When we did the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, someone almost died. Our friend, a trainee doctor, saved a guys life who was extremely sick from the altitude. The door to his room in the guesthouse had to be broken down, he was non-responsive, pale as a sheet and 30 minutes from death. Our friend administered medication. He had to be helicoptered out. I hadn’t realised how dangerous altitude sickness was and how important a well stocked first aid kit was until then. If it wasn’t for medication and a clean needle set, this guy would have died. In this blog, we detail exactly what you need to include in your travel first aid kit. As you can see from our experience, having a well stocked first aid kit could save yours or someone else’s life.
On this page, I have used affiliate links. This means we make a little pocket money if you buy anything through the links we have given. Don’t worry, we will never suggest buying pants products and only recommend products we’ve used or would buy ourselves.
What You Need In Your Travel First Aid Kit
1. First, You Need A First Aid Kit
First things first, you need to get yourself a travel first aid kit. Thankfully, during our travels we’ve dug into this for fairly minor things to date. We are both qualified first aiders, have seen some incidents in our time and can’t stress highly enough how valuable a first aid kit is.
A Bigger First Aid Kit
For trekking, we have a fairly comprehensive travel first aid kit. I also have a smaller one that I carry around for day-to-day use. This is a good first aid kit available in the UK, although you may want to top it up with some extras (such as plastic gloves). If you are based in the States, here’s a first aid kit for you.
A Smaller First Aid Kit
For a smaller, lightweight day-to-day option that you can fit into your day bag for when you are out and about, this small first aid kit comes with all the main things you may need.
2. Learn Some First Aid
We both became first aiders through our workplaces back in the UK. Perhaps this is something you could also do. If not, I recommend downloading the St John’s Ambulance app. It gives vital first aid advice that you can use, even if you’ve never had the training.
3. Heavy Duty Scissors
Now for what you actually need in your travel first aid kit. If they aren’t included, I recommend adding some more heavy duty scissors to your kit for cutting bandages or clothes.
4. A Sterile Needle Set
You may think this is overkill, but a lot of poorer countries don’t have access to sterile needles. You can contract hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV from using dirty needles.
A sterile needle is what saved that guy’s life in Nepal. He was so out of it he couldn’t take any medication orally. Here is a good set of sterile needles for your travel first aid kit. Importantly this set also includes a IV cannula.
5. Sterile Solution
This stuff is awesome. I was once on a Outdooraholics meetup hike in the UK and a lady got hit in the face with a branch, narrowly missing her eye. She was bleeding heavily. The hiking guide had sterile solution and sprayed it in the wound. It worked like a dream in cleaning out the wound.
Sterile solution for washing out cuts or eyes is really important. You’ll want to look for sterile eye and wound wash like this. We bought a big batch and took some travelling with us in our travel first aid kit.
6. Butterfly Stitches Or Steri-Strips
Again on this meetup hike I went on, the guide had steri-strips in his first aid kit. After the incident above happened, the steri-strips stemmed the bleeding until the lady could be taken to hospital. Butterfly stitches or steri-strips can help stop bleeding until you can get to a proper medical facility and make a useful addition to any travel first aid kit.
7. Blister Plasters
If you are doing ANY trekking, you’ll need compeeds in your travel first aid kit. Luckily our hiking shoes are pretty great (I have SALOMON Women’s Ultra 3 GTX Hiking Shoes and James has Merrell Men’s Moab 2 GTX Hiking Boots). If you get a small cut or blister, a multi-day trek will just make this worse and worse until it is unbearable. Plasters just aren’t good enough.
Compeeds are great at protecting the area until new skin has formed underneath and they really help reduce the pain on multi-day treks.
Other Things To Think About
When it comes to keeping safe and healthy when travelling, it’s not just about travel first aid kits. Here are a few other things you should consider:
1. A Menstrual Cup
If you are of a certain age and travelling with a vagina, have you thought about getting a menstrual cup? They are reusable, so much better for the environment then pads and tampons. Here’s my super honest guide to travelling with a menstrual cup and how to avoid period related nightmares when travelling. You can have a good old laugh at my misfortune too!
2. A Travel Water Filter
At home in the UK (and in much of Europe and North America) we are incredibly lucky to have clean, drinkable water straight from the taps. For much of the world, this is not the case. And as a traveller, you can get very sick from the water in some countries. Whilst travelling in places with undrinkable tap water, you will find yourself buying way to many plastic bottles. This absolutely sucks as we produce way too much plastic and more than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped in our oceans every year.
I recommend getting a travel water filter. We looked at a whopping 22 different water filter/purification products, here are the best travel water filters.
I know sun tans are sexy, but ANY TAN is bad for you. There is no such thing as a safe tan. The science is in, I am sorry.
Often when travelling we found the usual sunscreen doesn’t work well. So we opted for 50+ once a day sunscreen as you get more bang for your buck, you have to carry less weight and reapply less. Although in some hot places when trekking we still need to reapply 3 or 4 times.
Hard To Get Hold Of
Do note that if you are travelling in some parts of the world, normal sunscreen is really hard to get hold of and expensive. In many parts of Asia for example, they put skin lightening products in the sunscreen. In some places they often don’t wear sunscreen. So make sure you stock up on sunscreen before you leave.
4. Bug Spray
If you are anything like us, you’ll often be travelling in tropical places. They are the best. But, you’ll most likely be eaten alive. Unless you are one of those lucky people that mosquitoes hate.
I’m not gonna lie, bug spray will not stop you from being bitten, especially from the monsters in the Amazon jungle. But it does help to some extent and in areas that are rife with malaria, zika or dengue, prevention is key. We stocked up on Jungle Formula (again only available in the UK) before we went away.
5. Hand Sanitiser
I know hand sanitiser makes you look like such a tourist, but it’s such a necessity. My mum came to Sri Lanka to visit us with no hand sanitiser. After seeing the first toilet, which was spewing poop everywhere and the sink had no hand soap, she instantly regretted it. Often when travelling you need to wash your hands in the most inconvenient of places. Other times soap just doesn’t seem to exist.
On the Annapurna Circuit trek in Nepal soap was a far-flung dream and at a certain altitude even sinks disappeared. We used hand sanitiser for 2 weeks solid until we could wash properly!
6. A Whistle
A whistle can come in handy if you get lost whilst trekking. Get an extra loud one!
A compass is super handy for trekking. Most phones have compasses these days, but you might want to get one IRL in case your phone runs out of battery.
Suunto make strong and reliable compasses and is what we carry. If you are going to be doing a lot of trekking this Suunto compass is a good mid-priced option.
8. Survival Blanket
Again, this potentially could be considered over the top. And maybe it is, it depends what you are doing on your travelling adventure. We travelled to Nepal and completed the Annapurna Circuit trek. This involves two weeks trekking in the Himalayas. It’s a popular and largely safe trek, however in 2014 there was a snowstorm and 43 trekkers died. You can never be too careful.
In the mountains, it can be very hard to find your way sometimes, the weather is very changeable and temperatures are well below freezing at night. Having been up a mountain in the middle of the night with not enough warm gear I can tell you, you start suffering very quickly and it is quite scary. Luckily when this happened to me, I found some shelter. If you get lost or injured a survival blanket or shelter could be the difference between making it back and not. So, we decided to take survival blankets with us.
The best one available in the UK for size and budget is a 3 layer one from Blizzard Survival.
If you are based in the US, the Tact Bivvy is highly rated too.
Travel Safety and Security
This blog is part of a series of blogs on travel safety and security. Read more:
Found This Blog Useful?
We try to be as useful and practical in our travel advice as possible. If you found this blog on travel first aid kits (and other tips) helpful in any way, do share it.