How to Prepare a Travel First Aid Kit

Travel First Aid Kit

I’m pretty sure that packing a first aid kit is not one of the first things that comes to mind when getting ready for an upcoming trip, especially if you want your backpack to be the smallest and lightest possible.  Packing light is one of the things every backpacker looks for, but being safe and cautious should also be high in the list of priorities.

The answer to what should be included in a first aid kit is not an absolute one; it depends on the health needs of the person who will be using it, the destinations to be visited, and the length of travel.  But in general, these are the most important things that should be included in order to take proper care of minor wounds and health emergencies.

  1. Personal/prescribed medications – carry more than the amount needed for the duration of your trip to account for possible delays due to weather, cancellations, unexpected layovers, or simply just wanting to stay extra time at your destination.
  2. Tylenol/Paracetamol – pain and fever reduction.
  3. Ibuprofen – stronger pain and fever reducer, anti-inflammatory.
  4. Antihistamine/Benadryl – allergies, sleep aid.
  5. Pseudoephedrine – nasal decongestant, helps with “ear pop” from planes.
  6. Loperamide – anti-diarrheal.
  7. Cold & Flu Tablets – to treat cold & flu symptoms.
  8. Motion Sickness Medication – in case those long bus rides or boat trips have an effect on you.
  9. Rehydration tablets/Electrolyte packets – for replacing loss due to vomiting or diarrhea.
  10. Antiseptic towelettes – cleaning hands and wounds.
  11. Iodine Pads – used to kill sensitive bacteria in minor wounds.
  12. Antibiotic ointment – to prevent infection on minor cuts and scrapes.
  13. Q-Tips and Cotton Balls – help clean and apply topical medication to wounds.
  14. Tweezers – to remove ticks, thorns, cactus, sea urchins, etc.
  15. Moleskin/2nd Skin – to protect blisters on feet and hands.
  16. Band aids – different sizes and shapes for minor cuts and scrapes.
  17. Butterfly Band-aids or Wound Closing Strips – help close open wounds when a visit to a doctor or stitches are not immediately available.
  18. Small Bandage – provides support to injured joints or to protect fresh wounds from getting dust and dirt)
  19. Micropore/Medical Tape – to keep gauze pads in place and it serves as an alternative to butterfly band aids when cut in the proper shape.
  20. Small Scissors – to cut gauze pads and medical tape to desired size and shape.
  21. Thermometer – to check how serious is your fever.
  22. Gloves – to be hygienic and to protect yourself in case you’re helping someone else. Preferably latex free.
  23. 4 x 4 gauze pads – for minor cuts and scrapes.
  24. Hand sanitizer – good to keep hands clean and sanitary, dirty hands can infect cuts.
  25. Safety pins – quick fix for clothing, making an arm sling, emergency cloth.

Also good to carry (especially if going off the beaten path):

  1. Insect Repellent – to reduce the chances of mosquito bites that could transmit diseases.
  2. Sun screen – SPF 15 minimum.
  3. Eyewash – good solution to clean eyes when fresh water is not available.
  4. Multi-vitamins – to keep a healthy level of vitamins in your body.
  5. Hot/Cold Pack – to treat inflammation topically.
  6. Matches – light source, fires.
  7. Portable flashlight – looking into mouths, dark rooms.
  8. Swiss Army Knife – good multi-purpose tool.
  9. Flashcard with Emergency Contacts – get important local phone numbers from Police, emergency contacts, hospital, etc.

travel first aid kit

This kit should be packed in a small case, preferably plastic and waterproof.  Medications can be stored in small re-sealable plastic bags (properly marked) to avoid carrying a whole bottle when it is not needed (ie. short trips). The point is only to deal with minor emergencies, not manage on our own problems that may require medical assistance.

Although it looks like you’re carrying a huge amount of medical stuff, what’s mentioned above only composes a “Basic Travel Kit” and it doesn’t take much space if properly organized. This kit is ideal for a trip through developed cities where advanced medical care is easily found and where re-supply is possible. The items and amounts are highly customizable to your personal needs and destination.

If you don’t feel comfortable preparing a travel first aid kit on your own, you can buy one from many pharmacies and retailers.  Adventure Medical Kits is a well-respected brand that sells first aid kits specially designed for different travel styles that go from the basics to the extreme expeditions.

Having a proper first aid kit is one of the things that are best to learn beforehand rather than the hard way.  I always carry a first aid kit, but after a recent accident I discovered the importance of carrying a good first aid kit all the time.  You should always have your first aid kit easily accessible in your backpack, but if you always carry a daypack, you should have a smaller version of your main first aid kit with you so you have the most important items while sightseeing or roaming around during the day.  Accidents can occur at any time, any place, and you can’t use your first aid kit if it is not with you.   It is like the travel insurance you hope you never have to use, but that you should always carry.

Images by el_staplador and Robert Thomson respectively from Flickr’s Creative Commons.


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Comments

  1. says

    Excellent tips, Norbert! Never thought about safety pins, but good idea. One of my favorite travel first aid products is Band-aid Friction Block Stick — prevents and heals blisters.

    • says

      Thanks Cathy! Yes, that’s a detail item I learned to pack when I was a Boy Scout. :)
      Oh yes, Blister band-aids are a must for travelers that walk a lot or are susceptible to getting them.

  2. says

    These are very good tips! I am not very good about being prepared for illness etc when traveling but this may be because I haven’t really traveled in an area I couldn’t purchase the necessary supplies. That said I am the proud owner of a digital themometer that is in Celsius! Maybe better preparation would have saved me a little bit.

    • says

      You might be surprised how certain items that seem so common to us are hard to find at certain countries. i experienced this when I needed butterfly bandaids and there was not a single pharmacy that sold them either in Copan, Honduras or Antigua, Guatemala. From this now I’ve learned to always carry the things of first need.

  3. says

    Great list! Two things that I won’t leave home without anymore are 2nd skin (for blisters) and charcoal tabs. I just found out about the latter while in Nepal and they saved my life a few times. And by saving my life, I mean they stopped me from having to use the bathroom every 5 minutes and keeling over in pain. :)

    • says

      Thanks Christy! I always carry 2nd skin but I’ve never carried charcoal tabs (though I carry other tummy products). I’ve heard about the charcoal tabs, so I have to check them out. I’m sure they will come handy when I have the chance to go to India and Nepal. :)

  4. says

    I never would have thought about packing a first aid kit, but after your experience, I can see why it could be important. I would also act duct tape. It works great on blisters and for a variety of other things as well.

  5. says

    Good tips here Norbert. But highlight in big lettering NOT to carry scissors, pocket knife with the first aid kit in your carry on or daypack when travelling on planes.
    I had a perfectly good Leatherman multi tool confiscated because I had forgotten all about it in my daypack when flying back home!
    They’re not cheap either.

    • says

      That’s an important detail… those should NOT go on your carry-on pack… Especially now that the US is paranoid and will immediately target you as a threat. :P

    • says

      Sometimes I tell myself “why the hell are you carrying this, take it out and save some space”… I’m glad I always left it in, especially during this last trip. You never know when it’s needed.

    • says

      Thanks Mike! Great to see you around. Yeah, make a DIY first aid kit with your Gatorade can, it might fit everything you need to take care of the basics.

  6. says

    This is a fantastic list, Norbert! I don’t bother with insect repellent anymore, I ask locals upon arrival on what works best for them and that has so far proven a good strategy. Had many disappointing DET moments.

  7. says

    Great tips and very helpful! I always carry a first aid kit with me when I travel and with some powerful antibiotics. My doctor helped me to prepare a kit when I trekked through the jungle in Thailand. Since then I always keep it up to date and ready to go!

    • says

      I kind of learned the importance of having a good first aid kit when I was a Boy Scout, but I reaffirmed it a few weeks ago with my accident. I learned to always travel with a first aid kit.

  8. says

    Great list! Comprehensive but also very compact! I think this is something we can get knocked off our to do list this weekend now!

    • says

      Like you said, it is comprehensive, but it is compact also if properly packed. Once you know what you need, preparing a first aid kit is easy to knock off your to-do list. :)

  9. says

    Hmm… we currently have only seven of the things on this list! And by the laws of nature that means we’ll probably have some sort of terrible accident soon, but if we get around to buying/making a fully stocked safety kit we won’t get so much as a paper cut. ;)

    • says

      I also believe in that funny law of nature… as you know by now, I had that ugly accident in Copan Ruinas and the thing I needed the most was the only thing I didn’t have in my first aid kit! Such is life… ;)

  10. says

    norbert, i’m such i huge risk-taking dork! i didn’t even think of packing one in the chinook! lol! it’s incredible to think of all the stuff you can handle with the basic kit you mention. sheesh! i’d better get my act together. such a well layed out post! :)

    • says

      Thanks Lorna! hahaha! You should have your little first aid kit in your Chinook! Believe me, they do help a lot when in need. Hopefully you will never have to use it, but it’s better to have it. ;)

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