I love to travel and explore new places. I hope my articles encourage you to visit them too.
Don’t Let Illness Disrupt Your Holiday
Holidays are a time for relaxing and having fun, but sometimes ill health intervenes. For minor health issues, a good travel first-aid kit can get you back on your feet. (But make sure you also have holiday medical insurance for more serious illness.)
6 Must-Haves for a Travel First-Aid Kit
My top six items for an emergency first-response pack are:
- Diarrhea and food poisoning remedy
- Pain relief, both topical and systemic
- Insect repellent
- Antihistamine cream for stings
- Plasters and antiseptic
- Hand sanitizer
Remember your travel first-aid kit is only for acute, non-life-threatening situations. You should seek qualified medical help if your symptoms persist or get worse.
1. Diarrhea and Vomiting Remedy
Did you know that an estimated 20–50% of tourists get tummy upsets and diarrhea each year? That’s more than 10 million people affected by TD (tourist diarrhea.) The symptoms include vomiting, loose stools, stomach cramps and dehydration. There are several causes, but the most common is ingesting E. coli bacteria by eating contaminated food or drinking dirty water, and by touching contaminated surfaces.
TD is unpleasant and debilitating. You can reduce your chances of catching it by drinking only bottled or boiled water, and washing your hands before eating.
Most bouts of TD last just a couple of days and recovery is aided by oral rehydration of fluid and salts. Dioralyte is a well-known rehydration aid that contains the correct mix of salts your body needs to make a quick recovery. I like to take a pack with me as it takes up very little room and could quite literally be a life-saver if you get food poisoning.
How to Avoid Diarrhea When Traveling
The following tips can help you avoid suffering TD when traveling.
- Wash your hands regularly with soap, especially before eating and after going to the bathroom.
- Don't drink tap water. Only drink water from bottles or other containers; make sure the seal is not broken when you buy them.
- Avoid ice cubes and drinks that have been diluted with water.
- Use bottled water to brush your teeth and rinse your mouth.
- Avoid water from fountains, wells, streams, and rivers.
- Only eat fruit, raw vegetables, and lettuce if you peel them yourself and wash them thoroughly with bottled water before eating.
2. Topical and Systemic Pain Relief
Sprains, strains and bruising occur at home as well as on holiday. It's easy to slip and fall, or suffer a sprain when walking on unfamiliar ground. At home, you probably have some Tylenol, ibuprofen, or paracetamol in your bathroom cabinet to ease the pain. However, when you’re traveling, there may not be a drugstore handy.
Low-level pain can stop you from getting enough sleep, or prevent you from enjoying sporting activities. Include a small pack of painkillers and some topical pain relief gel in your travel kit and you will be able to overcome the discomfort of a few bumps and bruises.
3. Insect Repellent
Does even thinking about insects make your skin crawl? Then you won’t want to dwell on the next sentence. (Pause, take a deep breath.) There are more than 200 million insects for every single person on earth. And some of them actively seek out a meal of human blood.
Not all of these insects will be at your holiday resort, but enough of them will be looking for a blood meal to make it important for you to take steps to protect yourself. The key advice is to cover up at dusk as that is when insects tend to feed. Try and avoid being near areas of stagnant water, especially in malarial countries, and inform yourself about different types of insect repellant. In malaria-affected countries, it is also advisable to sleep under a mosquito net.
4. Antihistamine for Stings and Bites
No matter how much you protect yourself against hungry insects, chances are that you will get bitten at least once while you are traveling abroad. Because you are outside your home area, you will have little or no immunity against the serious infections that some overseas biting flies carry. Before you travel, check with your local health provider which vaccinations you need. Plan early as some injections need to be given at least 8 weeks before travel for them to be effective.
Most bites and stings won’t affect you long-term, but can cause an acute allergic-type reaction with swelling, redness, and itching of the affected area. I carry sting relief swabs in my first-aid pack as they are anti-itch and anti-inflammatory. Antihistamine cream and swabs can also be used to cool down sore areas of sunburn. Anyone with a history of allergic antihistamine reactions may also want to put an epi-pen in their kit.
5. Plasters and Antiseptic
Don’t forget to pack the traditional first aid basics—plasters and antiseptic cream. They are a useful stand-by. I prefer to have waterproof plasters rather than fabric ones, as they stay on even if you go for a swim. There are some great kids' plasters on the market now with cartoon characters to help wipe away the tears after a fall. My kids love them.
When traveling, make sure you also take sufficient supplies of any prescription meds you are already taking. Rules about medicines vary between countries, so check yours are legal in the country you intend visiting.
6. Hand Sanitizer
Regular washing of hands with soap and water, or hand sanitizer can protect you from most viral and bacterial infections. Always wash your hands after using the bathroom, and before eating. I take a mini-sized bottle of sanitizer gel with me if I'm dining out, or spending time away from my hotel. They fit into my purse and stop me worrying about whether or not there will be washing facilities at my destination.
Whether you're using soap or sanitizer, it's important to clean all parts of your hands; include the backs, palms, between the fingers, and around your wrists. You should spend at least 20 seconds doing this. Sing the verse of Happy Birthday to You through twice to give the correct timing.
Holiday Health Checklist
Before You Travel
- At least 8 weeks before you leave, check your vaccinations are up-to-date.
- Take out appropriate medical insurance. Be honest about any pre-existing medical conditions. This may result in a higher premium, but if you need to claim and the insurance company finds you've withheld information, your claim will be rejected and you could be hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket.
During Your Holiday
- Be careful about what you eat and drink. Make sure you're drinking clean uncontaminated water. Don't trust the tap water unless you are in a country with similar sanitary standards to your own.
- Cover up in the evening against biting flies.
After You Return From Holiday
- If you suffer vomiting and/or diarrhea on your return home, tell your doctor where you took your recent holiday.
- Continue taking anti-malarial tablets after you get home as per medical advice.
Further Information About Travel Health
The following websites give more information about emergency first aid, travel vaccinations, and how to prevent sickness and diarrhea.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.