If you're heading out of the city, especially to developing countries, you'll need to take an emergency kit with you. This first aid kit checklist will help you fashion your own first aid pouch, but exactly what you put into it will depend on where you're going - not just what country or continent, but what type of geography you plan to encounter.
Will you be sticking to cities or main roads, where pharmacies are widely available?
Will you be in poor countries or rural areas, where pharmaceuticals might be in short supply or counterfeit?
Are you heading out into the wild, perhaps the Amazon or the Sahara, where you'll be fully responsible for your own health? You won't need the same in Paris as you will in the Congo.
NOTE: If you'd rather buy a pre-made first aid kit, here's a small travel first aid kit to get you started. For something a little more substantial, consider this Swiss Safe kit, which also contains a mini-kit for easy travel. (It does have a few safety pins which you might be asked to leave behind if you're thinking of taking them with you in the cabin of a plane...)
Women on the Road's basic first aid kit checklist
The first aid kit checklist below contains what I might take with me when I travel for over a month, on my own, off the beaten path but not on what I would consider an expedition or high adventure travel. It has worked for me for years and I've (fortunately) never needed anything more.
- some sterile gauze pads (non-adherent), a few bandaids (some of you prefer the liquid version) and a bandage in case you sprain a wrist or an ankle
- small pack of wound closure strips
- a roll of adhesive tape and some duct tape
- foot blister protection plasters
- Celox granules or similar blood clotting product
- tube of antibiotic antiseptic cream for cuts and bites (this is better than spray for travel)
- anti-bacterial liquid (at least a small bottle)
- painkiller cream for bites, stings, cuts
- small bottle of skin disinfectant (make sure this is in a spillproof bottle)
- sunblock with an SPF 30 at least
- the strongest insect repellant you can find, especially for avoiding malaria mosquitoes
- regular painkillers for headaches, muscle pain, menstrual pain (each country has its own brands and compounds so go with what you know works)
- aspirin, if your stomach can handle it
- the strongest painkillers you can find - for temporary emergency relief in case of accident
- anti-inflammatory ointment for joint pain or muscle soreness
stomach and chest ailments and other internal issues
- laxative for constipation
- and then there's Immodium, if you have the opposite problem and you just can't stop going
- 2 packets ORS - oral rehydration salts, in case you have diarrhea (if you run out, you can make your own: 1 liter clean water, 8 tsp sugar, 1 tsp salt - mix and sip very slowly until you stop throwing up)
- TUMS or Rennies antacid tablets for heartburn or bloating
- motion sickness pills, patches (here's a herbal version) or wrist bands (I can't even get on the bus without my wristbands)
- a light decongestant or inhaler stick
- broad-spectrum antibiotic in case you catch an infection but are far from medical help
- antihistamines for allergies and insect bites
tools and implements and miscellaneous
- water purification tablets (you can read more about water safety here)
- cotton wool
- Q tips or similar cotton buds
- tweezers and nail clippers (beware the ever-vigilant TSA and like-minded officials)
- Multitool/Swiss Army knife (with scissors) but this won't work if you're flying carry-on only because you cannot take it into the cabin with you
- safety pins and a needle (to dig out splinters and hold bandages together - and sew on an errant button) - again, not if you're going carry-on
- syringes - only if you are going to a region with a severe lack of hygiene or medical facilities or if you have a medical condition - they're too much trouble to explain at each border crossing otherwise and you certainly won't be able to carry them on the plane with you
- condoms, if you think you might need them - be discreet with these - some countries don't look favorably on women carrying condoms and may consider you 'loose' as a result (they can also be used as a water container in an emergency)
- dental repair kit (if you have problem teeth) and dental floss (it has many more uses than your teeth)
- wet wipes or the equivalent, individually wrapped
- spare glasses (or lenses) and their prescription
- melatonin if you use it to combat jet lag
- a spork (spoon-fork combo), hugely useful if you're trying to measure out meds in your hotel room and can't be bothered to call room service, or if you just want to nibble something from the supermarket in your room
- your prescription drugs and all prescriptions
- a tiny flashlight - some things happen in the dark and you may need to see what you're doing
If you have specific conditions, of course bring along whatever medication and devices you usually use, so I won't list those here. Many of you also use natural oils and products - such as oregano oil or tart cherry extract - so by all means bring those along as well, because they might be harder to find than standard pharmaceuticals. One flight attendant suggests a small bottle of nasal saline spray to use right after your trip to cleanse your nasal passages and help prevent airborne illnesses.
My wonderful readers from Women on the Road contributed to building this list, which is based on individual items we consider important for our health when we travel. I'd like to thank Ann, Annye, Brenda, Carol, Cindy Marie, Colleen, Cristina, Ellen, Fabi, Faith, Gwen, Inna, Isabel, Jana, Jenny, Joan, Jordan, Judy, Linda, Liz, Marlane, Norma, Partha, Roseanne, Sara, Shae, Shellie Anne and Stephanie. Ladies, you rock!
Making a first aid kit
You can buy most of what I've listed on the above first aid kit checklist in a ready-made box or package (see box at the top), but I find that putting together my own makes more sense for me.
The first thing is to find a transparent case of sorts. Often, these are provided free as samples when we buy certain brands of cosmetics. Just make sure it has a zipper that works and that it is TSA or security-compliant.
Separate your items so that they make sense - bandages and cotton together, condoms with tampons and so on. Place each group of items in a simple ziplock bag - these will come in handy while you travel as well.
Do a last check of your medicine cabinet at home. Whatever you stock at home will give you an indication of what you need to take with you. Just because it isn't included in my first aid kit checklist doesn't mean it shouldn't be on yours!
Just make sure you check the expiration dates on your medication, especially if you are traveling for any length of time.
And finally, get travel insurance. I've always used World Nomads, but they only insure you until you're 66, or 70 in some countries. After that, here are more options.
This is one item that isn't optional. Having faced medical emergencies abroad that cost well into the five figures, I've always been grateful I took a few minutes and spent a few dollars that saved me many thousands down the line.
I've left plenty of things off this first aid kit checklist but then, I travel light. If you want to bring more (and you can carry it), go right ahead. Just don't bring less!
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