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The Essential Travel Med Kit

Travelers shouldn’t leave home without a kit filled with essential items. But what to bring? Although the contents of your medical kit will vary depending on where you’re headed, experts agree there are some items that ought to be in every traveler’s black bag. Read on:

Prepackaged antiseptic towelettes, bandages, and topical antibiotics. The more you’re out and about, the more likely you are to get a few scrapes. There’s no sense letting a minor scratch develop into a major infection, especially if you’re traveling to a remote area.

Flashlight. Although not necessarily a medical supply, a flashlight is necessary for many situations, from unlighted city streets to midnight trips to the bathroom in jungle resorts that run on generators.

Pepto-Bismol and Imodium. Rich food or bad food can give you stomach troubles. Plan for them by bringing these tablets along.

Moleskin. Although not lifesaving, this adhesive padding can be the key to preventing the activity-limiting blisters that are likely to develop as you trek from site to site.

Sunscreen. A sunburn is not only annoying but also cancer-causing. It can also hamper your skin’s ability to perspire, which is essential for preventing your body from overheating in hot climates.

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Motion-sickness remedies. Dramamine tablets and Scopamine patches can relieve a lot of discomfort if the boat crossing is rougher than expected or the bus ride is wickedly bumpy.

Thermometer in a sturdy case. The best way to assess whether you have an infection needing a doctor’s care is to take your temperature to see if you have a fever.

Pain relievers. Such pain relievers as Tylenol or Advil can come in handy for treating headaches, joint pain, and fever.

Hydrocortisone 1% ointment or cream. The alien bacteria you may encounter when you go swimming in the sea or other natural bodies of water can trigger itching or a rash, which this cream can counter. It can also help relieve those unbearable symptoms of a poison ivy rash.

Allergy medicine. If you are an allergy sufferer, take along some antihistamines: your allergies may not be acting up at home prior to departure, but changes in altitude and a different climate at your destination may trigger even an occasional allergy. Of course, if you have food allergies, reactions to bee stings, or other specific conditions requiring medications, make sure you have an ample supply before you hit the road.

Special ointments. If you are a woman prone to yeast infections, over-the-counter creams for these infections, such as Monistat, should also be in your medical kit. And if you are a person who suffers from athlete’s foot or jock itch, don’t forget an antifungal cream.

Repellents. A mosquito repellent containing DEET (N,N-diethylmetatoluamide) is especially critical if you are traveling to tropical areas where malaria, yellow fever, dengue, and other mosquito-borne diseases are likely to lurk. Skin-So-Soft and Naturapel are two DEET-free repellants for areas without malaria. Depending upon your lodging conditions, you may want to bring mosquito coils and a mosquito net for sleeping; you could even take it a step further and have the netting dipped in insecticide.

Antimalarial drugs. These are essential if you are traveling to an area where malaria is prevalent, such as Africa, central and northeastern South America, India, and southeastern Asia. You will need a prescription for an antimalarial.

Water purification tablets, packets of oral rehydration salts, and Cipro or Bactrim. As many as half of all travelers experience the dreaded traveler’s diarrhea. Water-purification tablets (found in sporting goods stores and pharmacies) can help prevent it, and oral rehydration salts (found at pharmacies) and the antibiotics Cipro or Bactrim are used to treat it. You need a prescription for the antibiotics, which should be used only to treat — not prevent — traveler’s diarrhea.

Condoms. These can be lifesaving, no matter where you travel — and they may not be available everywhere.

Also remember to take stock of your health. Get a checkup, discuss your travel plans with your doctor, and look into your last batch of shots, including your MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella immunization) and tetanus. Make a list of any medical issues that might affect your plans, anything from serious conditions like asthma and high blood pressure to minor complaints like tennis elbow or foot calluses. Create a “health” checklist with such things as medications, ice packs, and so on. Iron out ways to cope with your health needs on the road, like having your prescriptions called into a pharmacy in your destination.

Consult a travel-medicine expert. These doctors know all about things like which vaccinations are truly necessary for a given trip and which antimalarial drug is best for a given destination. They can also advise you on items to pack in a travel medical kit. The International Society of Travel Medicine has a list of practitioners and clinics around the world.

Finally, every traveler should know about the Avid Traveler Essentials gift set ($49.99;, which comes with two clear vinyl zipper bags, Purell hand sanitizer, Imodium, Neosporin, duct tape, four single-use thermometers, toilet paper and a seat cover, and lots of other stuff. Everything’s in TSA-approved sizes.

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