I’ve taken over a half dozen international trips and have always considered myself a well-prepared traveler. I pack light but sensibly, making room for a few first-aid essentials: bandages, aspirin and some cough drops from my stockpile for good measure. But on my last international trip I got sick and realized my tiny arsenal of products was no match for my ailment.
Since then, I’ve learned you don’t have to over-pack or spend a fortune to keep your health needs covered when traveling overseas. Planning an international trip? Here’s what you need to make sure is in your bag:
1. Hand sanitizer
This product may seem like an obvious inclusion, but there were times on the ground when I simply forgot mine or didn’t have it handy when I wanted a quick bite (like palming a giant Belgian waffle). Remember that many germs are spread simply via hand-to-hand contact (think of all the sneezing, sniffling and touching going on, especially in crowded tourist locations), so keep your sanitizer handy in an inexpensive holder like the one on this list.
2. Anti-diarrheal pills
Little did I know before traveling to Peru that most Peruvians don’t refrigerate their eggs. Want to know what happens, then, when an American eats a meringue dessert? Let’s just say a trip to the pharmacy was in order, where I spent twice as much on a few pills (close to the equivalent of $8 U.S.) as I could have used for buying a whole box stateside. You can stash a few of these in a bottle, and an added bonus is the fact that anti-diarrheal pills are so tiny, you won’t notice them in your toiletry bag.
3. Electrolyte tablets
After losing my lunch (times three!), I was advised by the pharmacist to replace my lost fluids with something gentle, so I bought a local version of Pedialyte. With each sip, I tried to swallow the high prescription cost of around $10 U.S. a bottle—and the bland taste—of this electrolyte replacement juice. I was kicking myself for not buying a handful of electrolyte tabs from REI for around $5 a bottle (where I know how to get amazing savings deals) before I left.
4. Heartburn relief
Because of some airports’ liquid size restrictions for carry-ons, it’s best to find medicines in pill form, where possible. Luckily, there are lots of options in the heartburn relief category—and many can be scored with coupons! Pepto Bismol makes a chewable tablet (I got this at my local grocery store for under $2 with a coupon), Tums Breath Refreshers pull double-duty by quelling bad breath, and Prilosec OTC is available as a stronger option. Check the KCL database for available savings on these and other brands.
5. Ace bandage
When my brother strained his knee on a hike, he had two options for activities on the remainder of our trip—sit out or suck it up. He managed to secure a sock around his swollen knee to ease a bit of pain and hobbled along for the rest of our trip. He looked ridiculous—too bad we didn’t pack a tightly-wrapped reusable bandage that could have been used more effectively in its place. Don’t have one in your stockpile? Use these printables to purchase one.
6. Bug guards
Any time you are going to travel to a location that might have standing water (especially marshy, swampy or densely-forested areas), pack some type of bug guard. It could be a cheap spray from Avon, or it could be something even simpler, like these 98-cent citronella bug bracelets I bought from my local H-E-B. Stashing something in your suitcase, just in case, will help you easily protect yourself if the need arises.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, do research on your location before you travel. Speak with your family doctor about necessary vaccinations or medicines (such as those for motion sickness or high-altitude regions) you may need. Know, too, what’s available in the country to which you are traveling. For instance, many European countries have pharmacists who are trained similarly to doctors so they can dispense medicines for certain ailments (which was my experience in Peru—no doctor was necessary to diagnose food poisoning).
Also, check into your insurance coverage to get an idea of what might be covered abroad in the event of an emergency. Knowledge before your travel is key to making your trek worry-free.
You don’t have to spend a fortune creating an expensive supply of “maybe medicines” in your luggage, but it is wise to plan ahead and purchase a few inexpensive health products to help save money and salvage your health on a long trip should you need to do so.