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Would you believe me if I told you my first adult job was being a pharmacist at a beach town? Well, it’s true! Apparently my love for vacation runs deep – from blogging to traveling to working at a prime tourist location! But as we all know, nothing ruins a trip like realizing you forgot something you really need – in this case, forgetting your prescription medication at home.

Sunrise in Myrtle Beach, SC
A sunrise in South Carolina, the home of my first job!

Fortunately, my years of envying people who could actually vacation where I lived while I was stuck inside at work have come in handy. Even though my life led me other places, being a retail pharmacist in a tourist destination was an experience unlike any other. I learned so much – and in fact, without that knowledge, I would not feel qualified to write this post! Who knew that my first pharmacy job would be serving a whole other purpose in the form of my travel blog years later?

But enough about me. You’re probably laying there on a beach towel in panic mode because you realized you forgot your prescription medications at home. Do you at least have a daiquiri in hand? It sounds like you need one. Relax, take a drink, and keep reading to discover 3 ways to get your prescription meds while on vacation.

Trust Me, I’m a Doctor (of Pharmacy)

5 Must-Know Travel Tips When it Comes to Medication

  • ALWAYS bring your insurance card – or, even just a picture of your insurance card (front and back).
  • If you don’t have insurance (or forgot your card), there are discount cards available – but know that a lot of times, your insurance will likely be cheaper. My favorite discount card that I recommend is GoodRx.
  • If you’re a patient with diabetes, know which insulin does NOT require a prescription – regular insulin, insulin NPH, and the 70/30 mix of both can be purchased without a prescription, but you will still need to go to the pharmacy counter to buy it! Pro Tip: Walmart recently came out with a private brand of insulin – ReliOn – that is up to 75% cheaper than other insulin brands!
  • Keep a list of prescription medications you take with you in your wallet, including the name, strength, and directions – if all else fails and you have to end up going to an urgent care or clinic, this will help the provider be able to call in your medication faster.
  • Keep a dedicated travel medicine bag to bring with you on trips – and for helpful advice with this, check out my other blog post: What to Pack in a Travel Medicine Bag

What to Do If You Forget Your Prescription Medicine on Vacation

1. Have Your Doctor Call You in a New Prescription

This is one of the most common ways to get your prescription medications on vacation when you forgot them at home. Assuming you are able to get ahold of your physician’s office, he or she should be able to call in a prescription to your pharmacy of choice wherever you are. (And if you can’t get ahold of your physician, see Option #2 and/or Option #3.)

Where you might run into issues here is if your prescription isn’t due (per your insurance). Most insurances will pay for either a 30 or 90 day supply of maintenance medication. If you recently picked up a prescription 10 days ago, your insurance will likely reject it if another Rx for the same drug is called in.

BUT! Fear not! Most insurances will do a one-time vacation override for most prescription medications. Your pharmacy will likely have to call to get this approved. Explain you are on vacation when you go to pick your meds up, and they should be able to call and get your prescriptions covered.

  • Pro Tip: A one-time vacation override does NOT mean your medications will be free! You will still be responsible for paying a regular copay. While this isn’t the best vacation expense, it’s still much cheaper than having to pay for your medications outright.

Insurance Limitations for Prescription Medications

Although your pharmacy should be able to get a one-time override in most instances, there are a few cases where you may run into some difficulty:

  1. You have state insurance -> state-based Medicaid insurance only works in the state it is issued (with a few exceptions). In this case, it may be harder to get a vacation override if you are vacationing out of state. Your best bet is to have the pharmacy run your prescriptions through a discount card and only pay for the amount of days that you need.
    • As stated in the beginning of this post, I recommend the GoodRx discount card to all of my patients!
  2. You need a controlled substance -> I’m going to be honest with you: pharmacists are VERY hesitant to fill controlled substance prescriptions from out-of-state providers, even with insurance. The DEA keeps close tabs on us, and for good reasons. While pharmacists who live in vacation destinations are more used to seeing this, it’s still not a guarantee that your controlled substance prescription will get filled.
  3. Your insurance has a preferred pharmacy -> your insurance wants you to go to CVS but Walgreens is right up the street? I know. It’s a pain for us pharmacists, too. But we don’t control your insurance any more than you do. If you know pharmacies that your insurance company prefers, get your meds called in there.

2. Have Your Pharmacy Transfer Your Medications to Your Location

If you routinely get your prescriptions filled at a chain pharmacy, this may be your easiest option. Most chains have systems that are linked company-wide. In other words, a pharmacist at a CVS in California will be able to pull up your prescriptions just as easily as a CVS pharmacist in Maine.

If you go to an independent, this is a tad more difficult. Your pharmacist in your vacation city will have to call your pharmacist at home and get them to either fax or verbally transfer your prescriptions to your vacation pharmacy. This is especially difficult if your independent pharmacy closes on weekends or holidays, and that just happens to be when you’ve left town. If this is the case, and it’s medication that you cannot go a day or so without, it’s best to jump to Option #3 in this post…

Things to Know About Transferring Medication

  • When I worked at the beach, I would often have patients come in and say, “I only need two pills transferred because I’ll be here for 2 more days.” But the pharmacy can’t transfer individual pills – they have to transfer your entire prescription.
  • Even if you DO only need a few pills to get you through the remainder of your vacation, it is best to do a 1x vacation override and get a months supply like I mentioned above. This is because for a few tablets, you will end up paying out of pocket. This is fine if your medication is cheap, but some pills cost $50 or more per tablet.
  • In most instances, a controlled substance prescription can only be transferred one time. This means that if you get your controlled substance prescription transferred from your home pharmacy to the pharmacy where you are staying, your doctor will have to call you in a new prescription when you come home, regardless of how many refills you have left.
  • Transferring medications can sometimes take awhile. Depending on how busy the pharmacy is, sometimes it can take hours. Most pharmacies will allow you to sign up for alerts when your prescriptions are ready. In the meantime, go and get yourself another daiquiri!

3. Go to a Minute Clinic, Urgent Care, or ER

Listen…I KNOW this is the last place that you want to spend your time when you’re on vacation. But it’s your health. And no matter what, your health is THE most important thing you have.

If both of the above options aren’t feasible for you, this is likely the only way that you will be able to get your prescription medications while on vacation.

Yes, I realize there are meds that you can go a couple days without and be fine. But if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, are immunocompromised, need birth control, or are taking medications you can’t be without for ANY reason, you need to see a local provider and have that person call a prescription in to a local pharmacy.

A few of the popular chain pharmacies have minute clinics or urgent care sites at their pharmacy. You can Google to find out the exact hours and locations, along with the locations of other urgent care centers nearby. It is important to note that not EVERY popular chain has a minute clinic, and it is likely there could be a wait.

Pro Tip: Call around and ask what the wait is at different minute clinics or urgent cares in the area. After working in a hospital, I am going to tell you not to go to the ER unless you’re desperate and can’t find another place to go. I have heard horror stories of 6-hour waits. Or, on the other hand, you can go to the ER and it’ll teach you to never forget your medications at home again. 😉

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