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7 Lifesaving First Aid Items You Should Take on Vacation, Say Doctors & a Paramedic

Travel prep means planning for the unexpected. Our writer—a dad, former pro firefighter and paramedic, and present-day certified health coach—spoke with emergency room physicians to curate this list of essentials so your next adventure is unforgettable in all good ways.

Lifesaving First Aid Items You Should Take On Vacationboonchai wedmakawand/getty images

Whether you’re trekking through the rainforests of South America or chilling poolside on a luxury cruise, travel can open the door to some of life’s most memorable experiences. But travel also comes with risks, and it’s important to be prepared for unexpected bumps along the journey. From minor cuts and stings to allergic reactions and upset stomachs, injury and illness can quickly derail even the best-planned itinerary.

With safety as a top priority, traveling with a comprehensive first aid kit is essential. As a former paramedic who personally treated thousands of people in an emergency setting, I know how important it is to be properly equipped. What gets packed into that travel kit that is often the biggest question, which is why we consulted with emergency department doctors to get their best recommendations for travel preparation that can keep you and your family safe and smiling, wherever you venture.

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Vaccines/Prophylactic medications

Depending on the destination in your travel plans, there are certain vaccines, medications, or prophylactic treatments that may be recommended prior to setting off on your trip. “Checking the CDC website for their recommendations and then consulting with your physician is an essential first step,” says Dr. Kyle Hersh, MD, an emergency department physician with Kaiser Permanente. “Your physician should be able to coordinate any vaccines that are needed and may also prescribe prophylactic treatments for diseases like malaria.”

Keep in mind that many of the recommended vaccines may require boosters, which means planning well in advance of your trip may be necessary to ensure that you are adequately protected before you head off.

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Prescription medications

This may go without saying, but making sure you have your prescription medications, and an ample supply of those medications, is vital. “Especially if you take medication for chronic illnesses or carry things like an EpiPen for treatment of more acute-type illnesses,” says Dr. Hersh.

When traveling with these medications, the CDC recommends keeping them in their original labeled containers. Another pro tip is to check with your destination to see if there are any restrictions on the medicine you are carrying. Be sure to also count out your supply before you depart, making sure that you have an adequate amount to cover any travel delays that may occur on your return home.

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Over-the-counter (OTC) medications

Along with your prescription medications, there are a number of over-the-counter medications that “would be wise to have as part of your supply,” says Dr. Lauren Van Woy, DO, who specializes in both emergency medicine and pediatric emergency medicine in San Diego, CA. “From Benadryl for allergic reactions, to acetaminophen and ibuprofen, which can be effective for both pain management and fever reduction,” Dr. Van Woy listed a few medications that can be found within her own travel supply:

    • Benadryl
    • Antibiotic Ointment
    • Imodium Anti-Diarrheal
    • Acetaminophen/Ibuprofen
    • Anti-Sting Ointment
    • Hydrocortisone cream

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Wound care

Both Dr. Hersh and Dr. Van Woy emphasized the importance of proper wound care supplies that could aid in anything from bleeding control to simply keeping a wound clean and free from infection. Band-aids of various sizes, gauze rolls, Coban (self-adherent wrap), and tape were among the most important items to have within your kit, according to these two docs.

Also, especially if you’ll be in the woods, it might not hurt to carry a venom extractor like this one, which more than 2,000 Amazon reviewers have given an average 4.5 out of five stars. The brand says it “helps to remove poisons or venom from snake bites, bee stings, wasp stings, mosquito bites & more.” We hope you don’t need it, but preparation is peace of mind.

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Insect repellent

Speaking of bugs and bites: Depending on your travel destination, insects bites can be responsible for the transmission of a number of diseases that can have lifelong effects on travelers. Mosquitos, long known to be a source of transmission for diseases like malaria, are also accountable for more recent viruses like Zika, which Dr. Hersh states “should be a big concern for pregnant women traveling to areas where Zika has been prevalent.” Insect repellent can be an important way to reduce the chance of infectious disease transmission, while “also reducing the risk of an adverse or allergic reaction to an insect bite,” Dr. Hersh says.

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Pediatric supplies

If you are traveling with small children, Dr. Van Woy recommends a few additional items for your travel supply. Small children are primarily nose-breathers, and colds or allergies can quickly block up their airway. Having a nasal aspirator to help remove any obstructions can be an important tool to making sure you keep their airways free and clear, she says.

Additionally, a thermometer can be important in getting a quick gauge on the severity of a child’s illness when you suspect they are running a fever, especially if you’re using an over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen to try and lower their temperature. Having a baseline number can help you monitor the effectiveness of your treatment.

First aid kitmikroman6/Getty Images

First Aid/CPR certification

It’s not having the physical copy of your first aid and CPR certification that’s important—what’s key is the training behind it. With any first aid kit, having the tools will only get you so far. Having the skills to use the tools can make the difference in a life-saving intervention for you or your family.

As a former paramedic, I can cite dozens of experiences where early bystander intervention, including bleeding control and early CPR, were major factors in patient survivability. Both of the emergency physicians we interviewed agreed that proper training, which can be found through organizations like the American Red Cross, can be one of the most important tools in your travel arsenal.

Another tool worth considering is a suction rescue device designed to help in a choking event. As one example, the LifeVac travel kit has more than 4,000 Amazon shopper reviews, some who note its strong suction. We also like the bright yellow pouch, which might make it more of a cinch to spot inside a handbag or tote in the swift moment when you need it immediately.

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Jeff Whittington, MS, CPT, CNC
Jeff Whittington, MS, is a former San Diego Firefighter/Paramedic turned entrepreneur. He’s a self-described adventure seeker who’s passionate about human performance optimization and longevity. Jeff operates as a Peak Performance Coach, where he utilizes a diverse background of certifications to work with clients on life changes that enhance their overall performance and health in their daily lives. His education/certifications include Personal Training (NASM), Nutrition Coaching, XPT® Performance Breathing, Life Coaching, and Mindfulness/Meditation practices. Jeff lives in San Diego with his two children and his wife Hillary, author of the memoir Raising Ryland (HarperCollins Publishers, 2016), for which Jeff was a contributing writer.