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What’s in the Travel First-Aid Kit of a Pharmacist

No matter how short your trip, do yourself a favour and don’t ever travel without a first aid kit. All those unexpected little accidents, aches, or maladies rarely strike when you’re home or close to a pharmacy. Ever heard of Murphy’s law? Well, that’s precisely why it’s essential to carry a first aid kit wherever you go.

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We’re always amazed by the number of travellers that won’t even have a bandage in their backpacks. Luckily for us, having a pharmacist on board (yours truly) means that that’s never our case. We’re always prepared for the typical travel-related health issues and honestly, so should you. That’s why, after having travel-proofed our DIY first aid kit, we decided it’s time to share its contents with you.

 

So here’s what we always have in our first aid kit. We’ve listed the items by ailment, to make it crystal clear and help you to find the right treatments as quickly as possible. Please note that some of the medications listed below are not OTC (Over The Counter) drugs, which means that you will need a medical prescription to get them.

 

What do you carry in your first aid kit? Let us know in the comment box below!

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Medication in our travel first aid kit
Our medication for the road: we’re always ready to quickly react to pain, diarrhoea, motion sickness, or minor wounds. The usual emergencies for travellers

Disclaimer

Please note that this is general information for practical purposes only, and shouldn’t be used as a substitute for medical or professional care. This article does not provide professional diagnosis, treatment services, or medical advice of any kind, and you should always consult with your healthcare provider before making any health-related decisions. Nativeglobalites.com is not liable or responsible for any advice, course of treatment, diagnosis or any other information, services or products that you or anybody else may obtain through this article.

What we pack in our first aid kit –  items by ailment

Diarrhoea/food poisoning

  • Activated charcoal, 4 tablets of 250 mg.

Purpose
This medication “traps” the toxins and gas in your gastrointestinal tract, and it is always our first choice in case of stomach trouble

Directions
Take one tablet 30 minutes before your meals.

Precautions
Do not take more than 3 tablets per day (one every 8 hours).
Do not take for more than 3 consecutive days.
Do not take together with any other medications; charcoal can reduce their absorption and efficacy.

 

  • Loperamide, 2 tablets of 2 mg. 

Purpose
Loperamide reduces the motility of your intestine. We use it only in case of intense, painful diarrhoea that doesn’t respond to activated charcoal, and never for more than two days. 

Directions
Initial dose: 2 tablets (4 mg in total). After that, take 1 tablet (2 mg) after each unformed stool. 

Precautions
Do not take if you suffer from liver ailments.
Do not administer to children under 12.
Do not take if you have constipation or stomach pain without diarrhoea.
Do not take more than 6 tablets a day. And only for a maximum of 2 days.

 

WARNING: If your symptoms persist for longer than 3 days, it’s time to see a doctor. If your diarrhoea is accompanied by fever or there’s blood in your stool, see a healthcare professional right away.

 

Heartburn, acid reflux

  • Magaldrate (Riopan® Gel), 2 sachets of 800 mg. 

Purpose
This medication helps neutralize the gastric acid, thus relieving the damage and pain that come from acid reflux. 

Directions
Take a sachet 1 hour after your meals, or when the burning symptoms appear.

Precautions
Do not take more than 6,400 mg a day (8 sachets of 800 mg each, or 4 sachets of 1,600 mg each).
Do not take for more than 2 weeks.
Do not take with any other drugs, especially antibiotics; magaldrate can reduce their absorption and efficacy.
Do not take if you suffer from kidney disease unless your doctor advises otherwise.

 

Pain and inflammation

  • Ibuprofen, 4 tablets of 400 mg. 

Purpose
Ibuprofen prevents inflammation and reduces pain. We use it right after an event that can cause inflammation (redness and swelling) such as a sprain or a fall. It’s also great for period pain. 

Directions
Take with a full glass of water, preferably after a big meal. Always allow at least 6 hours between doses.

Precautions
Do not take more than 3 tablets a day (1,200 mg in total).
Do not take for more than 3 consecutive days.
Avoid if you’re allergic to aspirin, have stomach ulcers, or kidney problems.

 

  • Paracetamol / Acetaminophen, 4 tablets of 500 mg. 

Purpose
Paracetamol does not prevent inflammation, but it reduces pain and fever. It’s our go-to choice in case of bad headaches, period pain, or flu-related pain. 

Directions
Take with a glass full of water at any time. Always allow at least 6 hours between doses.

Precautions
Do not take more than 4 tablets a day (2,000 mg in total).
Do not take for more than 3 consecutive days.
Avoid if you have liver problems.

 

Motion sickness 

  • Dimenhydrinate, 4 tablets of 50 mg.

Purpose
This medication is used to prevent motion sickness and it’s nasty symptoms: dizziness, nausea, vomiting. We use it before any foreseeable crazy bus or boat rides.

Directions
Take one tablet 30 to 60 minutes before the nausea-inducing event.

Precautions
Do not take more than 3 tablets per day (one every 8 hours)
This drug will make you drowsy; do not drive or operate heavy machinery after taking it.

 

Blood circulation aid for long flights

  • Baby aspirin, 4 tablets of 100 mg.

Purpose
Aspirin in small doses will not work as a painkiller but it will help to improve your blood circulation, as it reduces clotting. We use it ONLY ONE TIME before long periods of inactivity such as sitting still during long flights. 

Warning
Absolutely DO NOT take it if you’re allergic to aspirin!

Directions
Take it 1 hour before long flights or bus rides, where you’ll be sitting for more than 6 hours straight. Take only a single dose of 1 tablet (100 mg).

Precautions
Do not take if you have stomach ulcers.
Do not take if you suffer from coagulation/bleeding disorders.
This is a one-time use therapy only. For prolonged use, you MUST consult a healthcare professional. Otherwise, you might be putting your health at risk.

 

Water purification

  • Iodine / Chlorine tablets

Purpose
We use these tablets only in emergency cases, to purify our water when clean drinking water isn’t available (camping, hiking, etc.). We use Micropur Forte® from Katadyn, but brand availability will depend on your area. Just ask your pharmacist about the options and follow the instructions on the product insert. 

Directions
Typically, 1 tablet is enough to purify 1 liter of water, and you’ll need to wait 30 minutes for the purification to be complete. Read and follow the instructions of your product insert.

Precautions
You can use it occasionally for several consecutive days as needed, but do not use for extended periods.
Use only in clear-looking water, unless the manufacturer advises otherwise. 

 

Wound treatment

(keep reading for the correct way to treat minor wounds)

  • Bepanthen® Wound spray, 1 flask of 30 mL.
    Ideal for the initial disinfection of fresh wounds, as you can keep your fingers off them.
  • Bepanthen® Wound ointment, 1 tube of 20 g.
    After the wound has started healing, we switch from spray to cream. We love Bepanthen® wound products, as they disinfect and promote skin healing at the same time.
  • Sterile water, 2 ampules of 10 mL each.
    We only use them if we have no access to clean water to rinse the wound.
  • Hand sanitizer, 1 small bottle of 100 mL.
    We use it often to clean our hands when there’s no clean water around.
  • Rubbing alcohol, about 50 mL, self-packed in a clean plastic bottle.
  • Latex gloves, 1 pair.
    Especially useful for handling wounds and blood that are not our own.
  • Plasters, 6 units of different sizes.
  • Sterile gauze, 1 pack.
  • Self-adhesive bandage wrap, 1 small roll.
  • Steristrips™, 2 small packs of 6 units each.
    Steristrips™ are reinforced skin closures for wounds that open easily.
  • Blister plasters, 2 units.

 

Other useful items in our first aid kit

  • Small pair of scissors.
  • Small tweezers.
  • Small bandage for ankle sprains.
  • Burn dressing.
  • Bepanthen® Eye drops, 2 ampules of 0.5 mL each.
  • Small ziplock bag.
  • Safety pins x 4.
  • Mouthwash, tester size.
    We tend to bite ourselves a lot; maybe it’s time to shut up while eating? Anyway, the mouthwash prevents us from getting those nasty after-bite mouth ulcers.
  • Glucose tablet.
    In case of a bad low-sugar situation.
  • Tissue paper, wet and dry.
  • Emergency blanket (aka Space Blanket).
  • Handwritten list of all the items.
    Useful to check the inventory in our first aid kit before a trip. If you prefer, get OUR list in a ready-to-print pdf file. You can download it after joining our mailing list, using this form:
printable first aid kit checklist

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This all sounds like a lot of things, but they’re all small items and can fit nicely into a small case. This is what ours look like:

All the items in our travel first aid kit
All the items in our travel first aid kit fit in a small case that we carry everywhere. They’re small but have saved us so much trouble!

Globalites’ tips

Now, before you go off to explore the world, there are just a few more things that you should keep in mind:

 

  • Bring your first aid kit everywhere. Always have it in your day pack. It will be of no use in the big bag that you’ll leave in the hotel, or dump in the trunk of a bus.

 

  • Restock your kit as you use it. Never let your first aid kit run out of any of the essentials. That said, there’s no need to bring a one-year stock supply unless it’s a very specific drug that your life depends on. Remember that people do get sick in the countries you’re visiting too, so there will be pharmacies where you can purchase most of the items that you’ll need.

 

  • Read and keep the instructions (in electronic form, if possible) of every medication you get. Not knowing how or when to take your medications will be as frustrating as not having them at all. And it might put your health at risk.

 

  • Don’t take various drugs at once. Some drugs tend to interact with one another or with food, which might render some of them useless or even bring out toxic effects. As a general rule of thumb, always wait 30 minutes to one hour between drugs, unless your pharmacist or physician have told you otherwise.

 

  • Bring your own personal medication. If you suffer from chronic conditions (e.g. cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, respiratory diseases, diabetes, etc.) bring enough of those medications and add some to your first aid kit.

 

  • Keep your kit cool. Avoid leaving your first aid kit under the sun for extended periods. Excessive heat might affect the stability of your medicines, thus compromising their efficacy. This isn’t always easy when on the move, but just keep it in mind and try your best.

 

  • Visit a travel clinic a few weeks before your trip. According to your destination, you might need vaccines and specific medication. Don’t do this last minute as you might need time for a booster shot of some vaccines (e.g. rabies) to develop full immunity.

 

  • Off the first aid kit. Aside from the items listed above, we do carry some “non-emergency” medication such as antibiotics, muscle relaxants, antimalarials, and common-cold medications. They don’t need to be in the first aid kit, so we keep them safe in our big bags.

 

  • Reliable drug-related information. In case you need to check the patient information for a specific drug (indications, contraindications, side effects, etc.) trust only official databases such as the following:

USA: https://nctr-crs.fda.gov/fdalabel/ui/search

UK: https://www.medicines.org.uk/emc/

Canada: https://health-products.canada.ca/dpd-bdpp/index-eng.jsp

Australia: https://www.nps.org.au/medicine-finder

Switzerland: https://compendium.ch/

Medication box and insert for our travel first aid kit
Always read and keep the package insert of those medications you’re not familiar with. This information is key to patients’ safety

Bonus: how to care for minor open wounds

 

Cuts, scrapes, punctures, they often happen when you least expect them. Only then do we realize the importance of our skin: it shields our delicate vital organs. It protects us from external pathogens, it keeps us waterproof, it allows us to feel our environment. The skin is our largest organ and our first channel of interaction with the world.

 

That’s why it is essential to know how to care for it when it’s damaged. Wounds aren’t just about the pain, which many might be brave enough to handle; having your skin disrupted makes you vulnerable to all sorts of nasty infections. The smallest cut can result in life-threatening conditions if taken lightly. Better to be safe than sorry.

 

So what to do in case of a minor open wound? Here are the basic steps. Try and memorize the first 4 steps; there’s not always time to read when an injury happens.

 

  1. Clean it. First off, clean your hands; then quickly proceed to rinse the wound with clean, cool running water to remove any dirt from it. If you don’t have access to clean water, use the sterile water vials mentioned in the list above (see the “Wound Treatment” section). You can clean the area around the wound with alcohol or soap, but avoid these agents directly on the injury. If needed, use tweezers (previously disinfected with alcohol) to remove solid debris.
  2. Dry it. Let the wound bleed a little – it’s good to let those pathogens out. Then stop the bleeding: use clean gauze or cloth (never cotton balls) to apply gentle but firm pressure on the affected area. This might take some minutes, so don’t keep lifting and checking the gauze, as you’ll only disrupt the newly-formed clot and restart the bleeding. If needed, you can elevate the injured limb above the level of your heart to help the bleeding stop (you might need to lie down and use pillows to accomplish this).
  3. Disinfect it. Once the wound has stopped bleeding, apply a disinfection agent or a topical antibiotic. As described in the “Wound Treatment” section above, we use Bepanthen® products.
  4. Cover it. Many small wounds don’t need to be covered. But at least for the first few hours, it’s a good idea to protect them from the elements. Covering your wound with a bandage or gauze will keep it clean and scratch-free which will, in turn, accelerate the healing process. If you need to wrap it, just be careful not to do it so tightly as to cut off your blood circulation.
  5. Keep it clean. Change the wound dressing every day, or every time it gets wet or dirty; otherwise, it will do more harm than good. Also, keep applying the disinfection agent for two days. If it hasn’t started healing by then, it’s time to see a doctor.
  6. Check for signs of infection. Watch the wound and the skin around it for redness, warmth, swelling, presence of pus, or increasing pain over time. Another clear sign of infection is a general fever longer than 4 hours. In any of these cases, you should see a doctor right away.

 

Now, remember: these steps are to keep MINOR wounds under control. You must seek medical attention immediately if the wound:

  1. Spurts blood or keeps bleeding after about 10 minutes of direct pressure.
  2. Is the result of a serious accident.
  3. Is caused by something rusty or very dirty.
  4. Is caused by an animal bite.
  5. Is deeper than 1 cm (½ inch).
  6. Retains debris that can’t be easily removed by hand.
  7. Hasn’t started healing after two days.
  8. Shows signs of infection. See the signs of infection listed right above.

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2 Comments

Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Yoshiereply
March 26, 2019 at 4:33 am

Very pharmacist… very you and very helpful! Keep safely traveling!

Dianareply
March 31, 2019 at 9:05 pm
– In reply to: Yoshie

Glad you like it! It’s good to have the approval of a fellow pharmacist 🙂

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