Health basics: first aid essentials to pack for your backpacking trip
While it’s good to be prepared, you can go overboard with your travel meds pack - some backpackers rock up to their hostel with a whole pharmacy in tow, including nice-to-have but non-essential items like vitamin tablets and cough lozenges. We think the six items below are the foundation of a travel first aid kit, obviously supplemented by any regular medicines you’ve been prescribed and any destination-specific items you need, such as antimalarials and altitude sickness pills.
Rehydration medicines (e.g. Dioralyte): Remember: only take medicines that stop diarrhoea if it’s absolutely essential. The rest of the time you’re better off letting things run their course - your body’s trying to get rid of the bug, so allow it to do its thing, unpleasant as it is. Just keep topping up your fluids with water and rehydration products.
Anti-diarrhoea medicines (e.g. Imodium): That said, do carry some anti-diarrhoea meds for those occasions when you do need to stave it off for a while. But be sensible – it’s a good idea to pop these before a long flight or bus journey, but don’t break them out so you can go partying. If you’ve got the runs, you’ve got the runs; stay in the dorm and rest up.
Antiseptic wipes: No substitute for a proper wash, but a good first port of call for minor cuts, particularly if you’re somewhere with no clean water supply. A small cut isn’t much to worry about in itself, but an infected cut could get serious. Give it a wipe, cover it with a clean bandage or plaster (see below), and wash it as soon as you get to clean water.
Plasters and/or gauze: Again, this is about minimising infection. Don’t skimp on these unless it’s unavoidable - those cheapo plasters that work fine when you’re kicking around at home won’t last five minutes when you’re on the road.
Painkillers and anti-inflammatories (e.g. Paracetamol and Ibuprofen): They’ll come in handy if you get a cold or flu, have a mild fever or allergic reaction, sprain something, or just wake up with a crushing hangover. Serious fevers or allergic reactions will need proper medical attention.
Insect repellent: This isn’t just about warding off malaria-carrying mosquitoes - you’ll want it wherever there are bitey things, from the West African coast to the Finnish lakes to British beer gardens. Being bitten just plain sucks, and if you’re sensitive to it, it can leave nasty, itchy welts.