Travel Health Kits

CDC Yellow Book 2024

Preparing International Travelers

Author(s): Aisha Rizwan

Regardless of their destination, international travelers should assemble and carry a travel health kit. Travelers should tailor the contents to their specific needs, the type and length of travel, and their destination(s). Kits can be assembled at home or purchased at a local store, pharmacy, or online. Travel health kits can help to ensure travelers have supplies they need to manage preexisting medical conditions and treat any exacerbations of these conditions, prevent illness and injury related to traveling, and take care of minor health problems as they occur.

Traveling With Medications

Instruct international travelers to carry all medications in their original containers with clear labels that easily identify the contents, the patient’s name, and dosing regimen information. Although travelers might prefer packing their medications into small bags, pillboxes, or daily-dose containers, officials at ports of entry might require that medications be in their original prescription containers.

Travelers should carry copies of all prescriptions, including generic names, preferably translated into the local language of the destination. For controlled substances and injectable medications, travelers should carry a note on letterhead stationery from the prescribing clinician or travel clinic. Translating the letter into the local language at the destination and attaching the translation to the original document could prove helpful if the document is needed during the trip. Some countries do not permit certain medications. For questions about medication restrictions, particularly regarding controlled substances, travelers should contact the US embassy or consulate of the destination country.

A travel health kit is useful only when it is easily accessible. Travelers should always carry the kit with them (e.g., in a carry-on bag); sharp objects like scissors and fine splinter tweezers must remain in checked luggage, however. Travelers should make sure that any liquid or gel-based items packed in carry-on bags do not exceed size limits, although exceptions are made for certain medical reasons. For more information, call the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at 866-289-9673 (toll-free, Monday–Friday, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., and weekends and holidays 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.) or see the TSA Customer Service webpage. The US embassy or consulate at the destination country can also provide details.

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 extends for any reason. If additional supplies (e.g., glucose monitoring items) or medications are needed to manage exacerbations of existing medical conditions, these should be carried as well (see Sec. 3, Ch. 3, Travelers with Chronic Illnesses). People with preexisting conditions (e.g., allergies, diabetes), should consider wearing an alert bracelet. Needles and syringes can be difficult to purchase in some locations, so travelers should take more than needed for the length of the trip. In addition, travelers needing needles and syringes will also be required to carry a letter from the prescribing clinician on letterhead stationery.

General Travel Health Kit Supplies

Boxes 2-06, 2-07, 2-08, 2-09, and 2-10 provide sample checklists of items travelers might consider including in their basic travel health kits. Provide travelers with needed details and instructions about any prescribed medications, including antibiotics for self-treatment of diarrhea, medications to treat altitude illness, and malaria chemoprophylaxis. Relevant chapters of this book offer additional suggestions for travel health kit contents depending on underlying health issues, itinerary, and planned activities or intended reasons for travel.

Box 2-06 Sample travel health kit checklist for travelers: prescription medicines & medical supplies

☐ Antibiotics for self-treatment of moderate to severe travelers’ diarrhea (if prescribed)

☐ Antihistamines, epinephrine auto-injectors (e.g., an EpiPen 2-Pak), short course of oral steroid medications (for travelers, including children, with a history of severe allergic reactions or anaphylaxis)

☐ Antimalarial medication (if prescribed)

☐ Insulin and diabetes testing supplies

☐ Medicine to prevent or treat altitude illness (if prescribed)

☐ Needles or syringes (plus extras) for injectable medicines

☐ Prescription glasses/contact lenses (consider packing an extra pair of each)

☐ Prescription medicines taken regularly at home

☐ Sleep aids (if prescribed)

Pack all prescription medicines (+ a copy of the prescription) and any necessary medical supplies in a carry-on bag. Medicines should be in their original containers with labels that clearly identify contents, patient name, and dosing information. Consider wearing a medical alert bracelet or necklace if you have chronic illnesses or underlying health conditions.

Box 2-07 Sample travel health kit checklist for travelers: over-the-counter medications

☐ Over-the-counter medicines taken regularly at home

☐ Medicines for pain or fever, for example:

  • Acetaminophen
  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen

☐ Medicines (not antibiotics) for stomach upset or diarrhea, for example:

  • Antidiarrheal medication (e.g., loperamide [Imodium] or bismuth subsalicylate [Pepto-Bismol])
  • Packets of oral rehydration salts for dehydration
  • Mild laxatives
  • Antacids

☐ Medicines for mild upper respiratory conditions, for example:

  • Antihistamine
  • Decongestant, alone or in combination with antihistamine
  • Cough suppressant or expectorant
  • Cough drops

☐ Medicines for motion sickness

☐ Sleep aids (non-prescription)

☐ Eye drops

☐ Nose drops or spray

Box 2-08 Sample travel health kit checklist for travelers: basic first aid

☐ Adhesive bandages and tape, multiple sizes

☐ Antifungal and antibacterial spray or creams

☐ Anti-itch gel or cream for insect bites and stings

☐ Antiseptic wound cleanser

☐ Commercial suture kit (for travel to remote areas)

☐ Cotton swabs

☐ Digital thermometer

☐ Disposable latex-free gloves

☐ Elastic/compression bandage wrap for sprains and strains

☐ First aid quick reference card

☐ Gauze

☐ Hydrocortisone cream (1%)

☐ Moleskin or molefoam for blister prevention and treatment

☐ Safety pins

☐ Scissors (pack sharp metal objects in checked baggage; small, rounded tip bandage scissors might be available for purchase in certain stores or online)

☐ Triangular bandage to wrap injuries and to make an arm or shoulder sling

☐ Tweezers (pack sharp metal objects in checked baggage)

Box 2-09 Sample travel health kit checklist for travelers: supplies to prevent illness & injury

☐ Antibacterial hand wipes or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing ≥60% alcohol

☐ Ear plugs

☐ Face masks

☐ Insect repellents for skin and clothing

☐ Latex condoms

☐ Mosquito net (for protection against insect bites while sleeping; can be pretreated with insect repellent)

☐ Personal safety equipment (for example, child safety seats, bicycle or motorcycle helmets)

☐ Sun protection (for example, protective clothing, sunglasses, sunscreen)

☐ Water purification method(s) if visiting remote areas, camping, or staying in areas where access to clean water is limited

Box 2-10 Sample travel health kit checklist for travelers: documents

☐ Contact information card (carry at all times) that includes the street addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses of:

  • Family member or close contact remaining in the United States
  • Health care provider(s) at home
  • Hospitals or clinics (including emergency services) at your destination(s)
  • Insurance policy information
  • Lodging at the destination(s)
  • US embassy or consulate address and telephone number in your destination country or countries

☐ Copies of all prescriptions for medications, eyeglasses/contacts, and other medical supplies, including generic names; preferably translated into the local language of the destination

☐ Documentation of preexisting conditions (for example, diabetes or allergies) in English and preferably translated into the local language of the destination

☐ Electrocardiogram (EKG) if you have existing heart disease, including any known abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias)

☐ Health insurance, supplemental travel health insurance, medical evacuation insurance, and travel insurance policy numbers, carrier contact information, and copies of claim forms

☐ International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP) card showing proof of vaccination, or an appropriate medical waiver, for travel to destinations where vaccinations are required by the country for entry

In addition to bringing the medical documents on this list, be sure to leave copies with a family member or close contact who will remain in the United States (in case of an emergency). Consider having electronic copies of documents, as well.

Travel Kits when Traveling with Children

Box 2-11 provides a checklist of items travelers might consider bringing if they are traveling with children.

Commercial Medical Kits

Travelers can obtain commercial medical kits for a wide range of circumstances, from basic first aid to advanced emergency life support. Companies also manufacture advanced medical kits for adventure travelers, customizing them based on specific travel needs. In addition, specialty kits are available for travelers managing diabetes, dealing with dental emergencies, and participating in aquatic activities. Many pharmacy, grocery, retail, and outdoor sporting goods stores, as well as online retailers, sell their own basic first aid kits. Travelers who choose to purchase a preassembled kit should review the contents of the kit carefully to ensure that it has everything needed; any necessary additional items should be added.

Box 2-11 Sample travel health kit checklist for travelers: supplies for children

☐ Baby wipes

☐ Change mat

☐ Children’s medicine for pain or fever

☐ Diapers

☐ Insect repellent (avoid using products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus [OLE] or para-menthane-3,8-diol [PMD] on children <3 years old)

☐ Medicines taken regularly at home

☐ Motor vehicle restraints (for example, stroller, seatbelts, or car seat)

☐ Rash cream

☐ Sterilizing equipment for baby bottles

☐ Sun protection

☐ Thermometer

The following authors contributed to the previous version of this chapter: Calvin Patimeteeporn

Goodyer L and Gibbs J. Travel medical kits. In: Keystone JS, Kozarsky PE, Connor BA, Nothdurft HD, Mendelson M, Leder K, editors. Travel medicine, 4th edition. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier; 2019. pp. 61–4.

Harper LA, Bettinger J, Dismukes R, Kozarsky PE. Evaluation of the Coca-Cola company travel health kit. J Travel Med. 2002;9(5):244–6.