Traveling is a liberating and nourishing experience, especially if you’re in great physical and mental health. But what about the times when you’ll inevitably get food poisoning from munching on street food, seasickness on your diving voyage, or a headache and nausea from high altitude? I’ve learned the hard way as I’ve traveled the importance of being prepared and having basic medicines and first aid within easy reach. Obviously, everyone has different solutions and beliefs on treating aches and pains, but I say better safe than sorry. Here are the medical essentials I ALWAYS have in my carry-on, ready to administer to keep me as healthy as possible on a trip.
Combats: seasickness, nausea, vomiting and motion sickness.
I wish I could say I’m a perfect traveler, flyer and ship passenger, but I’m not. I sometimes get motion sickness, especially on long, winding mountain roads. Dramamine comes in handy. Sometimes I take half of a Dramamine tablet to decrease its half-life. I also love taking Dramamine All-Day Less Drowsy on long haul flights, as it helps me sleep and stay relaxed (I’m an anxious flyer, and this is a great alternative to taking tranquilizers). Expect to sleep extra deep after you land, so if you are going to explore right off the flight, you’ll be sleep and cranky (maybe that last one is just me…). I find it helps with adjusting to a new time zone from its sleep-inducing effect.
- Benadryl Allergy Plus
Combats: allergic reactions, seasonal allergies, sinus pressure, itchy bites/sunburn
I really love this for multiple reasons: you can combat any seasonal allergies you get from the new place you’re at, AND you can treat a sudden allergic reaction you get from something you consumed or made contact with. Of course, if you’re breaking out in hives, seek medical attention at a clinic! Also, Benadryl, like many anti-histamines, can make you drowsy, so taking it before bedtime can have an added bonus on helping you sleep better.
- Ibuprofen (also known as Advil, Motrin, etc.)
Combats: headaches, sore muscles, toothaches, menstrual cramps
You never know when a headache may strike (ever hiked in 17,000 feet? Altitude changes can trigger some nasty headaches) or you get a fever (not necessarily from the flu) or you feel really sore after a hike or tumble. Having a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine (read: non-narcotic) like Ibuprofen handy can help with all of that. Just be sure to read the label to understand the dosage and make sure you can take this; otherwise there are boat loads of pain relievers out there that will do the trick and work with your body.
Combats: indigestion, nausea, heartburn, upset stomach
Good old Pepto, it really has your bases covered for most digestive problems in one pill (well, you’ll probably take more than one pill, but you catch my drift). When those leftovers you finished off begin to disagree with your stomach, or you’re feeling gassy from the last carb fest you had, or your esophagus feels like you swallowed a Carolina Reaper (read: hottest chili pepper in the world), then Pepto is a quick and easy go-to for almost immediate relief. The only thing is you might have to take multiple doses every couple of hours (reminder to read the label for dosing) for continued relief. Hopefully this puts the brakes on your stomach problems.
Combats: diarrhea, gas, bloating, cramps
No need to get embarrassed – you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t experience the runs at least once in your life. Honestly, nothing sucks more than getting diarrhea on vacation. You’re down for the count for at least a day usually, and you wonder if you’ll ever eat something normal again. I remember chuckling at the term “Delhi-Belly” before going to India, but in reality it was a sobering reminder of the realities of trying new foods or getting unlucky with a bad microbe that contaminates your meal. This can also be a literal lifesaver if you’re traveling alone and feel that urge to marry your bottom to the toilet seat… Fret not, for Imodium is highly effective at putting a stop to diarrhea quickly. The key is to take it when you first get a symptom, so you don’t get dehydrated. However, if you do, fret not, because…
- Nuun Hydration Tablets
So technically this isn’t a medicine, but I found it so useful. Let’s say you’re recovering from diarrhea, or you’re hiking long distances – this is your new best friend. It is chockfull of minerals, vitamins and electrolytes, and it doesn’t have sugar. I love the ones that R-E-I sells; I tried some when hiking in Myanmar and really liked the Strawberry Lemonade flavor (and there are 5 flavors to choose from, in case this isn’t something you like). It isn’t sweet, but it is zesty and refreshing, and most importantly, replenishing. Just pop one in a 16 oz. water bottle and let it dissolve before drinking.
- Tylenol Cold + Flu Day/Night Pack
Combats: cold and flu symptoms, cough, fever, aches, congestion
If you’r unlucky enough to catch a cold or flu on your trip (freezing AC in hot climate, anyone?? Or is it just me…), then taking something from home that you know helps alleviate your symptoms until it runs its course is really important. Not to mention, it will keep a fever or cough down that may lead to something more serious, requiring antibiotics or hospitalization. So I recommend bringing a medicine like this Tylenol pack that treats all sorts of symptoms, with both drowsy and non-drowsy versions to help you take it day and night. While I hope you stay healthy during your trip, keep this handy just in case.
- Compeed blister cushions
Combats: blisters and small cuts
Compeed is one of the best bandages on the market – it attaches to your skin and creates a nearly impenetrable barrier to allow your blister or cut to heal over several days. I always have some in my purse handy to help my feet break in new shoes, recover from exploring a city all day or hiking, or cover up a boo-boo from one of my clumsy trips or tumbles. It happens. But you can barely feel pain coming from the problem area, because of how well-cushioned this bandage is. Great way to continue your trip without sacrificing cute new shoes or limping all the time. By the way, they come in several sizes and shapes to fit hard-to-reach spots.
So while it’s easy to remember to pack the essentials clothes, passport and money, don’t forget basic medicines and first aid too. You don’t think you’ll need it until you do. Not all pharmacies and hospitals speak English, depending where you are, so if you’re feeling ill and have to explain what you have to someone who doesn’t understand, you’ll be in a tough spot. Pack a small container of meds and enjoy your trip! What are some medicines you always bring with you?