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 research, adults feel unprepared to deal with medical emergencies due to lack of experience and training – and these emergencies may get tougher during travel. The WHO advises to take appropriate precautions before a trip, which can reduce health risks and ensure a plan is in place in the event that you are injured.
In this article, we’ll show you how to avoid unnecessary emergency visits to hospitals and GP’s for relatively minor, simple to treat conditions such as grazes, blisters and splinters. Instead, we’ll provide you with everything you need to bring along to be prepared for any minor medical emergency.
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 build the best first aid kit for travel abroad. 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.
Some of the advice we include in this article is based in our Empowerful course, the only safety, wellness and sexual wellbeing course for female travelers. The online course tackles all the worries, challenges and tools you need to feel and be safe before a trip. There are 30+ lessons by 40+ experts from all over the world. Get your access here.
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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.
Besides being durable, we recommend your first aid kit container to be compact, light and water resistant or waterproof, so it can stay in good condition and you can take advantage of things you don’t use for the next trip.
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 you commonly take, and make sure you bring more than enough to last your entire trip and have some in case your return is delayed. Personal medication may not be easy to find at your destination, and often they will be known locally under different names. We highly advise to make a list of equivalent drug names in your destination.
Carry all your medications in the original container and label each one of them with your name and dosing schedule. 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 like Aspirin or Ibuprofen 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.
Some over-the-counter medications in your home country may be banned in your destination, so remember to check and make sure you’re allowed to travel with everything in your first aid kit.
Everyone seems to have a favorite traveller’s diarrhea story – this is the most common illness which affects travelers, hitting between 40-60% of travelers.
Anti-diarrhea 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.
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.
Nowadays, many countries require COVID-19 vaccination proof as well, so make sure you bring a valid COVID-19 vaccine certificate and check the entry requirements per country regarding this matter.
Treatment for minor injuries
The best first aid kit for travel abroad has to include relief for minor injuries like bites, grazes, cuts and scrapes, make sure you travel with the following:
- Adhesive bandages like band-aids for minor cuts or skin injuries. Having bandages of assorted sizes is always useful. Bandage closures, such as butterfly bandages, are adequate for tapping edges of minor cuts together.
- 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
- Elastic wraps to wrap wrist, ankle, knee and elbow injuries. Buy the self-adhesive ones so you won’t need safety pins to secure it.
- Antibiotic ointment for small injuries to prevent infection. Apply it before sticking on a band-aid.
- Sterile pack for prevention of blood-borne infections if traveling somewhere where health care facilities may be poor
- Antiseptic wipes for disinfecting wound and cleaning hands
- Instant cold packs to cool bumps, bruises and minor burns
- Thermometer to check for a fever in case of illness
- An extra pair of contact lenses or prescription glasses
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.
Pack an adequate supply of feminine hygiene products. The availability in other countries may not be guaranteed or feminine care products may not be as widely available as in your home country.
We highly recommend to keep track of your menstrual cycle, you can easily do it with a period tracker app like Flo.
Calculate the necessary amount of feminine products you will need, and bring extra ones in case your trip return gets delayed. Pack the products of your choice among sanitary pads, tampons, menstrual cup, period panties, etc. Or you could bring a mix of various types, so you can use the best option according to your plans.
Check out our Reusable period products & period myth busting live session, an honest, unfiltered grown-up talk about traveling on your period and about reusable period products.
It’s vital to protect your skin from sun damage and sun exposure related illnesses like skin cancer. As reported by the U.S. National Cancer Institute, Melanoma of the skin represents 5.6% of all new cancer cases in the U.S. Also, by the end of 2021, it’s estimated that there will be 106,110 new cases of melanoma of the skin and an estimated 7,180 people will die of this disease.
If you’re traveling, we strongly recommend using broad spectrum sunscreen (which protects from both types of radiation: UVA and UVB), with a SPF value of at least 30 or higher. Don’t forget to check the expiration date to make sure the sunscreen works.
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.
Insect bites prevention and relief
It’s important to prevent bug bites and avoid getting sick during your trip, as advised by the CDC. Bugs, mainly mosquitoes, can spread diseases like malaria, zika, yellow fever, dengue, chikungunya, and lyme. These illnesses may have mild symptoms, but some can have severe consequences.
Add insect repellent to your first aid kit and apply it daily, especially when going outdoors. As well, bring some calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream to diminish itching and irritation in case you get insect bites, this can also relieve poison ivy.
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 your best first aid kit for travel abroad, 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.
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, like scissors or tweezers.
Especially in this post-pandemic era, bringing antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer gel is essential for hygiene and preventing viruses like COVID-19. Choose antibacterial wipes or gel that contain 60% alcohol or more, as it’s more effective, as recommended by John Hopkins Medicine. Washing your hands often plus using antibacterial wipes/gel will help eliminate bacteria, viruses and dirt, and ensure your overall hygiene during your travels.
The best first aid kit for travel abroad has to include COVID-19 related items. Global restrictions are continuously changing, but as of today, the majority of countries still require people to wear a face mask indoors in public places including restaurants, transportation, cafes, museums, etc.
Reusable non-medical masks and disposable medical masks are the ones the WHO recommends for wearing in public. Make sure you check the specific mask requirements in the country of your destination.
And you are all set! You first kid will be helpful for minor injuries but don’t hesitate to seek proper medical assistance if you have serious injuries or illnesses.
Did we miss anything? Tell us what’s in your first aid kit in the comments!