I tend to be a fairly well-prepared traveler. I almost always remember to throw a bunch of over-the-counter drugs into my luggage. Still, at this particular moment, on this particular trip, the upset-stomach medication I was so desperately looking for may as well have been 3,000 miles away at home.
After futilely rummaging in my backpack and waiting in a seemingly interminable line to buy some Pepto-Bismol at a visitors’ desk, I vowed never to be caught so off-guard again. (Of course, only after the need had passed did I find the pill bottle lurking at the bottom of my bag.)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that international travelers put together a health kit for their trips, but domestic and regional travelers should have one, too.
“Take what you think you’d use, the stuff you keep in your medicine cabinet,” advises Gary Brunette, branch chief of travelers’ health for the CDC. “You don’t have to be thinking about exotic medications or exotic items. It’s the kind of stuff you know you’ll be using.”
Especially if you’re going abroad, don’t assume that you can or would want to buy your medications, particularly prescriptions, once you reach your destination.
If you don’t feel like assembling your own kit, commercial kits are an acceptable alternative. You may need to swap out some of the items to fit your own needs, though.
Just remember to keep the kit in your carry-on luggage, complete with three-ounce gels or liquids that can be easily removed at security.
Traveling to foreign destinations where water quality and diseases such as malaria are a concern requires some extra planning and supplies. For those kinds of trips, you should consult resources such as the Yellow Book and your doctor.
To get you started, here are the basic essentials that should be in your travel kit no matter where you’re going.
• Pain or fever medication. One or more of your preferred formulation of acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen.
• Remedies for stomach upset or diarrhea. Many swear by pink Pepto-Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate). Others to consider are loperamide (Imodium), laxatives and antacids.
• Antihistamines. Key if you suffer from seasonal allergies. Benadryl is great but can also make you drowsy (which might be a plus in some instances). Claritin is available over the counter. Decongestants can be useful, too. Some, such as the pseudoephedrine-based Sudafed, may require a few extra steps at the pharmacist’s counter because of laws limiting the amount each person can buy.
• Anti-motion sickness medication. Good for car or boat rides.
• Prescription medications. Try to have as close to a full supply as you can. Leave them in their original containers.
• Adhesive bandages. Pack multiple sizes, preferably with some gauze and cleansing wipes.
• Anti-itch gel or cream. Hydrocortisone is a common option and good for treating insect bites and mild skin irritations.
• Digital thermometer. Especially with kids, a fever can make the difference between inconvenience and illness.
• Sunscreen. Really, you shouldn’t even be leaving your house without some sun protection. CDC recommends an SPF of at least 15.
• Facial tissue. Small travel-size packs are handy and ideal for a multitude of uses.
• Hand sanitizer. Should contain at least 60 percent alcohol.
• Antibiotic ointment.Best-known brand is Neosporin. Be aware that it’s a common allergen.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Cleveland Clinic.