Wide variety of pills laid out on white table

What Is (and Isn’t) In My Travel First Aid Kit

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“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 sunscreen 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’s pretty basic, but has been sufficient to deal with all of the minor sicknesses and scrapes of several months on the road.  So here goes:

I also carry a Leatherman Wingman multitool with pliers, blade, scissors, 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 Southeast 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’m 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 No products found. a while back 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 Grayl 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 my partner and renowned hypochondriac Lauren for a female perspective.  Surprisingly the two lists were remarkably similar, with only a few additions:

  • 160 Phenergan (No products found.) tablets (travel sickness)
  • 30 Benadryl tablets (anti-histamine)
  • bottle of Rescue Remedy spray (relaxation)
  • 7 day course of No products found.(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 traveler. 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?

Image via e-MagineArt.com

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  1. 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. 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. 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”!

    1. 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… 🙂

  4. 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.

  5. 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?

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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

  10. 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! 🙂

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

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


    “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.

  12. 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!