First Aid Kits for Travelers

Frank Gillingham, MD

If you travel internationally (or if you travel in the US and like to be well prepared), I would seriously consider packing some first-aid items or even an entire kit. Pharmacies generally aren't as convenient overseas as they are in the U.S. (for example, 24 hour pharmacies are much harder to find) and medications you're accustomed to using may go by different names or may not be available at all.

The list below of items to consider bringing is fairly comprehensive. It may be more than you need for travel to Europe, but less than you need for travel to the developing world. What you bring should depend on where you're going (research your destination!), how long you're staying, what you plan to do (explore in the jungle? scuba dive?), who you're traveling with (kids, or elderly parents?) and your own medical situation (do you take medications? are you pregnant?).

There are many commercially available first aid kits designed for travelers and these are a good place to start. They tend to be good on the basics like bandages but weaker on medications. If you do purchase a kit, look for one that has extra space to add items, or plan to remove some of the items they include to make room for extras. The best kits are easily opened, lightweight, and waterproof, with clear vinyl pockets so you can see in without removing everything.

Keep in mind that the medical conditions you have at home (headaches, urinary tract infections, hypertension, heart disease, prostate enlargement, whatever) are more likely to trouble you abroad than exotic diseases. So personalize your first aid kit with medications you currently use and have used in the past. Ask all the physicians you see regularly (generalist and specialist) which medications you should carry with you. And carry the medications you take regularly in your carry on!

First Aid Kit Check List

Reference Materials

Bring a good First-Aid book and read it, or take a First-Aid class before you go. The kit will do you no good if you don't know what to do with the items.

Bring a doctor's summary of your medical history, and a typed list of the medications you use, including the generic names. If you have angina, or a history of a heart attack, or heart disease of any kind, bring a copy of your EKG.

General items:

Bandages and Other Supplies for Cuts & Lacerations

Over-The-Counter Medications/Agents (follow all instructions!)

Prescription Medications

Discuss these with your doctor. Remember to follow all instructions, and use the antibiotics only if necessary. Overuse of antibiotics is a real problem that results in unnecessary allergic reactions, resistant bacteria ("superbugs") and a host of other problems.

Other things to consider