First Aid Kit Essentials for International Travel

Dietrich Easter
First Aid Kit Essentials for International Travel

If you’re planning a trip to a foreign country, your medical kit should be a priority. Whether you have a chronic ailment or not, international travel has unique health concerns that impact everyone. We recently posted about building a first aid kit for vacations; now, we’ll talk about travel around the world and how you can prepare a good first aid kit. 


When traveling overseas, you need to think about the types of ailments and injuries you’re likely to encounter. You’ll also need to bring more supplies (or have a plan to obtain more when you arrive) than usual. All aspects of international travel require detailed planning, but you certainly don’t want to overlook the importance of first aid and medical emergencies – making a mistake here could have huge consequences. 


Below, we’ll give you a list of things you should bring when traveling internationally. Then, we’ll talk about some of the reasoning behind why you should bring what you bring. We’ll wrap everything up by discussing some of the logistics of international travel. 


Complete list of First Aid Items to Pack When Traveling Internationally


Let’s begin with a checklist so you can start packing. Some of these supplies need to be on your person while traveling. To save packing space, you might be able to purchase some gear after you’ve arrived at your destination. 


Note: always double-check that what you bring is airport/TSA approved. Most medical supplies are allowed, but it's wise to make sure (and to have some backup in your checked luggage in case you must throw something away!).


Emergency first aid and medical supplies for world travel: 


  • Packing gauze 

  • Tourniquets 

  • Chest seals 

  • Rescue mask/barrier

  • Trauma dressing 

  • Medical Tape 

  • Trauma shears 

  • Gauze pads 

  • Triangular bandage

  • Water treatment (filter, tablets)

  • NOTE: Try to carry some of this with you in your carry-on if you're flying. 


Prescription medications for foreign travel: 


  • Any prescription meds 

  • Think about Insulin and Epi-Pens, and Inhalers - you may need extra. 

  • Talk to a doctor about other meds, antibiotics, or meds to combat travelers' diarrhea. 

  • Note: now is a good time to get a medical alert bracelet if you need one!


Non-prescription medications:


  • Ibuprofen 

  • Tylenol 

  • Antacid 

  • Mild laxative 

  • Aspirin 

  • Cold medicine 

  • Benadryl 

  • Any others needed


Gear to pack for minor injuries: 


  • Tweezers 

  • Masks/Medical and N95

  • Band-aids 

  • Splints

  • Sunscreen 

  • Ice pack 

  • Antibiotic ointment 

  • Burn cream 

  • Hot packs

  • Insect repellant 

  • Hand sanitizer 

  • Thermometer 

  • Eye drops


We’ve tried to include all the major items. However, ensure you do more searching and read more articles. Here is a good traveler checklist from the CDC. 


In the next sections, we’ll talk about principles to keep in mind while traveling. 

Tips and Tricks for Packing a First Aid Kit for International Travel 


Here are some tips to keep your international travel safer: 


  • Learn the laws and rules of the area you're visiting.

  • Learn locations of hospitals 

  • Use a good medical bag. 

  • Bring medical references. 

  • Avoid traveling alone

  • Get medical training before you travel 

  • Tips for traveling light 

  • Final thoughts


Let's look at these in more depth. 

Learn the Rules of the Area You’re Traveling 


If you’re traveling in Brazil, it’s a good idea to learn about the local rules and regulations surrounding medications. For example, some areas might not allow you to bring certain things into the country. However, other times, you will find some countries allow you to buy drugs that require a prescription in the US. 


Finally, make sure you’re aware of the quality of the medications you may purchase overseas. Not every country will have everything well regulated. We even make mistakes in the USA, so other countries should not be trusted until you’ve done your research. 


Learn Locations of Hospitals before Traveling


Before you travel anywhere, you should obtain a map and study it. Never travel to an area without a paper map. Learn where the hospitals are and learn how to use a map. You never know what types of cell phone service you will have, even in well-developed countries. You always want to be able to get to a good hospital if possible. 


Not everyone has the time to become fluent in every language before every trip. Regardless, you should learn the emergency numbers in all foreign countries, and you should learn how to say basic words like “hurt,” “doctor,” and anything else that might be related to your medical condition. In an emergency is not the time to hope that Google translate gets it right. 


Use a Good Medical Bag 


For a medical bag, use a med kit that looks fairly generic but still has all the compartments you need. You don’t want to be digging for your medications and first aid supplies while traveling. Use good medical bags, and don’t store your medical supplies all in one place. If you lose a bag, at least you will still have a few essential supplies in another bag. 


What makes a good first aid pack? 


First, you want something durable and well-made. If you plan on using a plastic bag, then you may want to think again. A plastic bag can work for some medical supplies, but you don’t want to be dumping things everywhere as you search for tourniquets and gauze. 


A note here, be careful with the military-looking bags or anything with Molle loops. These are great bags, but in some foreign countries, they are more conspicuous than may be prudent, often drawing unwanted attention and, in some underdeveloped worlds, may make you a target for foreigners looking to kidnap a “USA military person.” You might think this is a little paranoid; however, when traveling to underdeveloped worlds, you should be cautious. 


If you’re the type who likes tips like this, you should check out a book called Safe Travels in Dangerous Places – this is written by a police officer who has done a ton of travel all over the world. He gives you all the insider tips on avoiding being a victim of crimes, scams, and violence. 


Bring Medical Reference Books During International Travel 


Do you have some books on first aid and medical emergencies? If not, now is the time to get some good ones and to bring them with you while you travel. What should you look for?  


First, it should be small. You should be able to place it in your pocket when needed. Also, look for a guide that has spiral loops, making it easier to flip to a page without losing your place. 


Second, look for a first aid reference book that covers many situations – you don’t just want a pamphlet. Find one that’s small yet beefy. 


Last, look for a medical reference book that has translations included. In a pinch, you can pull out the pamphlet and point at various words, aiding in communication in a foreign country. 


Here’s a reference guide to first aid made for EMTs – this has a lot of information, just be sure to review it before you try to use it, as it’s made for professionals. Here’s another first aid guide for wilderness travel. Sometimes, it’s best to buy a few different guidebooks and distribute them to people in your group and see which are the easiest to use. 


Avoid Traveling Alone 


Most people who are at risk of being kidnapped and harmed don’t usually realize they are at risk of being kidnapped or harmed – this is one reason they are a target – they are oblivious. Realizing the risks is part of first aid preparation for international travel. 


First, there are people out there who look to take advantage of foreign travelers. This can happen in both developed and undeveloped worlds. When people see that you look scared, they see a target. This could lead to simple pickpockets to muggings. 


How can you avoid becoming a victim? First, realize that it’s probably safest to travel in a group, whether you’re male or female. Not only will a group setting help protect you from possible crimes, but it also gives you a network of people who will look out for you should you become ill or injured. 


If you get a traveler's sickness and begin vomiting everywhere, who is going to hold the bag for you? On a more serious note, you might need someone to call the ambulance or help drive you to the hospital. 



Find Medical Training Before International Travel 


If you’ve never taken medical or first aid classes, now would be a great time. Let’s face it, regardless of if you’re traveling to Paris or Brazil; you’ll need to be a little more independent than you are in the US. So, be sure you know how to perform basic maneuvers, like CPR, airway management, and bleeding control. 


How to Travel Light with a Medical Kit


If you don’t want to pack a ton of extra stuff, try to figure out if there’s anything you can reasonably purchase after you arrive. For example, you can probably pack a small bottle of hand sanitizer for your trip and then buy a larger bottle when you arrive – before you leave, you can refill your small bottle from the larger one. 


Further, you can pack your most essential supplies in your carry-on luggage, and your less important supplies can go in your checked bags. 


Little tricks like this can help you travel light while still staying safe. 


Key Takeaway on First Aid Essentials for International Travel


Preparing for international travel can be daunting, particularly trying to keep a good first aid kit. If you have chronic medical conditions, ensure you contact your doctor before you travel. 


A physician will tell you several specific things to think about before you begin exploring the globe. They may give you extra prescriptions for your current medications, or they may provide you with antibiotics just in case you become ill. Keep in mind diseases like malaria. 


Also, take the time to get trained. You don’t want to be “flying blind.” If you prepare before you travel, you will feel more confident in your ability to keep yourself and others safe.