didn't have to hobble out in search of some. And the time I got traveler's tummy in Istanbul? Yeah, wandering the street looking for the Turkish equivalent of Immodium is an adventure I don't regret passing up.

So.. I probably tote about a quarter ounce more stuff than I might need. For me, it's an easy choice. YMMV.

Posted by
324 posts

Outside of pain meds like Ibuprofen or naproxen, most of the OTC meds I take come in blister packs, so it's not that hard for me to throw a few strips of each, along with some bandaids, etc in a sandwich or quart size bag. That way, I have the medicine I'm used to taking and am not wasting time trying to find the local equivalent. I bring Immodium, something for heartburn, pain meds, and also allergy and sinus meds (separately) because one or the other gives me problems seasonally, but not at the same time. I thought I was going to choke to death one May in St. James' Park.

I don't take laundry soap because I pay for service washes.

Posted by
1350 posts

Along with most of the OTC meds previously mentioned, I bring Tylenol Muscle and Back pills (or generic equivalent).

Posted by
12040 posts

Here's a tip for those who don't want to carry so much ibuprofen... talk to your doctor about switching to an equivalent anti-inflammatory. For example, 500 mg of naproxen twice a day is equivalent to 800 mg of ibuprofen taken three times a day. As are a single 15 mg tablet of meloxicam and 200 mg of celebrex. Although all of these are a little more expensive than ibuprofen, other than celebrex, they're still pretty cheap. So, if you can get the same benefit from one 15 mg tablet of meloxicam that you would from taking four 200 mg ibuprofens three times a day, you can probably save a significant amount of packing space plus avoid the trouble of running out. But as always, talk to your doctor.

Posted by
224 posts

If you have to visit a pharmacy in Europe, chances are it will be a positive experience and the pharmacist will get what you need, even if it's not the exact same medication you're used to. Don't sweat it at all if you forget an over-the-counter medication. But always bring more than enough prescription meds.

Posted by
1427 posts

I take many of the things already mentioned but on my first trip to Sweden, I did not take any antacids along. I'm not that used to drinking as much coffee as they do in Sweden and ended up with horrible indigestion. I could not explain in drugstores (even though English is quite good in Sweden) what I wanted. So I learned to always take indigestion pills with me.

Posted by
3580 posts

Aspirin and ibuprofen come in very expensive, small quantities in European pharmacies. If you ever use these products, take a generous supply with you. Plus, if you aren't feeling well a trip to the pharmacy can be exhausting. Been there.

Posted by
288 posts

There are meds that I always carry with me. I have been caught one too many times not to. I carry them daily with me in the US and overseas as well. Yes you can always buy them there, but here is a story for you. I am a late bloomer to allergies. I didn't start developing them until well into my late 20s. On our way home from Germany I almost packed my allergy meds in the checked luggage. I am so glad I didn't. Part of our breakfast was a kiwi. Since I had not eaten a kiwi in a long time, I didn't know I was allergic to it until I ate it and had a bad reaction to it. Not to be TMI, but I also ended up throwing up and having really bad intestinal issues unrelated to the kiwi, so I was glad I had some immodium on me as well. All this happened under 2 hours of taking off and we still had 6 hours to go. Not the most fun flight I have ever had.

Posted by
4 posts

In Paris, towards the end of the Paris and Heat of France tour, my back was acting up and I ran out of Aleve (naproxen). A trip to the pharmacy resulted in my being told it was a prescription item (probably because it was dispensed at a higher dosage! ) Upon returning to the hotel lobby, I was discussing options (aspirin, ibuprofen etc.) when a fellow tour member took out her Aleve and gave me the remaining pills. She said she was on her way to the airport to fly home and didn't need them. For OTC meds, check with fellow travelers in a crunch.

Posted by
260 posts

one more thing I'd like to add: DO bring more than the amt. of prescription meds you need for the trip time. In other words: for a two-week trip: try to bring at least an extra week (or two) of supplies. Reason I'm emphasizing this: I got stranded in Dublin (yeah, I know, this wasn't terribly awful!) for almost a week after the volcanic eruption in Iceland a few years ago. Luckily, I had plenty of extra meds, but there were lots of folks in my hotel (they were on a tour, I was not) who were pretty panicked about this (nor did they seem to allow for needing extra cash either!)

Posted by
1350 posts

I had a great experience at the pharmacy in Spain. I sustained an injury on a waterslide at the Aqualandia waterpark and could barely walk. The pharmacist had a look and gave me something that was OTC there but I think would require a prescription here. A night with my pills and some ice allowed me to go on my jeep adventure tour the next day (limping a bit, but mobile).

On the other hand, we were in Poland in 2004 and needed something for the runs. I tried to mimic some acceptable gesture to indicate the problem and left with antacid. A second visit and I had Polish immodium in hand.

I wouldn't hesitate to get something in Europe for unexpected problems but do prefer to bring small amounts of the products that I'm more likely to need than not.

Posted by
484 posts

Here's a tip. This is what I do. Buy a zipper pencil case with a clear plastic side (about 6" x 8") (office supply stores, Wal-Mart, etc.). Buy a few small round disc-shaped pill bottles (Wal-Mart travel section near pharmacy). Make a first-aid kit. Include: zip-lock bag, packets of flushable wipes, packets of nose tissue, fill and label the small disc pill bottles with ibuprofen, calcium carbonate tabs (i.e. rolaids). Add lip balm, some bandaids, optional - small Neosporin or similar, sugar-free cough drops, small hand sanitizer. Carry this with you everywhere. Note: take the items out of their original packages and place them in the travel bottles (round pill bottles) or just loose in the first-aid kit. This will save space and make it easy for you to carry anywhere - in your purse, backpack, carry-on, etc. Carry additional supplies in your suitcase for refill purposes. You can then customize this kit to suit your needs. (Women may want to add sanitary napkins; other med.s; pedialyte for children, etc.) With this kit, you can have immediate access to your stuff should you need it while in transit.

Posted by
714 posts

Had to purchase some cortisone creme for mosquito bite while I was in Rome. Very helpful woman in a pharmacy knew excactly what I needed and it was quite reasonable in cost and most importantly it worked much better than anything I have used here - I get quite bad reactions to mozzie bites. I used it for a couple of years. Of course, it was not an emergency nor was it a potentially serious illness. But I have added cortisone creme to my travelling first aid kit. However well supplied you are, there is always something that comes up. For instance dry eye in Crete - off to the pharmacy, drops worked like a charm. More seriously had to get amoxcillin in Turkey for a UTI - there it was OTC and everything was easily cleared up so I could continue and enjoy my holiday. Now always travel with an antibiotic for that, just in case.

My first aid kit is in a ziplock baggie and sits nicely on the bottom of my pull-along in the area between the handles where you can never pack anything except undies or socks. It stays there all the time and goes with me everywhere

Posted by
8 posts

Re buying medicines like aspirin, ibuprofen, paracetamol. I can only definitely speak about the UK, but it is very much cheaper to buy these as generic items (ie not branded as Neurofen for example) at ordinary supermarkets or chemist shops (pharmacies). They are on the shelves with other things like cold remedies so you would not need to go to any special Pharmacy section. The only possible hitch would be if your age was queried (too young!) or you tried to buy in larger quantities. Many supermarkets are open 24 hours now so you would not need to hunt down an out of hours chemist for these sorts of things. Hope this helps.

Posted by
8 posts

Paracetamol is a very common pain killer much like Tylenol. It's sold by itself but is also an ingredient in cold relief medicines for headache and flu type aches. Again it is much cheaper to buy as generic paracetamol rather than as a trade name like "Panadol".

Posted by
8 posts

Apologies - I just checked Wikipaedia and it suggests paracetamol is the same as acetaminophen which is in Tylenol. Different names for the same thing. Anyway it is freely and cheaply available in the UK, but not in quantity for safety reasons.

Posted by
2081 posts

@ aj,

Thanks. I was too lazy to google it.

i know that every country has different names for what we use, its just one of those things that has to be delt with when traveling.

I do like the fact that some of the OTC has more kick to it too.

happy trails.

Posted by
9724 posts

Yes, totally agree with throwing in some Pepto bismol just in case. I did not know that about the bismuth being not recommended or available in Europe. No wonder it was not to be found in Rome!

I have been using very small ziplock bags I got at Michaels craft store for meds. I use separate bags for Motrin, Tylenol PM, Immodium and generic allergy pills. You can use a magic marker fine point to write on the bags. These are even lighter and take up less space than the bottles you can buy. I would not put prescription meds in them. There are several sizes of bags. I have ones that are maybe 2"x3" and a larger size that is maybe 3x4. Very useful!

I am also one who brings my own shampoo and conditioner. I know many don't but I'm allergic to some ingredients and don't want to spend my vacation scratching. I did a trial run a couple of years ago at home to see how long I could go using the travel sizes of shampoo and conditioner. I have short hair and wound up being able to last for 3 months with shampoo! I also tried doing that with body wash, but the travel size was gone in about a week, lol, so switched to a bar of glycerin soap (cut in half).

Posted by
5623 posts

As noted earlier, Ibuprofin in Europe is more expensive than in the USA - let me emphasize it's A LOT MORE expensive, so if you're inclined to need it on a trip, it's far better to bring with you from home. Also as noted, earlier doses are stronger in Europe, but not enough to justify the additional expense if you have the option of bringing it from home. As for shampoo, that can be cheap and a fun shopping experience in Europe, and you can experience wonderful, novel fragarences with European brands. Since many of them come in fairly big bottles (especially if it's an economy size on sale) you may not be able to carry it on the return flight, so if you're bringing any home, put it in your checked baggage, protected from leaking.

Posted by
108 posts

I would advise packing any medication you take in its original packaging, for a couple of reasons. First, while unlikely, having the original packaging that shows what the drug is and what is in it can be helpful if you're stopped by customs. I've only been stopped once on a random check going in to Europe and they didn't look too closely, but carrying random, difficult to identify pills in your bag can potentially cause problems in customs if they get the idea you're trying to bring in something illegal.

Second, and slightly more likely, is that in the event that your medical issue escalates to the point of having to go to the doctor or hospital, it's important to be able to tell them what exactly you've taken already and that's a lot easier to do if you can hand over the packaging that says that it has 2mg of X, 3mg of Y, etc. They can likely look it up if you tell them the brand name, but it could delay care. If you check out the travel section in the pharmacy area of Walmart/Target/Walgreens/etc. you can likely find travel-sized packs of the most common OTC meds and medicines that come in blister packs often have the drug info listed on the back of the blister pack. So, you don't necessarily need to cart around your jumbo bottle of aspirin that you keep at home or the whole box of Nyquil, but taking the packaging along is probably useful.

Posted by
3428 posts

I always take generics for : naproxen (Aleve), aspirin, Benadryl, omeprazole (Prilosec), cough gel caps (Nyquil/Dayquil), and Dramamine. Additionally, I take plenty of our prescription meds. I also have a small first aid ‘kit’ in a quart baggie with band aids of assorted sizes, gauze pads, adhesive tape, seri-strips, dental floss, alcohol wipes, hand wipes, and small packets of Neosporin and cortisone cream. I use the small Ziploc type bags (Rite aid carries them in their travel section) to hold each of the pills, then put them inside a larger baggie to organize (hubby’s prescriptions in one, mine in another, and otc’s in a third). Takes very little space.

TSA does NOT require that meds be in original bottle or label. Whether or not inspectors in other countries will worry about how you have your pills organized is always a question. Personally, I've never had a problem taking meds into other countries for my personal use (and we've had more than 40 international trips)
It is the INFORMATION that is important- more in case you have a medical emergency, or need a refill (lost meds, trip extended...) You should have the brand name of the medication (ambien, etc.) and the generic name, and if no generic, a "chemical" name as brand names are not always the same.

There are lots of ways to organize your meds. You can ask your pharmacist to print you an extra label (or use the one they give you that is with the 'side effects" printout) and put it on a small Ziploc bag, then put the medication in the bag. Alternatively, some pharmacies will prepare blister packs with all your meds grouped according to when you take them (example, day 1, am in one blister, day 1 lunch next, day 1 pm next, etc)and put all labels on the top of the sheet. You could use a pill organizer and put the labels from the pharmacy on one sheet of paper with the organizer.

I carry an information sheet with the above info (one for me , one for hubby)and I also list my Dr's phone #s, pharmacy's #, and emergency contact info as well a list medical conditions, surgeries /dates. If you become ill while traveling, or need a refill because you lost meds, etc. it could be vital. Feel free to private message me if you want a sample copy of the info sheet. Also, note that liquid meds of more than 3 oz should NOT be placed in your 3-1-1 bag, but should be in their own baggie, in original bottle. Also if you use a CPAP, nebulizer, etc, these devices must be declared and removed for separate screening. Most airlines don't count these in # of allowed carry-on.

Posted by
1167 posts

You can buy Ibuprofen in Spain for about what it costs in the US. It comes in 600mg tablets rather than the 200mg you get in the US so each tab is more expensive but the total cost/mg isn't that much more. You can get it at any pharmacy.

Posted by
221 posts

A couple of items I've wished I've had in the past include: Coricidin HBP for colds/flu for those with high blood pressure, and DelSym for annoying coughs.

On the flip side, I went to Boots in London and was able to buy cough syrup and also painkillers with codine OTC.

Posted by
27749 posts

I don't get the "it is much more expensive in Europe" argument.

At the moment I have to take a fair amount of paracetamol - identified above as the same stuff in Tylenol.

I just got more yesterday on my regular trip to the supermarket. I bought a box of 24 500 mg caplets. Cost? 23 British pence. 500 mg means one caplet instead of 2 200's. Each dose, less than a penny. Similar price in all the supermarkets and Aldi and Lidl too.

How much cheaper does it have to be? And how much of the stuff do you have to neck to worry about the cost?

Posted by
4689 posts

Ibuprofen can be bought in Boots at 2.5p per 200mg tablet, in a blister pack of 16. This unit price is cheaper than the online price for 100 tablets at Walgreens (who own nearly half of Boots), although a pack of 500 there does work out cheaper.

Posted by
2081 posts

to me cost for a few pills is a no brainer. Im spending THOUSANDS of USD to travel so having some meds cost a few bucks isnt going to stop me.

I piss more in coffee in one week than those pills will cost.

also, when im sick im not in any mood to go and try to find a store that has what i need or want.

Posted by
27749 posts

I just remembered that your question was about ibuprofen and I replied about the paracetamol caplets I bought. The ibuprofen 500 mg's were also £0.23 for 24 in a blister pack. Extremely easy to source.

Posted by
1976 posts

I also bring ibuprofen and Tylenol, as well as bandaids and Neosporin. I bring my own shampoo, conditioner, face wash, etc. and manage to get it all in a 1-quart bag. Like others here, I'd rather spend my vacation in museums or old churches instead of having to go to a pharmacy.

Posted by
70 posts

I'm a walking pharmacy in my travel bag, and here's what I always have:

-Pepto caplets
-Advil
-Benadryl
-Immodium
-Tums
-Zantac or Pepcid
-hydrocortisone cream
-neosporin
-band-aids

If you're at all sensitive when it comes to soaps, shampoos or lotions, pack your own. It's not worth being miserable with a rash on your trip!

Posted by
12040 posts

" It comes in 600mg tablets rather than the 200mg you get in the US so each tab is more expensive but the total cost/mg isn't that much more."

But... if you're the age of the typical Rick Steves traveler and you usually take 200mg, please talk to your doctor before taking 600mg at the same frequency.