Packing – either you love it or hate it. As a Type A person, I love creating lists and checking them twice, but I'm not too fond of it when it comes to packing.
I'm the person throwing random items in her backpack five minutes before she leaves for the airport.
Over the years, I've learned a thing or two about packing.
You never need as much as you think you do, and you probably don't need a down jacket in Costa Rica.
One item that always goes into my backpack first is a small first aid kit.
Perhaps it's because I'm a former ski patroller and outdoor lover, or maybe I'm just over-prepared.
Either way, I always recommend travelers bring a small first aid kit.
You might think I'm silly for telling you that you need a first aid kit, but after your first fall from the uneven cobblestone streets in Europe or your first Tomorrowland festival, you'll thank me later.
While you don't need a Costco-sized first aid kit or a surgical kit, there are a few essential items that every traveler should have in their travel first aid kit.
This is probably a no-brainer. If you take prescription medication, then this is number one on your packing list.
This is especially important for things like insulin or EpiPens, as those can save your life while on the road.
If you have diabetes or have a severe allergy, you should wear a medical alert bracelet or something that identifies your medical condition. It could save your life.
For example, I'm allergic to amoxicillin and thus can't be given an antibiotic in the penicillin family.
When I travel, I wear my RoadID, which has my name, emergency contact, allergies, and the fact that I'm an organ donor.
I started wearing it while training for triathlons, but I quickly realized RoadIDs are great for traveling too.
You don't need to bring bottles upon bottles of meds. It just doesn't make sense.
I'll buy travel-size containers of pain meds and put TUMS in little snack-size baggies.
For the most part, you can always buy over-the-counter medications in the country you're going so you don't need to take much.
You just need enough to tide you over for a few days if you get food poisoning at 2 a.m.
If you're traveling in a rural area for extended periods, I would suggest a bigger supply as some medications are hard to come by in rural villages.
Items to include:
- Advil (Ibuprofen)
- Tylenol (Acetaminophen)
- TUMS or Pepto-Bismol (Antacid)
- Anti-itch Cream
- Motion Sickness Pills
- Valerian Root or Melatonin Pills
Shopping for over-the-counter medication in foreign countries can be challenging if you don't know the active ingredient in each brand-name medication.
Chances are you're not going to see Pepto-Bismol in the middle of the Amazon jungle. Brazil probably has its own brand.
Below is a list of common US-brand named over-the-counter medications with their active ingredients:
- Tylenol (Acetaminophen)
- Bayer (Aspirin)
- Advil or Motrin (Ibuprofen)
- Aleve (Naproxen)
- Pepto-Bismol (Bismuth subsalicylate)
- TUMS (Calcium carbonate)
Let's face it. We all fall and cut ourselves at some point in life. Trying to find someone with a Band-Aid in a foreign country can be difficult.
If you're adventurous and plan to do some trekking during your travels, you might want to consider taking more items, but the basics should suffice for most travelers.
- Band-Aids of varying sizes
- Antiseptic wipes or ointment
- Hand sanitizer
- Gauze pads (or Maxi pads)*
- Medical tape*
- Instant ice pack*
(*) Items recommended for adventure travelers
Other Bonus Items
Moleskin – If you're doing a lot of trekking or walking, moleskin can save your feet. Blisters are no fun!
Water purification tablets – Iodine or other forms of water purification tablets are helpful to have on hand, especially if you're trekking or traveling in very rural areas. If you're mostly sticking to cities, don't bother.
Ciprofloxacin (Cipro) – Cipro is commonly prescribed by travel doctors for severe diarrhea. This is something you can generally get in any country, but it's nice to have on hand if you need it at 3 a.m. Most doctors will prescribe this for you when you go in for travel vaccinations. I carry it just in case but have never needed it.
I had to use my travel first aid kit for the first time in Greece when a friend got whacked in the head by one of the cabin doors of our yacht.
You never know where you or someone could get injured. That's why it's also a good idea to get First Aid and CPR certification.
While it is always good to be prepared, it is also essential to know how to get help in any country you are visiting.
You can't just call 911 and get an ambulance.
Hopefully, you will never need it, but being prepared for the worst can save you or someone else's life.
And that is why my travel first aid kit is always the first item in my backpack.
Katelyn is a freelance writer, healthcare analyst, and solo budget traveler currently based in Portland, Maine (USA). Next winter she is embarking on her Great Escape around the world and landing in Australia for a working holiday visa. Outside of her professional life, Katelyn teaches spin and boot camp classes at several location gyms and is a competitive triathlete finishing Ironman Lake Placid in 2013. You can follow her adventures on Diaries of a Wandering Lobster.