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.
We have been in hospitals on 4 different continents, we’ve had severe infections, sprained ankles, broken backs, and dangerous illnesses. While we’re fans of packing light, we are also fans of being prepared. This is a packing list of everything we carry in our travel first aid kit. So how does one find balance?
Our Travel First Aid Kit List
TRAVEL TIP: MOST OF THE ITEMS LISTED ARE FOUND IN A BASIC FIRST AID KIT THAT YOU CAN BUY AT ANY OUTDOOR OR TRAVEL STORE.
This is what we pack our first aid bag. You can mix and match what you need.
Disclosure: This first aid checklist does not replace personal medical advice from a qualified doctor. We recommend going to a travel health clinic and talk to your doctor for professional information.
Travel will be very different for a few years after COVID-19. A first aid kit should now include a surgical face mask and hand sanitizer. Alcohol wipes and disinfectant wipes should definitely be a part of any first aid kit for travel.
Travel First Aid Kit – 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 the doctor 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.
Malaria – Malarone: There are several Malaria medications you can use, but Malarone works well for us. Malaria is no joke and we personally know people who have had it. 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.
- Note: Prevention is the best medicine for Malaria. Malaria is caused by mosquitoes. We wear long-sleeved light-colored shirts and long pants that are lightweight and breathable. Use insect repellent and wear Bugs Away Brand for clothes and hats to help prevent mosquito bites.
Altitude Sickness – Apo-Acetazolamide: We like to climb things and we always take altitude medication with us. The name brand we use is Diamox. It contains apo-acetazolamide which 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.
- Important Note: We pay close attention to how we are feeling when climbing. Prescribed medication can mask altitude sickness so we pay attention to our body and don’t overdo it. If we feel sick stop and go down to a lower altitude.
Diarrhea – Ciprofloxacin: Unfortunately we seem to get bad cases of diarrhea when traveling a lot. 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 and 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. This stuff works wonders. The minute Dave feels a tingle on your lip, he pops 4 pills and the cold sore never comes up.
- Note: We always keep copies of our prescriptions on hand and keep our prescriptions in their original packaging for border crossings and immigration.
Travel First Aid for Cuts and Open Wounds and Infections
Antiseptic Wipes – These are really important to clean a wound immediately. 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 or Dettol in my travel first aid kit to disinfect my wounds after cleaning. Cleaning wounds immediately can literally be a life safer while traveling.
We don’t carry a huge bottle with us, we just keep some in a small plastic bottle should an emergency arise.
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.
Polysporin – If we can’t get our hands on prescribed antibiotic cream like Fucidin, Polysporin is the next best thing.
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 a good antibiotic ointment in our first aid kit to use the minute we have a cut or scrape in a tropical climate.
In the tropics, small cuts can become infected quickly and it is important to clean them as soon as they happen.
Tropical Travel First Aid Tips
- If you get a cut in the islands: Clean wounds immediately with rubbing alcohol or peroxide (basic first aid kits usually come with antiseptic wipes)
- Then apply a topical antibiotic ointment like Fucidin Cream to prevent infection.
- And finally, keep the wound covered with bandages to prevent bacteria from getting in.
Travel Specific First Aid Items
These items usually aren’t needed in a regular medical kit, but when traveling (especially to remote destinations), we have them on hand.
Syringe and Suture Kit – We still carry a suture syringe kit to ensure sterile medical supplies and needles when going to remote places. 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.
- Note: We have never had to use our suture kit, but it gives us peace of mind in remote locations.
Water Purification Systems – The main cause of a lot of illnesses when traveling is drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food. It’s a good idea to have some sort of water purification system on hand.
Recommended Water Purifiers
SteriPen – For water purifications, we carry a SteriPen and our own reusable water bottle. The Steripen purifies water with ultraviolet light in seconds. We have used it on remote treks in Kyrgyzstan and when filling up water in developing countries.
LifeStraw – is another great purification system that we have used in the past.
Water Purification Tablets are good in a pinch. We always buy tablets that do not contain iodine. Even when using a SteriPen and LifeStraw, we keep water purification tablets in our first aid kit as a backup. If we feel the water is really dirty we’ll add a tablet to be safe.
When dehydration sets in it can be very dangerous. Water won’t do the trick fast enough so we always have rehydration tablets to replenish electrolytes fast!
Rehydration Tablets help with recovery from dehydration due to extended vomiting, diarrhea or heat stroke. We prefer the Nuun brand that we picked up at Mountain Equipment Co-op. Often times we take these tablets when we feel symptoms coming on and they have helped to prevent us from becoming full blown sick.
- Pro Tip for travel – We put large bottles of liquids into smaller bottles like Gotoobs.
Nausea and Motion Sickness
- Pro Tip – Carry a Travel Pill Kit instead of full bottles of everything. We don’t carry several bottles of each pill in our first aid kit. We carry just a few tablets of what we need in a pinch.
We have a lot of items, but they are in a mini first aid kit for travel emergencies.
Vaccines – 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
Talk to your doctor for more information.
The Government of Canada has a good list of recommended vaccines for countries around the world.
Travel Insurance – We always travel with travel medical insurance. We have used it several times. Most notably when Dave broke two vertebrae in the Peruvian Amazon. 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.
Insect Repellent is our number one prevention for many diseases like Malaria and Dengue Fever. These diseases 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.
Good Mosquito Repellent Clothing – 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. We also wear insect repellent hats
Sunscreen – 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.
Travel First Aid Kit Checklist
We’ve given a lot of ideas above for specific travel first aid kit supplies, but here is a quick checklist of basic items we’ve added to our 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.
- Anti-diarrheal – Imodium has been a lifesaver for us in the past.
We make sure to keep a small supply of all of these above in our first aid kit. We can always replenish at a pharmacy.
Optional Items in a First Aid Kit for Travel
- 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,
- Oraguard-B – Stress and different foods seem to cause mouth ulcers a lot for me (Deb).
- Eye Drops – I suffer from Allergies and it is packaged in a small bottle. So for us allergy eye drops come along.
- Tiger Balm or peppermint essential oil – Relieves sore muscles and headaches and even when my nose is stuffy. Plus it masks odor on long buses or flights.
- 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. When another traveler whipped out his surgical gloves and brushed them off quickly, I have carried them ever since. Besides, they are included in most first aid kits anyway.
And there you have it. Our complete travel first aid kit.
For backpacking, long term travel or treks, we do bring everything on our list. For shorter vacations or all-inclusive resorts, we scale it down.
If you want to get started on building your travel first aid kit, we suggest going to REI in the United States or Mountain Equipment Co-Op in Canada to pick up a basic 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.
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