A first-aid kit is an important item to have when you travel, whether it’s across the state or the globe. When your doctor’s office is far away, having the right items with you is essential.
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Family physician Neha Vyas, MD, weighs in on what to keep in your travel first-aid kit.
What should be in a first-aid travel kit?
“Your first-aid kit should have what you need to take care of mild illnesses and injuries,” Dr. Vyas says. “This will include a variety of things, but you don’t need to take an entire medicine cabinet.”
First, get a small box or zip-up bag and clearly label it. Then, gather the items on this list, using travel or sample sizes when possible to save space. Here’s everything your first-aid kit should include so you’ll be prepared for any minor medical issue.
Basic first-aid items
No travel emergency kit is complete without these basics:
- Antibacterial wipes: Wipes that kill germs can be helpful for cleaning tools and hands.
- Hand sanitizer: “Before touching any cuts or scrapes, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol,” Dr. Vyas instructs.
- Instant cold pack: These disposable packs turn cold quickly to relieve bumps, bruises and minor burns.
- Pain reliever: Acetaminophen or ibuprofen is helpful for headaches or sprains. Include a children’s formula if you have kids.
- Scissors: You might need this tool to cut gauze, bandages or open medication packages — but if you’re flying, be sure to pack them in your checked luggage, rather than your carry-on.
- Self-adhesive wrap: Wrap up sore knees, ankles or other injuries with self-adhesive wrap, which doesn’t require pins or other tools.
- Thermometer: Check for a fever with a reliable thermometer, and clean it with an antibacterial wipe when you’re done.
- Tweezers: “They’re the essential tool for removing bee stingers, splinters and ticks,” Dr. Vyas says.
Essentials for skin problems
Throw these things in your travel emergency kit to take care of skin mishaps:
- Aloe vera gel: This multi-tasker is great for sunburns and irritated skin.
- Antibiotic ointment: Apply antibiotic ointment before sticking on a bandage.
- Antiseptic: “An antiseptic in the form of a spray or wipes is perfect for cleaning dirt and germs from minor cuts and scrapes,” Dr. Vyas says.
- Bandages: Include small, medium and large sizes.
- Calamine lotion: This can relieve poison ivy, hives and other itchy conditions.
- Gauze: Keep gauze pads and a roll of gauze for bigger injuries that need more than a bandage.
- Medical tape: You’ll need medical tape to attach gauze to the skin.
Medicine for stomach trouble when traveling
No one likes an upset stomach — and it’s even worse when you’re away from home. Be ready for digestive troubles with these items:
- Antacids: These will tackle heartburn or mild indigestion.
- Anti-diarrhea medication: “Diarrhea remedies are a quick fix if you get traveler’s diarrhea,” Dr. Vyas says. “If you’re traveling to an area where diarrhea is common, ask your doctor about a prescription antibiotic to treat it.”
- Laxatives or stool softeners: These are helpful if you’re really bound up, but be careful — they can cause diarrhea or painful cramps.
- Motion sickness medication: Even if you’re not prone to motion sickness, keep a few tablets in your kit just in case. Be aware that some can cause drowsiness.
First aid for respiratory problems
Sniffles, sneezes and coughs are a bummer when you’re traveling. Pack these medications to help you feel better:
- Antihistamines: Loratadine or diphenhydramine can be helpful for seasonal allergies.
- Cold relief medication: Bring daytime and nighttime formulas to help with a stuffy nose, cough and headache.
- Cough suppressant: This can help you stop hacking and get some much-needed rest.
- Saline nasal spray: Gently clean out your nostrils for some relief from allergies and congestion.
“Wherever you go, whether you’re traveling or just going about everyday life, remember to carry hand sanitizer and extra face masks to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19,” Dr. Vyas says.
Choose straightforward, unscented hand sanitizer for the best results, and keep clean face masks on hand to swap in as needed.
How to prepare for travel
Before your trip, see your primary care provider. Make sure you’re up to date on vaccines or other preventive healthcare.
“If you need refills for any prescription medications, now is the time to get them,” Dr. Vyas says. “Pack enough of your prescriptions for your entire trip and some extra in case you’re delayed coming home.”
Use your travel emergency kit safely
Now that you’ve prepared your kit, make sure to use the medicines safely:
- Follow dosages: Pay attention to dosing instructions for medicines.
- Toss old meds: Throw out items that have expired.
- Keep labels: “Keep prescription and over-the-counter medications in their original labeled package so you know what they are,” Dr. Vyas advises.
- Make a list: Take a list of all your medications in your bag or purse, including brand and generic names.
- Get a note: “If you have prescription opioids or medications with needles, take a doctor’s note that explains why you use them,” Dr. Vyas says. “This will be helpful in case your luggage is searched by TSA or other authorities while you travel.”
- Stay child safe: If you have children, keep the first-aid kit locked or out of reach. And don’t give children cough or cold medicines without a pediatrician’s approval.
- Get help: Your travel first-aid kit is helpful for minor problems but seek medical care for serious injuries and illnesses.
With a little planning and a good, strong zip-up bag, you can travel with peace of mind knowing that you’re prepared to handle the bumps and bruises (and headaches, stomachaches and sneezes) along the way.