Travel Safely: Create your own DIY first aid kit for the road

by Erik McLaughlin 

Nobody ever asks where the first aid kit is when something good has happened. In fact, they’re traditionally one of the first things left behind, in the interest of size and weight. This brings me to the most important rule of a kit: “You can’t use it if its not with you.” I like to think of my kit as an insurance policy that I hope to never use.

When somebody begins to make a first aid kit for travel, they often ask a few friends. They may even ask a nurse or doctor. This is when it gets complicated. If I carried everything I was told, “you have to have this,” I would have a steamer trunk full of gear. This is not a real world solution. The key is to recognize a few special needs of the individuals who will be using the kit, and the locations they are traveling in.

Search and Rescue teams have a tendency to compartmentalize their equipment: One bag contains climbing rope, one box contains life vests, and so on. This method is great, especially with health kits. Ideally, a traveler will be armed with a few smaller kits that they have prepared in advance to be ready to use depending on the adventure. Think of it as a carpenter selecting the right tool for the job.

The first kit that should be the basis of all the others is the “Basic Travel Kit” set forth below. It will be highly customizable depending on the health needs of the travelers, length of travel, and destination. This is the kit that is ideal to bring on a trip through larger, developed cities and towns where advanced medical care is easily found and re-supply of medicine is possible.

The center of the kit is the person’s home medications. If somebody is taking regular medication at their house, they should, of course, continue to do so while traveling. An important thing to remember is to bring enough medication for the length of the trip, and spare for those unexpected layovers, cancellations, storms, or finding that perfect spot and staying an extra week. A spare set of eyeglasses and copies of all home medication prescriptions is also a good idea.

This kit is made to be packed into a polycarbonate water bottle, which provides a crush proof and watertight container. You can also drink out of it, too.

  1. Tylenol/Paracetamol (pain and fever reduction)
  2. Ibuprofen (pain and fever reducer, anti-inflammatory)
  3. Antihistamine (allergies, sleep aid)
  4. Pseudoephedrine (nasal decongestant, helps with “ear pop” from planes)
  5. Loperamide (anti-diarrheal)
  6. Multi-tool (Macgyver always had his)
  7. Safety pins (quick fix for clothing, making an arm sling, emergency cloth)
  8. Sun screen (SPF 15 minimum, small bottle)
  9. Bandanna (sling for arm, dust mask,
  10. Antiseptic towelettes (cleaning hands and wounds)
  11. Electrolyte packets (for replacing loss due to vomiting or diarrhea)
  12. Matches (light source, fires)
  13. Tweezers (removing ticks, thorns, cactus, sea urchins, etc)
  14. Mole skin (blisters on the feet)
  15. Band aids (minor cuts and scrapes)
  16. Gauze roll (minor cuts and scrapes)
  17. Antibiotic ointment (minor cuts and scrapes)
  18. Portable flashlight (looking into mouths, dark rooms)
  19. Thermometer (is that really a fever, how high)
  20. Latex gloves (protect yourself first)
  21. 4 x 4 gauze pads (minor cuts and scrapes)
  22. Hand sanitizer (dirty hands mean infected cuts)

Most craft stores have small resealable baggies used for carrying beads. These make excellent containers for individual medicines, not taken on a regular basis. The baggies are large enough to hold only a few days of medication, and can be written on with a sharpie. The point is only to deal with emergencies, not manage a problem that may require assistance. This kit is designed to be used in areas with a pharmacy or retailer to re-stock, when the kit gets depleted.

For initially building your kit, you can never go wrong withAdventure Medical Kits. They can be purchased from many retailers or directly from their site. The medicines are pre-packaged and more than half the stuff you need is already there. This can be added to your own kit, with a few other items.

The majority of traveler’s health problems, in larger cities or urban areas, consist of influenza like symptoms, diarrhea and fevers. I like to call them “nuisance illnesses”; just enough of problem to slow down a great trip but not requiring help. Bug bites, nausea, sun burn, diarrhea and the sniffles top the list.

Travel to more exotic destinations with harsher climates, or participating in specific recreational activities often require a supplemental kit. The point of this kit is to provide basic medical supplies to treat common ailments, either stabilizing before seeking more advanced care or managing the problem yourself. Hopefully, you’ll never have open this kit after you make it!

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