From paracetamol to plasters, and antihistamine to antidiarrhoeals, here’s my guide to an essential traveller’s medical kit for adventures near and far.
I will start with a major caveat. There is no such thing as a definitive traveller’s medical kit. Much will depend on your age, gender and medical conditions, your destination and your attitude to medicines. Over the years, I have honed my collection to one that covers most of the bases, and my medicines fit snugly into a semi-rigid plastic pouch from Muji measuring 12cm x 10cm x 5cm. Let me share its contents and why they are included. You can buy all of the medicines in my kit over-the-counter. Oh … and I should mention that I am a pharmacist.
What’s inside my traveller’s medical kit
- An effective pain-killer and it also helps to bring down your temperature if you have an infection. I have used it for headaches, for cold and ‘flu symptoms and for … ahem … hangovers. Don’t leave home without it.
- Make sure that you don’t take more than 4G of paracetamol (eight tablets) in 24 hours
- Like paracetamol, ibuprofen is a pain-killer and can be used in the same way. However, it also anti-inflammatory and so is useful for soft tissue injuries (strains and sprains). Many women also prefer it to paracetamol for period pain.
- If you have asthma or have had stomach problems (ulcers) you may not be able to use ibuprofen; check with your doctor or pharmacist.
- The choice of paracetamol or ibuprofen to treat headaches and to bring down temperature is entirely up to you. Many people find that one works better than the other for them. For example, I find paracetamol is usually effective in killing a headache but ibuprofen barely touches it.
- My traveller’s medical kit usually has a strip of whichever antihistamine I have to hand. Usually this is acrivastine (Benadryl Allergy) but equally you could bring loratadine or cetirizine, neither of which is likely to make you drowsy. If you want a sedating antihistamine, go for the older drug, chlorpheniramine.
- If, like me, you suffer from hay fever, or have allergies, an antihistamine is essential. However, they are effective in relieving itchiness from those pesky mozzie bites.
HYDROCORTISONE CREAM 1%
- Hydrocortisone cream can be an absolute godsend. Although it is used primarily for eczema – some people find that eating different foods exacerbates their skin conditions – it is also an excellent remedy for those mozzie bites.
- You don’t need to use a lot of this. Make sure that you apply it in a very thin layer
- I think of loperamide (Imodium) as a pharmaceutical cork. Call it what you like … Delhi Belly, Montezuma’s Revenge, Backdoor Trots … most of us will have been afflicted by travellers’ diarrhoea (TD), usually at the worst possible time. Believe me … clenching your buttocks on a long-distance bus journey is not much fun. This is where these little green and grey capsules are worth their weight in gold. They are particularly helpful if you have colicky-type pain.
- Take 4mg (two capsules) initially and then one capsule after each loose stool; do not take more than 16mg (eight capsules) in 24 hours.
- If you overuse you could end up with constipation, so don’t take for more than five days. By this time your symptoms should have resolved anyway. However, if you are really unlucky, taking loperamide at the maximum dose for a day or so could also lead to constipation. As I say … a pharmaceutical cork.
- There is some debate as to whether the use of loperamide prolongs TD by retaining the offending bug. The consensus seems to be let it all flow out (eeuw!), reserving loperamide for those situations where TD may affect travel plans.
- Codeine and diphenoxylate / atropine (Lomotil) are alternatives to loperamide but I don’t recommend them as they carry a higher risk of side effects for no great gain. Also you need a doctor’s prescription for these medicines.
- Some people take away antibiotics with them to self-treat. The choice of antibiotic depends on the destination. You will need a doctor’s prescription.
- Your priority in treating travel diarrhoea or sickness is to keep hydrated. Therefore, I always pop a couple of these in my traveller’s medical kit.
- It goes without saying that the water that you use to reconstitute these sachets should be safe
- If you don’t have these sachets to hand you can drink other clear fluids, such as diluted fruit juices, as an alternative.
MOTION SICKNESS TABLETS
- For those journeys across switchback mountain passes and across choppy waters, I use cinnarizine (Stugeron) tablets, which do the trick, but can cause drowsiness.
- Another popular choice is hyoscine hydrobromide (Kwells) but I find that it gives me a terrible dry mouth.
- Some people swear by acupressure bands (Sea-Band).
- For cuts, grazes, and blisters I include a few sticking plasters of different sizes in my kit.
WOUND CLEANSING WIPES
- On the same subject, I also carry a few sealed alcohol wipes for wound cleansing.
What’s NOT inside my travel medical kit
PROPRIETARY COLD AND FLU REMEDIES
- Polypharmacy at its worst. A cocktail of unnecessary drugs at sub-therapeutic doses. Save your money and precious packing space. Just take paracetamol or ibuprofen for cold and ‘flu symptoms. If you feel bunged up, a decongestant such as pseudoephdrine (Sudafed) can be useful.
Other items to consider
- Think Gaviscon or Pepto Bismol. For those times when you overindulge with delicious food or have a few extra drinks.
Some final tips
- To save packing space, go for strips of tablets instead of bottles.
- For the same reason, remove strips from their boxes. But if you are unfamiliar with how to take the medicine, be sure to keep the instructions.
- You don’t need to take vast quantities of these items. For example, I take just a strip or two of tablets.
Are there any items in your traveller’s medical kit that you cannot do without?
PIN THE FLASHPACKER!