Travel tips from Dr Handford: Medical essentials, what to take with you on holiday

It is a good idea to have a few basic medical essentials with you when you travel. Obviously, you will not need the same kit for every trip, and it is worth trying to think about what you are likely to need, as well as what may be difficult to obtain in your destination. Also think about how long you will be away for, and whether you are travelling off the beaten track.

Make sure all first aid equipment is carried in your hold luggage on a flight, as certain things like tweezers or syringes may not be allowed in your hand luggage. Keep everything in a sealed waterproof container. There are lots of pre-prepared first aid kits available, but you can easily tailor your own depending on your requirements.

Simple first aid equipment:

Having some basic kit ready to hand is vital for minor injuries and simple medical conditions. I would suggest that the following would be a good starting place.

  • Tweezers: Useful for splinters, removing stings.
  • Plasters & dressings – different sizes: Make sure they are kept clean and dry
  • Gloves – non latex: One or two pairs can be handy, just in case you need to clean a wound
  • wipes or cleaning solution: Useful for cleaning a wound or graze to prevent infection
  • Alcohol gel: This is helpful to keep your hands clean, especially when access to clean water is difficult.
  • Water purification tablets: Dependent on your destination, but can be vital
  • Thermometer – digital: Don’t carry a mercury thermometer with you
  • Syringes/needles/scalpel: If you are travelling to a destination where you are not confident in the healthcare system, these can be used if you need more invasive treatment by a doctor. For most destinations, you will not need these. If you are unsure, check with your GP

From the Chemist:

  • Dioralyte: Sachets to mix with water to prevent dehydration
  • Antihistamine tablets/liquid: Useful if you get insect bites or hayfever, or an allergy to anything else
  • Suncream: Essential! High factor, and plenty of it
  • Aftersun/aloe vera gel: Vital after sun exposure, especially if you have been sunburned
  • Condoms: Much better to buy these in the UK and be prepared, knowing they are good quality. Vitally important to prevent sexual infections, as well as unwanted pregnancy.
  • Cystitis sachets: Potassium citrate granules, can be mixed with water to relieve symptoms of bladder irritation
  • Hydrocortisone cream: This weak steroid cream can be used on itchy rashes or insect bites, or on small patches of eczema if it flares up. Do not use it for longer than a week, and not on the face.
  • Antihistamine cream: Useful on itchy insect bites
  • Mosquito net: Depending on your destination, but can really help prevent mosquito bites, and is essential in malaria risk areas
  • Insect repellent: Especially at dawn and dusk
  • Painkillers: Take some basic pain relief with you in case of headache, toothache, period pains and other mild aches and pains. Paracetamol and ibuprofen are safe for most people, but do not exceed the recommended dose. If you take other medication, or have problems with indigestion or asthma, check with your doctor before buying them
  • Antacids: Acid indigestion can be painful, and may be more likely to happen when eating an unfamiliar diet or drinking alcohol
  • Travel sickness: Take these well in advance of any long journeys if you suffer with motion sickness
  • Imodium: If you get struck with diarrhoea whilst away, the best thing is to drink plenty of water, use dioralyte rehydration drinks, and let things run their course. Use imodium if you need to for travelling, or if things aren’t settling after 48h. You should see a doctor if you are becoming dehydrated or the diarrhoea is not manageable
  • Laxatives: A change in diet, dehydration, and an unfamiliar environment can all cause constipation. Gentle laxatives can help, along with plenty of water, fruit and vegetables

From your Doctor:

If you need to, see your GP a few weeks before you plan to travel to make sure you have time to get things organised. You should make sure you have:

  • Enough prescribed medication to last – plus a few days extra

Keep a few days supply in your hand luggage, in case your hold baggage gets lost in transit. Make sure you have items like inhalers and epipens in your hand luggage in case you need them on your flight. Some medication, like insulin, needs to be kept cool – ask your GP if you are not sure. If you take injectable medication, you should take a letter from your GP with you authorising you to travel with needles. Make sure you have a small sharps disposal bin with you too.

  • An up to date list of current medications and any allergies

A copy of your usual prescription will be fine. This can come in handy if you are taken ill on holiday, or if your medication runs out or gets lost.

  • Antibiotics in case – eg COPD, UTI, skin infections

If you are known to be prone to suffering with certain conditions, such as chest infections or urine infections, or need steroids for asthma flare ups, then your GP may be happy to give you a course of treatment to take with you ‘just in case’. This would only be for certain patients, who are deemed at high risk. Talk to your GP if you think this applies to you, and about when and how to start the treatment if you need to.

  • Malaria prophylaxis

Depending on your destination and travel plans, you may be recommended to take malaria prevention treatment. This sometimes needs to start several weeks in advance of your trip, so make sure you seek advice from your GP or practice nurse at least 8 weeks before you travel.

  • Immunisations

Several destinations recommend particular immunisations prior to travelling there, and some require proof of immunisation prior to letting you out of the airport. Make sure you give your GP surgery plenty of time to organise these, as some special immunisations need to be ordered well in advance. Some also need to be given as a course over several weeks.

  • Contraception

If this applies to you, consider whether you have enough contraceptive pills to last your trip, plus some spare in case you lose any. If you use an injection or implant contraception, make sure it will not run out whilst you are away. Condoms are recommended in addition to any other contraception, to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections.

  • Flight anxiety

If a fear of flying is worrying you, have a word with your doctor. They may be able to help.

I really hope, and expect, your trip will pass without needing to use any of your first aid kit or medications. However, trying to find a chemist or doctors surgery when you are away can be very difficult, so it is better to have some basics with you, just in case! If your simple remedies don’t work, or you are feeling unwell despite them, please see a doctor as soon as you are able to.

Always consult your own doctor before travelling

These travel tips are intended to provide general information and do not replace a visit to your doctor. If you are planning a holiday you should consult your doctor to ensure that you are fit to travel and discuss any specific health requirements you may have.

About Dr Ruth Handford

Dr Ruth Handford is a GP with over 10 years’ experience of working in both hospital and primary care. She is particularly interested in caring for the elderly in the community, child health, and family planning. Ruth lives and works in a rural community, and is kept very busy by her job and young family.

Important Information: These travel tips are intended to provide general information and do not replace a visit to your doctor. If you are planning a holiday you should consult your doctor to ensure that you are fit to travel and discuss any specific health requirements you may have.

Travel Insurance for Medical Conditions

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