I like to be very prepared when I travel. Very prepared! I make lists, have thousands of mini bags and containers and literally think of everything. I have my travel essentials covered.

If you are doing a big trip, say 4 weeks or longer, or you are visiting Asia, Africa, Mexico, South America, or are embarking on adventurous holidays, say hiking, kayaking, surfing – you need to have a basic first aid kit in your backpack.

Now some people argue that in this day and age, you can buy toiletries, medical supplies and first aid bits and bobs everywhere, so there is no need wasting valuable packing space when you can get painkillers in Peru, shampoo in Samoa, bandages in Bali. Good advice, until you’re the schmuck who sprains their ankle in Vietnam, gets bitten by bugs in Machu Picchu, has bad sunburn in Thailand, is hungover in Hungary and gets headaches and sniffles flying anywhere and you just need to get better STAT.

Here’s why I take a fully stocked first aid kit:

  • I like my brands. You know what you like, you like what you know. I don’t need the stress of trying to find the right ointment for a rash in Borneo when I can’t read or speak Malaysian. Usually an illness or injury stresses you out, and you don’t need the added stress of wondering if what you have bought will actually do the job, or if you’ve just bought the Peruvian cream equivalent for genital warts when you just wanted a dandruff shampoo.
  • Timing is precious. I don’t know about you, but I usually need my first aid equipment at the worst times, when local shops are closed or too far away. Or you haven’t got time before your boat / bus / barge to wherever you are going. No one wants to waste precious time scouring some village for painkillers.
  • You need what you need. You know yourself the best, so you know what sorts of things you are going to require in case of the everyday ailment kind. Not emergency hospital occasions, but the things that you are susceptible to, whether it’s headaches, sun burn, mouth ulcers etc. Best to have your personal supply ready.


So what to take? You can either have everything in together in one case, or divide things up into daily needs, day pack ready, and a ‘just in case’ pile. There are also some ways to make packaging smarter and smaller. Take pill packets out of boxes and cut out what you might need. I write on the pill packet with a marker the dosage amount eg: “Nausea – 2 tabs daily”. Or write a list in your notes on your smart phone of the medication names, reasons for taking, dosage. Siphon ointments and oils into smaller containers and label them. Take travel size and mini amounts of toiletries and products.


I always feel ill when flying so I have a first aid kit ready for the plane, especially long haul flights. Along with flying essentials like ear plugs, hand sanitising wipes, tissues and eye masks, it has headache tablets, lip balm, eye drops, nausea tablets, cough lollies (to reduce eardrum pain) etc. I take it out of my carry on and put it in the back of the seat in front of me, nothing worse than trying to find a headache pill in the bag under your seat when you can’t reach down to get it, and you’ve got a blanket, neck pillow, water bottle, magazine, airplane meal and iPad in your way.



In my backpack or daily handbag or satchel, I keep a kit of things I am most likely to need. This includes my daily personal medication, painkillers for headaches etc, nausea and diahorrea tablets, as you never know when these are going to strike, sun cream, bandaids, especially blister bandaids (essential if walking a lot or wearing new shoes), and anti chafing cream – for my ultimate nemesis, thigh rub. This pack may have something essential for the location or activity of the day too, such as sea sickness tablets (Croatia!) , altitude sickness tablets (Cusco!), anti-malaria antibiotics (Cambodia!).

Hiking Mt Kinabalu in Borneo needed a lot of first aid things, bandaids for blisters, bandages for sore joints, and so much anti chafing gel. Urgh, what a day!



Now down in the depths of my suitcase or big backpack is a bag I hope I don’t need. But there have been times that this bag has had things that have saved me:

A pill packet of general antibiotics for when you can’t shake that stomach bug you picked up, reminiscient of Bali belly.

General purpose ointment for bites, stings, rashes, cuts, especially when roughing it out in the wilderness.

Anti inflammatories such as Ibuprofen for sore knees, back pain when you pull a muscle or have a fall.

Bruise cream and general pain relief for when you fall down stairs, crash while ziplining or smash the hire car (all true).

Bandages, knee braces and slings for sprains and twists, like when the stairs were made of hessian in Hanoi.

Hydralites and water purification tablets for more stomach related bugs, such as the day in Phnom Penh when we got the dire gastro bug, one by one…

I couldn’t buy bruise cream anywhere in Hawaii after our car accident. Just looking at this bruise 2 year later makes me wince.


It was here in the Confucius temple in Hanoi that I rolled my ankle on fake stairs made of Hessian. Made it very difficult to walk around, even with a bandage.

Lucky I had after sun gel in Kota Kinabalu, as I got super sun burnt on my back as I had no one with me to put sun screen on!


So there you have it, another essential for travel, the first aid kit. There are so many other things you can pack, here’s a great list at  Now if you are a new traveller and this is overwhelming, you can buy some great pre made kits ready to go, such as these ones by St John’s Ambulance and Kathmandu. But I feel it pays to personalise, as you know yourself best when it comes to travel dramas, such as sickness and injury.

And if not, going to an overseas chemist is always an adventure!


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