When you’re traveling, it’s a good idea to keep a small first-aid kit on hand for unexpected emergencies. There are plenty of ready-made kits available, but here's how to put together your own on the cheap.
The following straddles the line between being suitable for a ultra-light packing backpacker and a family holiday. Some things are a bit over the top unless you travel with kids, but this kit should get you out of most first aid situations while traveling.
Your home-made first aid kit
Pick up a small toiletry bag or a tupperware box, and some small plastic bags, and fill with the following items:
- Any prescription medicines in their original bottles, bring twice as much as you'll actually need for your stay. Include original prescription slips if you can and ideally a note from your doctor as well - this will come in really handy if you need to replace your medication at your destination!
- Insect repellant with 30% DEET or more, anti-itch cream is useful as well for the bugs that will still get to you
- If you're going away with your kids, anti-bacterial wet wipes are wonderful
- Anti-bacterial hand gel with an alcohol base
- Topical antibiotic such as Neosporin
- A thermometer
- Anti-diarrhea medication, though this can usually be picked up at your destination. For Latin America, Mexico, or similar, stop by a pharmacy and pick up two doses of Vermox right away - this is for getting rid of any parasites you might catch
- Contact information for your doctor
- Records of your vaccinations and any medicine intolerances you may have - this could save your life!
- Squares of padded sterile gauze. Unused portions of this can be sealed in a plastic bag and used later
- Wide medical tape
- Safety pins to stick things together, such as making an improvised sling
- Large sheets of cut-to-size plasters - one size really does fit all (as long as you have scissors)
- A couple of strips of a general pain killer such as Tylenol or Paracetamol. For aches and hangovers...
- A few syringes and needles if you're going to any third-world country
- Non-latex medical gloves
- Small scissors or a pen knife
Using this kit
This kit isn't meant to get you out of any hairy situation on the road. But with this and some improvisation, you can patch yourself or your travel companions up enough to get some real medical attention before things get really serious. Always remember to improvise as well, for example, you can use bottled water to rinse your eyes, a belt as a tourniquet, a towel makes a great sling together with some of the safety pins, etc...
Of course, the better you know first aid, the more mileage you'll get out of your kit. In the US, the American Red Cross can give you a first aid course. In the United Kingdom, St. John's Ambulance provides first aid courses. These are well worth the time and expense, you'll be much more confident both while traveling and while at home should someone need assistance.
Alternatively, pack a commercial lightweight first aid kit
Of course, making your own first aid kit isn't always practical, so here are a couple of suggestions for commercial kits that I've found of great use. For the minimalist traveler, the Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight & Watertight .5 (3.5oz) from Amazon.com fits the bill. It really is minimalist, and a in-depth knowledge of first aid would be highly valuable if you pack this.
If you have more room, the Adventure Medical World Traveler First Aid Kit from Amazon.com will work better. This is pictured top left and is very comprehensive. This kit should get you out of most situations. It's a little bit on the bulky side, but even a paramedic would feel comfortable bringing this along!
If you're in the UK, shop for first aid kits at Amazon.co.uk.
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