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Chapter 2The Pre-Travel ConsultationCounseling & Advice for Travelers

Travel Health Kits

Amanda Whatley Lee

OVERVIEW

Regardless of the destination, all international travelers should assemble and carry a travel health kit. The contents of a travel health kit should be tailored to the traveler’s needs, type and length of travel, and destinations. Kits can be assembled at home or purchased at a local store, pharmacy, or online.

A travel health kit can help to ensure travelers have supplies they need to:

  • Manage preexisting medical conditions and treat any exacerbations of these conditions
  • Prevent illness related to traveling
  • Take care of minor health problems as they occur

By bringing medications from home, travelers avoid having to purchase them at their destination. See Perspectives: Pharmaceutical Quality & Counterfeit Drugs later in this chapter for information about the risks associated with purchasing medications abroad. Even when the quality of medications is reliable, medications people are used to taking at home may be sold by different names or dosage units in other countries, presenting additional challenges.

TRAVELING WITH MEDICATIONS

All medications should be carried in their original containers with clear labels, so the contents are easily identified. The patient’s name and dosing regimen should be on each container. Although many travelers prefer placing medications into small containers or packing them in daily-dose containers, officials at ports of entry may require proper identification of medications.

Travelers should carry copies of all prescriptions, including their generic names. For controlled substances and injectable medications, travelers should carry a note from the prescribing physician or from the travel clinic on letterhead stationery. Certain medications are not permitted in some countries. If there is a question about these restrictions, particularly regarding controlled substances, travelers should contact the embassy or consulate of the destination country.

A travel health kit is useful only when it is easily accessible. It should be carried with the traveler at all times (such as in a carry-on bag), although sharp objects must remain in checked luggage. Travelers should make sure that any liquid or gel-based items packed in the carry-on bags do not exceed the size limits. Exceptions are made for certain medical reasons; check the Transportation Security Administration for US outbound and inbound travel (toll-free at 855-787-2227 M–F 8 am to 11 pm or at www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/travelers-disabilities-and-medical-conditions) and the embassy or consulate of the destination country for their restrictions.

SUPPLIES FOR PREEXISTING MEDICAL CONDITIONS

Travelers with preexisting medical conditions should carry enough medication for the duration of their trip and an extra supply, in case the trip is extended for any reason. If additional supplies or medications would be needed to manage exacerbations of existing medical conditions, these should be carried as well. The clinician managing a traveler’s preexisting medical conditions should be consulted for the best plan of action (see Chapter 8, Travelers with Chronic Illnesses).

People with preexisting conditions, such as diabetes or allergies, should consider wearing an alert bracelet (such as those available from www.medicalert.org) and making sure this information is on a card in their wallet and with their other travel documents.

GENERAL TRAVEL HEALTH KIT SUPPLIES

Although the following is not a comprehensive list, basic items that should be considered for a travel health kit are listed below. See Chapters 7 and 8 for additional suggestions that may be useful in planning the contents of a kit for travelers with specific needs.

Medications

  • Destination-related, if applicable:
    • Antimalarial medications
    • Medication to prevent or treat altitude illness
  • Pain or fever (one or more of the following, or an alternative):
    • Acetaminophen
    • Aspirin
    • Ibuprofen
  • Stomach upset or diarrhea:
    • Over-the-counter antidiarrheal medication (such as loperamide [Imodium] or bismuth subsalicylate [Pepto-Bismol])
    • Antibiotic for self-treatment of moderate to severe diarrhea
    • Packets of oral rehydration salts for dehydration
    • Mild laxative
    • Antacid
  • Upper respiratory tract discomfort:
    • Antihistamine
    • Decongestant, alone or in combination with antihistamine
    • Cough suppressant or expectorant
    • Cough drops
  • Anti-motion sickness medication
  • Epinephrine auto-injectors* (such as an EpiPen 2-Pak), especially if history of severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis; smaller-dose packages are available for children
  • Any medications, prescription or over the counter, taken on a regular basis at home.
  • Needles or syringes, if needed, such as for people with diabetes. Needles and syringes can be difficult to purchase in some locations, so take more than what is needed for the length of the trip. (These items will require a letter from the prescribing physician on letterhead stationery.)

*Note: Injectable epinephrine and antihistamines should always be carried on one’s person, including during air, sea, and land travel, for immediate treatment of a severe allergic reaction. Travelers with a history of severe allergic reactions should consider bringing along a short course of oral steroid medication (prescription required from doctor) and antihistamines as additional treatment of a severe allergic reaction.

Basic First Aid

  • Disposable latex-free exam gloves (≥2 pairs)
  • Adhesive bandages, multiple sizes
  • Gauze
  • Adhesive tape
  • Elastic bandage wrap for sprains and strains
  • Triangular bandage to wrap injuries and to make an arm or shoulder sling
  • Antiseptic
  • Cotton swabs
  • Tweezer**
  • Scissors**
  • Antifungal and antibacterial spray or creams
  • 1% hydrocortisone cream
  • Anti-itch gel or cream for insect bites and stings
  • Aloe gel for sunburns
  • Moleskin or molefoam for blister prevention and treatment
  • Saline eye drops
  • Saline nose drops or spray
  • Digital thermometer
  • First aid quick reference card

**Note: If traveling by air, travelers should pack these sharp items in checked baggage, since they could be confiscated by airport or airline security if packed in carry-on bags. Small bandage scissors with rounded tips may be available for purchase in certain stores or online.

Other Important Items

  • Insect repellent (see the Protection against Mosquitoes, Ticks, & Other Insects & Arthropods section earlier in this chapter for recommended types)
  • Sunscreen (≥15 SPF)
  • Antibacterial hand wipes or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, containing ≥60% alcohol
  • Useful items in certain circumstances:
    • Extra pair of contact lenses, prescription glasses, or both, for people who wear corrective lenses
    • Mild hypnotic medication (such as zolpidem [Ambien]), other sleep aid, or antianxiety medication
    • Latex condoms
    • Water purification tablets
    • Commercial suture or syringe kits to be used by a local clinician. (These items will require a letter from the prescribing physician on letterhead stationery.)

Contact Card

Travelers should carry a contact card with the street addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of the following:

  • Family member or close contact remaining in the United States
  • Place of lodging at the destination
  • Health care provider(s) at home
  • Medical insurance information
  • Travel insurance, travel health insurance, and medical evacuation insurance information
  • Area hospitals or clinics, including emergency services
  • US embassy or consulate in the destination country or countries

See the Obtaining Health Care Abroad for the Ill Traveler section later in this chapter for information about how to locate local health care and embassy or consulate contacts.

Travelers should also leave a copy of this contact card with a family member or close contact who will remain in the United States, in case of an emergency.

COMMERCIAL MEDICAL KITS

Commercial medical kits are available for a wide range of circumstances, from basic first aid to advanced emergency life support. Many pharmacy, grocery, retail, and outdoor sporting goods stores sell their own basic first aid kits. Travelers who choose to purchase a health kit should review the contents of the kit carefully to ensure that it has everything needed. Additional items may be necessary and can be added to the purchased kit.

For more adventurous travelers, a number of companies produce advanced medical kits and will even customize kits based on specific travel needs. In addition, specialty kits are available for managing diabetes, dealing with dental emergencies, and handling aquatic environments. Below is a list of websites supplying a wide range of medical kits. There are many suppliers, and this list is not meant to be all-inclusive.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Goodyer L. Travel medical kits. In: Keystone JS, Freedman DO, Kozarsky PE, Connor BA, Nothdurft HD, editors. Travel Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier; 2013. p. 63–6.
  2. Harper LA, Bettinger J, Dismukes R, Kozarsky PE. Evaluation of the Coca-Cola company travel health kit. J Travel Med. 2002 Sep–Oct; 9(5):244–6.
  3. Rose SR, Keystone JS. Chapter 2, trip preparation. In: Rose SR, Keystone JS, editors. International Travel Health Guide. 14th ed. Northampton: Travel Medicine, Inc; 2008.
 
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