Travel 101: Packing Your Medical Kit
As a self-proclaimed hypochondriac, I was the one to assemble the medical kit we have been carrying with us for the last five years. Being German and all, I planned for every eventuality and ended up with a medical bag the size of my head. Although Tony often questions the size (and weight) of our medical kit, we’ve made use of almost every article in that bag. Here are some of the items that have proven most useful:
Alcohol Wipes, Antibiotic Ointment, Band-aids AND MORE BAND-AIDS
These three go hand in hand and are, hands down, the most frequently used items. Being in the developing world, especially in the warm and humid tropics, the smallest cut or scrape can quickly turn into a serious staph infection if not treated with a strong antibiotic ointment. For us, Neosporin has literally worked wonders.
This is our preferred pain killer which also works as an anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxant. Believe me, after a day of intense hiking, this is a godsend. Paracetamol and aspirin are alternative pain relievers and are widely available on the road.
In the West, antibiotics are often a last resort for treating bacterial infections. In the rest of the world, people pop them like candy. Whether we like antibiotics or not, they have saved us on several occasions. We usually carry two or three different kinds of broad-spectrum antibiotics, such as amoxicillin, doxycycline, or ciprofloxacin. There are many more, so it’s best to consult with an experienced travel physician.
Medication for Motion Sickness
We frequently use Dramamine to prevent nausea caused by movement. What comes to mind are long ferry rides, rough kayaking trips, and all-day outings on dive boats. But the little yellow pills also come in handy on curvy mountain roads, especially when the driver tests the limits of centrifugal force.
These drugs treat all sorts of allergies from hay fever to severe skin reactions. They are also useful for allergic reactions to insect bites. Luckily, we had antihistamine tablets with us when Tony got stung by a scorpion during our Rajasthan camel safari. By the way, we also carry an antihistamine ointment which helps with itchy rashes and localized skin reactions to insect bites.
Oral Rehydration Salts
Traveler’s diarrhea is, unfortunately, way too common among travelers in the developing world. While we generally don’t treat diarrhea with medication, we do frequently use rehydration salts to replace electrolytes lost in the process.
Giardiasis, a parasitic infection, has been such a regular problem that we began to carry a backup supply of Tinidazole with us for convenience. This treatment for giardiasis is commonly available over the counter in Asia.
With the threat of malaria, dengue fever, and super flu viruses, a thermometer is a handy device to check your body temperature. You need to know when your temperature reaches a critical level.
Many tropical regions are known to pose a risk of malaria infection. During our time in Asia, we’ve been carrying Malarone, one of the newer antimalarial drugs, which can be used for prophylaxis as well as treatment. (We also use mosquito repellent and mosquito nets as a first line of defense.)
This has proven invaluable for allergic skin reactions and irritations as well as extreme insect bites and reactions to toxic plants.
Bathroom floors and showers in hotels often grow things you don’t want to step on. Lamisil or Canesten have helped us battle athlete’s foot on more than one occasion.
This is not an exhaustive list, but the articles above have been extremely useful to us. In case you are wondering – after all these years, there are still a few items deep inside our medical bag which we’ve never had to use: bronchodilator, antihistamine nasal spray, syringes and needles. Well, let’s just say knock on wood.
Of course, any medical bag for long-term traveling in the developing world would probably look very similar, although you have to make allowances for specific regions. Before a trip, it’s always good to check the country-specific traveler’s health info on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s comprehensive website. This helps you understand the potential health risks in each country. In addition, a trip to a travel clinic can be helpful for information AND to get the necessary immunizations and medications.
This brings me to another point. Many people wonder whether they should buy their medical supplies at home or overseas. Well, there’s no easy answer. While most medications listed above are available in Asia, often much cheaper and even without prescription, they may not be on par with drugs produced in the West. Developing countries have different quality standards and, scarily, drugs there are frequently counterfeit.
We are not medical professionals, and this posting is not meant to give medical advice or endorse any specific products. We are simply sharing what has proven most useful for us while traveling.