What to Bring – A Personal First Aid Kit for International Travel

Stuff happens, and at inopportune times. So it’s best that you’re prepared. We will have a group first aid kit, but it is prudent to have a personal one as well. Not a huge one that will take care of any possible accident or disease that could happen. You’d need an entire hospital and a staff for that. What you want is something that will take care of minor problems that occur so that it doesn’t get worse, and for those with existing medical conditions, something that can make sure those conditions are taken care of. Plus, we’re not going to have enough NSAIDs, bandages, or Immodium for everyone; you are responsible for bringing your own.

Now, the easiest way to do this is purchase a premade first aid kit, and add on to it. The best ones for international travel are ones that are specific for that, such as the one above (which you can purchase at REI). But any first aid kit is better than none.

I prefer to assemble my own. You can get individual items at grocery stores, pharmacies, and medical supply stores. Or you probably have this stuff at home. Here is a suggested list. Please note that the examples I mention are name-brand examples. Generic or store brand medications are just as effective, and usually much less expensive. These are the items I strongly recommend including in your kit:

  • Any prescription medication that you take regularly, in their original bottle, along with a copy of the prescription. If it is a controlled narcotic or an injectible drug, you may want to get a letter from your provider on official letterhead stating that you take this medication.
  • Over-the-counter antidiarrheal medication – I like to bring Pepto Bismo tablets and Immodium. Pepto is milder with fewer side effects. If you have more severe diarrhea, or are going to be away from a bathroom, you can take Immodium. Remember, these don’t treat the cause, only the symptoms.
  • Oral antihistamine – Something like Benadryl is great if you’re having issues with allergies. Just be aware that it will cause drowsiness.
  • Anti-itch cream (1% hydrocortisone or Benadryl cream) – an essential. We will get bitten by bugs, and many of us will get rashes. A topical anti-itch cream is a lifesaver. Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and 1% hydrocortisone are slightly different compounds. Pick the one that works best for you, or bring a tube of each. Be aware that Benadryl cream is counter indicated with oral Benadryl.
  • Decongestant, alone or in combination with an antihistamine – These are handy if you have allergies. You can also bring Zyrtec or Allegra, whichever you prefer.
  • Acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, or other medication for pain or fever.
  • Mild laxative – Trust me, someone on the trip will get constipation. You may also want to bring fiber supplements to stay regular.
  • Antacid – Chewable Tums are great, especially if the Thai food is too spicy.
  • Anti fungal and antibacterial ointments or creams, such as Neosporin or Lotrimin.
  • Aloe gel or similar ointment for sunburns.
  • Basic first-aid items (a variety of adhesive bandages, gauze, tape, ace wrap, antiseptic, tweezers, scissors, cotton-tipped applicators).
  • Antibacterial hand wipes or alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • Lubricating eye drops.
  • Antibiotic for self-treatment of moderate to severe diarrhea – usually ciprofloxacin or azythromycin; ask your provider for a prescription. You can also purchase it over-the-counter in Thailand.
  • For Women – UTIs (Can be prevented from progressing with d-Mannose) and Yeast Infections (thanks, Jen!)
  • A small knife or scissors, or a Leatherman or similar tool. Make sure this is packed in your checked luggage, or it’ll be taken from you at airport security!

Other items you could include in your kit:

  • Digital thermometer
  • Oral rehydration solution packets
  • Moleskin for blisters
  • First aid quick reference card

Also, depending on your specific needs, the following items may be useful in your kit:

  • Anti-motion sickness medication if you get motion sickness (I have posted something on this subject).
  • EpiPen if you have a history of severe allergic reactions leading to anaphylactic shock  (ask your provider for a prescription).
  • A sleep aid (e.g. Ambien; ask your provider for a prescription).
  • Antimalarials, if you are staying and going to a malaria-endemic country. Check the CDC traveller’s health website for details on what, if any, antimalarial is needed for the country you are planning on visiting. For Southeast Asian countries outside of Thailand, the two most recommended antimalarials are Atovaquone-proguanil (Malarone) or doxycycline. Make sure you have enough for the entire time you are in the country, as well as for the recommended pre-visit dosing before visiting and post-visit dosing after you leave the country.

The easiest thing to do is to purchase a first aid kit, and add and subtract to it as you need. Also, do not check this with your checked baggage, put it in your carry on, especially if you have prescription medication. Of course, make sure you don’t have any knives in your kit if you carry it on.

Remember, we will also have a full group first aid kit with us, as well as easy access to clinics and hospitals during our stay.

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