• travel first aid kit whats in my backpack

Your Journey First Aid Kit – Advice from a Nurse

So usually when traveling these are the things I take. But, I will say sometimes I don’t take any because I am a bit irresponsible and because I travel in Asia often, I can afford to buy this stuff as I need it.

 5 Items in My Journey First Aid Kit:

1. Band-Aids. Just bring a few for the occasional blister or cut, not a whole space-sucking box.

2. Cortisone cream for bug bites, mysterious rashes, bed bugs, scabies, hives due to finding out you’re allergic to all kinds of new things… You will be shocked by the number of mysterious rashes you get while traveling. I don’t think it’s gross because I’m so used to it, I’m a nurse, I’ve seen grosser! Actually, I have a weird rash on my leg now, possibly from a tick I pulled off but you never know!

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when you say in places like this, you’re bound to get some kind of rash

3. Birth control. A pill, condoms, whatever it is you use. Guys need to do this as well; it’s not just a female responsibility. Tip: If you use popular pills like Yaz/Yasmin, OR generics that you don’t mind interchanging- it is about 8 dollars over the counter in developing and third world countries that sell birth control. Once you quit your job, keep in mind you won’t have medical insurance to pay for your pills.

4. Benadryl. Not just for allergies, but as a sleep aid. Tip: You can buy anything over the counter if you choose the right counter. Just be safe with drugs like Xanax, Valium, and Ambien. Don’t drink on them.

5. Neosporin for cuts and other abrasions if you know exactly what they are. Tip: Keep in mind; contrary to the belief of the child in you, it is not safe for everything.  If you put this goop on a rash that’s contagious it’s just going to spread it around making the rash bigger.

5 Things you’ll notice I don’t have in my bag:

1. Tylenol/Paracetamol because I don’t like to take them. If you use these often definitely bring some, and if you need more buy them cheaper abroad.

2. Malaria pills. I really hate to take a pill every day because it feels unnatural, the side effects are not nice (craziness, weird dreams, sunburn). This is a controversial topic and you are better to trust what you doctor says. I have many friends here in India that have had malaria multiple times and act like it’s a stubbed toe. At the same time, I treated more cases that I can count in Africa, and I’ve seen babies die from it. Bottom line, ff it’s caught early you will be okay. Personally,  I believe the research that says the anti-malarial pills can hide the real symptoms. I’ve had dengue fever and from what I’ve been told, that’s much worse in symptoms so I’ll take my chances.

3. Imodium. Here’s the thing you must remember: if it’s coming out and its not normal, it’s better out then in. Try not to take anti-diarrheal meds. If you are really sick and dehydrated you need to go to the hospital and get fluids. This has happened to me multiple times. I just love foreign hospitals…

travel first aid kit, travel, first aid kit, what to pack in travel first aid kit, india, hostelsThailand, 4 hours on fluids, pain and nausea medicine… total cost: 120 dollars (compared to U.S. cheap, but compared to India, it’s a fortune!)

4. Laxatives. If it’s not coming out try to change the diet or the amount of stress you’re dealing with. Your body will be out of whack while traveling and it’s best not to induce diarrhea.

5. Ciprofloxacin– chemists want to give this out like candy. I used to eat it like candy. Every time I got a case of Delhi Belly I was taking a cycle of cipro. Guess what? Now cipro is like candy in my body and it doesn’t work at all for me. On top of that, most bacteria in India are now resistant to cipro. It is also best to go to a doctor, get a stool sample, and find out what bacteria you have. Take a pill accordingly. Cipro is for Lower GI infections, and I’ve seen people taking it for sore throats!

More Medical Tips for your Journeys:

Any pills you need abroad you will find, the pills just may have a different name.  If you are going somewhere expensive take what you need for seasickness, headaches, allergies, antacids, etc. But, of course, they are SO much cheaper in developing/third world countries. I get 10 Ibuprofen for 10 Rupees (that’s 16 cents).

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Taking more may lose you money in the end.

The problem is when you take all the supplies you could possibly need, they are at your hotel, in your bag. You are out and someone gets cut, steps on a nail, or worse. What do you do? Go to the nearest chemist and buy when you need. Now you’ve bought everything twice. Not good! For items I didn’t list above, it’s best to wait until you need it to buy it.

Don’t think just because it’s not your home country that the doctors don’t know what they’re doing. BUT don’t think that chemists know as much as our pharmacists; sometimes they hand you medication that makes absolutely no sense. This might be because your English description makes no sense to them or because they weren’t trained properly.

For minor complications, skip the doctor fee and go straight to the chemist (marked with a green sign). You don’t need prescriptions to buy medication in most countries abroad.

Also use the book they have to read what the pill is they are selling you. 




About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing and lived on the beaches of Goa, India for the five years. Now she lives in Mexico where she gives advice on the 40+ countries she’s visited in the last 10 years. She’s the author of two India travel e-books: Guide to India and Insider’s Guide to Goa. Her blog, Werkenntwen, like its name, is a contradiction combining off-beat adventurous places with glamorous and bespoke travel. Werkenntwen has been featured in ELLE, Marie Claire, Grazia, and Cosmopolitan magazines. She’s a writer for Bravo TV.


  1. Michael Huxley November 11, 2013 at 7:53 pm - Reply

    What a great post!

    It’s really good to meet a fellow nurse as well as a backpacker too!

    I absolutely agree with pretty much everything you say here, I see far too many people lugging about first aid kits that resemble paramedics response bags, and I just think what is the point? First of all if they actually needed half that kit they probably wouldn’t have the training to know how to use it, and secondly they should be getting themselves to any local pharmacy/clinic/doctor/hospital depending on the need. There is very little you can’t get on the road in anywhere but the remotest places.

    Apart from the choice of lugging Benadryl with you, The one thing I don’t agree with is the malaria pills. You are right that is something each individual should weigh up the pros and cons of with their own nurse specialist or GP, and they are absolutely not needed all of the time, but there are circumstances where the risk DOES outweigh the contraindications.

    I’ve had Dengue too, in India in fact, and it is not pleasant is it!?

    Anyway, enough rambling, just wanted to say I’m really glad I found your site, you are doing an excellent job with it! Consider me a new follower!

    • Hippie-inHeels November 12, 2013 at 8:13 am - Reply

      awesome! I just recently found your site through innocentnomad! Malaria pills are such a touchy topic, I did take them when I was in Uganda for a month, but had I been there for a year or so, I probabaly wouldn’t. I think if I went somewhere with a huge problem of malaria short term I would be more likely to try them again! Dengue was the worst- 4 weeks of torture! thanks for the comment and glad we’ve connected!

  2. Danielle December 5, 2013 at 2:50 am - Reply

    Those darn malaria pills gave me the most wack-a-doodle dreams/nightmares ever…not great for a sleep walker.
    Anyway, I think you are spot on with your advice but I do have one question- What about vitamins and supplements? I know I should be trying to cover that with my diet but I am saving my $$ for my upcoming RTW so I eat cheaply. Do you take any?

    • Rachel December 5, 2013 at 5:09 am - Reply

      I don’t take them- the best thing about eating cheap when you travel is outside of American, cheap doesn’t have to be processed food or the dollar menu at mcd’s. I took a peak at your itinerary and you’ll be able to get fresh fruit and veg very cheaply (i think paris, london etc won’t be as cheap if I remember right but always check the grocery store in places like that bc the fresh market can be overpriced “organic” , i think that one year without your vitamins will be a- ok! good luck!

      • Michael Huxley December 16, 2013 at 12:15 pm - Reply

        I absolutely agree with Rachel here, there is never any need at all to take supplements unless you are sick/injured and otherwise unable to get a healthy diet down you!

        Journeyling the world and eating healthy is SO easy, ESPECIALLY in popular backpacker regions such as SE and S.Asia, S.America and so on. Fresh fruit and veg is so accessible and cheap, fresh chicken and fish are readily available for protein and rice and even pasta or fresh bread for carbs is cheap too. You can eat a really good, fresh, healthy diet with all the nutrients your body needs for very little.

        • Rachel December 16, 2013 at 2:39 pm - Reply

          well said mike! the less you pack, the more room you’ll have to shop! double whammy

  3. Danielle January 6, 2014 at 6:59 pm - Reply

    Thanks for getting back to me! Yes man it is really hard to be cost effective with the veggies and fruit here. I am really looking forward to lifestyle where fresh is cheaper, especially since I love to cook!

  4. Michelle February 8, 2015 at 1:28 am - Reply

    Great tips! I agree with your advice about the Malaria pills– I opted not to take them while backpacking in Central & South America, and I’m glad I did. They were very expensive in the US and taking precautions (bug spray, avoiding sunrise/sunset when possible, and wearing long sleeves) helped a ton. Also, wish I would have read this before that trip– there is really no need to bring lots of meds, otc or rx. They’re all at pharmacies, cheaper than the US, and in South/Central America they’re available without a script. Easy peasy!

    • Rachel Jones February 11, 2015 at 8:02 pm - Reply

      Hi Michelle, sometimes it takes the first trip to learn about what you can get abroad – better to be safe than sorry :D

  5. Marta March 2, 2015 at 12:43 am - Reply

    Hi Rachel,
    Love your site! It’s helped me so much packing for my Australian adventure I’m about to embark on next week. On the topic of health, I am currently shopping around for traveler’s insurance. Wondering what you use and/or if you had any recommendations! Or if you have a blog topic on this? Thanks so much!

  6. Margo January 28, 2016 at 3:16 am - Reply

    You shouldn’t use ciprofloxacin in India or South East Asia… .. the recommender antibiotic is azithromycin.

    • Rachel Jones January 28, 2016 at 10:09 am - Reply

      Why is that? The give cipro when necessary – I’m on it now for a bacterial stomach infx

  7. Yan June 7, 2016 at 9:07 am - Reply

    I am going to India this August and my doctor recommend me to take Anti-malaria pill. Since I will travel the most part in North India. I was wondering what you would recommend to pack for my First-Aid med Kit.

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