When I first started traveling, one of my biggest concerns was what to pack in my travel medical kit.
I started as a backpacker through Indonesia in 1997 in what was intrepid territory, even if you weren’t a novice.
And while I ended up with a hospital visit and some infected sores I didn’t really have to pull out a lot from my overcrowded first aid kit (My then brother-in-law was a nurse, so he made sure I was adequately supplied).
It was still comforting to know I had that sealed syringe I could whip out and insist on the doctors using if I saw them grab a used one from the drawer.
I have gotten somewhat complacent since then; years of traveling with barely anything going wrong will do that to you.
My list of travel sicknesses and injuries haven’t gone too much beyond the odd case of food poisoning, asthma flare ups, scraped up body parts, and tick bite fever. (There was that motorbike kidnapping in Indonesia that could have gone a Whole. Lot. Worse.)
Sometimes I forget my travel first aid kit.
That has only been since we started road tripping in western countries. Complacency can be a killer, so I don’t recommend you follow my choices, especially if you travel with kids.
You already probably know the nightmare of having a sick baby and not being able to get them painkillers as pharmacies now only do over the counter and it’s late and the pharmacy is closed!
Important considerations when packing your travel medical kit
Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Where are you traveling to?
2. What type of activities are you doing?
Think about where you are going and what activities you are doing.
In some countries you may need to take malaria preventive medication.
If you are hiking in high altitudes, you may want to pack altitude sickness tablets or iodine tablets if you are traveling where water may not be clean.
If you suffer from motion sickness you might want to pack your remedies for that (try ginger oil, lavender oil or peppermint oil).
3. What vaccinations do you need?
You may need specific travel vaccinations for the country you are visiting.
Do your research as some vaccinations are required weeks before your departure date in order for it to work. This is especially important for children.
4. What personal medication do you need?
If you take medication already, you will want to chat with your doctor about taking them on your trip.
If you take birth control, you’ll want to check with your doctor about other medications, or antibiotics (if you get sick on the road) that may mess with that. I’m guessing you don’t want that to not work!
Not to freak you out, but it may be a clever idea to check if the medication you are taking is allowed in the country you are visiting.
I recently read a story of a woman who took some medication to her husband in Egypt. It was banned, she was arrested for drug trafficking and is now in prison.
This stuff is rare, but be prepared. You can always carry a doctor’s letter describing the medication and why it has been prescribed to you.
5. How long are you traveling for?
You don’t need to carry massive amounts of each travel medical kit item. Just enough to cover you if something happens. You can always restock at the nearest pharmacy once you use your supplies.
Tip: Consider doing a First Aid course.
If you are traveling for a long time in the wilderness, it might be an idea to do a first aid course. The odds of something happening are very low, but it’s best to be prepared.
Travel Medical Kit Packing List
You can go overboard and put things in your travel medical kit that you’ll probably never use. It does depend on where you are traveling.
There are however a few essentials I’d recommend not traveling without.
Craig’s mum was a nurse and would provide us with plenty of the essentials to include in our travel medical kit.
Our First Aid packing list we are giving you is based upon what she would give us to pack AND what we also have found to be super useful ourselves in over 20 years of travel.
Preventatives for a Healthy You
First let’s talk about preventatives.
I’m not a health guru or medical practitioner but there are a few things I believe in because I have seen the results within my own health, particularly when I travel.
Instead of managing sickness on the road, it’s best to just not get sick. Sometimes we can’t avoid it, but there are a few things we can do to help.
I absolutely swear by Probiotics and I know a lot of other travelers who do as well.
I know one lady who was the only one on a Chinese tour bus taking them. She was the only one who did not get sick.
Since taking probiotics for a year now, I have not gotten sick once while traveling.
We have a partnership with Up4 Probiotics, (who has sponsored this post) which I arranged because I am a massive advocate for probiotics.
The UP4 Ultra Probiotics with ultra-high potency is perfect for travelers with a higher potency for digestive and immune support – strengthening your gut and helping you keep those germs at bay.
Make sure you take probiotics along for your children as well – The UP4 Kids Cubes come in the form of soft vanilla melts, which the kids will love. Savannah has a very sensitive stomach and probiotics have done wonders for her.
You can buy UP4 Probiotics at Target or online.
A liver tonic is my new favorite packing essential.
Your liver works so hard to detox from all the toxins entering your body: pollution, alcohol, chemicals, fatty and sugary foods etc. Traveling can put a huge amount of extra strain on your liver.
Just put a squirt of this tonic in water a couple of times a day to give you liver a strength boost.
It doesn’t taste bad so don’t worry. I love how much better I feel since I’ve been taking this daily.
(My tip: if you are indulging in alcohol, have a squirt before you drink and when you have finished. It will make a difference on your hangover and recovery)
Drink it as pure as you can and have LOTS of it every day. Keep your body hydrated and filtered.
Make Smart Choices
Going for a joy ride on a scooter after five beers of Bintang is never a smart choice. Yet we hear the same disaster story repeatedly!
You’re smart enough to get yourself on the travel road, you’re smart enough to make choices that don’t put you in dangerous and reckless situations.
But yeah, we’ve all been young so carry a good medical first aid kit with you!
Travel Medical Kit
If you travel with kids I’d say a thermometer is an absolute essential to pack in your travel medical kit.
We did not have one when Savannah got sick in Thailand and I really wish we did as she could have been borderline in trouble. A thermometer can be a good indicator for you if you need to get help fast.
Band aids, or plasters, are super handy.
You want to keep your wound exposed to air as much as you can to dry it out, but sometimes you want to stop the blood and protect it from infection.
I got tons of infections in Indonesia in all my cuts and scars. We were adventurous travelers and the humid polluted air did not help.
Reopening one of those wounds to get all the pus out was not pleasant. I can still feel the pain 20 years later. And I still have a small scar on my left shoulder from a pimple that got infected in Jakarta. That air was putrid.
With kids, band aids are like the magic water, it just instantly seems to heal them
Make sure you have band aids of assorted sizes.
Recently I scraped out my hand mountain biking in Austria. I needed quite a big band aid to cover it up. Non-stick gauze comes in handy too to cover the wound with the band aid on top.
We tend to carry just one or two bandages.
We had to use bandages on a trip to North Queensland when curious Savannah wanted to investigate the iron I had just put back in the cupboard – it was still HOT. She won’t do that again.
The bandage came in handy for keeping it clean and covered when zip lining through the humid jungle.
You might call it Panadol or Ibuprofen or Paracetamol. Whatever it is, pack some, just in case. Try water and other natural remedies first. Don’t forget the pain relief for your kids as well.
This comes in handy more than you realise.
Diarrhoea and vomiting tablets
Really, I think it’s best to let the virus run its course and out of your body rather than plugging it up with this medicine.
But, if you’ve ever had food poisoning then you know you’re saying,
“Screw that, give me something that will end this horror!!”
Pack it. But hold off on using it unless you’re desperate.
Some natural methods that have worked for me before – lots of electrolytes and hot black tea with salt in it (Thank you Lombok for that home remedy)
I’ve used gauze countless times to clean up blood, apply pressure to a wound, cover a wound with surgical tape or a band aid on tip. It’s super useful.
Craig’s mum has always given us individually wrapped gauze which makes it easier to use and apply rather than having to cut up pieces from a roll.
I recently had the unpleasant experience of a nurse using tweezers to scrape out gravel and pluck small stones embedded my hand from my mountain biking accident.
You can use them for all sort of things, including pulling out ticks. More on that below.
Okay, so I maybe going overboard with the Vaseline and odds are you won’t want to pack it.
But, after seriously thinking I was going to die with tick bite fever in South Africa, I hear the word tick and go into convulsions.
“Emergency!!! Where’s the doctor??”
After finding one a few doors down, I busted through the front doors and demanded to see the doctor,
“because you don’t understand I have a tick in my leg and I’ve had tick bite fever before and I. Just. Can’t. Do. That. Again.”
She gingerly took me into the doctor’s room who quickly smothered the tick with Vaseline to suffocate it and then removed it with tweezers.
This is what you do! Don’t pull it out.
Suffocate the damn thing first otherwise chances are you’ll leave its head in your body and put yourself in a whole world of trouble.”
Scissors can come in handy if you need to cut bandages or gauze. Although make sure you put them in your checked luggage.
I’ve lost far too many of the girls’ desktop scissors before when they’ve been unknowingly put into their carry on.
Yes. Pack them. My adventurous lifestyle has led to far too many scrapes and cuts. I’ve had too many infections from them as well, which suck!!
Lemon essential oil is wonderful for many things, but I love to put it in my morning tonic tea as a lovely cleanser.
Tea tree oil is also fantastic to pack as an antibacterial. Dab it on your bites and wounds to help stop infections.
Others swear by paw paw ointment. I don’t only because the ones I’ve seen have a lot of other junk in it. If you can get something that is pure and organic, then go for it.
Shea butter is a skin superfood that comes from the seeds of the fruit of the Shea (Karite) tree that is naturally rich in vitamins A, E and F.
It offers UV protection (it is SPF ~6) and provides the skin with essential fatty acids and the nutrients necessary for collagen production.
Shea butter is fantastic for sunburn, cracked lips, bites and itches, blemishes, eczema, wrinkles, wounds, and as a moisturizer.
It’s also great to use as a mosquito repellent. I have tested it many times and can tell you, it kept the mosquitoes from biting!!
It’s also a natural sunscreen. There’s nothing it can’t do!
I got mine from a local farmers market in Knoxville.
See these 21 reasons to use Shea Butter.
When I asked our Facebook community what they include in the travel medical kit, I was surprised by how many people mentioned Stingoes.
It seems mosquito bites are a problem for travelers!
I like my shea butter as it only has shea butter in it and its organic. Tiger balm is also another one that works well. Save on packing though and just use Shea butter for everything.
Don’t go to the party without them!
You won’t need these if you are traveling in Western countries and close to medical facilities.
It might be a good idea to pack them if you are going to third world countries and roughing it in the wild.
I always traveled with them when I backpacked through South East Asia and Africa. I’ve never needed them but just in case is good when it comes to your health.
I don’t travel without them now. Make sure they are in a sealed package.
It’s a great idea to travel with electrolytes or hydrolytes. You can get single serve packages of them.
All you do is mix it with clean water and you’ll be putting all the goodness in your body you may have lost from being sick or physical exertion.
I swear by these when I have food poisoning or Bali Belly. Coconut water is also a great substitute. If you can get it local, drink as much as you can.
The chances of you being bitten by something on your travels is high. I’m not talking deathly spiders, but any bug can cause an irritating and itchy reaction for you.
Antihistamine cream is a good thing to pack in your travel medical kit especially if you are prone to reactions.
If you suffer from allergies, you’ll want to travel with this.
As someone who has had a lot of cuts and scrapes on her travels AND had them turn infectious, I really recommend packing in some antibacterial cream, especially if you like hiking and adventure travel in humid climates.
Aloe Vera is wonderful for when you spend too much time in the sun. Or Vitamin E cream.
I don’t always pack this, but if you are going to spend a lot of time in the sun it might be a good idea, especially if you can’t find an aloe Vera tree (our friends had one on the roof of their van when we traveled around Europe.
It was awesome and came in handy so many times.
Maybe just try not to get sunburned as well.
It may be good to carry though for more serious burns, as what happened when Savannah investigated the iron.
What medication do you need that’s relevant to your life?
Birth control pills, blood pressure medication etc. Only you know this. Make sure you take enough for your trip.
Some handy first aid packing tips:
You might want to purchase a pre-packaged travel First Aid kit like this one on Amazon.
It’s an excellent choice which includes the most travel medical kit essentials and is perfect for families and adventurers.
- Tablets over liquids or gels. If you can’t put the liquids and gels into zip lock bags in case, they leak.
- Get travel size packaging. You may be able to get sample size products from your doctor you can take. That’s what Craig’s Mum and my brother-in-law would give us, and it was enough.
- Bottles take up a lot of space so look for sachets or flat pack products. To save space you can take out the items from the boxed packaging, but be sure to label and keep any vital information. I didn’t do this (except for Nurofen) because I was worried I’d forget or lose the instructions.
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Any must have items we’ve forgotten to include in this travel medical kit packing checklist?