Whether you are on holiday or backpacking for long-term travel, a well-packed travel first aid kit can make all the difference to your ability to ride out various minor injuries and ailments. TripGourmet Tom just happens to have been a practicing nurse for the last ten years. (He does this as a kind of full-time paid hobby, in between the times we are travelling and blogging about it). Nobody knows how to pack a travel first aid kit like a nurse. Therefore, this post contains Tom’s top packing and planning tips and ideas to make sure you can pack the best travel first aid kit for your trip.
How big should your travel first aid kit be?
There is no straightforward answer to this. Suffice to say, it should be as small and as light as you can get it. You also need to ensure that you have what you will actually need. What you will need depends on a number of factors such as your individual medical needs, the length of your trip, where you are going, what you are planning to do, and how far away you will be from medical attention if needed.
Our travel first aid kit is usually very small. Neither of us takes any prescription medication and we only take a small blister pack of each type of over-the-counter medication, on the basis that we usually travel in places where we could access a doctor if needed. We also don’t undertake many activities where the risk of injury is high, like mountaineering. We have done rafting, abseiling, ziplining, canoeing and ALL kinds of nature trips. Without needing anything more than our little kit. Maybe we were lucky!
Should I buy a ready-packed travel first aid kit?
You certainly don’t need to. Neither are you likely to find a ready-packed travel first aid kit that contains all of the items listed here, even just the essential ones. More likely what you will find, is lots of first aid kits that want to sell themselves on having more than 100 pieces. I would estimate that 80-90 of these pieces are probably not really necessary for your travels.
What we have done in the past is bought a small and basic ready-made travel first aid kit as a starting pack, and added in the items we want to use. This is a good example of a small pack that would be a suitable starting kit you could add to.
Minimum bare essentials for every travel first aid kit
Although every traveller and trip will be different, every travel first aid kit should contain some basic items covering many common situations. This list is in no particular order of priority. Brand names will vary per country however we have tried to keep the list as generic as possible.
Ibuprofen acts as an anti-inflammatory whilst paracetamol will help to bring down a fever. Both are also effective as painkillers. We usually carry a small blister pack of each in our kit. We got badly sunburned whilst snorkelling in Panama last year (stupid, rookie traveller error!) and the ibuprofen really helped calm the skin inflammation.
I usually end up needing an anti-histamine at some point, once the mosquitos discover my blood. Pollen, dust and other allergens may also cause reactions and anti-allergy medication can seriously reduce discomfort on your travels.
Assortment of sticking plasters and small gauze bandages
If you are travelling with small people, then you will probably need more of these! As a couple, we usually carry only a few sticking plasters of each size, plus a small roll of medical tape and a couple of small bandages in case of deeper wounds. Touch wood, we have never yet needed the bandages!
Some first aid kits contain many bandages of all sizes but in the expert view of Tom, many or big bandages are probably not needed for most travellers. If you need to treat a deep wound or a lot of blood, it will need specialist attention in any case. This may be different if you are planning a remote trip involving a lot of hiking or climbing where the risk of injury will be greater.
This can be some kind of antiseptic cream or wipes, or iodine works well. Anything to clean a wound, especially before it is bandaged. Tom once had a cut on his foot when we were walking around the streets of Bangkok during Songkran. This is the new year celebration which involves a lot of water being sprayed around on the streets and over people, and the water gets pretty filthy from the pavement dirt. He cleaned it twice or more each day with iodine, as well as changing the dressing, and it healed as normal within a few days.
For pulling out splinters, or for cleaning grit or sand from a wound.
Anti-diarrhoea and anti-nausea medication
Delhi belly, travellers tummy, Montezumas revenge… even the sturdiest travellers can suffer with the gastric problems that can accompany foreign travel. Usually, the body just needs some time to adjust to the new germs and bugs in a different environment. Defence is therefore the best form of attack.
Immodium is one of the most common and effective anti-diarrhoea medications. Coal tablets are also effective and can help to filter out the bugs causing food poisoning.
Metoclopramid and ondansetron are both very effective remedies for nausea and vomiting.
I am sure you will be grateful that there are no stories we wish to share further on this topic!
Other essential travel health items
Insect repellent and sun cream, although not technically treating illness or injury, should be an essential part of your travel health considerations. Click here to read our guide to insect repellent whilst travelling.
Both being very fair skinned, sun cream and aftersun lotion is something that we would always carry. Whenever we can, we prefer to use the Nivea sun cream, as it hasn’t got a strong smell to it, is very effective and doesn’t leave stains on your clothes. (Brief moment of respect for my lovely white blouse that came into contact with the wrong kind of sun cream). When we were travelling in Central America, we discovered you can buy aloe vera gel laced with lidocaine (a painkiller), which is the best thing we have found as a sun burn treatment.
Make sure that you take a sufficient quantity of any medication you are currently taking. Also a copy of your prescription in case you need it at airports or for more of your medication in your destination.
Travel insurance should be considered essential for everyone. EU citizens within the EU are usually covered however most other international travel requires some kind of additional insurance. World Nomads do a very comprehensive cover for even the most adventurous of long term travellers.
When travelling in certain countries, a vaccination certificate may be required as part of the border controls. Make sure you check this before you travel. Keep your certificate stored safely with your other travel documents.
Optional or circumstantial extras
These are things that you can carry if you wish. They may be considered essential depending on your individual circumstances.
This will depend on where you are planning to travel. There are different types of anti-malarial pills available with different benefits and contraindications. You should consult with your doctor to make sure your malaria prophylactics are right for your health and your travel circumstances.
This is something you should consider if you are planning to spend a long time in remote areas away from medical help. Again, this is something to be discussed with your doctor as you will likely need a prescription in any case. It can be effective against a wide range of bacterial infections.
Some people can live without this however it is really effective against acid reflux. As an occasional sufferer, it has a real impact on what I can eat so having some effective treatment can really help.
These are usually powders that are mixed with water. They are great for rehydrating after a bout of travellers tummy, or if you have lost a lot of body fluids through sweating. They rebalance the salts in the body, meaning they are more efficient at hydrating the body than water alone.
Water purifying tablets
We travel with a Steri-pen these days. However, water purifying tablets are another consideration for your travel first aid kit. Particularly so, if you are planning to spend longer periods in remote areas, where access to clean water may not be guaranteed.
I always carry a small pot of white tiger balm when travelling. It is good for headaches, stuffy noses and as a rub for aching muscles.
Safety pins and scissors are useful parts of a first aid kit, for cutting and pinning bandages. However, they cannot usually be carried as hand luggage on a flight.
Particularly in these times of the Zika virus, then condoms are advisable, in addition to your usual birth control.
So this is the round-up of the best travel first aid kit packing tips, from Tom, TripGourmet and nurse. Your own travel first aid kit needs will depend on your personal and travel circumstances. However, we hope these are useful pointers on preparing the perfect travel first aid kit for your trip.
For more packing and pro-traveller tips, you may like our post about our Best Cameras for Travel Photography.
IMPORTANT: This article is not intended as medical advice. You should always talk to a doctor or pharmacist for travel advice or regarding the use of any medication. Especially if you are pregnant or taking prescription medication. Take sensible care of your health.
This article contains affiliate links. Retailers will pay us a small commission – at NO cost to you – if you buy anything once you click through. We have personally tested ALL of these products during travels on the plains of Africa, beaches of Asia and forests of Central America. Whether they contain affiliate links or not.