- Designing a Travel Health Kit
- Pre-Existing Medical Conditions
- Pre-Travel Medical Considerations
- Plan for Your Environment
- Assemble a First Aid Kit
- Post Exposure Prophylaxis
- Important Issues and Other Resources
Designing a Travel Health Kit
Preparing your travel health kit is a vital part of your pre-trip planning and packing. The American College of Emergency Physicians and the CDC encourage travelers to pack a first-aid kit or a travel health kit so that common medical emergencies can be properly handled should they occur.
A well-packed travel health kit is one that can be carried with you at all times and is ready to aid any potential problems. A small, portable kit with the essentials is exactly what you’ll need with a slightly larger kit left in your suitcases or hotel room to “re-supply” your smaller, portable kit.
When designing a travel health kit, look at several factors. First, what are the pre-existing medical needs of the traveller(s)? Second, how long are you going to be travelling for? Third, where are you going? Last, what are you going to be doing?
For in-depth look at travel health risks and ways to prevent them, advice on special travel health needs, and more, consult CDC Health Information for International Travel, commonly known as the “Yellow Book”.
Pre-Existing Medical Conditions
Travelers with chronic medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid disorders, or those who have a history of allergic reactions should carry their regular medication with them on their trip.
Your home medications should be carried in two separate locations. Some should be in your carry-on bag and some should be in your luggage. Lastly, carry a copy of your prescription. If you find yourself out of medication, this copy will help the doctor in your host country write the prescription for a refill from a local pharmacy.
Pre-Travel Medical Considerations
Register your trip on the UCOP pre-trip planner to see a list of the vaccines you’ll need and schedule a travel health consultation with your healthcare provider to further assess your medical needs. See the Travel Health Kit and Medical Clearance/Vaccinations for additional guidance.
Work with your program staff to ensure compliance specific to your program. Make sure to budget plenty of time to get vaccinations and any necessary travel medications. Some take a long time to get in place. Get a print out of your vaccination status and slip it in your passport. Some borders require proof, and if you don’t have it, they will administer the shots before you can cross.
Faculty and Staff
Faculty and staff may complete their vaccinations through their regular healthcare provider. Some vaccine courses take several weeks to complete, so start early and get your staff off to an early start. Call ahead so your provider has the correct vaccinations on hand. By filling out the UCOP pre-trip planner, you will have a current list of vaccinations to request, as well as a detailed and up-to-date overview of the conditions in your travel area.
Vaccination Preparation Checklist
Be sure to consider all these items before visiting your healthcare provider so that they will be able to adequately prepare you for your travels in a timely manner. Once you know your travel destination, make an appointment with your healthcare provider. Bring your most current immunization records and a detailed travel itinerary to your appointment.
What countries will you visit?
- There are different vaccinations and medications required for each country.
- If you are visiting several countries during your travels, you will need to meet all the necessary requirements for each country.
What types of activities will you do while on your trip?
More adventurous activities like hiking and climbing may require additional measures in preparation for your trip.
Where will you stay during your trip?
International hotels and other well developed establishments may be able to provide safe food and water as well as sleeping arrangements protected from insects and other animals.
Visiting developing countries or more rural settings will require additional measures to avoid illness.
What coverage does your health insurance provide for travel preparations and medical emergencies during travel?
- Some insurances cover the cost of travel immunizations and preventative medicine for diseases such as malaria, some, unfortunately, do not. Check with your provider to verify your coverage and discuss your options.
- When staying in developing countries or more rural areas, there may not be medical facilities readily available to you. Transportation to another location for care may be necessary. Some health insurance providers will cover the treatment of accidents or illnesses in foreign countries, as well as transportation to the medical facility. If your insurance company does not, you may want to seek additional travel insurance to cover these expenses.
Plan for Your Environment
How long is the trip?
Make sure you have enough first aid supplies for the duration of your trip. Where are you going?
Travelers headed to different parts of the world have different health related needs. Mosquito repellent is probably not needed on a trip to the Arctic Circle. Consequently, high-altitude medicine will just be extra weight on a trip to the beach.
If you are going to the tropics, make sure you have considered insect bite precautions and anti-malaria medications. If you are going to a high altitude area like Machu Picchu you should consider medicine for altitude sickness.
This is also a good time to look at your access to healthcare. Are you going to be in a remote Amazon village or through the mountains, far from medical care? Are you going to be in the downtown region of a capital city? The more remote you are planning to be means you will need to be more self-sufficient and possibly go longer without being able to re-supply your kit.
What are you going to do?
The activities planned on the trip are key in helping build an appropriate travel health kit. A trip that will be heavy on walking should carry a bit more supplies designed to care for your feet. This should include blister care and treatment supplies. A trip with a lot of time in the sun should go a bit heavier on the sunscreen.
Assemble a First Aid Kit
Regardless of where you are going or what you are doing, there are a few basics that should be found in every first aid kit:
- Your personal medications with copies of your prescription
- Pain control/Fever reducer (acetaminophen, ibuprofen, paracetamol)
- Assortment of Band-Aids for small cuts and scrapes
- Antiseptic wipes and skin cleansers
- Antibiotic ointment for small cuts and scrapes
- Mole Skin or Blister Care for blisters on the feet
- Gauze (various sizes to clean and dress wounds)
- Electrolyte solution or powder to rehydrate with traveller’s diarrhea
- Allergy Medication (Benadryl, antihistamines)
- Sunscreen and Lip Balm (15 SPF or more)
Often times this small amount of first aid gear can fit within a small container and should be carried with you in your coat pocket or daypack. As you use items from this small kit, replace them from your larger kit kept in your hotel room.
For travellers headed to more remote areas or looking to be a bit more self-sufficient there are some extras you should place into your kit:
- Bandage closures, such as butterfly bandages, to tape edges of minor cuts together
- Sling or bandana for injured arms or as a dusk mask
- Adhesive tape
- Disposable, instant-activating cold packs to for injuries and burns
- Tweezers to remove splinters, foreign objects, bee stingers, and ticks
- Antimalarial medications, if applicable
- Pepto-Bismol and Imodium for upset stomach and diarrhea
- Antacids to reduce indigestion and stomach acidity
- Cough and cold medicines
- Anti-motion sickness medication (Dramamine)
- Antifungal Cream or Powder in humid countries (Desinex, Cruex Aftate)
- Calamine and 1 Hydrocortisone cream for itchy rashes
- Iodine tablets, drops, or a water purifier if you cannot easily boil water
- Insect repellents in malaria and tropical areas (DEET)
- Aloe gel for sunburns
- Digital thermometer
- Lubricating eye drops
- Mild sedative or other sleep aid
- High altitude preventive medication
- Latex condoms
- Latex-free gloves
NOTE: Brand names are listed solely to assist in obtaining over-the-counter medication and not as an endorsement of the products.
Be sure to follow the same precautions with the medicines in your health kit as you do with all medications. Make sure children cannot get into the first-aid bag; use child safety caps whenever possible. Also be aware of volume limits in carry-on bags. Some of these items may need to be packed in your checked luggage while flying. Check expiration dates and discard medication that is out-of-date.
Also review the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Vaccines Medicines Advice page for extensive information about infectious disease outbreaks and natural disasters and what you can do to be prepared.
Post Exposure Prophylaxis
Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is short-term antiretroviral treatment used to reduce the likelihood of HIV infection after potential exposure, either occupationally or through sexual intercourse. To be effective, PEP must be started within 72 hours of potential exposure. Learn more about PEP by visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention PEP webpage.
Important Issues and Other Resources
In preparation for traveling abroad several issues often get neglected, e.g. mental health, sexual harassment, managing existing medical conditions. If ignored they could seriously affect your project. Here are some additional non-UC resources to review:
University of Michigan’s Resilient Traveling: Helping develop psychological resilience in students going on overseas experiences