A List of Everything You Should Have in Your Travelers First Aid Kit
Never underestimate the importance of traveling with a solid first aid kit – in fact, this should be one of the very first things you pack.
According to a recent survey, a massive 80 per cent of us are not equipped to deal with minor medical emergencies in our own homes – let alone when we’re out on the travel trail. This means we are making thousands of unnecessary emergency visits to hospitals and GP’s for relatively minor, simple to treat conditions such as grazes, blisters and splinters.
You generally don’t have to be a doctor to help yourself, or others, in an emergency, though you do have to have the first aid skills and tools to administer the care required; you need to be traveling with a first aid kit.
Whether you’re hiking the Cochamo, or shopping in Paris for the day, use this check-list as a guide to things you may need in your travel first aid kit. You may need less or more, depending on your travel destination (don’t forget to take into account the remoteness of your visit). The ‘perfect’ travel first aid kit will prepare you with the tools required to meet any potential problem abroad.
Find A Durable Container
If you’re looking to build a legendary, death-defying travel first aid kit you need to start with a durable container. Find something which is hard-plastic and compartmentalized like a small fishing tackle box. The length and destination of your trip will determine the size you need – i.e. if you’re hitting remote destinations and spending multiple months away you’ll need a large kit. If you’re hitting populated locations on shorter trips you can use a smaller container. What to pack in a travel first aid kit
Prioritizing something made from hard plastic instead of cloth means everything is less likely to break when being jammed into your backpack or luggage. When storing your kit, choose a dry, cool location which is easily accessible in your suitcase or pack.
Pro Tip: Instead of undertaking a mission to find the perfect plastic container, you can just buy a premade travel first aid kit and then customize it with the below.
Stock your first aid kit with adequate supplies of any personal medication, and make sure you bring more than enough to last your entire trip. Personal medication may not be easy to find at your destination, and often they will be known locally under different names.
Make sure you travel with a doctors certificate or letter for any personal medications you take – countries will generally demand to see documentation before allowing you in which shows that any medications you’re carrying are for personal use only. What to pack in a travel first aid kit
Other personal medication to consider for your first aid kit include:
Painkillers for headache and antacids for indigestion. Cold relief if you have a cold. Anti-itch cream if you get bitten by a bug or run into anything which will cause your skin to itch. Chances are that at some point during your trip, you’re going to deal with some form of pain. Having a tiny travel size bottle of your favorite emergency medication is always a good idea. Everyone seems to have a favourite traveller’s diarrhoea story – this is the most common illness which affects travelers, hitting between 20-50% of international travelers each year. Anti-diarrhoea tablets (a favorite is Imodium) can be obtained from your chemist and are normally used only by older children and adults (carefully read the instructions). If you need to stop diarrhea for a few hours while taking a train, bus, or plane, it’s worthwhile having a few of these pills handy. If traveling to a country where Malaria is present (mainly in the world’s tropical regions ie Africa, South America, Asia and the Pacific) you may need to take preventive (prophylactic) tablets. Some medications must be started two weeks before departure, so make sure you plan to see your doctor or travel clinic well in advance. If traveling to a destination which is ridiculously high in elevation (La Paz, Bolivia, for instance), you may find yourself struggling with altitude sickness. Altitude sickness is your body reacting to the decrease in oxygen at a specific altitude. It can occur in some people as low as 8,000 feet, but serious symptoms do not usually occur until over 12,000 feet. You generally need 1-3 days to acclimatize to any given altitude. Preventative medications will aid your body in acclimatizing and/or mask the symptoms of the sickness. Those with a history of motion sickness you should pack motion sickness medicine of some sort like Dramamine. This not only applies to those heading on a cruise, but will also come in handy if you find yourself traveling in countries with poor road systems or horribly crowded buses.
Painkillers for headache and antacids for indigestion. Cold relief if you have a cold. Anti-itch cream if you get bitten by a bug or run into anything which will cause your skin to itch.
Chances are that at some point during your trip, you’re going to deal with some form of pain. Having a tiny travel size bottle of your favorite emergency medication is always a good idea.
Everyone seems to have a favourite traveller’s diarrhoea story – this is the most common illness which affects travelers, hitting between 20-50% of international travelers each year.
Anti-diarrhoea tablets (a favorite is Imodium) can be obtained from your chemist and are normally used only by older children and adults (carefully read the instructions).
If you need to stop diarrhea for a few hours while taking a train, bus, or plane, it’s worthwhile having a few of these pills handy.
If traveling to a country where Malaria is present (mainly in the world’s tropical regions ie Africa, South America, Asia and the Pacific) you may need to take preventive (prophylactic) tablets.
Some medications must be started two weeks before departure, so make sure you plan to see your doctor or travel clinic well in advance.
If traveling to a destination which is ridiculously high in elevation (La Paz, Bolivia, for instance), you may find yourself struggling with altitude sickness.
Altitude sickness is your body reacting to the decrease in oxygen at a specific altitude. It can occur in some people as low as 8,000 feet, but serious symptoms do not usually occur until over 12,000 feet.
You generally need 1-3 days to acclimatize to any given altitude. Preventative medications will aid your body in acclimatizing and/or mask the symptoms of the sickness.
Those with a history of motion sickness you should pack motion sickness medicine of some sort like Dramamine.
This not only applies to those heading on a cruise, but will also come in handy if you find yourself traveling in countries with poor road systems or horribly crowded buses.
Water Filtration Device
When you’re traveling overseas, the tap water may not be safe to drink. Water in a new destination might contain microorganisms that will make you sick, and in less developed countries, you are more likely to run into water that you want to avoid. What to pack in a travel first aid kit
A water purification device of some sort should be in every travelers first aid kit, options range from water purification tablets (for those travelers trekking off the beaten path who may not have the option to drink bottled water), or water filtration devices like Life Straw and the SteriPEN Freedom.
Devices like steripens use ultraviolet light to sterilize the water so that the bacteria are unable to multiply thus making the tap water safe to drink.
For Minor Injuries
For minor injuries like bites, grazes, cuts and scrapes, make sure you travel with the following: Where do I find a travel first aid kit?
- A good first aid book;
- Adhesive dressings like band aids for minor cuts or skin injuries. Having bandages of various sizes is always useful;
- Gauze pads – these are bandages for large wounds. If you buy a large pack these can be then cut easily to the size of your cut or graze;
- Bandages which can create support for strained limbs, reduce swelling or hold dressings in place. These can also double as a sling if need be;
- Insect repellent and an antihistamine cream;
- Sterile pack for prevention of blood-borne infections if traveling somewhere where health care facilities may be poor;
- Antiseptic for sterilizing and cleaning wounds. Antiseptic wipes will work for this; What should be in a travel first aid kit?
- Cold pack (disposable and instant); and
- Eye wash for any foreign objects to the eye.
The sun should be something you’re incredibly conscious of while traveling. When traveling internationally you may be entering a country with UV Rays more fierce than you are used to at home.
Act accordingly to protect yourself and your health and travel with suntan lotion as part of your first aid kit. Pack Aloe-vera gel to sooth your skin if you do manage to walk away burnt.
I learnt the hard way. See the below before and after during a trip to the Galapagos Islands where I forgot to properly apply suntan lotion to my feet. The consequences of the sun were pretty catastrophic and I couldn’t walk for days. Which suntan lotion should I use overseas?
For every kind of travel injury possible, make sure you travel with the following:
- Pen and paper. In an emergency situation, you may need to write down the signs, symptoms and details of the accident. Also keep a note of any life-threatening allergies and blood types of all family members in case of an emergency.
- Safety pins. Helps when securing large bandages or holding slings in place;
- Scissors. Small but sharp, used for cutting bandages or dead skin;
- Tape (microfiber). Used to hold dressings in place or to protect small cuts or bruises;
- Thermometer. Digital thermometers are more accurate and often easier to read;
- Tweezers. Useful for removing splinters and other foreign objects from your skin;
- A torch (with extra batteries). If you find yourself stuck in the dark in a foreign environment;
- Condoms or other contraceptives if you are sexually active while traveling;
- Non-Latex gloves. An essential item used to avoid cross infection through blood or bodily fluids. Keep two pairs in the kit just to be safe;
- Spare Syringes. If you need to make an unexpected trip to the hospital, it is worthwhile having spare syringes on hand. The cleanliness of hospital syringes from poor countries is often questionable.
Pro Tip: If flying internationally, make sure you pack your first aid kit in the checked luggage of your flight. Many of the items will not be permitted in your carry-on bag.
If you’re visiting developing countries you’ll probably need immunizations before you go. Carry the records of your immunizations with you in your first aid kit, though make sure this is on your person.
Certain countries make specific immunizations mandatory and proof of vaccination for travel may be required as a condition of entry. Otherwise they may administer it to you on the spot. And I would personally much prefer an injection to be administered in a hygienic local clinic rather than an unknown backroom in the airport of a developing country where the needle may have been used a repeated number of times.
Health Insurance Certificate
Just as some countries won’t let you in without a record of immunization, a growing list of countries won’t let you in without health insurance. This is as such equally as important to organize before you leave and essential to carry with you in your important documents or first aid kit.
Exceptional providers like #GeoBlue stand out by providing access to this via their mobile app. 24/7 Mobile Assistance means your proof of coverage is always at your fingertips, ready to show and share with medical providers or immigration control from your phone.
Domestic health plans don’t cover international travel, so it’s essential to take out a policy which specifically covers you for your time abroad. Make sure that emergency evacuation, terrorism coverage and repatriation of remains is included in your plan. If you have no idea where to start, head on over to our post which details what to look for when purchasing international health insurance.
Pro Tip: We go through Tim Jennings at Individual Health for insurance with #GeoBlue – they have a network of elite doctors in over 180 countries and a hugely helpful mobile app for quick and easy access to your health insurance certificate.
Contact Timothy Jennings at firstname.lastname@example.org or click for a free quote.
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Photo credits: Featured photo by DLG Images & Medisave UK. Water purification by The Legendary Adventures of Anna. Injured nose by Who Needs Maps. Torn ACL by A Southern Gypsy. Immunizations by Pan American Health.
I agree with most of these items but if you had to take all of them, we will not be able to adhere to the maxim, “Travel as light as possible!” Perhaps researching how to get these items in the places we will visit is sufficient. But if these places would not have any or is a big dangerous, then more of these items make sense. And then your tips of exercising caution make good preventive measures! Thanks for writing so many useful posts for us travelers.
Absolutely Carol – as I mentioned, it does come down to where you’re heading and how long your trip is going to be, for instance you won’t need malaria medication for many countries etc, so it’s usually best to customize a kit for each trip.
First aid kits can definitely get heavy if you’re traveling through remote areas and on month long trips, but they’re so essential when you do :)
Such a great resource! Sadly, I fall into the category of the 80% who travels without a proper First Aid kit. I had a nasty fall on a mountain just a few weeks ago and didn’t even have so much as a band-aid. I’ve since then packed a little pack with some band-aids and antiseptic spray. It’s a start! :)
Thanks Toccara – definitely a start! And it’s in those moments where you kick yourself for not having packed one! Hope we’ve convinced you to get outfitted with a bit more of a comprehensive pack for your next trip :)
Hmmm… I have a long list of things I pack. Always hoping I’ll never need any of them. I’m pretty sophisticated when it comes to traveler med kits.
Absolutely hoping that you’ll never need any of them, though ever so glad that you’ve got them if you do end up needing it.
Happy travels – travel safe :)
Hey Megan! I always wondered something maybe you can help. So most of the painkillers and drugs you mention which are an absolute must, cannot be bought over the counter in many countries (eg Singapore) so how does one get them? I have always relied on the hotel’s doctors because I tend to stay in high end accommodation and whenever there was an issue they took care of it, but granted this is an essential travel item when going solo or truly offbeat and alone. Thanks!
Hmmmm good question Mar, I’ve honestly never really run into this because I usually stock up on ridiculous amounts before leaving home, and that’s why I recommend making sure that people travel with enough medication to get them through a trip. For instance I made my Australian doctor give me 2 years worth of the pill when I went to move to the States because I didn’t believe I could get the same brand there.
Hotel doctors are also a good way to go – I’ll see if I can brainstorm and research some other options and let you know :)
Include me with the 80%. I have some, but not all of the items. Although some of the things, like aloe-vera gel, I would pick up just in the event that I actually needed it. I go heavier on my first aid kit when traveling to more remote places. Great comprehensive list for those occasions Megan!
Absolutely, and a lot of the items like Aloe can be picked up in your destination – I usually travel with it personally because I get burnt so much that it’s not funny so I’m always benefiting from having it on hand :D
I’m so glad that my father works in a hospital and my mother in a pharmacy, so I’m fully equiped most of the time. But I never considered buying a Water Filtration Device.. It sounds like a very useful and necessary tool!
Sounds like some serious medical goodies there!! Definitely look into a water filtration device – comes in handy when you would least expect it :)
This is the most useful post I have read in a long time. I always write a list of what I should be packing and a first aid kit is always there, but I often forget to re-fill it. I shall come back to this post next time I travel.
So glad to hear that Claudia! Re-filling is definitely an important thing to remember, if you have one master list of what you want to include, or write things down as you go through them then it’s super easy to keep track on what you’re missing in your stock before your next trip :)
I’m one of those 80% :/ I really do want to get my mitts on one of those Steripen’s though! That’s definitely an essential for me. I do pack medication with me and get a bit annoyed with it sometimes for taking up room in my backpack but articles like this remind me that it’s essential.
I promise that the day you wind up needing the meds (knock on wood) will make having carried them with you all worthwhile :) It’s definitely one of the first things I think we’re tempted to leave behind especially when we’re trying to travel light, though it’s a preventative measure which I really do think is essential to have on hand.
Could save a lot of money down the road in doctors or hospital visits, or if you refuse to go to the doctor, then having first aid on hand can sure save a lot of pain!!
It’s funny because we know we should carry a first aid kit and when we are traveling we SOMETIMES had a bandaid on hand. So silly of us, anyways this is a great reminder that we really need to be prepared in case something happens. Great post! Thanks for sharing!
Glad it served as a reminder to stock up on some medical goodies Megan – even if you’re just taking bandaids and a set of tweezers with you for shorter hikes or walks, these can come in super handy and you’ll thank yourself later!
Happy travels :)
That a well put together list. I highly approve of the water filtration device! It always pains me to see people buying plastic bottle, after plastic bottle of water, only to add the empty bottle to landfill. I have carried a Katadyn for years, and used it on all my cycling expeditions around the world. Saved the environment, and also saved me quite a few hundred dollars as well!
Thanks Dave :) Plastic bottles are obviously one of the main ways people avoid having to drink the tap water when they’re overseas, but if you’re traveling a lot it really does start to weigh on both your wallet and the environment too.
So I’m really trying to promote water filtration devices as a cheap and more eco friendly alternative to buying bottled water overseas. Glad to hear you’ve had a good run with Katadyn – if we can all start making these changes we may just see a positive impact on the globe :)
Great informative post. I usually carry around a fairly basic first aid kit when I travel but now looking at this post I should probably travel with a more thorough one. And I definitely always make the mistake of not packing aloe vera gel for sunburn which is silly as I burn really easily!
Thanks Sophie – aloe vera gel is one of those things which granted you can probably buy in a store once you’re there, though sadly I end up needing to use it so often when we travel that I just keep it on me at all times. You would think I would learn!!
Just what I needed in a no nonsense and organized way. Although I always carry a first aid kit, it tends to be a random mess. Thanks for this advice!
On the ‘torch/flashlight’ idea, these days it is possible to buy compact portable USB chargers that incorporate a bright LED light. So it can serve multiple purposes. Just remember to charge it up from time to time.
Glad you found the guide helpful Allan! Compartmentalized boxes are amazing for keeping organized and it helps keep everything in place so it’s less of a mess when you go digging through to find something :D
Thanks for the tip on the flashlight – that’s a brilliant idea! Love it! Will look into one of those today :)
Great list. I’m always in charge of preparing our first aid kit on our travels. In addition to most of the items on your list, we also carry antacids, probiotics/laxatives, neosporin, and hydrocortisone cream.
Thanks Mary – and thanks for your additional suggestions – very useful to know!
Good stuff! We always tend to underestimate the importance of travel healthcare insurance and also taking a first aid kit with us. I never tried those water purification tablets though, but I am curious to give that a try!
We always take our vaccines but honestly never take evidence with us…will do next time!
Glad we could set you up with some tips Emiel :) I’ve found a lot of people underestimate the importance of healthcare while traveling, so I’m hoping to bring it to the forefront of people’s minds. It really is such an important thing to keep in mind.
Definitely check into the water purification tablets – they’re a godsend when you’re remote or in a developing country.
And also the vaccine records – I lost mine once and nearlly had to have a shot again. Trust me I haven’t lost sight of them since :D
Hey Megan great article as usual. I like the tip about customizing the prepaid kit.
Thanks Penny – prepaid kits are great because they come with the basics and then you can add and build onto it depending on where you’re going from there.
We always travel with a few things in our first aid kit. Not nearly as comprehensive as this but it’s come in handy! Things we never leave without are tweezers, bandaids (butterfly & regular)! I once fell off a bike in Ecuador and had to have my chin stitched and a tooth fixed that had broke in half. Not fun! You feel so much better when you have a few things of your own to help out! Great post!
Glad to hear that Alyssa – even if it’s not as comprehensive as this whole list, a basic first aid kit will still do the trick in most cases.
And ouch – sorry to hear about you fall in Ecuador – can’t imagine that was fun!! While that definitely sounds like it was probably a doctors visit or two, you definitely feel a little more at ease when you can help relieve the immediate pain with little things you’ve bought along. Tweezers I’ve realized are a Godsend when out on the road!
Stay safe :)
An absolute must read for first time and even regular travellers even if it’s just to remind them of the importance of such a first aid kit. Everyone has a story of grief to tell for the lack of it in past travels and we’re no exception. The kit should be reviewed for every trip. But ours always has painkillers, anti diarrhoea pills, band aids and disinfectant.
Thanks Marlys – glad to hear you travel with a pretty decent kit. I think it only takes one time to learn the hard way and you’ll never travel without basic medical supplies again – even the most regular of travelers often get caught out.
Oh, those sunburns! I’ve been there. Sunscreen is the first thing I pack. What an excellent list – thank you!
For some reason I just never ever learn re the sunburn!! Thanks Jessie :)
Very useful! I don’t travel with a full kit but I always make sure that I have painkillers and other meds on hand.
I’m glad you found it useful Jeh :) In reality you don’t need this full kit on hand at all times, and a basic kit does the job. Glad to hear you’re stocked up before each trip :)
Very useful, down to the littlest detail! The immunization record is a good one that many forget.
Thanks Lillie – I’m glad we could help :) Immunization record is only on here because I did once forget haha – hopefully others can learn from that mistake!
I always carry a first aid kit but this is a great reminder to update certain parts of it. You tend to forget that you used up all the bandages the last time you did the big hike.
Absolutely Leigh – and I often forget to update my kit too, I usually try and keep my kit out on the bench at home when it needs re-filling so I don’t put it away and forget :)
I went from thinking this was overkill to appreciating the tips to being worried I never carry all this stuff! When I went to Africa I did bring my own IV needles in case I needed a transfusion, blood work or an infusion of any kind. I do carry a small kit with me when I am overseas but never in the US since there is a drugstore on every corner.
Very good food for thought when I am packing for my next trip.
Really does depend on which part of the world you’re visiting – for instance yes, in the US there’s a drugstore on every corner, so I probably wouldn’t worry too much about packing all of the over the counter meds and painkillers etc – it’s very easy to get a lot of your stuff there, so the basics in that case would suffice.
Where-as in Africa, definitely advisable to travel with a more comprehensive kit :) I figured I would list everything you could possibly ever need, and then people can customize their own kit based on their upcoming trips :)
What a comprehensive list. I stick to the basics but definitely some valuable pointers here.
A lot of the time the basics are all you may need, like if you’re in a built up area with easy access to drugstores etc :) But glad you enjoyed the list – hopefully gives some pointers if traveling more remotely :)
What a useful guide. I particularly like the pro tips interspersed, including the reminder to pack the kit in a checked bag instead of a carry-on.
Thanks Terry – glad you found the tips useful :) And absolutely re the carry on – hoping other people can learn from my mistakes! Nothing worse than having your items confiscated after you’ve gone to the effort of putting it all together!
All of these are fantastic things to add to a first aid kit for traveling! There are so many times I forgot important details and necessary items when traveling and it’s so frustrating when you can’t find what you need in a foreign country. Definitely a great post for remembering these necessities that make such a difference when you’re away from home.
Hope this helps with planning and packing for future trips :) Thanks Brooke! Glad you enjoyed the post X
This is an awesome comprehensive list that I’m definitely going to reference again. No matter how often I’ve traveled, there’s always something that is forgotten and when it comes to first aid, why take a chance? Your sunburn rivals the worst of mine in the past and that’s saying something. Two things I never travel without are medicated blister bandages and Band-Aid Friction Stick to protect against blisters. I do a lot of walking!
Thanks Cathy – glad to hear you’ve found it helpful :) I’ve had a few horrible sunburns in my time!! I can’t go out in the sun without burning up to a crisp!! It’s terribly annoying!!
Medicated blister bandages and band-aids definitely come in useful for me also – a must for any hiker to carry with them at all time!! Nursing blisters right now actually from yesterday’s walk … sad that the bandages do come in handy, but they’re a real lifesaver a lot of the time!
Travel safe! Hopefully you won’t need to use the Band-aids anytime soon :)
Thanks for this post Megan – such a practical list. The section about the after-sun supplies is especially noteworthy – I always mange to forget to pack aloe vera.
You’re welcome Miranda – glad you enjoyed the post :) You can normally find Aloe Vera at a corner drug store, but if you’re heading somewhere remote I would definitely add it to the list … especially if you find yourself burning a lot in the sun like me!! Lifesaver!
Thanks so much for this list…very sensible and helpful! Love all the detail and depth, we’ll definitely be keeping this list handy while packing our first aid kit again!
You’re welcome Dariece! Let us know if you have any other Q’s when packing your kit again :)
We have a shorter version of your essentials in our backpacks here but this is definitely a good inspiration to make sure we are not missing anything! Great post!
Thanks for sharing your link … glad you enjoyed the post :) Safe travels!
Actually, it isn’t classed as therapeutic treatment and ought not to be compared to what a doctor may do. First aid is a blend of some basic techniques, in addition to the utilization of good judgment.
Absolutely – first aid is all about being able to help yourself and others as a first response to an injury. Not comparing it to what a doctor may do, but often we don’t need more than that first aid response, and many emergency and GP visits can usually be treated with basic first aid training without the need of a professional.
Neosporin is key. It’s an all purpose anti bacterial, fights infection, might be known as something else in other countries. Non prescription.
Thanks for the tip Rick – I haven’t heard of Neosporin before, so will definitely look into it :) Safe travels!
Can you guys tell me some good first aid boxes name? It will help me to my next trip. Thank you guys.
Hi Shakib, brands that make good compact first aid kits include Tripworthy, Swiss Safe and Adventure Medical Kits. Check out these links for each brand on Amazon.
Swiss Safe: https://amzn.to/2uPWVYH
Trip Worthy: https://amzn.to/2Nxlstf
Adventure Medical Kits: https://amzn.to/2uBc5So
This post is very useful information.
Have a great day
You’re welcome, so glad the post was helpful for you :)
Thanks very much … very useful and helpful for this list! We will certainly love every detail and scope when we bundle our first-aid kit again!
You’re most welcome Alina, I’m so glad the post was helpful for you :)