If you’ve got an incurable case of diarrhea or a skull-splitting headache from too many beers last night, you’ll want to have easy access to quick relief. This is why I always pack a well thought out travel first aid kit. You can’t pack everything, but having some of the necessities to help treat minor injuries and illnesses can mean the difference between a good trip and a bad one. This travel first aid kit guide is meant to give you an idea of what you should be thinking about, but each trip is different. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- How long is the trip? The longer the trip, the more you’ll want to carry.
- Where are you traveling? If you’ll be in a developed region of the world, you should have easy access to most of the stuff on this list from a local store (meaning you don’t need to pack as much). In lesser developed regions, it can be hard finding even the most basic things, so pack accordingly.
- Will you be doing any hiking or other outdoor activities? With more physical activity, it becomes more important to add additional wound care items.
Travel First Aid Kit Bandages, Tapes, and Dressing
Bandages (Band-Aids) – No need to go overboard, a few of each size should do nicely to take care of common scrapes and cuts. If your trip consists of physical activity such as hiking, running, or biking, you should throw in a few extra. Just make sure you spend a little extra money and buy high-quality bandages.
Gauze – This could truly be a life saver and help stop bleeding in a pinch. Gauze is especially useful for dressing wounds where other fabrics might stick to a burn or laceration. Gauze is known best for it’s ability to absorb blood, but it also helps keep a wound and surrounding area protected from outside elements.
Surgical Tape – Like a crepe bandage (see below), this will hold a bandage or dressing onto a wound, and provide support to an injured area. It can also provide support to prevent injuries around your knee, ankle, wrist, and fingers (many athletes use this prior to sporting events).
Crepe Bandage – This can be used to treat sprains, help correct fractures, serve as a compression bandage, or support gauze over a wound. The elastic allows it to be comfortably wrapped over various parts of your body. Just make sure it’s not applied too tight and it’s not applied directly to a wound.
Travel First Aid Kit Creams
Antibacterial Cream – The staple of your mom’s medicine cabinet should also be kept handy in your pack. You’ll want to dress your scrapes and cuts with an antibacterial cream such as Neosporin to prevent an infection. This can also be used on insect bites, diaper rash, fever blisters, burns, and scalding injuries.
Antihistamine Cream – Have you ever woken up with that mysterious rash or bug bite? Yea, we all have. These creams are effective in treating and soothing rashes caused by allergies, insect bites or contact with irritants such as poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac. They’re also good for treating mild sunburn. Antihistamine ointments should be used only if itching, swelling and pain is localized. Widespread rashes are best treated with oral antihistamines instead of creams. If skin is broken or cut, then creams shouldn’t be used.
Antifungal Cream – This is probably not on most backpacker’s lists, but is an absolute essential in my book. There’s just nothing more uncomfortable than fungal conditions such as jock itch, athletes foot, or ringworm.
Sun Block – Essential on any trip where you’ll be lounging on the beach or getting a lot of sun. You’ll want to pack sun block that is SPF 30 or higher, broad spectrum, and water-resistant.
Pain Medicine – Use to treat mild to moderate pain from headaches, dental pain, menstrual cramps, muscle aches, arthritis, and to reduce fever. I’ve probably used these to treat a killer hangover more than anything else. Over-the-counter brands include Ibuprofen (Advil & Motrin) or Acetaminophen (Tylenol). Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen are similar, but there are some slight differences you should take note of:
- Ibuprofen is slightly more powerful and longer-acting, both relieving pain and reducing inflammation. Acetaminophen may relieve pain, but does not reduce any swelling or inflammation.
- Ibuprofen is a better antipyretic, which works faster when reducing body temperature during fever.
- Acetaminophen is milder on the stomach lining, thus can be taken without food or if your stomach gets irritated easily.
Motion Sickness – I have always done fine in cars, airplanes, and trains, but put me on a boat and I’ve got issues. Over-the-counter motion sickness treatments include diphenhydramine (Benadryl), dimenhydrinate (Dramamine), and meclizine (Bonine). All of these drugs prevent and relieve motion sickness in about 50% of people who use them.
Anti-Diarrhea Medicine – we’ve all had that uh-oh moment. You’ve just eaten the local mystery meat from a street vendor in some far off land and your stomach instantly hates you for it. Anti-diarrhea medicines such as loperamide (Imodium) are essential for any backpacker. These medicines slow down action of your intestine and reduce the number of bowel movements. This just might give you the little extra bit of time you need to find a bathroom.
Other Travel First Aid Kit Items
Nail Clippers – possibly one of the most underrated tools ever. There’s nothing more annoying than an out of control nail that’s irritating you and no way to take care of it.
Tweezers – great for picking out splinters or ticks.
Condoms – nothing ruins your trip like that funky itch/burn down below. Be smart, wrap it up. Condoms can actually be a lifesaver. Given their water-proof and unbreakable construction, they can hold up to 1.5L of water. Check out this video for 5 survival techniques you can use in a pinch.
Other Helpful Tips For Your Travel First Aid Kit
Prescription Drugs – Prescription drug laws vary widely from country to country. Some countries sell drugs over-the-counter that might be illegal in another. Its just important to check and make sure before you leave home. If you decide to travel with prescription drugs, always keep them in the original container, so you can validate that you have a perscription. You might want to go the extra step and carry a prescription from your doctor and a copy of your medical record just to be safe.
English Speaking Doctors – If you’re traveling to a country where most people don’t speak English, it can be a good idea to know how to find an English speaking doctor ahead of time. You can get a list from the U.S. embassy. I recommend downloading this to your smartphone/computer before your trip.