When I first started backpacking around the world, I thought I had a pretty decent travel medical kit. Then I met my partner and saw her travel medical kit and it was like a portable pharmacy! Of course, I had been extremely lucky and nothing serious happened to me so naturally, I scoffed at her paranoia. A couple of Band-Aids, some Advil, maybe some Polysporin and I’m good to go! Who needs a huge travel medical kit?
Fast forward almost 2 years later and we’re backpacking through India for 5 weeks where I then, very seriously, sprained my big toe, had an open wound submerged in sewage water for almost 30 minutes during a flash flood in Madurai, and got salmonella poisoning when I broke my own rule of “No meat in India” and ate a bad chicken sausage from a street food stall in Ooty. All within 2 days! Luckily, she had packed everything I needed to make a healthy recovery. You can be sure that I wasn’t making fun of her travel medical kit / portable pharmacy anymore.
So here are the essential top things to pack in your travel medical kit to keep you healthy without feeling like you’re lugging a hospital medical cabinet with you.
- Bandages / Band-Aids
- This almost goes without saying, but I’m always surprised when other travellers don’t have any at all in their packs. Pack a few Hello Kitty Band-Aids for extra points with the ladies.
- Anti-septic wipes / spray
- I’m positive that packing anti-septic spray was the only reason I didn’t die from a severe infection when the gash on my toe was submerged in sewage water for over 30 minutes. Why did that happen, you ask? Well, I didn’t have much choice when the streets of Madurai were flooded and we had to make our way back to the guesthouse in knee high sewage water. Yep, it’s as disgusting as it sounds.
- Polysporin – anti-bacterial
- After you’ve cleaned the wound, you’ll want to apply a nice anti-bacterial cream, like Polysporin, to help it heal faster and prevent infections. Trust me, this stuff works like magic and is especially useful when you’re backpacking through less than pristine locales.
- Anti-biotics / Cipro
- For when things get a bit more serious and you’ve got to squash a nasty bacterial infection. Just make sure that you continue to take full doses until you’re completely cured otherwise the infection might come back even stronger. Essential to pack in your travel medical kit for those more serious illnesses.
- Painkillers / Fever reducer (Ibuprofen)
- When I sprained my big toe, I had to keep popping painkillers to even walk, let alone carry my 45 kgs of gear. Also, useful to bring down fevers which can be extremely dangerous.
- Anti-histamine / EpiPen
- One of my dear friends (mother of 4) urged me incessantly to bring an EpiPen with me on my travels. On a previous trip, her husband developed a sudden allergy to shrimp, mid-meal, and went into anaphylactic shock. Fortunately, she had an EpiPen with her and saved his life. Scary! While I didn’t bring an EpiPen with me, I made sure to throw a few packs of anti-histamines into my travel medical kit.
- Anti-diarrhea (Immodium)
- While this won’t cure your food poisoning, it will help you keep some of those liquids inside your body. Also useful for those times when you’ve got to make one of many 10 hour bus or train rides to get from one coast of India to the other.
- Electrolyte replacements
- Let me tell you, salmonella poisoning is not fun. When you can’t keep anything down, not even water, and you have to constantly run to the toilet but can’t decide which way to face because it’s coming out both ends, you’re going to need to replenish your electrolytes because your body is losing it all. And while you may get sick of the taste after 5 days, at least you’ll survive.
- Motion sickness tablets / Gravol
- Most of the time, I’ve got decent sea legs and never really get sick on buses or cars, even on the treacherous, winding canyon road from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng in Laos. But when I was on a 10 day Mediterranean cruise and tried to sleep through a storm in the windowless prison they call a Stateroom at the bow of the ship, oh dear lord was I thankful that my mom had some Gravel with her. If you’re prone to motion sickness, pack a few of these in your travel medical kit so it doesn’t ruin your trip.
- Blister strips
- First things first, when you’re going backpacking, leave the heels at home and pack comfortable shoes because you’ll be doing a LOT of walking. Despite that though, you might be tempted to buy a cheap pair of Haviana knock-offs in Bangkok for 50 Baht and that’s when you’ll want you’ll be thankful for blister strips. Band-aids work too but these are better.
- Birth Control / Condoms
- Duh. I shouldn’t even have to say why you need this.
- Anti-Malarial Pills
- I wouldn’t recommend taking these as preventative but rather as treatment just because it’s costly and can make your sleep a bit, let’s say, restless. And while I’ve never met someone who actually got Malaria (Dengue, yes, although you can’t prevent or treat that), it’s good to have these in your travel medical kit if you’re going to be travelling through tropical areas.
- Tiger Balm
- A herbal heat rub, this magical ointment is great for inflammation and muscle aches, but it’s also great for mosquito bites! Also, you can put a dab above the lips under your nose to clear your sinuses and block out those ferocious smells from killing your day trip through Varanasi.
- Activated Charcoal
- I never knew about this until I got sick in India, but activated charcoal can be ingested to treat poisoning, overdoses, diarrhea, indigestion, and flatulence. How it works is too much to get into here but just understand that this stuff is incredible and super effective!
While this may seem like a lot to pack in your travel medical kit, it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
What am I missing? What do you pack in your travel medical kit?