Having recently returned from a seven week adventure that took us from the hustle and bustle of Athens, Greece to the steep and deep gorges on the Island of Crete, the hot desert of Egypt and the lush greenery of the Nile River banks, we had a wide variety of potential travel health risks. Well before our trip started, I began planning what we would need to carry in our medical kit.
A good travel medical kit contains just enough to deal with potential problems you might run into but is still light enough to be carried. One can carry a small Emergency Department with them that weights in around 100 kilos, but are they really going to be carrying that with them…everywhere? A medical kit that is left behind does not help when you are away from your room! On the other hand, I have seen a very tiny medical kit that has 3-4 ibuprofen and a tiny piece of gauze. This is very portable and only weights a few grams…but will it help me if I get into a problem?
When I begin to think of building a travel medical kit, a few key things need to be known:
- How many people are traveling? What are their ages?
- Where are they going?
- How many days are they traveling?
- What are they doing for activities?
- How far from advanced medical care will they be?
- Does anybody traveling have prior medical problems?
How many people are traveling? What are their ages?
A medical kit made for two people will be a lot different than a kit to be used by 250 people. Sheer numbers of basic items are required to treat inevitable problems such as blisters. Carrying enough moleskin for 250 travelers would require a very large pack, by itself! Knowing the number of travelers will allow you to form an idea of numbers of items to carry. This generally goes for basic and commonly used items such as simple pain control medication, blister treatment, band-aids and anti-diarrheal medicine. No one can ever be fully prepared for all potential problems and have adequate amounts of all required items. A great story is of an expedition paramedic that was flying into a remote location with the expedition team. Their plane skidded off the runway on landing and there were a lot of broken bones, cuts and some internal bleeding. There was no way he could have planned for that and he very quickly ran out of morphine, waiting for the incoming rescue team.
The ages of the travelers is important to know, especially if children are involved. Kids are not simply “little adults”. They have different types of illnesses, require different types of medications and especially different doses of medicines and fluids. Anybody traveling with kids should have a special kit for just “the little ones”. A group of twenty-something adventure travelers will likely not be having a lot of problems with chest pain or angina. A group of eighty-year-old sightseers will probably not have too many birth control device failures.
Where are they going?
Travelers headed to a malaria endemic region had better be prepared to prevent mosquito bites and have antimalaria medicine ready. Mosquito bite prevention is not so much of an issue to those headed to Paris or London. Location is everything in travel medicine and knowing the risks of the area you are visiting will help you not only build a viable medical kit but also prevent illness, overall.
How many days are they traveling?
A trip over a long weekend is obviously a lot different than a 7 week adventure. Just like the number of people traveling, the duration of travel means you will need to be carrying more of the common items that will be used on a more frequent basis. Even though you are only traveling with 4 other people, carrying a total of two doses of ibuprofen will not get you very far over 7 weeks. Our group used a lot of ibuprofen. In fact, a lot more than I expected. This was due to the sheer beating our legs got walking through the gorges and mountains on Crete. Fortunately, we were able to resupply on the trip. Had we been in a remote location, there might have been some trouble!
What are they doing for activities?
Carrying a bunch of medicine for high altitude and mountain sickness is worthless if you are going on a SCUBA trip. Carrying a lot of blister treatments and ibuprofen is very wise for a group planning on a lot of hiking or walking. Take close look at your activities and potential risks associated with these events. This applies to all activities, not just athletic or sporty pursuits. Adventurous eaters will likely need more anti-diarrheal medicine than the average person. People planning to spend a lot of time by the pool or on the water will likely use up sunscreen faster than those planning on a lot of indoor shopping. Is your group at risk for broken or twisted ankles from walking around ruins? Are they at special risk for sunburn? A lot of bus or car travel could mean a need for anti-diarrheal medicine to avoid a lot of embarrassment. Tailor your kit to the activities planned.
How far from advanced medical care will they be?
We were never very far from advanced medical care or the ability to re-supply our medical kit with basic items. Travelers who are flying into a remote locations and then being dropped off will have very different needs than a group planning on a day of museums and sightseeing in the capital city. The more remote your location the longer you need to be prepared to provide care. In addition, you will need to be prepared to provide a higher level of care because simply calling an ambulance is not always an option. Even if a rescue team is sent, it may take a few days to reach your location. The other question that needs to be asked is, “What level is the nearest, advanced medical care?” A run down, poorly stocked clinic in a developing nation has a good chance of re-using medical supplies. This means a high risk of infection! A modern hospital in a nearby city of 2 million people will likely have superb medical care.
Does anybody traveling have prior medical problems?
Knowing the medical history of your travel companions is very important, especially if you are going to be preparing a medical kit. A traveler with a history of heart disease will require a few different medications than a pregnant woman. Travelers that take medications on a daily basis should be carrying their home medications with them on their travels. They should also be carrying an extra supply for a few more days, in the event of delays or extended travel.
What I used
After a great deal of research and experience with many medical kits, I opted to use the Adventure Medical Kit Mountain Medic as my “starter kit”. I say the term starter kit because no pre-made kit will ever have the exact items you need. A medical kit should be customized by the users to carry more or less of certain items, adding extra medicines, taking out a few things that might be redundant and personalizing the kit. I had never used the AMK Mountain Medic before this trip but have to say that this was totally the right choice! I will be using this as my advanced medical kit “starter” for the majority of my future adventures.
I initially chose the kit because of the extensive diversity and amount of items the kit came with, directly from the manufacturer. This was a good starting point and saved me the hassle of gathering up a blood pressure cuff, stethoscope, individual packets of ibuprofen, quick clot, nasal trumpet airways and other useful but hard to find items. Second, the kit came in a wonderful pack tha allowed me to add extra things I needed without carrying a second bag. The amount of medical supplies and diversity that the Mountain Medic came with were quite impressive and you can see the kit’s basic contents here. Building on the great foundation from the Mountain Medic, I then set to work adding my own personal touches based on our group, locations visited, activities and time away from home. Talking about the customized kit will require another post….