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What is – and isn’t – in my travel first aid kit

February 13, 2012 | Advice, Backpacking 101, Travel | 19 Comments
Pills

“You need more than that!”

My sister looked at me despairingly as I showed her the contents of the small plastic food container I now called my first aid kit.

“What about the latex gloves?  You’ll need syringes.  Oh, and don’t forget a bandage or two.  Stay there, I’ll be right back…”

A few minutes later I pushed the pile of medical supplies to one side.  “Sis, I know you’re a paramedic and all, but seriously?  I’m not taking all this shit with me!”

Having carted armfuls of medicine around the world with me in the past – all of which eventually expired without seeing the light of day – I had decided on one simple rule for the upcoming trip.

Less is more.

I regularly get asked by people planning a trip what they should take in the way of medicines and a first aid kit.  Other than the everyday items like sun screen and insect repellent, everything I list below fits into a box six inches square and two inches high.  As far as travel first aid kits go it is basic, but has been sufficient to deal with all of the minor sicknesses and scrapes of several months on the road.  So here goes:

  • 20 Paracetamol tablets (painkillers)
  • 12 Diastop tablets (diarrhoea)
  • 4 Gastrolyte rehydration sachets
  • 10 Sudafed night and day tablets (cold and flu)
  • Several waterproof plasters of different sizes (cuts and abrasions)
  • SPF30+ sunscreen
  • hand sanitiser
  • mosquito repellent
  • 7 day course of cipflox (general antibiotic)
  • Difflam throat lozenges
  • 12 Nurofen (ibuprofen)
  • 12 Antinaus (anti-nausea)
  • 1 BurnAid burn gel sachet
  • 1 Dimetapp nasal spray
  • 60 Melatonin tablets (sleeping / jetlag)  
  • 1 tube of Paraderm Plus first aid cream (stings, bites, minor burns etc)

I also carry a basic Leatherman tool with pliers, blade, can and bottle opener etc, as well as a few miscellaneous rubber bands and safety pins.

Leatherman.jpg

You’ll probably notice a few things that aren’t on the list as well.

  • Anti-malarials: while I have taken them in the past in both Africa and SE Asia, I’m not carrying them this year based on my (vague) travel plans.  If I do end up in a malaria risk zone I’ll make a judgement call and if necessary pick up the most appropriate pills at the time.
  • First aid equipment beyond the absolute basics: I am not a doctor, and I don’t even play one on the internet.  When real medical attention is required I won’t be the one providing it – it’s time to find a hospital.  If I’ll be going anywhere that will be more than a day from a clinic then I’ll probably stock up on a few bits and pieces in the hope that somebody else might be able to patch me up if I break, but that’s about it.
  • Thermometer: If I’m sick I go to a doctor.  Knowing whether my temperature is 39.8 or 39.9 degrees Celsius won’t change that, and it’s one more fragile item to break as well.
  • Water purification tablets: I was given a Steripen for my birthday last year and have yet to use it. Purified and/or bottled water is easy to find in most urban areas where the water supply is suspect, and I’ll use the Steripen if in doubt. Bonus: it won’t make the water taste like crap.

Obviously I’m a guy, so in the interests of editorial integrity I asked renowned hypochondriac Lauren for a female perspective.  Surprisingly the two lists were remarkably similar, with only a few additions:

  • 5 months worth of malaria tablets.
  • 160 travel sickness pills.
  • 30 Benadryl tablets (anti-histamine)
  • bottle of Rescue Remedy (relaxation)
  • 7 day course of trimethoprim (UTI treatment)

So that’s it.  Unless I’m going to particularly remote, dangerous or high-risk disease areas, this kit will cover me for the basic health issues that I’m likely to face as a traveller.  For anything more serious there are hospitals and travel insurance, and I don’t have to use half my baggage allowance carrying round a small pharmacy.

What does your travel first aid kit look like?  More stuff?  Less?  Nothing at all?

 

[Images via e-MagineArt.com and Amazon]

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19 Comments

  1. Reply

    Naomi

    February 13, 2012

    Ha, I'm a doctor and I think I pack the smallest first aid kit of all. For a decent few months in Asia I take one course of ciprofloxacin, a sheet of anti diarrhoea pills, a sheet of paracetamol, some Proxen, mossie repellant and SPF30+ (but I wear the latter daily so hardly a first aid item). I also pack 1 course of Malaria treatment (not preventive) and some PPIs for taking before a big night on the grog!
    Totally agree people take too much, almost everything can be bought along the way, a tshirt can be torn up and used as a bandage, a scarf as a sling or to tie a splint.

  2. Reply

    Christine

    February 13, 2012

    Actually heaps more than I have (mostly because I've run out of stuff and am not too fussed about topping up)! I have some band-aids (bah, plasters), a few cold tablets, a few antihistamines (mostly left over from my bedbug attack), some hydrocortisone cream and some neosporin. My first-aid kit also contains an anti-stain stick and a bottle opener, and I probably use those the most.

  3. Reply

    Drew Meyers

    February 13, 2012

    Currently, my first aid kit consists of advil, a few leftover valium from my buddy who went back to the US, malaria pills, and band aids.

  4. Reply

    Will - My Spanish Adventure

    February 13, 2012

    That's a load more than I've ever taken out on the road. Kind of cursing not bringing more now though as I'm stuck with a screw up knee that's causing me all sorts of bother.

    Interesting to see what you pack. No prophylactics? I like the way you "roll"!

    • Reply

      Dave

      February 13, 2012

      Heh I knew someone would comment on that - not surprised it was you, Will! I do pack condoms as well, but strangely enough I don't keep them in my first aid kit... :)

  5. Reply

    Phil

    February 13, 2012

    I'm much the same with my own first aid kit. I mainly travel in West Africa and have a few additions because of this, namely coartem for malaria treatment and metronidazole for amoebas and other things that cipro can't kill. I also like my Paracetamol with codeine ;) Never have to carry too much because you can always restock at pharmacies etc.

  6. Reply

    Elizabeth Bird

    February 13, 2012

    In a pinch the cipflox can be used to treat UTIs as well. It's a general antibiotic so it should clear it right up. I'd also be curious to hear from Lauren what she does about feminine products - did she bring a huge supply from home or just buy them on the road?

    • Reply

      Lauren

      February 15, 2012

      Diva cup!!

      • Reply

        RenegadePilgrim

        February 26, 2012

        I love my Diva Cup for traveling too....Tampons are not always readily available and for long trips, you can't go wrong with the Diva Cup.

  7. Reply

    Nigel D

    February 14, 2012

    As a pharmacist I would comment that is a pretty comprehensive selection. On our last travels (certainly Europe and Canada so most things can be obtained) we took Cipflox (great as a broad spectrum antibiotic which covers most infections), Paracetamol, Diclofenac (Voltaren), Diastop, Locoid (great for any odd bite, sunburn, etc), and Betadine ointment (skin infections). Hardly used any of it but handy to have.

  8. Reply

    Eileen

    February 15, 2012

    Not Lauren, and sorry for hijacking your post Dave, but for feminine hygiene products, depends where you're going, what you can get. Pads are available almost everywhere, tampons less so, sometimes not the brand you want and at great cost. There are reusable cups (moon, diva, instead (which is supposed to be disposable, but many people I know use one cup per cycle, washing it out and reusing it). I hesitate to use anything reusable when I don't know that the water is clean, and in public restrooms the reusables can be a hassle. I usually bring a mix, and do some research ahead of time to see what I can get where I'm going. Like for example, in Argentina you can get OB tampons, but not in Chile (my point of reference, since I live here).

    Back to the pills talk, I bring more NSAIDs (alleve, in my case, or mobic) and less acetominophen, and more abx than just cipro, esp. if going somewhere tropical. Anti allergy, anti nausea, anti diarrhea, for sure, and almost all of it comes back unopened and ready to go for the next possible adventure. Also good to know what you can get OTC where you're going.

  9. Reply

    Linna Luu

    February 15, 2012

    Thank you for this post! My partner and I plan to live and travel around the world (Thailand first) working on mobile apps. I love your blogs keep it up, Dave!

    • Reply

      Dave

      February 15, 2012

      Thanks Linna, I really appreciate that! :)

  10. Reply

    Jade - OurOyster.com

    February 17, 2012

    I LOVE my steri pen! I just buy one bottle of water and then keep refilling it. I don't like creating too much waste, especially when some countries dont have the capabiltiies to deal with all the rubbish that is around

  11. Reply

    Maria Alexandra @latinAbroad

    February 20, 2012

    Useful tips! Never even thought of my travel first aid kit. I am guilty of never carrying one...yikes! * knock on wood* never had any accidents, but about time I pack a kit =)

  12. Reply

    RenegadePilgrim

    February 26, 2012

    When I travel internationally to developing countries, my kit is a bit different than when I travel to developed countries. Basically, I have a trifecta of abx (cipro, doxy, and a z-pack) plus NSAIDs (Advil). I also carry Phenergan for nausea and Vicodin for pain not relieved by NSAIDs. Benadryl and Sudafed for head colds. I carry a few gauze bandages, some Coban, abx ointment, a couple of bandaids, some blister stuff (Compeed) and Mefix tape. I buy mosquito repellent wherever I am at.

    Pharmacies are hit and miss when traveling, so sometimes you might have to wait or hit a few of them before finding what you need.

    p.s. I work in healthcare, so I tend to bring more than I probably should in the way of first aid kit, but then I usually end up taking care of other people who don't plan well! :)

  13. Reply

    Abbey Hesser

    March 1, 2012

    I would like for you to realize that I read the following lines:

    "12 Antinaus (anti-nausea)
    1 BurnAid burn gel sachet "

    As...

    "12 antiANUS (anti-nausea)
    1 BUMaid BUM gel sachet"

    there was also a tube lubricant mixup at somepoint.

    I don't even know what that means, or what it begins to say about me, but I just felt the need to share.

    • Reply

      Dave

      March 1, 2012

      I think you must have read the first draft of this post....

  14. Reply

    Kieu

    January 8, 2014

    Ha! I overpacked going into our trip. Trashed it in Asia and just bought meds as I go. Lol but always had a small pack of everyday essentials too. Great list!


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