Never underestimate the importance of traveling with a solid first aid kit as a solo female traveler – 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.
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.
Or, instead of undertaking a mission to find the perfect plastic container, you can just buy a pre-made 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.
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 solo female travelers each year.
Anti-diarrhoea tablets (ie Imodium or Travelan) 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.
Altitude Sickness Medication
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.
Motion Sickness Medicine
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.
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.
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:
- 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;
- 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.
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.
Did we miss anything? Tell us what’s in your first aid kit in the comments!