Thinking about our health needs on the road was one of the most daunting aspects of preparing for long-term travel. I scoured the internet for lists of first aid items to pack and was immediately confused with what I read. Many blogs I found recommended packing syringes, local anesthetic, sutures, and forceps among other intimidating supplies. Yikes! I didn’t go to med school!
I did not go ahead and pack a mini hospital. Instead, I got off the internet and had dinner with family friends who know a little something about all this—a couple that have years of travel experience, a Ph.D., and a postdoctoral fellowship from Harvard Medical School between them. Their advice was a little more practical for us.
Over salmon, veggies, and a nice pinot, they told Andrew and me what to pack, how to use it, and what we should discuss with our own physicians beforehand. For over an hour I scribbled notes that shaped how we built our first aid kit for many months of travel.
So, below I share our list of all the medicines and supplies we bought. Next, are tips on how to compress these items to a travel-friendly size. Finally, I included tips on how to best utilize these medicines to avoid getting sick in the first place and notes on how to discuss all this with your doctor. Let’s get started.
First Aid Kit Shopping List
- Low Dose (or baby) Aspirin
- Tube of Neosporin
- Afrin Nose Spray
- Melatonin Supplement
- Wet Wipes (not pictured)
- Bug Repellent for Clothing (not pictured)
For Cuts & Scrapes:
For General Pain:
First Aid Kit Packing Tips
- Peel the label off the first bottle of pills and tape into onto the Monday slot of a weekly pill organizer. Then pour those pills into that slot. Continue with each bottle of pills until your pill organizer is full. This way, you know the name of the pill and have the directions and warnings on hand without the bulk of seven bottles.
- Remove all pill packets from their boxes. Cut the directions and warnings off the back and staple or tape onto the sheet of pills. If there are multiple sheets of pills, tape those together too.
- Pour some hydrogen peroxide into a small spray bottle. Then put the bottle in a Ziploc bag to avoid leakage.
- Take the Band-Aids out of their box and put them in another Ziploc bag to save even more space.
- If you have prescriptions, it is a good idea to keep them in their original containers just in case you are questioned at customs. Write their use in plain English on the side to make everything easier to remember.
- Put everything in the travel bucket toiletry bag and synch it up! I recommend a red bag to make it obvious that it is a first aid kit. The bucket shape is handy because it is easy to access when you roll down the sides.
Preventative Health Tips
Before we dive into tips, I want to reiterate that I am not a doctor and am not qualified to help you or instruct you on medical things. The number of times I say “things” in this post should illustrate how little I know. I am only regurgitating (Nice word. I sound like a doctor.) tips I learned to help prevent illness or injury.
- Each time you settle in for a plane/train/bus ride, wipe down your entire area with an antiseptic wet wipe to avoid catching anything the person before you had.
- On long plane/train/bus rides, spray the Afrin nose spray in each nostril. Then coat the inside of each nostril with Neosporin to prevent catching anything floating around in the air. I thought this would feel very strange and icky but I hardly noticed it and have (knock on wood) yet to catch a cold from any of our five flights so far.
- Use melatonin to support sleep through those long plane/train/bus rides.
- Take a low dose aspirin the day before a long flight (any flight over 5 hours) to decrease the chance of blood clots.
- If you get a cut or scratch, spray some hydrogen peroxide on it and put on a Neosporin-infused Band-Aid on right away to avoid infection.
- Treat your two best lightweight outfits with bug repellent spray to prevent bites that could lead to other diseases. Fortunately, you won’t need to bring the spray since it lasts a handful of washes on your clothes.
- Use Excedrin and the rehydration salts to treat minor altitude sickness. If the symptoms are worse, seek help.
- If you get sick abroad, don’t wait to get help. Remember, better to be safe than sorry.
- If you do need help, ask to go to American-style hospitals since they are usually more sanitary and less crowded.
Talk to Your Doctor
You will likely need vaccinations or extra medications of some kind, so make a doctor’s appointment. Schedule it a month before you leave so you have time to collect prescriptions, get multi-round vaccinations, and ask questions you may think of later. Here are some things I found helpful to write down before my doctor appointment. Also, don’t be afraid to take notes during the appointment, since there can be a lot of info to remember.
What countries are you considering visiting? It is a good idea to write down a rough list of countries you hope to visit so you can get all the vaccinations you need. I used the CDC website to make my own list of vaccinations for each country, then discussed the list with my doctor. Your doctor may administer the vaccinations themselves, or you will need to go to a pharmacy. I got a grand total of six vaccinations over three separate visits to Walgreens. Do something I didn’t—call ahead to make sure the pharmacy has your vaccination in stock.
Are you going to a high-risk malaria area? If so, ask your doctor for malaria pills and write down the directions to take them. There are daily and weekly pills available with varying side effects. Work with your doctor to choose what works best for you.
Are you going to be traveling to high altitudes? Especially if you are considering trekking on your trip, ask for medication to help with altitude sickness, which can be very dangerous.
Will you get food poisoning? You will get food poisoning. Speak with your doctor about pills to straighten out your stomach if you can’t kick food poisoning symptoms on your own. I was instructed to only take my meds if my stomach problems continued for more than three days.
Are you prone to anything that you commonly treat with medications? This is helpful to know on your own and to discuss with your doctor. Personally, I get a few ear infections per year and sometimes need the assistance of antibiotics to beat them. Having a bottle of amoxicillin with me gives me peace of mind, especially since flying with ear infections can be very painful and even blow out an eardrum.
Most importantly, use common sense and ask for help when you need it. Now that you have put together the perfect first aid kit, I hope you never have to use it.
Is there anything I forgot? What kind of first aid or medical materials do you travel with?
P.S. The links provided are affiliate links so if you use them to build your med kit, I'll make a few extra bucks at no cost to you. Hopefully, they are helpful!