Travel medical kit: packing a first aid kit for travel
When you are packing for your next international trip, there are a few items that are essential – passport, ID, money, smartphone and a compact travel medical kit. No matter what destination you are heading to in the world, a first aid kit for travel should go with you everywhere.
If there is one thing decades of travel to some very remote places has taught me, it is that things can and sometimes do go wrong. Injury or illness can befall anyone anywhere in the world, and a medical emergency can happen at any time, which is why packing along a compact travel medical kit is advisable. Especially if you are traveling to more remote destinations.
The purpose of any first aid kit for travel is to ensure you have the absolute basics at hand to deal with minor cuts, bumps, bruises and illness until you can obtain professional medical assistance – if required. The best first aid kits are simple but stocked with essential items to help you on the road to recovery if things don’t go as smoothly as planned.
Yes, you can purchase a prepackaged first aid kit loaded with all the basic essentials from companies such as Adventure Medical Kits and Swiss Safe, but you’ll typically pay more for the convenience and you’ll still need to add additional items to it, such as personal medications and various other supplies depending on your destination.
If you would prefer to assemble your own travel medical kit, as I do, you’ll want to start with a waterproof bag, like this one from Sea to Summit. Why waterproof? To protect medicines and other items inside from any moisture that could render a pill you need ineffective. Use smaller zip pouches inside to organize the various items you bring with you. Avoid disposable plastic bags or zipper baggies since an increasing number of countries are, thankfully, banning disposable plastics – and you never know if they will pick you for that random search.
What to pack in your first aid kit for travel
Here are the items you will want to consider including in your first aid kit (depending on where in the world you are going and how remote your destination may be). I have not added insect repellent or sunscreen to the list as, well, those items are mandatory in most places in the world and should not be packed away in an emergency kit. Many of these items can be found in small travel-sized packs, and many of these items such as hand sanitizer are de rigueur for travel these days anyway due to increased health and sanitation awareness because of COVID:
- Antiseptic wipes
- Antibiotic ointment
- Antibacterial soap or towelettes
- Hand sanitizer
- Bandages of assorted sizes for minor cuts and abrasions
- Bandage closures, such as butterfly bandages, to help secure edges of small cuts together
- Triangular bandage to wrap injuries or make an arm sling
- Elastic wraps to wrap wrist, ankle, knee, and elbow injuries
- Small gauze roll, as well as 2-inch and 4-inch dressings for larger cuts and abrasions.
- Adhesive tape to hold gauze in place
- Small scissors with rounded tips to cut tape, gauze (this may not be allowed in your carry-on bag if traveling by air)
- Safety pins to fasten splints and bandages (always handy for travel anyway)
- Tweezers — useful for tick removal.
- Small measuring cup (medicine dose size)
- Thermometer — digital
- Aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, or your choice in anti-pain/-inflammatory. Don’t forget medications for migraines, even if your migraines are only occasional.
- Over-the-counter motion sickness pills (such as Dramamine or Bonine). Travel sickness is no fun! Look for the active ingredient called “meclizine” as that means it is less sedating. You don’t want to be falling asleep during the day.
- Over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medication (such as Imodium AD [loperamide]). If you are going where the risk of traveler’s diarrhea and other food and water-borne diseases is high, be very careful about what you eat and drink.
- Over-the-counter antacids or acid-blocking meds (such as Pepcid or Pepto-Bismol), depending on your sensitivity
- Laxatives or stool softeners (diet variances and travel stress can lead to constipation)
- Over-the-counter vaginal yeast medication, again depending on your sensitivity or need
- Antifungal foot cream, as personally needed
- Antihistamine cream for itching – insect bites, rashes and more – if you are sensitive
- Over-the-counter sleeping pills (discuss prescription sleep aids with your doctor)
- Salt tablets if excessive sweating occurs due to heavy exertion in a hot climate
- Several packets of powdered drink for rehydration (I like Emergen-C)
- A selection of just-in-case, over-the-counter decongestants or antihistamines, depending on your personal needs.
- Extra pair of eyeglasses and a copy of your prescription if you wear glasses (I keep a digital copy of my prescription on my phone in addition to a paper copy in my travel medical kit).
Prescription medications to consider adding to your travel medical kit
You will, of course, want to pack along all your personal prescriptions, but in addition to those, you may want to ask your doctor about obtaining other prescriptions specific to your trip. It’s a good idea to also ask your doctor about any immunizations you might need, too.
- An antibiotic to help you deal with more severe traveler’s diarrhea as well as other common, though more serious infections.
- Medication to help prevent altitude sickness if you are going to higher altitudes.
- Malaria prophylaxis if you are traveling to a country where malaria is present. Be sure your doctor checks to see if malaria transmission occurs in the specific areas you will be traveling. You’ll also want to know the species of malaria that occur there, the presence of drug resistance, and the recommended preventive medicines – there is not just one type of medicine for malaria. Your doctors should do an individual risk assessment with you, considering factors including your health history, potential side effects of the malaria prophylaxis medicine, and possible interactions with medications you are already taking before prescribing any medicine. Typically, malaria prophylaxis, no matter what type, is taken before, during and after travel to the area where you will be at most risk for contracting malaria.
Keep your first aid kit for travel stashed in your luggage, carryon, or your daypack when out and about. Remember your first aid kit is one of the 11 essentials to carry with you if you head out on a hike. Most likely, other than a bandage or two for a minor cut or blister, or an aspirin for a headache, you’ll never have to crack your kit open … at least I hope not. But if the worst happens, you can rest easy knowing you are as prepared as possible.
One last item: Travel insurance with health and evacuation coverage
The last item you must have on any trip is comprehensive travel insurance with medical evacuation and health coverage. Which is why we never leave home without the right travel insurance and excellent travel emergency evacuation coverage. We rely on Global Rescue for emergency evacuation coverage and medical advice, and IMG Signature Travel Insurance.
Nobody wants to get sick or hurt on a trip, but if you pack along an emergency first aid kit, you can rest easier in case of a medical emergency while traveling.
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