Top fifteen items to have in your travel first aid kit

travel first aidEven if the worst travel-related malady you’ve suffered is a touch of turistas, it pays to pack at least a few first aid essentials in your luggage. If you carry nothing more than Band-Aids, moleskin, Neosporin, and Pepto-Bismol tablets, you’re set for minor emergencies that might otherwise derail a day of sightseeing.

If, however, you travel frequently/do adventure travel/spend time in developing nations, it pays to have a fully-loaded first aid kit. It’s no substitute should you get seriously ill or injured, but its contents can likely stabilize you until you’re able to get medical assistance

You don’t need to spend a lot of money on a kit, either. You can pick one up for as little as $12 at REI, and augment it as needed. The most expensive thing is filling prescriptions for antibiotics (just in case) before you leave home. Cipro is really pricey, but broad-spectrum drugs like Doxycycline are very inexpensive.

Below, my picks for travel first aid kit essentials.

1. Band-aids/gauze pads/moleskin (for blisters)

2. Surgical tape
Use it to hold dressings in place, or to strap sprains or strains. A roll of this saved my ankle after a bad fall while backpacking.

[Photo credit: Flickr user ffi]travel first aid3. Sewing needle and safety pins
Sterilize and use to drain blisters, remove splinters, or make a makeshift sling.

4. Small mirror
Useful if you get something in your eye or have a facial injury. If you’re the outdoorsy type, it’s an emergency kit essential for signaling should you get lost.

5. Prescription drugs
All of your regular prescriptions, as well as antibiotics or other meds prescribed by your doctor. Be sure to keep them in their original bottles, and carry copies of your prescriptions with you.

6. OTC drugs
Imodium, Pepto-Bismol tablets, antihistimines, Pepcid, ibuprofen, eye drops. For women: Uristat and an OTC or prescription for yeast infections. Comprehensivey, these meds cover a wide range of ailments, from food-borne illness to allergies, but reserve the Imodium only for emergency situations where you must travel (it’s a potent anti-diarrheal).

7. EpiPen
This isn’t just for those with known anaphylactic allergies. When you’re traveling abroad, you never know what might trigger a reaction; it’s also possible to develop a sensitivity to things you haven’t previously had a problem with.
travel first aid
8. Alcohol wipes and hand sanitizer
Sterilize your hands, implements like tweezers, even wounds, if necessary. Sanitizer is something you should be in the habit of carrying when you travel, regardless.

9. Tweezers and non-safety nail scissors
Remove splinters and insect stingers, cut surgical tape or bandages; there are endless uses for these two.

10. Thermometer
If you develop a sustained fever of 100.4 or higher, it’s time to seek medical attention.

11. Electrolyte powder packets and Emergen-C
If you’re suffering severe diarrhea or vomiting, it’s absolutely essential you rehydrate and replenish electrolytes. If you have access to Gatorade, you can down that, along with bottled (if necessary) water. I use Airborne and Emergen-C after long flights and at other times I need to keep my resistance up, or if my immune system is taxed.

12. Antibiotic ointment and hydrocortisone cream
Don’t underestimate the importance of these two, especially if you’re traveling in the tropics, where things tend to fester, or you have a coral cut, serious blister, sting, bite, or rash.
travel first aid
13. Matches
Sterilize needles or safety pins; matches are also an essential for wilderness emergency kits. Store in old film canister or Rx bottle to keep dry. You can additionally waterproof by painting the tips with nail polish.

14. Ziploc bags
You never know when these will come in handy. You can make an impromptu ice pack, store creams and ointment in them to prevent spillage, use them as an extra layer to keep meds dry, etc..

15. Mini first aid or wilderness safety manual
If you’re traveling long-term or spending lots of time outdoors, you’ll find this useful at some point. Many first aid kits come with one.

[Photo credits: knee, Flickr user Sukianto; Pepto-Bismol, Flickr user chris.corwin;dressing, Flickr user tiny_packages]

Catching the Travel Bug: Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam

Welcome to Catching the Travel Bug, Gadling’s mini-series on getting sick on the road, prevailing and loving travel throughout. Five of our bloggers will be telling their stories from around the globe for the next five weeks. Submit your best story about catching the travel bug in the comments and we’ll publish our favorite few at the end of the series.

SARS. The subject was worked into every conversation amongst the expats and long-term tourists in Vietnam. The government claimed that the virus had been contained in several northern provinces, far away from Sai Gon (Ho Chi Minh City to Communist Party officials and fresh-off-the-plane tourists). Still. There were rumors about people’s neighbors being taken away in the middle of the night to be quarantined because of a persistent cough. Mostly, that was just speculation, fueled by one too many beers or one too many years in country.

Nonetheless, when I came down with a cough and fever, I had thoughts of gasping for breath in a hidden away hospital ward guarded by CP officials who didn’t want their SARS secret to get out. I wrote my illness off as a regular flu bug I’d picked up from being in a classroom teaching eight-year-old Vietnamese kids how to speak English. When my chest started to tighten and my cough to turn into a wheeze, I started to worry a bit more.

I confided in my girlfriend who took me to a doctor who had an after-hours private practice in his home. I was assured that he spoke English. He spoke great Russian because he’d been schooled in Moscow, but only a bit of English (like “Injection” and “Infection”). Between my modest Vietnamese skills and miming and his pidgin of Russian, English, and charades, I was able to get started on an IV of antibiotics. But he wanted an x-ray to rule out the unspoken disease. He kept asking me if I had been up north, to the areas that were hit by SARS. I said no, but he casually slipped a surgical mask on before starting me on the IV.
I got into the x-ray at a hospital the next day. It took two hours in the waiting room, which was not the best experience. Radiology was located by a nurses’ station and there were several people on hospital beds just parked in the hallway. I found out from a smiling but nervous lady in a neighboring seat that they were on a death watch. The nurses could keep an eye on them until the end.

The x-ray technician was unfamiliar with practicing his trade on someone of my height. It took 5 tries to get it right. I paid him 150,000 dong ($10 US) to hand the pictures directly to me instead of putting them up with the others.

My next antibiotic session consisted of me and about 4 others, sitting in plastic lawn chairs in the doctor’s back room with drips hanging from hooks in the wall. One guy smoked the entire time, but no one said anything.

A few days later, I went through the x-ray ordeal again. This time a smiling technician got it right on the second try. Through my girlfriend the doctor said that he chalked it up to a chest infection.

“No SARS?” I asked.

“No SARS.” He chuckled, said something in Russian, and patted me on the shoulder.

Check out the past travel-bug features here.