What is – and isn’t – in my travel first aid kit
"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)
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.
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?
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