Packing your travel first aid kit is a balancing act. Falling ill while you’re traveling is miserable enough as it is without having to take time out of your day to find a pharmacy. At the same time, however, you don’t want to bring along a bulky bag of essentials. Your bag space has become a valuable commodity when you have to pay to check bags on a flight (not to mention carry your bag once you’re at your destination).
Generally speaking, there are three different sets of items that should be in your travel first aid kit:
- Medications You Definitely Need (prescriptions you use at home on a regular basis + special medications for your destination, such as something to help with altitude sickness)
- First Aid Items You Commonly Use (in my case, that’s band-aids for a myriad of adventure activities + ibuprofen as the “all-purpose drug” for fevers, muscle soreness, and headaches)
- Items You Can’t Get Easily at Your Destination (I include items I’ll want immediately in this category; i.e. I’ll pack something for food poisoning so I’m all set if I get sick at 3am even if it’s otherwise widely available)
That means your contents list will change a little bit for every destination. You can probably pack fewer health items for a weekend in New York City than for camping on a wilderness destination or a week in a developing country. After a little bit of trial and error, I’ve come up with a packing list that suits my needs on almost all trips, and I simply add a few items when needed for special circumstances.
Although you can buy pre-packaged first aid kits, I’d actually recommend making one yourself. That way you’re 100% familiar with what’s in it ahead of time, have tailored it to the products you tend to use more often, and have total control on the quantity of each item you pack.
After a little bit of trial and error, I bring along the basics (and a few not-so-basics) just in case — better safe than sorry! My first aid kit is about the size of a paperback book, giving me enough space to work with without weighing me down. I try to keep it stocked with essentials so I can “grab and go” for most trips without having to worry about a last-minute trip to the store.
Inside my first aid kit is:
- My personal prescription (in a labeled container – and ideally with an extra day’s supply in case of delays)
- Ibuprofen for fevers, muscle soreness, inflammation, and more
- Excedrin for migraines
- Bandages (I prefer ones with built-in antibiotic cream for convenience)
- Alcohol swabs
- Anti-diarrhea medication
- Decongestant for the common cold I always seem to catch on flights
- Throat lozenges
- Motion sickness medications
- Insect repellant and anti-itch wipes
- Moleskins for blisters
- Oral rehydration salts – for cases of food poisoning, over-exhertion, or one too many late nights
I don’t bother packing items that I don’t use at home, but if these are more common in your household medicine cabinet, you might want to bring them with you while traveling:
- Medical equipment you may need (i.e. syringes, inhalers, epi-pens)
- Aloe wipes or other sun relief items (I may not bring aloe, but I do pack sunscreen!)
- Multi-vitamins and other nutritional supplements
- Sleep aids
- Antifungal gels or creams
- Separate antibacterial ointment
- Disposable gloves
- Elastic bandage wrap
- Eye drops
- Gauze Pads
- Medical Tape
Remember you don’t need a lifetime supply of everything, so count out what you’ll most likely need and leave the rest at home. I find small GoTubbs to be a good size for pills I don’t otherwise have a container for, but any pill container you have on hand should work. (Just label them if you’re bringing a few!).
My last piece of advice when it comes to a travel first aid kit is to make sure it’s accessible! It does you no good to bring medicine from halfway around the world if it’s in your checked suitcase while you’re onboard a flight. Make sure what you need is easy to get to when you need it. That’s a mistake I’ll only make once!
Do you think I bring too much? Too little? Is there something different in your first aid kit?
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