As I was preparing to leave, one thing my mom offered to do for me was put together a first aid kit for me to take with. I gave her 16 oz to work with, and let’s be honest – that did not work out so well! But for what I took, I’m glad I spent the weight on it.
My mom is an RN, and a hospital administrator, so when it comes to first aid, her advice is pretty trustworthy!
One governing idea for her as she built the first aid kit was trying to think of things that would be difficult to get abroad. There wasn’t as much Tylenol or Ibuprofen (yes, had those, but small amounts), and more things to help in a true pickle (ie, filling repair and tooth saver). And she didn’t pack normal Band-Aids – but she did pack the big band-aids and blister band-aids that are a bit less common.
It’s definitely possible to find any/all of these things abroad, but I’m a proponent of carrying your own. It can be hard to locate a lot of things (it took me half a day to figure out how/where to buy contact solution), and especially with first aid items, you might not want to wait the amount of time it’ll take you to find it. Also, other countries have much more finite hours than the US – especially with lots of stores being closed Sundays.
Here’s what was in my first aid kit. If you’re looking to build your own, I made a handy Amazon list of the OTC items.
I visited my doctor before I left (as everyone who’s about to take a big trip should do!), and got some additional essentials. Yes, she was definitely hesitant to prescribe three courses of Cipro – but for a four month trip largely through the developing world, my doctor realized that it really wasn’t an unreasonable amount. She had some great ideas for additional prescriptions that could prove useful (altitude medicine and anti-parasitical).
I’m a HUGE proponent of getting your prescription meds at the doctor here. There are some things that are easy to predict encountering (altitude if you’re hiking to Everest; stomach issues in the developing world, etc), and it’s worth carrying your own medicine to avoid having to find a doctor overseas.
And it’s a long list – did I use it all? Absolutely not. Was I glad I had it? Yes, every day.
DISCLAIMER: This does NOT constitute medical advice. I’m not a doctor – talk to your doctor before leaving on your trip and make sure it’s right for you! This is all based on what worked for me.
Over the Counter:
- A case to carry it all
I didn’t use the case here – I found a cute little pencil bag from the Dollar Spot at Target, and it worked like a charm. But whichever way you go,
you’ll want something to corral it all that isn’t your everyday toiletry kit. If you ordered packing cubes, you could easily re-appropriate one of those to your first aid kit.
If you’re an active vacationer, this can be a huge help in preventing blisters.
This was probably the item that inspired the most debate between my mom and I – I didn’t feel I needed it, and it was heavy, and it was liquid. She prevailed by pointing out the types of bacteria that could get in cuts and scrapes when you’re on the beach, wandering through cities, and more. I did actually use this on more than one occasion (especially early on when I stepped on some really sharp shells in the Philippines and cut the bottom of my foot.)
Yes, this in addition to the Betadine – the Betadine cleans it immediately, Neosporin is what stays on. (If you’re picking between the two, I’d go Neosporin, but I did use them both.)
- Tooth Stuff
I’m not going to lie – I cringed when my mom put this in the cart. It’s a kit that has filling bonding if you lose a filling, and tooth saver to attempt to save a tooth in the event one gets knocked out. Yeah, I don’t even want to think about needing that. I didn’t need this, but it is small, and would have been hugely useful if I lost a filling or had a tooth get knocked out.
- Tiger Balm
They should really call this “lifesaver balm.” I used this a LOT. There are two formulations – red and blue for hot and cold. Honestly, I wish I’d brought both. But I only took “red” with me. When I threw my back out on the way to Lake Como, this was an absolute lifesaver.
- Anti-Diarrhea Meds
To be honest, if you’re just going to Europe, I don’t know if this is as necessary. But if you’re going to Southeast Asia, India, the Middle East, etc, I’d pack the industrial size. (Remember my friends and their “solid days”? Yeah, there’s a reason, and a solve.)
Pervious comments apply. And yes, take BOTH this and an anti-diarrhea med
- Big Bandaids
Great for if you scrape your knee, get a big cut, etc. I didn’t use these but I also am not into jumping off cliffs, dirtbiking through rainforests, etc.
- Dramamine (Normal Formula)
This is useful for both motion sickness and when you need to go to sleep. It’s especially useful when you need to sleep through something that might give you motion sickness. (This is another one, where if space is at a super premium, I’d drop the ZZZZquil and just bring this.)
- Dramamine (Less-Drowsy Formula)
Don’t assume just because you don’t get motion sickness at home you won’t abroad. The transit can be far more sickness-inducing (the curves of the Amalfi Coast, anyone?). There are times when you’ll want motion-sickness relief but won’t want the drowsiness with normal Dramamine, and this comes in use.
- Tylenol< br />I didn’t take much of this (basically the same purse-pack I’d carry in the US), but it’s useful to have on hand. Pro tips: If you’re searching for this abroad, try asking for “paracetamol.”
Same as above – didn’t carry much, but useful to have on hand.
- Excedrin Migraine
This is harder to find, and I do get migraines, so I brought two of the purse packs of this one.
Combine jet lag, long plane rides, long train rides, potential hostel stays and everything else, and it’s likely you’ll need help sleeping at least a few times.
- Hydrocortisone Cream
Things bite. Especially if you’re in a tropical or sub-tropical area. Bites itch. Handle it by carrying this.
I’m pretty convinced there is no such thing as “enough” when it comes to things to help your stomach while traveling.
Invest in a really good pair of tweezers. You never know when you’re going to get a splinter or something else… (And you can keep your eyebrows in good shape abroad!)
- Nail Scissors
Invest in a good pair of these too – you never know when you’ll need to cut a thread, cut a hangnail, open packaging, etc. These are incredibly handy. I used mine all the time.
- Nail Clippers
I just brought a pair of the heavier-duty toenail clippers and they worked for what I needed!
- One-day yeast infection medicine
No one likes to think about this, even when you’re safely at home. You’ll want to think less about it abroad. Especially if you’re taking antibiotics with you, or using antibiotics for your anti-malarial, you’ll want this in tow.
- Blister Band-Aids
Super handy, hard to find elsewhere. You WILL get blisters. These WILL make life more bearable with them.
- Liquid Band-Aid
There are a lot of places it’s hard to keep a band-aid on – this is useful for those and keeping cuts clean and not-infected.
- Silver Anti-Microbial Wound Gel
To be honest, I don’t know the difference between this and Neosporin, but I had both. I used this one more because my mom told me it’s anti-microbial properties were better.
- Re-wetting Eye Drops
Even if you don’t wear contacts, you’re likely to get dry eyes at some point. These are even more useful if you do wear contacts.
- Two Ace Bandages
My mom really thought I needed two. I just thought I needed one. But either way, an Ace Bandage is a useful thing when you need it!
- Benadryl/Allergy Medicine
You never know what you’re going to turn out to be mildly allergic to abroad. This is also another one that you could use in place of ZZZZquil in a pinch.
- Athlete’s Foot Cream
I didn’t take this, but it could be useful (especially if you don’t like wearing flip flops in shared showers!).
First and foremost, this is one area to definitely discuss with your doctor. Second, this is going to be an area that is very dependent on where you’re headed! It can be tempting to decide to get these abroad, because there are a lot of countries where it’s easier to get prescription medicine than in the US – but I still recommend your doctor here. They know your history, know what you’re on, and know what might interact. A few thousand miles from home is not a good time to find out your prescriptions bought overseas don’t play well with your US prescriptions.
Also, for your “everyday” prescriptions, you can ask your doctor to write you a 90-day prescription, which can help with not needing refills on a long trip.
- Altitude Medicine (Diamox)
I’d heard about this for going to Everest Base Camp, and asked my doctor – she agreed it was a good idea. If you’re going to super-high altitudes, this is a medicine that helps your body process it and reduces the risk of you needing to get medi-flighted to lower elevations.
- Antibiotics (Cipro)
I’m a huge believer in Cipro. I basically always pack at least one course when I’m going abroad. This could be because I didn’t when I went to Peru. And got to spend 30 hours of flying home sick as a dog. Lesson learned.
- Anti-Parasite (Flagyl)
I didn’t plan to take this, or even know about it, but after listening to the countries I was going to, my doctor suggested this. She advised me to take it with the Cipro if I was ever ill enough to need the Cipro. Apparently some bad stomach issues can also be caused by parasites and not just bacteria, so the combo can make sure to knock it out.
- Malaria Pills (Atovaquone-proguanil)
Talk to your doctor, and check the CDC website for what does or doesn’t work where you’re going. I took Atovaquone-proguanil, which is a newer one (and crazy expensive). My doctor hadn’t even heard of it for malaria when I asked – but it’s newer, has less places where there are strains resistant to it, and it has FAR fewer side effects than others. (Or so I’ve heard.) After being on this for a few weeks, I have no stories of crazy dreams, weird episodes or anything.
This is an inhaler, and even if you don’t have asthma, it might be worth talking to your doctor about if you’re planning on lots of activities that are either intense and/or at high altitude.
- Yeast Infection (Diflucan)
Sucks to think about, but useful if you’re taking antibiotics at any time.
And because even the best prevention can’t prevent everything – spend the money on travel insurance. I use World Nomads, and I find their prices reasonable. I’ve heard their coverage is also great if you have a claim – I’ve been lucky enough to not need the insurance I’ve purchased!
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