Whether you are planning a weekend getaway, short holiday or a gap year, it is essential to consider your health and safety. Taking enough supplies and the necessary medication may be the difference between a fantastic holiday and a holiday from hell.
Many companies provide pre-prepared first aid kits, designed for all sorts of holidays. While these are worth considering, there are many other medical necessities that these pre-packed kits may have not included. Creating your own ensures you take the ideal medical kit to suit your vacation.
The essentials for all types of holiday
- Analgesics – Such as Paracetamol or Ibuprofen. While many painkillers may be available all over the world, you can never be sure how strong they are or how safe they are. Most medication from countries within the European Economic Area (EEA) should be safe, but perhaps you’d be better off by bringing the version you are most familiar with from home.
- Antihistamines – These are not only required for those who suffer from allergies. They can be very useful as you never know when you may have a minor allergic reaction to something in another country. They will reduce any itching or swelling if you do happen to have a reaction or if you have nasty sunburn side-effects.
- Antiseptic cream or liquid – All are just as effective but take into consideration the liquid limit on planes (for hand luggage) and be aware that, if the liquid leaks, the smell will linger in your bag for the whole holiday!
- Baby wipes – This may sound crazy but this item is invaluable. The list of their uses is endless, but you will be grateful you have them to hand.
- Bite and sting cream – For the times where those nasty bugs evade your repellent. Creams are available to be applied to bites and stings, as well as clickers which provide relief for bites.
- Cotton wool buds/balls/pads – These can be bought really cheaply and are great for applying any liquid or cream substances.
- Hand sanitizer – Extremely handy when soap or hand wash is not available. It is also worth using before eating with your hands, even if it does make your food taste a little clinical, and especially before applying any type of medicinal creams to your skin.
- Insect repellent – Great for fending off unwanted bugs. Different strengths are available depending on the places you are visiting. Any outdoor specialist shops will be able to give you advice on which one is suitable for your destination, for more tropical destinations, opt for repellents with 50% DEET.
- Plasters – These come in either fabric or waterproof, if you intend on going to the beach or swimming. You can also get fabric dressing which can be cut and adjusted to fit the size of the wound.
- Scissors or a pen knife – The latter of course, is exceptionally useful but if you don’t have the money to fork out for one, then taking a small pair of scissors is suitable alternative. Make sure you put them into your carrier luggage as sharp objects are prohibited in hand luggage.
- Sunscreen/After sun – Make sure you get the right SPF factor that suits you and the places you are visiting. It is definitely better to be over-protected than under-protected. Also avoid using a sunscreen you have had for a couple of years as, once it is opened, the SPF protection begins to reduce. If, unfortunately, you still get burnt then aloe vera-rich aftersun is excellent for helping the skin to heal.
- Contraception – This may be far trickier to get hold of abroad than you realise. There are certain international regulations that make condoms protective and safe, but you can never be sure if the condoms you buy abroad have been produced under these same specifications. Packing is not regulated, and out-of-date condoms may be re-packed into new packages to sell them off and putting your health at risk – AIDS is still a big issue across the world. If you are unsure, only buy Durex condoms abroad with the symbol ‘certified by international standards’. While the contraceptive pill is free on prescription in the UK, this may not be the case across the rest of the world; it might be difficult to get a prescription or may cost a fortune so bring it with you.
Other medication to take into consideration
- Anti-diarrhoea medication – Traveller’s diarrhoea is extremely common and you don’t want your day to be ruined by not being able to venture out. It’s not recommendable to take them on a long-term basis, but they are useful if your upset tummy comes at a time when you have planned a big day out.
- Constipation medication – You can never be quite sure how your body will react to new foods, and while diarrhoea is the more common problem, constipation can also occur. Just taking a few fibre sachets may solve the problem.
- Indigestion relief – You may not suffer from indigestion much in the UK but you can never be too sure how foreign food may affect you so having a remedy to hand would definitely be helpful. Indigestion relief can be found in liquid form or as soluble tablets to be chewed.
- Rehydration sachets – It is beneficial to take these if you become dehydrated through illness or diarrhoea during your holiday.
- Tampons/pads – One for the ladies! This may seem obvious, but don’t assume that these essentials are as easy to get hold of in all countries; locating basic products should be simple but you won’t always find the full range of products that you are used to and prices may well be higher. Bring them with you – you don’t want to be caught short.
Do-it-yourself first aid kit
Most of these items can be found in the ready-prepared first aid kits and can be purchased from any drugs store or pharmacy at a relatively cheap price. With most of these products, make sure that the packaging is not damaged when travelling around as it will make them unsterilized. Place all of these items together in a travel-proof container (it can just be a standard Tupperware box) to make sure that the items are not damaged.
- Crepe bandages/dressing bandages – useful for any strains or sprain. Never directly apply a crepe bandage to a wound.
- Thermometer – Pretty self-explanatory; the thermometer is useful for checking for high temperatures and fevers, which are associated with many illnesses.
- Non-adherent wound dressings (different sizes) – Usually used for larger wounds (that cannot be covered with a plaster), these dressings are sterile and do not stick to the wound. Make sure the wound is treated with antiseptic and that it is clean of any dirt before covering it. Crepe bandages (see above) can be used to keep it in place, as long as the crepe bandage does not touch any part of the wound.
- Microporous tape – This can be used to affix non-adherent dressings to wounds or keep bandages in place. Tape the non-adherent dressing around the wound, making sure the tape does not come into contact with the wound.
- Zinc oxide tape – More useful for those undertaking a sporting event abroad, this can be used to provide support to muscles and joints as well as preventing blisters.
- Gloves (latex or non-latex) - These gloves are best used when dealing with any open wounds or applying any sterile items to a wound to prevent contamination. It maybe useful to have more then 1 pair so that you can dispose of any used to prevent further infection.
- Tweezers – Useful for removing splinters and dirt trapped in wounds. If you do use the tweezers on an open wound, don’t forget to wipe it/soak it in antiseptic to clean it and prevent future infection.
- Safety pins – These little items have an abundance of uses, from pinning a dressing bandage in place to pinning together a rip in your trousers.
- Blister plasters/Corn plasters – Definitely a must for those who will be going on long walks or hiking on their holiday. Zinc oxide tape can also be used as a substitute for blister plasters.
Whether or not the water abroad is drinkable is always a tricky issue. It is probably safer to take the outlook that it is not safe for you to drink, to prevent an upset stomach and traveller’s diarrhoea ruining your trip. Purifying the water is the easiest way to avoid drinking contaminated water. There are a number of different ways to purify the water and these can be purchased from any outdoors specialist shops or from reliable adventure companies online:
- Chlorine Dioxide tablets – These tablets kill any bacteria, viruses or cysts found in the water. They can be used long-term and do not leave any colour, odour or residual taste.
- Chlorine tablets – These tablets kill pathogenic organisms (such as bacteria and cysts) and will make the water safe for cleaning teeth and preparing food as well as drinking. The water will have an unusual taste, colour and odour after being treated with these tablets.
- Neutralising tablets – These tablets can be used to reduce the unusual taste, colour and odour of the chlorine tablets. They do NOT make water safe to drink and should only be used in combination with the chlorine tablets.
- Chlorine Dioxide droplets – These treat the water in the same way as the tablets, but come in droplet form.
- A SteriPEN – The pen uses ultra-violet light to sterilise the water, killing bacteria, viruses and cysts. It only takes 90 seconds to sterilise 1 litre of water so is quick and portable.
- Water purification bottles – These are bottles similar to sports drinking bottles, which contain a purified filter that removes the contaminated freshwater from bacteria, protozoa, viruses and anthrax. This saves you using lots of plastic water bottles and means you always have a container to fill.
These are only a few of the ways to purify water so research into the best method to suit you. There is lots of information on the risk of drinking water abroad and how to avoid it, so doing a little research into the country you are visiting is only a click away.
- It is always important to make sure you have the necessary vaccinations (or malaria tablets) before travelling to your destination. Always leave plenty of time before the date you are due to leave on your holiday to receive your vaccinations, as some are given in more than one dose across a number of weeks. If you are unsure, just ask your doctor about it and they can point you in the right direction, or see our information page on diseases across the world.
- If you are travelling to one or more countries within the EEA (European Economic Area – including Switzerland) then it is important to apply for a European Health Insurance card (EHIC) which allows you access to state-provided healthcare for a reduced fee or sometimes for free. However, this does not replace the need for Travel Insurance. This card is available for free from the NHS.
- Make sure you get Travel Insurance which covers medical emergencies and other medical needs appropriate for your trip. There are a large number of companies who offer Travel Insurance – from the Post Office to STA (Student Travel Agency).
- When bringing medication into a country, always check that what you bring in is not illegal in that particular country or any of the countries you intend on visiting during your trip. There are a number of websites provided on this page which will give you directions on how to find out if your medication is legal or not. You do not want to be caught with illegal substances in another country, even if they are legal in the UK.
- For those who are going on long-terms trips such as gap years abroad you could enhance your medical knowledge and make yourself feel safer by taking a first aid course. Companies such as St John’s Ambulance and Red Cross offer a large range of first aid courses which will benefit you, as well as those who are with you or who you meet on your travels.
- Perhaps an extremely obvious point but always remember to read the labels of medication properly. If you purchase medication abroad and you cannot understand the instructions, always ask a pharmacist to explain the instructions to you. If you are unsure about what it says, do not take it – the outcome could be far worse then the initial problem.
The National Travel Health Network and Centre: http://www.nathnac.org/
The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/
NHS healthcare Abroad webpage: http://www.nhs.uk/nhsengland/Healthcareabroad/pages/Healthcareabroad.aspx
Fit for Travel website provides helpful advice for travellers: http://www.fitfortravel.scot.nhs.uk/advice/advice-for-travellers.aspx