Whether you’re hitting the trail, the beach, or a new city, there’s one thing most travelers can agree on: you should always expect the unexpected. Your best bet for the best trip ever is to be prepared for anything, and that includes injuries, sickness, and other physical mishaps. The ultimate defense against these “unexpecteds” is a first-aid kit packed with the essentials…and then some.
Every first-aid kit — homemade or purchased — should be equipped with the basic, standard safety must-haves. Below are the essentials you shouldn’t leave home without, no matter where you’re headed, along with a few add-ons, depending on the type of trip you’re embarking on.
It’s first aid 101 — and probably the first thing that comes to mind when packing a ‘just in case’ kit. Be sure to always have an assortment of sizes and types available — particularly butterfly closures for deeper lacerations.
2. Gauze pads
A multi-purpose first-aid maven. Gauze pads can be used on a wound to absorb bleeding, they can be used with medical tape as a makeshift Band-Aid, and can also be used to clean a wound or apply medication (ointments, etc.).
3. Antiseptic wipes
A simple and effective way to sanitize a wound — or just keep clean in general (dirty hands, but dying to dive into your trail snacks? An antiseptic wipe can help there, too).
4. Adhesive medical tape
Medical tape can serve many purposes from holding a Band-Aid in its place to buddy-taping sprained or broken fingers or toes.
5. Antibacterial ointment
Neosporin or the like will do. Use this on blisters, burns, and cuts, to help keep the affected area clean and to help it heal, too.
When addressing a wound, it’s always imperative to wear gloves for your safety, and the safety of whomever you’re assisting.
Perfect for cutting gauze pads, or adhesive medical tape. Can also come in handy in other emergency situations.
You’ll want to make sure that the thermometer in your first-aid kit is both durable and effective, so avoid glass options and ones with mercury.
Splinters, ticks, and thorns, oh my! You’ll want to have a set of tweezers on hand for those otherwise impossible-to-get-out skin intrusions.
10. Burn gel
For most minor burns, a burn gel will soothe the area, helping to relieve pain.
11. Ice pack
Good for burns, taking down inflammation from bug bites, and can also be applied to sprains/injury to reduce swelling.
A piece of dirt, or sand, a contact gone rogue — eyewash can help safely, and effectively, remove foreign bodies from eyes.
The first-aid essentials list is adaptable to any trip, and it’s likely to evolve depending on the environment you’re traveling to — and the potential mishaps that could arise. If you’re heading to the coast for beach camping, you’re probably going to want to keep SPF handy, and if you’re spending time in a city and have an affinity for diving into the local cuisine, enjoying market finds, and street meat, a pack of Imodium might not be a bad idea to keep close.
Here’s a breakdown of a few first-aid kit add-ons that you might want to consider for your next adventure.
If you’re heading on a beach trip.
- Ocean-safe SPF: Raw Elements, will keep both your skin, and the reef, protected.
- Lip balm: Keep your lips hydrated, and protected from the elements, with lip balm.
- Aloe vera: Aloe is the perfect accompaniment to a beach trip; it is the go-to for soothing sunburned skin.
- Oral rehydration salts: Dehydration is common on beach/hot weather vacations, these salts are taken orally and can help both to prevent dehydration and treat symptoms of dehydration.
If you’re going to be doing a lot of hiking.
- Electrolyte tabs: These ones from NUUN, can be dropped into water to give you a steady supply of electrolytes and minerals you’re losing when you’re racking up miles on those long trail days.
- Water purification tablets (or a Lifestraw): Because running out of water is never a good thing, and your next water fill isn’t always guaranteed to come from a filtered faucet.
- Splint: Use to support a muscle, ligament, or bone injury (SAM Splints are compact and efficient).
- ACE bandage: A stretchy, elasticized bandage that can easily be wrapped around an injured area to apply long-term pressure and support.
- Insect repellent: Protect yourself from pests with bug spray (go a little stronger and opt for DEET in infected-mosquito areas).
- Multi-tool pocket knife: Save space, and weight, by bringing a pocket knife equipped with multiple useful tools.
- Bear spray: If you find yourself too close to a bear, this spray can help protect your from potential attacks.
- Whistle: To scare off predators, to help rescuers or friends locate you.
- Moleskin: Nothing ruins a hiking adventure more than a boot blister.
- Headlamp: For safe, hands-free guidance in the dark.
- Snacks: When you’re burning calories on the trail, it’s important to refuel to keep moving. A happy hiker beats a hangry hiker.
If you’re heading to an unfamiliar city.
- Imodium and/or Antacids: Unfamiliar territory can often mean unfamiliar foods. If you like to indulge, be sure to pack antacids or anti-diarrhea medication to quell any stomach upset.
- Z-pack or Cipro: Finding a pharmacy or a doctor isn’t always easy while traveling. Consult with your physician before you leave and see if you can pick up a ‘just in case’ Rx to ward off any potential illnesses you may encounter.
- Emergency contraception: You can’t guarantee that all cities you visit will have all the comforts of home, so sexually-active travelers may want to pack Plan B, if they’re worried they won’t be able to access it abroad.
If you’re taking to the seas
- Anti-nausea medication: Dramamine, Bonine, and medications of the like can help keep you feeling well, and stable on the seas.
- Sea-Bands: If you’re not into medication, or need a little extra help to feel better, these pressure-point bracelets can help ward off motion sickness.
- Sick bag: In case those Sea-Bands didn’t work.
If you’re heading to the mountain tops.
- Altitude-sickness medication: Prevent, or alleviate symptoms of altitude sickness.
- Hypothermia thermometer: These thermometers offer a larger range of temperatures so you can stay aware, and ahead of a potential problem.
- Space blanket: A space blanket’s primary use is to help preserve body heat (its reflective make-up can also prove useful in an emergency rescue situation for signaling to others).
- Avalanche transceiver: In the event of an avalanche, this transceiver will emit radio waves while buried beneath the snow to help search and rescue teams locate you.
If you’re traveling with your pup.
- Hydrogen peroxide: If your dog ingests something foreign, hydrogen peroxide can be used to induce vomiting. Consult your veterinarian to understand when and how much to use in an emergency situation.
- Non-adhesive (self-clinging) bandages: Self-clinging bandages will help to avoid getting adhesive caught on fur.
- Blunted scissors: Scissors with a rounded tip are safer for your pup (and you), they can help avoid a painful poke.
- Collapsible water bowl: Easy transport!
- Vaccination records: When traveling, it’s best to have your dog’s medical records on hand in case of an emergency.
If you’re taking a trip with your kiddos.
- Pedialyte: If dehydration occurs for any reason (vomiting, diarrhea), Pedialyte can help replace those lost fluids and necessary minerals. It doesn’t hurt for an adult hangover either.
- Nasal aspirator: If you’re traveling with babies, this is a useful first-aid kit item to help clear a baby’s nose.
- Sleep mask or natural sleep aid: If sleep doesn’t come easy, especially in new places, natural and safe sleep aids (like chamomile tea) for children can help ensure a good night’s sleep while traveling.