Have you ever wondered what a travel nurse keeps in their first aid kit? Well now you don’t need to.
Packing the perfect emergency first aid kit for your travels is essential, but you do need to know exactly what you will need to put in there, and as a qualified emergency nurse who also specialises in travel medicine, I’m here to tell you how to do just that.
A well stocked first aid kit should be an essential item in any backpack, but it really isn’t necessary to go overboard. Just the simple basics will do.
Remember that wherever you are travelling, clinics and pharmacies can be found in most major towns and cities throughout the world to replenish stock or buy things as you need them, so you don’t need to carry multiples of everything. First aid kits are there to cover basic needs in an emergency, so there is no need to carry the entire stock cupboard of your local emergency department.
You should also ask yourself if you have the knowledge or training to use any of the items you are packing. If you don’t, you should leave them behind.
Saying that, there are some essential things you should carry with you, and I will list them here.
You can buy pre packed first aid kits and pouches and these are absolutely fine, however you can use any durable pouch or container at all and tailor your own kit inside it. It really doesn’t have to be anything fancy, a small sealable tupperware box for example is ideal. As long as it is fairly durable and small enough not to take up too much space and weight and large enough to carry what you need it to, then it will do the job.
Obviously this list can be tailored or added to dependent on your trip needs, (a tropical jungle trek will require different planning from a weekend in Rome for example) and should also include any specifically prescribed medication for individual long term conditions or anti malarial prophylaxis that you will need to carry, but really these are the absolute basics that most people will need and be able to use without any medical training.
Plasters. It goes without saying that the most common injuries are cuts and scrapes, so common plasters of various sizes are always useful. It’s also a good idea to put a few blister plasters into your pack too if you plan on doing any trekking. I also carry a few small wound dressings such as Mepilex borders for larger wounds out of habit, but these are unnecessary for the vast majority of people.
Gauze. The medical jack of all trades, can be used to apply pressure to a wound and soak up blood, or as a basic dressing for a medium or large wound (and can be easily cut to size).
Basic crepe bandages. Useful for applying a small field dressing or gauze to a wound. You really don’t need to carry too many of these, one or two will do. If you are at the point where you need this level of dressing then you should probably be seeking medical advice anyway.
Medical tape. Used to secure gauze to a wound as a dressing.
Antiseptic wipes. Essential for cleaning a wound before applying a dressing.
Small scissors. Useful for trimming gauze or bandages.
Tweezers. Tweezers are another item that often come standard in most first aid kits and can be useful for pulling out splinters, getting out little bits of stone or dirt when cleaning a wound, or any number of other practical uses.
Condoms. For obvious reasons! Stay safe!
Pain relief medication. The need to have these on standby is obvious. A small pack of basic paracetamol (acetaminophen if you are American) or any of the associated brand names is usually sufficient, but ibuprofen or other similar medications are fine too. Basically whatever you normally take for pain relief when you have a headache or minor pain is fine.
Loperamide tablets. Also known under a variety of brand names such as Imodium, this is useful for stopping diarrhoea for short periods when you need to catch a bus or train. Remember, these are for those emergency moments only when you are actually in transit, they shouldn’t be used when you can rest up for a couple of days. Normally the best thing to do is to let everything pass through your system normally and drink plenty of water to replace lost fluids.
Anti histamine cream. Useful for any annoying insect bites.
And that’s it!
Doesn’t seem like much does it? And you would be right, it isn’t all that much at all. Just enough to fill a small pocket sized pouch. Anything else you could carry such as sutures, haemostats, specialist hydrocolloid dressings, non rebreather masks, antibiotics or the entire contents of a chemists stock cupboard will be next to useless unless you know how to use them, and not many people without specific first aid or medical training do, so why carry them? For anything that requires more than the very basics, then you should seek medical attention. Keep the weight and bulk in your pack down and remember that the majority of the time you are never that far away from a pharmacy, clinic or hospital.