Beyond First Aid: What every travel medical kit should have

As you may have noticed from Ken’s post, I attended a week-long conference last week. I’m required to do 50 hours of Continuing Medical Education every year, and a conference is a good way to get through a good bit of it in one sitting (or five, as the case may be).

My favorite lecture by far was the Wilderness Medicine lecture. At first glance, the topic didn’t seem all that applicable to me, but I am definitely glad I stayed, and took notes. Plus, the lecturer’s name was Dr. Donner, and who wouldn’t want to learn about wilderness survival from someone with that name?

The physician had led trips down the Grand Canyon, through wilderness in Africa, and even to the Himalayas. He served on the NASA advisory panel to determine medical supplies needed on the Space Station. His stories were fascinating. His advice was even better.

As I sat there listening, I realized that I was getting a great list of medical supplies to take with us when we go to Africa ourselves. Sure, we won’t be climbing a mountain, or white water rafting down a gorge, but we will be exposed to unfamiliar elements without access to Western medicine . . . unless we bring it ourselves.

Of course, much of what he talked about was prescription medications, but I thought some of his recommendations for over-the-counter products were pretty ingenious.

So here’s a list of over-the-counter medical supplies you might consider taking in a medical kit if you’re traveling to a place where medical care isn’t readily accessible, and space is an issue (international travel, hiking, camping, etc.) in addition to a regular first-aid kit.

  • Aleve. Pain reliever is important, but to reduce the number of pills you have to pack, take this 12-hour pain reliever instead of Tylenol or Advil, which is dosed more frequently.
  • DON’T take capsules of any kind. Just a touch of moisture and you’ve got a druggy icky mess.
  • Afrin. Nosebleeds are common when traveling. If it’s a minor nosebleed, sit down, gently blow your nose to clear clots, and then sniff some Afrin nasal spray. It reduces blood supply, and stops the bleeding. If it doesn’t work, hold pressure for 20 minutes without peeking.
  • Cough drops. And albuterol. Okay, so albuterol is a prescription, but if anyone has EVER used albuterol, it’s good for them to bring along. One or two puffs are great for coughs induced by exercise or infection.
  • No-Doz. If it’s not you, it’s going to be someone else on your trip. Someone will be a caffeine addict and get a raging headache on morning #2. You will be their best friend if you can give them one of these with a couple of Aleve. They may even need to carry your pack for a while in exchange.
  • Heartburn medication. My personal preference is a PPI like omeprazole, and some Tums. One works slow and long, the other fast and short.
  • Miralax packets. Many people develop “shy toilet syndrome” and can’t have a bowel movement in unfamiliar places. While this may not be a problem if you’re travelling for 2 days, if you’re travelling for 2 weeks, it’s an enormous problem.
  • Oral rehydration salt packets. These basically make a Gatorade-like solution if water is added. Very important for someone who is vomiting or has the opposite problem than the last point.
  • Duct tape. Aside from its utilitarian functions on the campsite, it’s great at reducing friction for known hot spots on heels and toes, in order to prevent blisters.
  • An emergency blanket. This can double as sunglasses in case of eye irritation.
  • Baby wipes. You can probably use your imagination.

The rest of the items covered were prescriptions, which was very helpful, or were items that everyone should bring (like sunscreen).  It’s a great list for lots of different but common travel health problems.

 What items have come in handy when you’ve been traveling?


2 thoughts on “Beyond First Aid: What every travel medical kit should have

  1. A note on duct tape: Do NOT leave ductape on the skin for extended periods of time (i.e. days). My mountain-climbing cousin did this and his toes just about fell off after his 2 week hike. 🙂

  2. G.S.E.!!! It comes in drops or little tablets. It’s grapefruit seed extract and helps balance digestive issues associated with eating unfamiliar & foreign foods…we SWEAR by this stuff! I took it on a trip to thailand, and was the only one in my group who didn’t get sick from eating street foods. 🙂 We took it as a family in Mexico – no problems for any of us. Jamie took it with her to Indonesia, and took it for the first month – with no issues at all. We think it’s the miracle cure for travelers and will never travel without it again! 🙂 If you get the drops, which is what we use – it’s best to take it with some sort of juice – it’s VERY citrisy (?). Start taking it a day or two before you leave. And, on the other end of the trip – may be good to give it to your kids while traveling home – mixed with orange juice – to help them adjust to the changes in eating and water here. 🙂

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