The perfect DIY First Aid Kit for Travelling

OK so the word ‘perfect’ may be a bit of an exaggeration here because the truth is, there’s no ‘perfect’ kit, just one that’s ‘perfecto for you’. And the commercially available kits out there are certainly more than adequate, however it’s also worth tailoring a kit to your own individual travel needs, so that you’re ready to don your ambo hat in a jiffy if things go a little pear shaped.

Prep it

First things first. You’re travelling and you’re probably carrying everything on your back, so your First Aid kit’s gotta be compact. But its size will depend on how long you’re travelling for, where you’re going and what you’ll be doing. Carrying a couple of Band-Aids for a three-month trek of the Spanish Camino obviously won’t cut it, but neither will carting mozzie repellent half way round the world for a skiing jaunt in Japan. Your kit needs to suit your trip, however replenishing (and fine-tuning it) while you’re away is probably also an option, so if in doubt, ‘pack it, then halve it’.

Once you’ve got a rough idea of the amount of ‘stuff’ you’ll need, consider how you’ll carry it. Plastic, boxy-type things are OK, but not very practical if you’re backpacking, particularly if you want to be able to shove it into your daypack when faced with an impromptu adventure. There are heaps of viable options out there, particularly at outdoor retailers, but your best bet is a compartmentalised, waterproof number that can zip open in a flash and cop a knock or two. Now to fill it …

Bandages and wipey-things

Before you even think about tending to anything, you need to make sure injured bits are clean. Antiseptic wipes are the mop up of choice here – to sterilize and disinfect both the wound and your grotty mitts.

Dressings come in a smorgasbord of shapes and sizes and you should pack a variety – from adhesives (like roll-up tapes and Band-Aids) for blisters and smaller cuts to crepe bandages that can hold dressings in place and create support for strained limbs. Compression bandages are also ideal for controlling inflammation and keeping swelling down. And butterfly closures (specially designed adhesive bandage strips) are your go-to if you’re faced with a nasty laceration that needs to be attended to before things get messy.

Gauze pads are a must (larger square ones are great as you can cut them down to size) and have a multitude of uses – from cleaning injuries to stopping your patient bleeding. And you’ll need some sort of sticky stuff to hold everything together, so surgical tape is a no brainer as are clips and safety pins, which can secure large bandages and keep slings in place.

Lotions and potions

Have saline handy for cleaning wounds pre-dressing (clean your own hands first with an antibacterial gel or hand sanitizer) and a basic antibiotic ointment is good to have as an extra precaution against infection.

If you get a case of the itchies (caused by anything from insects to allergies), an antihistamine lotion will do the job and stuff like Stingose can give much-needed relief to everything from mozzie bites to killer bee attacks.

If you’ve gone way too hard the night before, or been gifted with a touch of the squirts (or happy days! the voms) thanks to a late-night dodgy feed, oral rehydration salts and electrolyte powders will perk you up again in no time. And yep, we’ve all woken up post-beach snooze with an attractive ‘sunglass tan’, so a future note to self? Pack sunscreen. And not the coconut smelling, canola oil variety either – make sure it’s got a decent SPF factor.

Pills and pain relief

Probably the number one pill you’re going to pop will be for pain relief and depending on the type of pain you’ve got, you’ll probably need both paracetamol and ibuprofen. Both target pain, however ibuprofen is known as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug’, meaning it treats inflammation (like aches and pains) as well. Got a down and dirty headache? Go the paracetamol.

Antihistamines in tablet form are great for controlling allergies and can also help with motion sickness (just make sure you get a non-drowsy one) and if you find yourself with a spot of Bali belly, loperamide tablets are a good short-term fix if you’re stuck on an overnight train and need things to settle a bit. If you’re feeling a little queasy with heartburn or indigestion, an antacid can soothe things and probiotics and a decent multi-vitamin are handy to keep your immune system firing.

There’s nothing worse than travelling with a cold, and given you’ll be sharing everything from bedding to beer jugs with a mob of complete strangers, you’re more than likely to pick up a bit of a foreign bug along the way. Cold relief capsules will be a godsend if the lurgy hits, as will a decongestant and a broad-spectrum antibiotic if things get serious.

And lastly but certainly not leastly … pack birth control in whatever form is your preferred. Because nobody wants to be unlucky getting lucky.

Tools of the Trade

You’ll need a decent pair of scissors (a small medical pair are ideal), a pair of tweezers (for splinters, ticks etc.) and (hello, nursey) a couple of pairs of disposable gloves.

Irrigation syringes can help clean out wound debris, cold packs (go the disposable) will reduce swelling, and of course diagnostic devices like a watch (to monitor pulse rate) and a thermometer (for temperature checking) will round out your kit-of-all-kits.

Adventurer extras

If you’re planning on going a little more hard-core in the adventure stakes, it’s worth packing a few little extras to deal with possible emergencies. A thermal blanket can help control body temperature, particularly if you’re stuck atop a mountain in winter in the dead of night (though not advised).

A torch (don’t forget extra batteries) will allay possible man-eating beasts and blister strips are a must if you’re trekking about and begin to experience a dreaded ‘hotspot’. Remote travellers should also consider iodine tablets (or water sterilizers), altitude sickness alleviators and anti-malarials.

Packing tips

So how to fit it all in? Go for tablets over liquids and gels, and creams and sachets over tubes and bottles. Remove blister packs from boxes (but keep the details), use multi-sized zip-lock bags for storing stuff and go ‘sample sized’ wherever you can. Unless you’re travelling to the arse end of the earth, you’ll be able to restock somewhere. And don’t forget to carry it all on-board with you when you leave to avoid being un-kitted by your friendly Customs official!