One of the biggest things that Dave and I always struggle with is overpacking our travel first aid kit.
You just never know what you are going to need, but at the same time, we hate carrying too much stuff.
A lot of travelers including ourselves tend to go a little overboard when it comes to carrying medication.
In the past, we have carried a small pharmacy and it has driven me insane.
At the same time, we really do need to be prepared for any situation. Especially when going off the beaten path or trekking into the mountains.
We have been in hospitals on 4 different continents.
We have had everything from severe infections to sprained ankles, and a broken back to dangerous illnesses.
Our first aid kit has gotten us out of a jam on more than one occasion.
This is the first aid kit list of items we use our travels.
Our Travel First Aid Kit List
While we are fans of packing light, we are also fans of being prepared.
Disclosure: We are not health professionals and are only sharing our experiences. This first aid checklist does not replace personal medical advice from a qualified doctor.
We recommend going to a travel health clinic for more advice and information.
This is a packing list of everything we carry in our travel first aid kit from prescription medication, to over the counter drugs and a basic cuts and bruises kit.
We suggest going to REI in America or Mountain Equipment Co-Op in Canada to pick up a basic first aid kit, see what's inside on this list and then go to the pharmacy and travel clinic to fill in the rest.
Or you can purchase a travel first aid kit on Amazon right now.
Part 1: Prescription Medication
If traveling overseas, it is important to visit a doctor at a travel clinic to see what immunizations and medications we will need.
We let them know if we are planning to climb any mountains and tell them every place we are planning on visiting.
They let us know if we need medication for preventing Malaria, or immunizations to prevent disease.
We stock up on the prescriptions we need and they let us know how to prevent or avoid other diseases.
Malarone – There are several Malaria medications you can use, but Malarond works well for us.
We didn't worry about Malaria in the past but we now know people who have had it and when going to places in Africa, it is no joke.
So now, when traveling to places where Malaria is a possibility, we take our prescription diligently.
Malarone has the least side effects for us, but we have also used doxycycline or Lariam. (the generic name is Mefloquine)
We discuss everything with our doctor to see what is best for us.
Apo-Acetazolamide – We like to climb things and we always take altitude medication with us. The name brand we use is Diamox.
It alleviates altitude symptoms and helps us feel better. But we make sure to follow the instructions exactly and we drink plenty of water to keep us hydrated.
The most important thing is we listen to our bodies when we are at altitude and don't take any chances.
Important Note: We pay close attention to how we are feeling when climbing.
Prescribed medication can mask altitude sickness so we pay close attention to all the signs.
We pay attention to our body and don't overdue it. If we feel sick stop and go down to a lower alititude.
And we take climbing slow and steady.
Ciprofloxacin – Unfortunately we seem to get bad cases of diarrhea when traveling a lot. Especially when high altitude trekking or going to remote places.
We keep Cipro in our first aid kit and it has saved our bacon many times in our travels when we can't get to a hospital.
Cold Sores/Fever Blisters
Acyclovir – This is a prescription medication for cold sores. Dave has a real problem with fever blisters or Cold Sores acting up in extreme heat.
After suffering for years, we heard Acyclovir or Zovirax and asked our family doctor about it. Now we carry it with us wherever we go.
We've tried every over the counter medication and it doesn't work.
Once the fever blister has caught hold it can last for weeks; especially when we are in a hot climate for a long period.
This stuff works wonders. The minute Dave feels a tingle on your lip, he pops 4 pills and the cold sore never comes up.
We always keep copies of our prescriptions on hand and keep our prescriptions in their original packaging for border crossings and immigration.
For Cuts and Open Wounds
Fucidin Cream – This is a prescribed antibiotic cream that treats cuts and scrapes.
In a tropical climate, a small cut can lead to infections quickly.
We've had cuts get infected all over the world and this is the cream all doctors used on our cuts after the infection set in.
We now have it in our first aid kit to use the minute we have a cut or scrape.
A tropical first aid kit needs to have items that can treat wounds fast
before infections sets in.
Tropical Travel Tips:
If cut in the islands: Clean wounds immediately with
rubbing alcohol or peroxide (basic first aid kits usually
come with alntisceptic wipes)
Then apply a topical antibiotic cream like Fucidin Cream to prevent
And finally keep the wound covered with bandages to prevent bacteria from
Part 2: Travel Specific First Aid Items
We didn't need a doctor to prescribe any of these items below for our travels.
They are essential over the counter items in our first aid supplies when traveling the world.
These items usually aren't needed in a regular medical kit, but when traveling, we definitely have them on hand.
Syringe and Suture Kit
We have never had to use this, but we still carry a suture syringe kit to ensure sterile medical supplies when going to remote places.
We have heard horror stories and first-hand accounts of people being in the hospital and nurses sticking syringes in the bed to reuse later.
To be safe, we have own needle. The world is evolving quickly and chances are we won't need it, but in developing countries and remote locations, we don't want to take any chances.
Water Purification Systems
The main cause of a lot of illnesses when traveling is drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food.
SteriPen – For water, we carry a SteriPen and our own reusable water bottle. The Steripen purifies water with ultraviolet light in seconds.
And we can stay hydrated without the worry of getting sick.
LifeStraw is another great purification system that we have used in the past.
Water Purification Tablets – are another item that we keep in our first aid kit bag too. They don't take up a lot of room and are good in a pinch.
- We always make sure to buy the tablets that do not contain iodine.
Even when using a SteriPen and LifeStraw, we use water purification tablets as a backup. If we feel the water is really dirty,
When we do get sick with diarrhea, (and we do a lot) it is important to become rehydrated as quickly as possible.
Water won't do the trick fast enough. So we always have some sort of rehydration tablets to replenish those electrolytes fast!
Rehydration Tablets – I never knew that this was such an important item of the first aid kit until I became severely dehydrated in the Sudan and couldn't move.
Rehydration tablets also help with recovery from extended vomiting and extended Diarrhea. We prefer the Nuun brand that we picked up at Mountain Equipment Co-op. It tastes great.
They help with heatstroke and dehydration and they help speed up recovery.
Often times we take these when we feel symptoms coming on and they have helped.
Wounds and Infections
Antiseptic Wipes – These are really important to clean a wound immediately after it happens. Getting the bacteria out fast can prevent infection.
Iodine or Dettol – After getting a serious knee infection that turned into a full-blown case of cellulitis in Africa, I will always have Iodine, Dettol.
After cleaning the wound, I douse it with Iodine to keep it clean and disinfected.
In the tropics, small cuts can become infected quickly and it is important to clean them as soon as they happen.
We keep them in a small plastic bottle. We don't carry a huge bottle with us, just enough to get through an emergency should it arise.
Pro Tip for travel:
We never carry full packages of everything.
We put large bottles of liquids into smaller bottles like Gotoobs.
Travel Pill Kit – We also don't carry several bottles of each pill. We carry just a few tablets of what we need in a pinch.
This is supposed to be a mini first aid kit for an emergency.
We don't carry a year's supply of items. We carry just enough to get us through an emergency situation until we can see a doctor or get to a pharmacy.
Polysporin – If we can't get our hands on prescribed Fucidin cream, Polysporin is the next best thing.
The doctor even used it on my cellulitis in Africa, so I am sure it is good enough for a minor wound.
Nausea and Motion Sickness
I tend to get motion sickness a lot. Especially on buses and winding roads.
I've had seasickness, motion sickness on harrowing bus rides, flights, tuk-tuks and songthaews that have poor emissions, and in backs of minibusses and cars on winding road.
Gravol has been my friend on many occasions.
Part 3: Prevention
It is important for us to go to a travel clinic to discuss what vaccines we need for travel.
We make sure to go at least 6 months before our travels as some vaccines require several treatments.
A list of potential travel vaccines are:
- Hepatitis A & B
- Rabies – Rabies shots do not prevent rabies, but slow the spread of the infection giving you time to get to the hospital
- Yellow Fever
- Japanese Encephalitis
This is just a partial list. A doctor can provide more information.
The Government of Canada has a good list of recommended vaccines for countries around the world.
Whenever we are sick beyond what we can treat with our basic medicine kit, we go to the hospital without fear of facing a large bill.
Read More about Travel Insurance in These Posts:
Insect Repellent is our number one prevention for many diseases like Malaria and Dengue Fever.
They are transmitted through mosquitoes so have a good insect repellant.
It is up in the air whether to go Deet free or not. A lot of professionals recommend high Deet content, we prefer more natural products in addition to covering up.
We protect ourselves as much as possible from mosquito bites with insect repellent and good clothing. Long sleeves, light colors, and long pants. If Mosquitoes are really bad, we wear a mosquito jacket.
Sunburns can be very serious when traveling. Too many people head to the beach and get severe burns from the tropical sun.
We usually cover up and wear hats instead of smothering our bodies with sunscreen.
Even when surfing or snorkeling, we wear long-sleeved board shirts and shorts.
For our faces, we prefer zinc to block the sun's rays completely.
Part 3: First Aid Kit Checklist
We've given a lot of ideas above for specific first aid kit supplies, but here is a quick checklist of basic items we've added to our travel first aid kit bags.
- Tweezers – You'd be amazed at how many splinters we've gotten while traveling. And they can become infected too.
- Bandaids – Good for minor cuts
- Gauze Pads – I think that this is more important than band-aids. Gauze and tape will take care of a cut of almost any size.
- Surgical Tape – It's great to have gauze pads, but you need to tape it on with something.
- Moleskin – Great for blisters. It helps to protect blisters when hiking.
- Scissors – Small scissors are good for cutting gauze pads and moleskin
- Antihistamine cream – Dave was swarmed by fire ants once and having this cream to treat the bits helped ease the pain.
- Antihistamines and allergy medication – We keep Benadryl on hand for possible severe allergy reactions. And we use Claraton for regular environmental allergens.
- Lip Balm – A must in my books. Soothes sunburned lips and when trekking or climbing it soothes chapped and wind burned lips.
Ibuprofen, Decongestants, and Antihistamines.
Of course, we always have the usual pain and cold relief medications.
We make sure to keep a small supply of these in our first aid kit.
We don't go for the large bulky items, but we carry just enough to get us through a few days of not feeling well.
We can always restock at a local pharmacy for these items as we go.
Imodium has been a lifesaver for us in the past.
When we know we'll be stuck traveling on a bus for hours on end with no stop in sight. (and many times we don't want to use the bathrooms at the bus stops anyway) we take Immodium.
Sometimes when we've eaten something the night before that doesn't agree with us, it can be the only thing that gets us through a day of sighseeing.
Optional First Aid Kit Items
Gold Bond – We always swear by this one it relieves heat rashes, prickly heat.
Nexium or Zantac – Indigestion and heartburn can occur a lot when travelling, Tums or Pepto Bismol can also be a welcome relief to reactions to food that we are not used to.
Oraguard-B – Stress and different foods seem to cause mouth ulcers a lot for me (Deb). OraguardB numbs my gums while they are healing.
Eye Drops – we can really buy these anywhere. But I do suffer from Allergies and it is packaged in a small bottle. So for us allergy eye drops come along. We'll keep them.
Tiger Balm or peppermint essential oil – It is just my savior. Relieves sore muscles and headaches and even when my nose is stuffy, a little placed on the bridge will help to open up my sinus cavities.
Plus if we are sitting by someone that smells on the plane or on the bus (yes it happens) it masks the odor. We'll keep it!
Instant Ice Pack – Do we really need this? If we sprain an ankle or twist a wrist, instant Ice will help to ease swelling and pain. But it is big and bulky. We will probably pass unless we are going trekking into a remote location.
Tenser Bandage – We don't really need this either, but Dave has sprained his ankle and I have pulled out my elbow in the past. It could come in handy, but we really don't need it. So we pass.
Surgical Gloves – When Dave was attacked by a swarm of fire ants in Honduras, I tried to brush them off his back, but they swarmed by hands.
But then, another traveler whipped out his surgical gloves and brushed them off quickly and efficiently. I have carried them ever since.
Plus, usually travel emergency kits have surgical gloves included. We'll keep them.
Aloe Vera – Helps to relieve sunburn. But maybe we should just try not to get burnt. So we pass.
And there you have it. Our complete travel first aid kit.
Of course, we don't carry this if we are going on a short vacation, to a resort or to a city where we can quickly grab what we need.
But for backpacking, long term travel or treks, we do bring a lot of it. We just make sure to only pack a few of each. We don't pack a box of bandaids or a large Costco size bottle of Advil.
Outside of prescriptions, we put everything into smaller bottles and pill holders to keep our travel kit compact and light.
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