What’s in my Travel Medical Kit?

What’s in my Travel Medical Kit?

After lots of general and cultural travel posts, you may have noticed some more healthy travel posts creeping up –  and there may be more in the future. This one is on composing your travel medical kit! There are a lot of posts on the travel medical kit already – so why another one?

Well… it’s a complex topic. A lot of medical kit will easily fill your luggage if you travel on hand luggage only. A lot of information available online will list x number of items. Most importantly, packing a travel kit will vary a lot individually and depend on medical conditions, availability of medical help  and medications and type of travel. You will need a much bigger kit if you go hiking off-grid in a country with less medical and travel infrastructure than on a  city holiday to Singapore.

The most frequent ailments to travellers are digestive issues, minor cuts and bruises and travel sickness.  They are also the easily cured ones – if you travel prepared!

Traffic in rural India
How far to the nearest hospital? A well thought -out medical travel kit will help with minor ailments

My personal experience

If you cannot bear talking illness, skip ahead. I’ve worked in medicine well over half my life so talking gory details doesn’t bother me. I’ll tell you what I’ve had while travelling and what helped – or what I wish I had with me!

Visitors praying at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem
A prayer… might help if you are sick but effective treatment is essential!

While I stick to most travel rules, I am extremely reliable in getting vomiting and diarrhoea from identifiable and non-identifiable food sources on most but the shortest trips. Weird-looking restaurant in Phnom Penh, followed by half-cooked breakfast eggs? Yeah. Fresh orange juice from market stalls in India? That’s what probably did it. Eating in a restaurant in touristy Pamukkale? Yep, set the clock for rumbling tummy. Usually it would interrupt my travels for a day or two, forced me to stay in the hotel and ingest litres of herbal tea once the vomiting had subsided, I lost a couple of kg and on I went. It’s unfortunate but in most cases, goes away on two days of tea and gentle salt and sugar supplement.

Blisters on feet are another specialty of mine – see below. It seems they cannot do much arm, but rely on walking, and have no decent dressing, and it’s hell.

Many years ago, a trip to South Africa with two friends and travelling with a cold which we managed to pass round between us resulted in a pneumonia – thankfully it got really bad when I had already returned home.

I’m also proficient at stumbling and falling. So far, only sprains, cuts and bruises. My camera lenses and glasses have suffered far more than my bones.

Lukasz Baths in Budapest
A water cure? Sure, it might help if you are ill but you might need more than that!

Before you go

And I cannot stress this enough, but  a lot of really serious conditions can be avoided if you prepare properly!

Get a prescription for any prescription medicines. It also isn’t a bad idea, especially if you are getting on a bit, to have a routine health check your family doctor.  Just your blood pressure and blood sugar, and whatever your trusted family doctor sees necessary.

Check that your vaccinations are up to date. Your family doctor will know which essential ones should be boostered. Many general medical practitioners will have extensive knowledge in travel medicine. If not, they will be able to recommend a travel clinic.

Check your health insurance and whether it includes travel health insurance. As someone in a classic employment situation, my trips are three weeks if I’m very lucky, so my regular medical insurance will cover worldwide travel. If yours doesn’t, you absolutely must have a travel health insurance. Many providers will insure missed flights/luggage etc. but it is health and repatriation where bills can rocket sky-high.

If you are female: Stock up on sanitary products.

Eating pizza in Obika in Rome
Pictures of me and food are common on pretty much every trip.



What’s in my Travel Medical Kit: Absolute Essentials

Prescription medicines

Well! That’s a no-brainer. Always take plenty prescription medicines because there is nothing more annoying than traipsing round medical services/pharmacies because you have not packed what you should be taking regularly.


Most countries sell these common analgesic and anti-inflammatory drugs over the counter: Ibuprofen, Paracetamol and Aspirin.

Find out which one works best for you.

Ibuprofen is my favourite. For me it works on my most common pain, the bloody migraine. I always take a small supply.

Paracetamol is safe for most but can easily be overdosed.

Aspirin also inhibits blood platelet function, leading to an increased bleeding risk. I avoid it altogether. Especially if you want to take a little pill for period pain, well, aspirin is not it.

Sterile Dressing and a Disinfectant

I’m Princess Blister, so for me, decent dressings are an absolute necessity. No matter what comfy a shoe I take, how much I try to break in a shoe beforehand, in the most impossible situations I get blisters on my feet. Not necessarily when walking long distances – it’s usually walking in cities in non-hiking shoes, stopping and starting, and getting rid of my cotton socks that does it.

I can prevent the worst with a nice foot bath, then slathering my feet in cheap moisturizer overnight. Then I apply a nice padded dressing the next day. I am a huge fan of Cosmopore Sterile dressings – so much better than most things you buy in the local drug store. If it comes to the worst a pricey hydrocolloid blister pad might need to be applied. And since my last blister outbreak confined me to the Hop-On-Hop-Off Sightseeing bus back in 2018, I will NEVER travel without bandages again! It was in Chisinau and in Odessa where good weather and interesting architecture made me walk many miles. Ukraine is very modern, but do you think the pharmacy had decent blasters? Only thin plastic band-aids that kept falling off. My feet were getting worse by the hour, and by the time I had returned to Bucharest, I could only hobble.

For the Skin Disinfectant, I go for a small spray bottle. Povidone Iodine is great but can sensitize you to Iodine, and it makes stains that you’ll have trouble washing out. Something simple like a small bottle of isopropyl alcohol (that you can top up) should do most jobs nicely. And If you want to be a minimalist, you can buy pre-soaked rubbing alcohol sachets.

And here we have it, the triumvirate of my travel medical kit.

Wound adhesive

If you are confident of assessing and cleaning a superficial laceration (which is, there is no active bleeding after 10min of squeezing and the skin will stick together) nothing is more annoying than going to the local A&A to have  a minor wound sutured. I never bother with the small wounds I’ve had – just rinse with clean water, inspect, disinfect, inspect again – if it’s clean, I close. It goes without saying that my tetanus inoculation is absolutely up to date.

Most wound close nicely with Steri-Strips Adhesive Skin Closures, another indispensable and very small item in my medial kit. Seriously, this is something you cannot afford to travel without. If it oozes and gapes with the SteriStrips, you can try a medical cyanoacrylate glue. It’s basically the same as superglue with a medical product licence, and it’s pricey. We’re also sliding into cuts here that might do better with a professional assessment and a few stitches unless you’re in the outback.

A bit of splinting material

Don’t spend tons of money here, because if it’s bad to the point you can no longer weight-bear you need to seek medical advice. A roll of microporous medical tape is an essential. If you have room, a roll or two of self-adhesive stretchy bandage.

Some hardware (that can travel as hand luggage)

Fiskars 4-inch details scissors: Good to cut smaller dressings and sutures, and for smaller craft and sewing projects

Tweezerman Point and Slant Forceps: The slant will do at a push. Great for fixing eyeglasses, tighten screws on camera lenses and other fine works.

Decent Nail clippers or at least a crystal nail file. You might get rid of those hangnails with that embroidery scissor,s but you’ll wreck it by attempting to cut your toenails.

street food in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
My No.1 hazard? Street food! Is it safe? Is it clean? Sticking to freshly cooked local vegan food is usually safe


What’s in my Travel Medical Kit: nice-to-have

A bottle of alcohol

A minibar bottle of vodka is better than nothing to disinfect a minor cut. A tiny bottle of bitter digestif can help settle a dodgy stomach. We Germans are Weltmeisters in heavy food, and our famous Underberg Digestive is pretty good if you have a slightly iffy stomach.

Dental filling and repair kit

If I go somewhere where decent dental care is not readily available, I take a filling and crown repair kit. Touch wood! I never had a problem while travelling, but I feel much better taking this tiny kit.

Jordan, Shopping
Keeping your hands clean- here, I’m not running out of soap in the foreseeable future


What I don’t bother with – but you might want to


See travel illness.

Anti-Diarrhoe Medicine

I believe in not plugging up what needs to come out. On long journeys with no access to sanitary facilities, loperamide is a common over the counter medicine to curb diarrhoea. Other than that, activated charcoal is a great multipurpose medicine that may bind toxins and bacteria from being absorbed. You can aldo use it to brush your teeth and as wound dressings.

Anti-allergic/anti-itch medicine

I would only pack it if suffering from an actual allergy. For mosquito bites, some cold flannel or ice will help with the worst.

Oral rehydration sachets

There is no denying that these are balanced compositions of sugar and minerals to help you rehydrate after vomiting or diarrhoea. They taste pretty unpleasant, and I usually get by with Cola and pretzels.

An ice pack

bulky and not always possible to carry in hand luggage as its a gel. You cannot underestimate the power of cooking for an infection, a toothache or a sprain, though.  You can improvise with ice cubes in a towel or any makeshift container.

Antiseptic cream (Savlon)

The wound disinfectant normally does a fine job. An antiseptic cream contains an antiseptic agent and can be applied to minor injuries, where the antiseptic agent will stay in contact longer. A variety of products are vailable. Chlorhexidine is a tried- and tested ingredient found in many over the counter creams, for example Savlon.

Hand sanitizer

Really bulky but advised if you travel where water and soap are not readily available to wash your hands thoroughly. At least not as wasteful as hand sanitizing sachets. Ew. So much trash for wiping hands once.

Syringes, cannulas, infusion sets

Medical consumable such as syringes, cannulas and drip sets: I have finally banished them from my luggage, but if you travel somewhere where medical facilities are extremely basic and/or there is a high prevalece of blood-borne diseases such as HIV or Hepatitis, consider taking a personal supply. Better safe than sorry.

Exploring some rusty helicopter in Accra Botanical Gardens
Bit of dirt on my hands? Well… my awkward hand pose  in Aburi Botanical Gardens says it all…

Infectious Diseases

Wherever you travel, it is absolutely essential that you obtain reliable and up-to-date information on infectious diseases.  These include but are by no means limited to  Malaria, Rabies, or currently Coronavirus-related respiratory syndromes. Good sources are the Centre for Disease Control  or the Foreign Office Bureau of your home country. I also find the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Travel Advice excellent.

This is a complex topic!

If there is an effective vaccine, get the vaccination.

Avoid exposure to potential vectors. Malaria and Dengue fever and a heck of a lot of other diseases are transmitted by mosquitos.

Be aware that if you cuddle an animal, even a lick or a scratch can transmit rabies if you are really unlucky. If you are not travelling in a rabies-free country, there is a chance to contract rabies.  I’m not saying don’t pet an animal that isn’t yours. I do it, all the time! But know the risks. Rabies is rare but real.  I worked in infectious diseases in my first job and let me tell you, I administered the post-exposure rabies vaccine plenty times (short window and it ain’t fun, and Germany is considered “no risk”).

Cardinal Newman Beatification Mass
Mass events. like the Beatification Mass in Coventry, are an excellent spreading ground for pathogens

How I transport my travel medical kit

Insulated lunch box

Again, it depends on my destination. In the old backpacking days in SE Asia (pre-9/11, I hasten to add) ,  paranoia wouldn’t describe what I took in my nice water-repellent insulated lunch box. Two infusion sets, a few i.v. cannulas, hypodermic needles, ampoules of adrenaline, dimetindene, dimenhydrinate and prednisolone. I don’t even know if that stuff is allowed to be carried around these days. And just in case bad things not just happened to me, but my travel partner, I took multiples.

Jack Wolfskin Washroom

I’ve been a big fan of these for about 20 years, and this is as long as I had mine! I have a classic Jack Wolfskin “Waschsalon”. It is cheap as chips yet super practical. And indestructible, as I use it on every trip over a week.  just needs a good scrub every now and then. I sometimes just put my medical kit in a resealable bag in its large mesh compartment. Or you can stick a Jack Wolfskin Air Unisex mini washbag containing all your medical supplies into it.

A hard water repellent case

I use Really Useful Boxes for storing all sorts of things from dust, fading and moisture. Their 0,55litre boxes will work nicely as a crush-proof, water repellent medical kit storage, especially if you travel with a small case. They’re clear and extremely durable.

packing by backpack for two weeks in Cambodia
My trusty wash bag containing my medical kit – the old lunchbox has been refashioned to carry film


What about a ready-made travel medical kit?

As mentioned above, I usually build my own kit depending on type of travel and destination. If you want a quick-solution ready-made one the Lifesystem OutDoor First Aid Kit is not bad, and has a sturdy re-usable pouch.

What cannot go into hand luggage?

If you travel with hand luggage a lot, some of your medical supplies may not go into it. IN general, you should have no trouble with scissors if the blade is less than 6cm long.

I for once had it with blunt kit scissors, so in pre-9/11 I always travelled with a decent Swiss Army knife. Some, but not al its useful components have now been replaced by

Fiskars 4-inch details scissors: Good to cut smaller dressings and sutures, and for smaller craft and sewing projects

Tweezerman Point and Slant Forceps: The slant will do at a push. Great for fixing eyeglasses, tighten screws on camera lenses and other fine works.

Decent Nail clippers or at least a crystal nail file.

Keep your medical liquids under 100ml and you should be fine taking them into hand luggage.

Japan, me
A daikon a day keeps the doctor away?

About Motion Sickness

You may have noticed, it’s strangely absent from here. I’m still prone to it, but not terribly so. I can travel on a coach, in the front of a car or on a small boat with no problems. My biggest travel issue is fear of flying,which I will not get into in this post.

I have been on deck on small yachts in Force 8 storms and been absolutely fine, whereas at other times I have vomited my guts out in the gently rolling seas.

As far as travel sickness is concerned, knowing your limits of the most important one. If you are prone to sea sickness, research alternative modes of transport or choose the one with the shortest travel time.

I’ve yet to see people get travel sick on the train. And where there’s rail transport available, I take it. Other than that, I have some extra money available to charm drivers into letting me sit in the front seat.

A very simple drug-free method is applying pressure on a acupuncture point known as Pericardium 6 (Nei Guan). You can locate it approximately 5cm from your palmar crease (the bunch of creases wher your palm ends and forearm starts) between the tendons of the palmaris longus & flexor carpi radialis forearm muscles – basically the most prominent tendons you can feel. Press it firmly with your index and middle finger for a few minutes. You can also purchase a seasickness wristband whose magnet will do the same job. Or travel with an acupuncturist.

rowing a dinghy, Western Isles, Scotland
Seasick, me? I’m lucky to rarely get seasick, but there are measures you can take!

Travel Insurance

No, not an affiliate links! Just make sure you have it. If you are a EU citizen, basic medical care is usually provided in other EU countries if you are part of the state health insurance. And by saying basic I mean basic. It will not include repatriation, accommodation for you and your family or any diagnostic or therapeutic work that will be beneficial but not absolutely needed.

Check with your health insurer if travel insurance is included in your policy, what length of travel and which countries are covered. Then get extra travel health insurance if required. I never bother with much else except the health insurance.  You can replace a lost backpack or live with having lost a nights accommodation because of a travel cock-up, if you suddenly fall very ill, you want the best covereage there is.

Life is short… so look after your health. And obviously, never be bored!

What’s in your travel medical kit?

What are your experiences looking after your health while travelling? Do you carry a medical kit, and what’s in yours?

The small print

Please note that I do not run a telemedicine consultation service and all information here is based on my personal experience. Therefore you understand and acknowledge that all users of this article  are responsible for their own medical care, treatment, and oversight. All of the content provided on the website, including text, treatments, outcomes, photographs, advice and comments are for informational purposes only and does not constitute the providing of medical advice  and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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