What are the first items on your packing list? Clothing, personal hygiene items, electronics, and identification always top mine. Required health-related items make the cut. Remembering to pack for “everyday” travel comes easily enough, but what about products related to personal safety and emergency health? For me, they tend to be last on the list, if they are remembered at all.
On shorter trips, I rarely pack anything that you may find in a first aid kit. When I left the USA to live in Australia for a year, I assembled a very small first aid kit that left much to be desired. If you’re embarking on a long-term trip, trekking through mountains or wilderness, or simply wanting to be prepared to respond to basic first aid situations, consider adding first aid related items to your packing list.
Why pack a first aid kit
A first aid kit for home or personal use is intended to treat minor injuries, such as blisters and cuts/scrapes. Items inside the kit can help stop bleeding, reduce pain and inflammation, and help prevent infection. Note: A travel first aid kit is intended to address minor injuries. Seek a medical professional for additional treatment.
Types of basic first aid kits
A small “on-the-go” pack: I brought this to Australia with a few additions. Small and inexpensive.
Ready-made kit: You can find these at most drug stores/pharmacies, in related aisles of a bigger store, or online.
Ready-made, assembled kits you can purchase online:
Assemble your own: Review the items we mention here and research additional needs you may have based on the destination for and duration of your trip.
You may also be interested in packing first aid books, which can help you recognize and treat common, basic injuries:
Basic items to include in a travel first aid kit
The most common contents include adhesive bandages, pain medication, dressings, and something to disinfect small wounds. The number and size of individual items you include may vary based upon the length of your trip, the destination, and how many people are traveling together. As you look for ready-made kits or plan to assemble your own, at the very least look for products that match the following descriptions.
Adhesive bandages of various sizes
You may call them Band-Aids, plasters, or something else altogether. In addition to cover minor cuts and scrapes, you may need them for the blister(s) you developed after a long hike or the first time you wear heels after months of walking in flat, supportive athletic shoes.
Other important items:
- Sterile dressings, such as gauze pads
- An elastic bandage to treat a sprain or to apply pressure elsewhere
- Saline, soap, or other products to clean a minor wound before dressing it
- Antiseptic product to help reduce infection after cleaning the wound
- Antibiotic ointment
- Dressings specifically designed for burns
- Hand sanitizer (for the person treating the wound)
- Pair of gloves
- Medication to address pain and inflammation
- First aid manual or quick-reference cards
Please note that this is an introductory list. Health and emergency preparedness organizations can provide more comprehensive lists.
First aid kit packing tips
- If you are traveling with a partner or group, you may wish to divide some of the items amongst the group or carry more than one kit.
- Bring a couple of essentials in a day pack if the main kit is stored at your accommodation.
Replenish items as you use them.
- Take note of expiration dates of ointments and medication and buy new ones as necessary.
Do you pack a first aid kit? If so, do you assemble your own or purchase a ready-made kit? If you have used your kit on the road, tell us how!
I like to include the kind of syringe that doesn’t take a needle – the sort used to give oral medication to animals. You squirt the water out and the pressure helps clean debris from scrapes. It’s handy to have when there is no running water. I haven’t traveled outside the US with this tool. Does anyone know if you would run into problems because it is a type of syringe?
Also, even if you don’t use Moleskin to treat blisters, I’ve used it on the backs of shoes to prevent chafing.
Sterile gauze dressing and medical tape bandages are bulkier to look at than adhesive bandages, but they are more versatile. You can make the bandage the size and shape that you need. To me, medical tape hurts less than an adhesive bandage when you pull it off. Plus, medical tape can be used similar to fashion tape – to hold up hems or keep shirts from gaping.
The syringe is a great idea. I don’t know if there are problems with it but it’s something I should ask someone I know who works for airport security.
Liquid bandage! Yes, it is a liquid, and therefore takes up room in your quart bag, but they sell them in 0.3 oz sizes online, and one bottle can do so much more disinfecting and wound coverage than a whole box of band-aids.
Paint it on once and that’s generally it for any wound of band-aid size — it disinfects and then keeps air (and its germs) from getting in. Also does away with moleskin as you can paint it directly over blisters. It’s one of those items I won’t travel without since a set of gashes left me running to Boots in London the next morning for a bottle that was much bigger than the 0.3 oz size.
Carrie, I *love* this idea and think it’s something I’m interested in checking out. Thanks for a great suggestion!
This is just an suggestion to think of things to bring with multiple uses and a pretty funny story. My fiance and I stopped off at Niagara Falls (American Side) on our way home from Toronto. I had left everything in the car except for my camera since we were only going to be there for an hour or 2. When we were walking over to Goat Island, he was running his hand along the chain link fence…and of course cut it. It wasn’t gushing blood, but it wouldn’t stop either. I happened to have a tampon in my pocket…lucky him 🙂 Took it apart and it stopped the bleeding. It did make for alot of laughs with the sight of a string hanging from his fist!! Lesson learned…tampons are not just for vaginas!
Agreed! I recently saw this great article for survival uses for tampons.
I’ve seen that too! So funny!
Antihistamines. Even if you’re not usually allergic to anything, they can take down the swelling and itching of evil mosquito bites (you know, as opposed to nice mosquito bites :)).
Yes, good tip! I have such sensitive skin, antihistamine is necessary!
Michele Mathiesen says
I also bring an anti-diahhreal…enough said about that. I also travel sometimes with my dogs and have learned a little bottle of superglue….works really well if you need a stitch or something won’t stop bleeding and Dawn detergent gets rid of fleas….both of which were important once.
Nani Allen says
The only liquid in my medical kit, could well be at home too in my makeup bag or hygiene pouch… witchhazel. This nifty plant is like nature’s version of duct tape. I use it to wash my face, treat sunburn, rash, poison ivy, mosquito bites, cuts and bruises, refresh eyes, aftershave, and mosturizer (if applied right after showering). Ounce for ounce, it’s one of the most useful liquids in my whole backpack. Just my 2 cents! 🙂
Nani – witch hazel sounds awesome! Thanks for the tips 🙂
I’m fair skinned and get easily burnt, so I always have burn cream in my kit. Tape is another thing I found useful, it just helps keeps plasters on in difficult places, like around toes. It also helps with deeper cuts that you can tape back together before putting a dressing over.
Leah S says
A great product is Tegaderm, a waterproof and transparent dressing. I like to put it on my heel, pads of my foot, toes, etc. and it prevents friction. Its also clear, so you it won’t show as much in open toed shoes or in sandals. I’ve had them sometimes last through showers, as long as you don’t scrub at them.
I bring mine every time I’m away from home. Both my knee suffer from sport injury so it will be painful after long hours of walking/hiking. So I’m always pack my own patch and medicine so that I can have it when i need it without hassle finding a pharmacy/drug store and clueless when the knee patch that I want was not in English.
First-aid kits always be my must item and top of my packing list. 😀
REHYDRATION SALTS!!! I went to China a couple months ago with a singing group, and these were the best thing I took. Not only did we need them after the long flights, but they were also the perfect cure for sickness and hangovers. I recommend them to everyone. We also used Pepto tabs and anti-histamines a lot.