This will have some variations based on your family’s ages, underlying medical conditions, and places that you will be traveling. Obviously if you’re from the states and heading to Canada, your plans will be different than if you’re from Europe and heading to Ghana. Is the environment hot and tropical or will you be in significant cold and/or altitude? Are you moving indefinitely or taking a short trip? These are some things to consider bringing on your travels, please tailor it to your specific needs in conjunction with your personal physician if needed.
- Acetominophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) for fevers and/or pain. This comes under different brand names in different parts of the world. It’s easier to have some with you than to find it other places. Especially if you prefer the liquid form for smaller children who can’t take pills, you should bring your own.
- Diphenhydramine (Benadryl), possibly steroids (prednisone) or an Epi-pen for allergic reactions. If your children have never had allergies, benadryl is probably sufficient. I strongly prefer liquid benadryl in case there is any airway swelling and it’s too hard to take a pill. Epi-pens can be expensive and are unlikely to be needed if your child has no history of allergies and they expire every year, so can become expensive to keep current. That being said, there is nothing as effective as an Epi-pen in a severe allergic reaction, so some people prefer to have them available as a safety net “just in case.”
- Antibiotic ointment and tons of fabric bandaids (plasters). Skin wounds easily become infections that spread. Wash any open wound, place some antiobiotic ointment on it, then cover it with a bandaid. Some locations are difficult to keep a bandaid on, like the bottom of the foot, so consider also having medical tape available to wrap around the foot or location to hold the bandaid on. Keep the wound clean while it heals.
- Antibiotics to cover skin infections – consider keflex (cephalexin) or bactrim. Often the body will heal itself when it has rest and nutrition, so some early skin infections you are better off keeping clean, use antibiotic ointment if it’s got an open wound, and watch it closely. Consider outlining the margins with a pen to know if it’s expanding. But if there are any signs that it’s spreading, red streaking outward from the wound, or systemic fevers, get the antibiotics into the system as early as possible. Some of these infections can become serious quickly once they overwhelm the local immune defenses.
- Antibiotics (anti-bacterial) for respiritory infections. Remember, most of these are viral. If the infection is in your head and neck, and even bronchitis, they are likely viral. But if it’s in your lungs (pneumonia) or sinuses (sinusitis) then the odds increase that it’s a bacterial infection. Consider doxycycline, azithromycin (Z-pack) or Levofloxacin (Levoquin) for these.
- Motion sickness medication. Are you going to be on the water? Sea sickness can ruin a trip if you are unable to combat it. There are many medications out there. Meclizine (Bonine) is over the counter. Zofran or Phenergan are nausea medications that may help with the symptoms. Some people claim that magnet therapy works for them. Ginger is a natural anti-emetic. Dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) is effective, but some people don’t like the sleepy side effect, others don’t experience it. Stugeron is not available in the US, but is very inexpensive elsewhere and quite effective. Again, it’s an antihistamine and some people experience drowsiness, but not all.
- Stomach acid medications. Some people are quite sensitive to a change in diet. Of course with new cultures and new foods, you may overindulge too. If you are prone to stomach issues or likely to be eating greasier or spicier foods, you may consider bringing Tums or Maalox. This is not likely to cause a life threatening emergency, but as a comfort item, may be worth the space in the backpack.
- Hydrocortisone cream. This will help if you get poison oak or ivy or some other irritating skin exposure.
- Anti-diarrheal medications for traveler’s diarrhea. I am not a big fan of treating diarrhea as often they are again viral infections. Your body sheds the lining of the intestine and rather than absorbing water, passes the water through your system rapidly to try to shed the virus and keep it from taking hold on the system. This is your body’s natural defense system. Immodium is to slow the diarrhea, which counters your body’s natural defenses. So you must weigh the pros and cons here. Are you getting dehydrated? Lightheaded, dizzy, dry mouth? Then maybe you need to intervene and slow the process. If you are tolerating it and able to keep hydrated, let the body do it’s thing.
- Nausea medications. Phenergan, zofran, or reglan (mentioned in motion sickness) may also be useful for gastroenteritis (stomach flu) so that you can hydrate yourself.
- Cipro is the most prescribed antibiotic for traveler’s diarrhea. There are types of diarrhea that are caused by bacteria, so if you are unable to tolerate the illness or it doesn’t clear naturally in 2-3 days, then consider taking cipro.
- Antiparasitic medication. While most developed countries do not experience intestinal worms, it is not uncommon in developing countries. There are so many ways that they can enter your body, prevention is the best plan, but often treatment is necessary. Some of the recommendations suggest taking the medication every 6 months if you’re traveling in endemic areas as you are not always significantly symptomatic. Others suggest just taking it when you have symptoms.
- Rehydration salts. These come in easy to mix packets or you can make your own with salt, sugar and water. It is similar to gatorade without the color and probably without some of the more appealing flavors. Your intestine absorbs water through osmosis, but it can actively absorb water if it has both salt and sugar molecules in it.
- Aloe vera. Not sure if this is medication or not, but it can help relieve burns. Typically used for sunburns, but can also be used on 1st degree skin burns (red, but not blistered).
- Multivitamins. Sometimes you are unable to get full nutritional needs met in some countries that have a limited food supply. A multivitamin is a small, cheap way to make sure your body is getting a variety of vitamins and minerals.
- Suture kit – I cannot stress this one enough, learn to do a basic stitch job and bring along a suture kit, some 3-0 or 4-0 prolene suture material, and possibly some lidocaine for numbing. Our family has never needed sutures before this, but since we left to live a more active life, I’ve performed a number of stitches, including on myself and locals in their villages (which they totally appreciate). Wounds don’t NEED to be closed, but if you close them, they will heal faster, have a lower chance of infection, and have less of a scar. Remember, if you’re bringing lidocaine, you will need a syringe, needle to draw it out of the bottle, and small gague needle to inject it. My wound was large, so was going to require many stitches, so I anesthetized it. My daughter was going to need 3 stitches on her hand, it would have required more than 3 injections to numb the area, and it’s painful when you introduce the needle as well as when you inject the medication, so I chose not to use the numbing medication and rather just do the stitches and get it over with as soon as possible. Here are some suture kits and suture materials, along with training CDs available on Amazon. I have not used any of these in particular, so cannot speak to the quality. One review suggested just buying a strong quality kit (definitely worthwhile) and just watching youtube videos vs having the surgical training video. I cannot recommend either way, only suggest that having ANY durable kit and suture along with some basic knowledge would be exceptionally helpful. Cheap needle drivers are horrible to work with, especially in calloused areas of the skin.
- I&D kit for incision and drainage of abscesses. Skin wounds can turn into abscesses (pus pockets). Often these won’t need oral antibiotics as long as they are opened and draining. If you simply squeeze them, you can spread the infection to the surrounding tissues. It is better to open them with a sharp object (preferably a sterile scalpel) and allow them to drain. Warm water soaks also help to keep the wound draining.
- Steri-strips. Some wounds don’t quite require stitch closure, but would benefit from tension being held across the edges to lessen the gap or to hold the gap closed. These little strips have some good tensile strength (as do butterfly bandaids). Remember they depend on sticking to the skin, so won’t do well if the skin gets wet. You can get tincture of benzoine to put on the skin (do not put in the wound) on either side which will enhance the stickiness.
- Betadine for cleaning the skin and wounds.
- Hydrogen peroxide is excellent for removing blood stains from clothing, carpets, or anything else. Also good for cleaning dried blood off of skin. It breaks down cells, so not good for long term cleaning of wounds as it prevents healing.
- Gauze is very useful to both clean wounds, absorb blood and dress wounds.
- Triangular bandage is very useful to support strained or injured limbs. You can tie up a sling, a wrap, or a variety of support systems.
- ACE wrap is great to support a sprained joint. The stretch allows it to get more support and help reduce swelling. Do not wrap it so tightly that you cut of circulation.
- Splint materials are nice. Often you can make something from local wood or metal, but don’t forget to cushion it to prevent skin breakdown if it will be on for a prolonged period of time.
- Gloves are nice, especially if you may be extending a helping hand to a local community and want to take universal precautions and to prevent the spread of infections.
- A tourniquet. These are constrictive devices used to cut of blood supply to an extremity. They can save a life if the person is bleeding to death and direct pressure cannot control the wound. BUT, once a tourniquet is applied, there is a very high likelyhood that the person will lose the limb, so this is not a go to option to stop bleeding. The tissue begins to die and if the tourniquet is then removed, the dead tissue can overwhelm the bodies coping mechanisms. This is ONLY for severe bleeding that can’t be controlled any other way.
- Sometimes you can find ice packs, even at the dollar tree. These can be very handy if you have an injury with swelling. Anytime you have an injury that leads to swelling, you want to rest, ice, elevate, and compress (ACE wrap often works well). These are packets with 2 chemicals and when you squeeze them, they are endothermic, so the package gets cold instantly as the chemicals react. They cannot really be reused, but they are able to be carried in a suitcase or backpack and do not require refrigeration.
- Suncream and protective hats, long sleeve shirts to prevent excessive skin exposure. What’s worse than seeing all those bright white bodies a new shade of red and blister as they enter a sunny climate for the first time in months or more. I feel so bad for those “lobsters” as I know they are in pain, so unable to sleep well and enjoy the rest of their vacation as well as the long term damage they are doing to their skin. And we know so much about it, this is easily avoidable. Just that it’s not a priority and you don’t realize the issue until the consequences are too late.
- Bug spray, long sleeves and pants and a mosquito net to sleep under to avoid mosquito bites in endemic areas. Mosquitos are the animal that have killed the most people worldwide. Do you know why? They are vectors for disease. They drink blood, then inject another person. The same reason we don’t reuse needles in most countries. It simply spreads infections. Mosquitos can carry malaria, zika, dengue, yellow fever to name a few.
This is a basic list of things to start with. Of course, if you have an asthmatic, bring an inhaler and maybe a nebulizer (make sure you have a power adaptor) and steroids. If you have a diabetic, plan on more than enough medications for them to last the entire trip. Do you have other things in your medical kit that you’ve found indespensible?? Please share with us below!