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First Aid Kit Checklist for Travelers

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If you're heading out of the city, especially in 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 kit, 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 or war-torn countries, where pharmaceuticals are in short supply?

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, you can check them out on Amazon in the US, the UK or Canada.

Women on the Road's basic first aid kit checklist

  • antihistamines for allergies and insect bites
  • laxative for constipation
  • 2 packets ORT - 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)
  • and then there's Immodium, if you have the opposite problem and you just can't stop going
  • TUMS or Rennies antacid tablets for heartburn or bloating
  • tube of antibiotic antiseptic cream for cuts and bites (this is better than spray for travel)
  • anti-bacterial liquid (at least a small bottle)
  • mosquito repellent
  • painkiller cream for bites, stings, cuts
  • regular painkillers for headaches, muscle pain, menstrual pain
  • aspirin, if your stomach can handle it
  • the strongest painkillers you can find - for temporary relief in case of accident
  • condoms - 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)
  • small bottle of skin disinfectant (make sure this is in a spillproof bottle)
  • some sterile gauze pads (make sure they're non-adherent), a few bandaids and a bandage in case you sprain a wrist or an ankle
  • small pack of wound closure strips
  • liquid bandage
  • a roll of adhesive tape
  • foot blister protection plasters
  • sunblock with an SPF 30 at least
  • syringes - only if you are going to a region at war or if you have a medical condition - they're too much trouble to explain at each border crossing otherwise
  • pills or bands to treat motion sickness (I can't even get on the bus without my wristbands)
  • water purification tablets
  • cotton wool
  • Q tips or similar cotton buds
  • tweezers
  • Multitool/Swiss Army knife (with scissors - and preferably one on which the main blade locks open)
  • safety pins and a needle (to dig out splinters and hold bandages together - and sew on an errant button)
  • the strongest insect repellant you can find, especially for avoiding malaria mosquitoes
  • dental repair kit (if you have problem teeth)
  • prescription drugs and their prescriptions

The first aid kit checklist above 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 expedition or high adventure travel. It has worked for me for years and I've (fortunately) never needed anything more.

However, if you plan on really roughing it and being on your own in inhospitable regions for any length of time, please have a look at Equipped to Survive, one of the best sites around if you're serious about survival. As a woman traveling on her own, the information it provides is more than relevant - it can save your life.

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, 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. Better yet, one of those waterproof plastic packets used by boaters will guarantee the safety of your first aid kit under most circumstances.

If you don't have any of these at hand, you can use a nylon bag, or a fanny pack first aid kit.

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 you shouldn't take it with you!

A final word - make sure you check the expiration dates on your medication, especially if you are traveling for more than several months.

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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