Accidents happen. So do upset stomachs. And insect bites. And headaches. But what do you do when they happen in the middle of a jungle in Northern Thailand? At a remote section of the Great Wall of China? In a Cambodian pharmacy where they don’t speak English?

You carry a drug store – and a first aid kit – in a quart-sized Ziploc bag. Yes, in sickness and in health, I am never very far from my personal drug store. Mine tucks nicely into my carry-on bag, so it could never be the victim of lost baggage. Mine has just enough of everything in mini-travel size, from prescription medicine to Band-Aids to cough drops. Total weight: 7 ounces (200 grams). Total value: priceless.

What are the benefits of the drug store in a Ziploc bag? I have learned the hard way.

  • Inside Angkor Wat, Cambodia, the air was filled with smoke and my open-air tuk-tuk only made it worse. To sooth my itchy, swelling, watery eyes, we drove to a pharmacy. Of course, no eye drops carried a word of English, just various percentages of ingredients I didn’t understand. And I was supposed to squirt this into my eyes? Today, I carry a tiny 3ml bottle of Refresh eye drops. Systane would have worked too.
  • Oh, but that’s the next problem. Faced with intestinal issues in Beijing, I walked into a Wal-Mart to buy a familiar brand of digestive aid, such as Imodium or Pepto Bismol or Maalox. Nothing. That is, nothing but Chinese medicine with ingredients in Mandarin that I can’t read. The helpful staff suggested I go immediately to the hospital (a common suggestion in China when you need to see a doctor). Lesson: carry small quantities of the brands you know and trust, and don’t expect those brands to be available around the world.
  • How often have you needed a little remedy and the drug store in your travels only carries what seems like a gallon-sized tube at a gallon-sized price? Do you really need a lifetime supply of Neosporin? Lesson: carry your own small quantities Ziploc drug store contentsthat can pass through airport security.
  • Have you ever needed to find aspirin on an overnight flight? It’s dark. You open the overhead compartment and fumble through your bag trying to find them. It’s giving you a headache instead of curing one. Lesson: the see-through Ziploc bag works wonders in this situation. It also weighs nothing. It costs nothing. And if you must show it at airport security, it is in the approved quart size. Done.
  • I also leave this drug store in a Ziploc bag in my carry-on. That way I never forget a medicine. If I’m using a big bottle of pills at home, I already have a small amount set aside for travel. I use little zip-close pill pouches, with a copy of the prescription inside. Take that, drug-sniffing canines!
  • What’s not in here? Well, we don’t have many pesky bugs in Southern California. So I don’t own insect repellent. If I need it in the middle of a trip to Southeast Asia, I will just buy the local stuff there, for example, Remos Mosquitoes Control in Vietnam. It’s cheap and probably better protection for that region anyway. Same for sunblock.
  • What else is not in here? It’s not a full-blown first aid kit. Some people like to carry gauze, tape, tweezers, scissors and more. I’m fine with that. You could even have one Ziploc bag for medicines and one for first aid. Just keep in mind that scissors must be placed in checked luggage (and I try not to check a bag). I once had a tiny pair of nail clippers confiscated. Who knows what evil things I could have done on the plane if they had allowed me to keep them? The world is a safer place, no doubt.

Was this at all helpful? Do you have your own stories and suggestions?

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