How to Pack a Travel First Aid Kit

Written By: The Planet D

One of the biggest things that Dave and I always struggle with when getting ready for our travels is how to pack a travel first aid kit. We just never know what we are going to need, but at the same time, we hate carrying too much stuff. Then again, we really do need to be prepared for any situation – especially when going off the beaten path.

We have been in hospitals on 4 different continents. We’ve had severe blood infections in Africa, a sprained ankle in Ireland, a broken back in the Amazon, and dangerous illnesses in India. (I’ve suffered from 3 different types of parasites) While we’re fans of packing light, we are also fans of being prepared. After years of honing our packing skills, we have created a list of things we always put in our first aid kit to be prepared but to also keep things simple and light weight.

First Aid Kits for Travel

first aid kits travel mask and world

Travel will be very different for a few years after COVID-19. A first aid kit should now include an N95 surgical face mask and hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes, and disinfectant wipes. We use wipes to clean our armrest and table tray on airplanes and other transportation. Plus, these days, a digital thermometer to check for a fever is a good idea to be part of any first aid kit for travel. We are even carrying Rapid tests for COVID since here in Canada, we can pick them up for free.

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.

Most of the items listed are found in a basic first aid kit that you can buy in an outdoor store. You can start off by purchasing a pre-stocked travel first aid kit and then take away and add what you need to it. That way you don’t need to buy every item in bulk. For a first aid kit for travel, you only need a travel size.

You can check out the best first aid kits to suit your needs here on Amazon now. You can then mix and match what you need just remember to keep it light weight. You can just bring a few items rather than packing in bulk.

First Aid Kit Checklist

first aid kits for travel

To start off, 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. Pack a good pair of Tweezers like these ones.

Gauze Pads
I think that gauze pads are more important than band aids. Gauze and tape will take care of a cut of almost any size. We often carry band aids with us but end up having a cut that is too large. Gause with some tape does the trick

Surgical Tape
It’s great to have gauze pads, but you need to tape it on with something. Plus, the surgical tape can also help tape up a sprained finger or be used for other minor injuries.

Allergy medication
We keep Benadryl on hand for possible severe allergy reactions. And we use Claritin for regular environmental allergens.

Antihistamine cream
Dave was swarmed by fire ants once and having this cream to treat the bits helped ease the pain.

Surgical Gloves
When Dave was attacked by said 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.

Scissors
Small scissors are good for cutting gauze pads and moleskin and to use for a number of things when traveling. Get a small travel size pair to keep in your kit.

Insect Repellent
Insect Repellent is our number one prevention for diseases that 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 by wearing light weight long sleeve clothing.

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.

Lip Balm
A must in my books. Soothes sunburned lips and when trekking or climbing it soothes chapped and wind burned lips. Try to look for a chapstick that has SPF to protect your lips from the sun.

Gold Bond
We always swear by Gold Bond powder, it relieves heat rashes and prickly heat. It’s perfect for adventure travel, long treks, and in hot and humid climates

Anti-diarrheal
Imodium (Loperamide) has been a lifesaver for us in the past during long bus rides.

Elastic Bandage
We have sprained ankles and wrists during our travels. You can carry an elastic bandage for knees or ankles and a Triangular Bandage is great to have on hand to put your arm in a sling. Make sure to have some safety pins to go along with it to hold it in place. You only need one of each. Self Adhesive bandages are a good idea to eliminate safety pins and can be used for virtually anything. Plus you don’t need scissors.

Ibuprofen, Decongestants
Of course, we always have the usual pain and cold relief medications.  Acetaminophen and Ibuprophin also help reduce fevers should you get sick on the road.

Nexium or Zantac
Indigestion and heartburn can occur a lot when traveling, Esomeprazole is great to have in your bag when traveling. Especially when eating a lot of exotic foot.

Eye Drops
I suffer from Allergies and it is packaged in a small bottle so eye drops are an essential part of my first aid kit. So for us allergy eye drops are a good choice to reduce allergy symptoms. If you wear contact lenses, you may want to pack moisture drops – before getting Lasik, my eyes were always dry while traveling.

Essential Oil
Tiger Balm or peppermint essential oil is great for relieving sore muscles and headaches and I use both when my nose is stuffy. Plus it masks odor on long buses or flights. I have sat beside some pretty stinky people.

Adventure Travel Items for First Aid

travel first aid kits adventure gear

Not all of these items usually aren’t needed in a regular medical kit, but when traveling to remote destinations or developing countries, we have them on hand.

Rehydration Tablets
When dehydration sets in it can be very dangerous. Water won’t do the trick fast enough so we always have rehydration Tablets in our kit to replenish electrolytes fast! 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.

Anti-nauseant tablets
For Anti-nauseant we use Gravol and it works great. I tend to get motion sickness a lot. Especially on buses and winding roads. Gravol has been my friend on many occasions.

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.

Moleskin
Hikers will know Moleskin as a staple piece of adventure gear and hiking to protect your feet. Moleskin is great for treating blisters. It helps to protect against blisters when hiking. No matter how well worn your hiking boots are, blisters can develop, be ready for them with Moleskin. Make sure to have travel scissors on hand.

Cuts and Infections

travel first aid for cuts and open wounds

Antiseptic Wipes
For cleaning wounds when traveling, keep a small bottle of saline solution on hand (this will make sure you have clean water) I’ve had a serious infection in Africa when my small cut was infected by unclean water. The best way to clean a wound is with soap and water, so if you have an open cut, saline solution will guarantee the water is clean. If you don’t have water on hand antiseptic wipes in your kit will be able to clean a wound immediately. Getting the bacteria out fast can prevent infection. You can use the alcohol wipes as double duty, to help keep things light. Saline solution can be bought where contact lenses are sold.

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. If we can’t get our hands on prescribed antibiotic cream like Fucidin, Polysporin is the next best thing.

Tropical First Aid Tips

  • In the tropics, small cuts can become infected quickly and it is important to clean them as soon as they happen.
  • If you get a cut in the islands: Clean wounds immediately (basic first aid kits usually come with antiseptic wipes).
    • People don’t recommend peroxide or alcohol anymore, but if you don’t have a saline solution and the water is questionable in your destination it is important to use what is on hand to clean the wound immediately any way you can. I’ve had a cut turn into Celulitis within hours and nearly lost my leg to infection. (I’m not exaggerating). In Thailand, we had a motorcycle accident and Dave’s minor burn turned into an ugly mess where he was in the hospital the next day needing a very painful cleaning to get the dead skin removed because we didn’t clean his wound properly. Infections can spread quickly.
  • Then apply a topical antibiotic ointment like Fucidin Cream (Polysporin if you don’t have a prescription) to prevent infection.
  • And finally, keep the wound covered with bandages or band aids to prevent bacteria from getting in.

Prescription Medication

first aid kit for travel
Dave’s prescription regime after breaking his back

When it comes to prescription medication, we always get it filled before leaving home and keep copies of our prescriptions on hand. We make sure to keep our prescriptions in their original packaging for border crossings and immigration. Here is a list of medications that you may want to talk to a doctor about getting filled before leaving on your trip.

Disclosure: If traveling overseas, it is important to visit a doctor at a travel clinic to see what immunizations and medications we will need depending on your activities and your destination. These are prescriptions we have used in the past that were prescribed by a doctor before leaving Canada.

Malaria
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.

Altitude Sickness
Apo-Acetazolamide: We like to climb mountains 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 a sick stop and go down to a lower altitude. Read more: Top 10 Tips for Healthy Travel

Diarrhea
Unfortunately, we seem to get bad cases of diarrhea when traveling a lot. We keep Ciprofloxacin in our first aid kit and it has saved our bacon many times in our travels when we can’t get to a hospital. Ciprofloxacin is a prescription medication that fights bacterial infections.

Cold Sores and Fever Blisters
Acyclovir is a prescription medication for cold sores. Dave has a real problem with fever blisters or Cold Sores acting up in extreme heat. This stuff works wonders. The minute Dave feels a tingle on his lip, he pops 4 pills and the cold sore never comes up.

Vaccines

medical kit for travel | vaccines

It is important for us to go to a travel clinic to discuss what vaccines we need for travel. In 2022, COVID vaccines are required to enter many countries, but there are other vaccines that have always been a staple of travel as well. We make sure to go to the travel clinic at least 6 months before our travels as some vaccines require several treatments and boosters. Talk to your doctor for more information. The Government of Canada has a good list of recommended vaccines for countries around the world.

A list of potential travel vaccines are

  • COVID-19
  • Hepatitis A & B
  • Measles
  • Yellow Fever
  • Typhoid
  • Japanese Encephalitis
  • Influenza
  • Rabies – Rabies shots do not prevent rabies but slow the spread of the infection giving you time to get to the hospital

Water

Water can be iffy in some parts of the world and we like to do our part to help the environment rather than always buying bottled water. Plus, if we are in the back country, we can’t always get to fresh water, so we purify it ourselves. These are the systems we keep in our kit to purify water when in doubt.

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. We carry a SteriPen and our own reusable water bottle. The Steripen purifies water with ultraviolet light in seconds. LifeStraw is another great purification system that we have used in the past.

Water Purification Tablets
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.

Pro Tip for travel – When it comes to liquids, we put large bottles of liquids into smaller bottles like Gotoobs to keep everything light weight. We don’t carry a huge bottle of liquid with us, we just keep some in a small plastic bottle should an emergency arise. An insulated water bottle is great for all situations as well.

Planning on traveling and need a first aid kit checklist? Pin to Save to Pinterest for a quick reference

tips for packing a good travel first aid kit

For backpacking, long-term travel, or treks, we do bring everything on this list. For shorter vacations or all-inclusive resorts, we scale it down.

If you want to get started on building your 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.

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.

And there you have it. Our complete first aid kit for travel. What did we miss? Let us know in the comments.

Travel Planning Resources

Looking to book your next trip? Why not use these resources that are tried and tested by yours truly.

Flights: Start planning your trip by finding the best flight deals on Skyscanner

Book your Hotel: Find the best prices on hotels with these two providers. If you are located in Europe use Booking.com and if you are anywhere else use TripAdvisor

Find Apartment Rentals: You will find the cheapest prices on apartment rentals with VRBO

Travel Insurance: Don't leave home without it. Here is what we recommend:

  • World Nomads - Digital Nomads or Frequent Travelers.
  • Allianz - Occasional Travelers.
  • Medjet - Global air medical transport and travel security.

Need more help planning your trip? Make sure to check out our Resources Page where we highlight all the great companies that we trust when we are traveling.

About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

Leave a Comment

16 thoughts on “How to Pack a Travel First Aid Kit”

  1. Thanks for sharing this emergency kit checklist! Just a quick question though, is there not any survival kits available for those with infants? That would be a very great addition to the variation of kits.

    Reply
  2. The loss of fluids through diarrhea can cause dehydration and electrolyte disturbances such as potassium deficiency or other salt imbalances.

    Reply
  3. If you aren’t opposed to vaccinating, I’ve heard the dukoral vaccine was quite helpful in eliminating travelers diarrhea.

    Reply
  4. Diarrhea is a common cause of death in developing countries and the second most common cause of infant deaths worldwide. The loss of fluids through diarrhea can cause dehydration and electrolyte disturbances such as potassium deficiency or other salt imbalances. In 2009 diarrhea was estimated to have caused 1.1 million deaths in people aged 5 and over. ;`;”

    All the best to you
    http://healthmedicinejournal.comdp Irena Mcglockton

    Reply
  5. Very extensive list. The only thing I would like to add is something for motion sickness. Not everybody will need this, but for me it’s indispensable.
    .-= Alyssa @ Femita´s last blog ..The Busy Woman’s Guide to First-aid Travel Kits =-.

    Reply
    • Good call, I think Gravol works for motion sickness as well, but there might be something out there that is strictly for motion sickness. I will have to check out your list too! Great to have links to similar posts so that everyone can get info from all angles.

      Reply
    • Thanks for the additional advice Warren. We have definitely needed some good diarreha medication and lip balm is always in our pocket no matter where we go.

      Reply
  6. Thanks for the great first aid packing list- it gives us a few new things to add to our travel kit! While traveling, we often used Malarone (expensive, but worth it). We used Cipro only in the most extreme cases, which thankfully were rare, and used Doxycycline for less serious travel bugs. We also couldn’t live without our mosquito net; we used the 4-poster type with bungee cords attached at each end so that we could string it up anywhere…hotels LOVED us! 😉

    Reply
    • Hi Jennifer. Excellent advice about the mosquito net. I think that I will have to get one. Doxycycline doesn’t agree with me at all. Luckily we have a health plan and out malarone is 80% covered or else I don’t know what I would do. I had a severe reaction in Vietnam a few years ago to Doxy and had to go to the clinic. Severe mouth and throat ulcers. I was in that 1% bracket. Didn’t take our malaria medication for the next 6 months while in SE Asia. Dave didn’t have a reaction, but he said if you aren’t taking it, I’m not either. (not because of chivalry, but because of laziness:)

      Reply
  7. And I thought I carried a pharmacy on shorter trips! You’ve done well. Better cover all major possibilities using drugs that you know work for you.

    I wonder how some of these drugs would fare up in extreme temperatures.

    Reply
    • We have actually had these medications in extreme heat and cold. In the Sudan, we reached temperatures of 50ºCelcius in the sun and everything was fine. The only problem we made was bringing Advil Liquid Caps and they completely melted together and became useless. Keep everything in Pill form and you will be fine. During the same trip we summitted Mount Kilimanjaro and reached temperatures of -30º below Zero. So I must say that these medications stand up well in extreme conditions. Great Question!

      Reply
  8. Great list! I’ve had cellulitis and it is not to be messed with- I am tyranical about disinfectant now.

    I’m going to hold on to this list!

    Reply
    • I feel for you. Cellulitis was one of the scariest and most painful experiences of my life. At first I didn’t realize how serious it was, but after 10 days of extreme pain I understood. If I really knew just how dangerous it was at the time, I would have come home rather than visiting different hospitals in Tanzania and Malawi and trying several different kinds of antibiotics. An antibiotic drip in a sanitized hospital would have been far safer than camping in the jungle and riding a dirty and bumpy truck. I am so lucky and like you I don’t take chances anymore!

      Reply
  9. Ooo – comprehensive and great list guys – def get the Cipro even if the doctor doesn’t give it to you…it saved my life in Laos…along with the re-hydration salts 🙂 Off to tweet this, very good! 🙂

    Reply