A travel health kit should preferrably be carried by travellers. For broader discussion of health issues, see Stay healthy.
This article contains general advice, followed at the reader’s own risk. None of it should be taken as medical or legal advice.
If you need to bring medication or medical equipment for a journey, consult your doctor.
You may not be able to purchase, or even require all the items on this list (depending on where you are and where you are travelling), and in some cases you may need a doctor’s prescription to avoid having the items confiscated by border police or customs officers if your bags are inspected. If in doubt, consult a competent medical professional for advice.
Many people have different ideas on what is necessary for them – some people take more, others are better at improvisation.
Our articles Tropical diseases and Tips for travel in developing countries have additional information relevant to some travelers.
Disinfectants for the disinfection of skin injuries – PVP iodine solution or disinfectant spray
Bandages (including scissors and tweezers to remove spines, or similar)
Remedies for pain, fever and inflammation – In tropical countries, you should refrain from taking acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) (eg aspirin), as these have serious side effects in tropical diseases. Instead, you should use medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Medicines for vomiting and nausea; to take linguine tablets, which melt on the tongue, no clean drinking water is necessary.
Medicines for diarrhea- In countries with inadequate sanitation and water treatment, many travelers are affected by infections of the intestinal tract, well-known regions being Central America or the Middle East. With sufficient fluid and salt intake and possibly a preparation to support the recovery of the gastrointestinal flora, most diarrheal diseases have survived after 2 to 3 days. Loperamide (Imodium ®) – though often given as a first-choice drug – should only be used in emergency situations (flight or long bus transfer without possibility to visit a toilet). Certain serious bacterial infections show a more unpleasant (occurrence of abdominal cramps) and a longer course.
Anti- cold medicines – With the increasing use of air conditioners in hotels and restaurants, there is also an increased risk of catching a cold. Therefore, you should take at least one decongestant nasal spray or sea salt solution to prevent dehydration of the mucous membranes. A decongestant nasal spray belongs mainly to air travel with children in the luggage, a pressure compensation disorder in a Mittelohrkatarrh leads during the flight to earache, which express toddlers with continued screaming.
Medicines for sore throat
Medicines for eye complaints – “artificial tears” for the treatment of signs of dehydration caused by air conditioners and low humidity. Opened vials of eye drops should not last more than 4 weeks. Alternatively, take single doses in plastic ampoules.
Sunscreens – For sunscreens, dermatologists recommend the highest possible sun protection factor, but at least a factor of 30. Please note that the sun protection factor is different in many countries than in German-speaking countries. You should also take a cooling agent for a light sunburn. By the way, the best sun protection is long clothes on the arms and legs and a sufficient headgear.
Medicines for the prevention of insect bites, so-called repellents. It is worth to take a pack and to inquire locally for an optimally effective remedy, the preparations available in Central Europe are certainly safer (use in children), but also partly less effective.
possibly an antibiotic – this may be helpful when traveling to countries with low standard of health care in rural areas, if no doctor or hospital can be reached within 12 hours. But first consult the family doctor and discuss with him the choice of preparation and use!
possibly a malaria drug – the entrainment should be based on the current travel medical recommendations, recommendations for each country / region, whether a preparation for the duration of the trip prophylactically taken or only as a reserve for the case of illness to be taken. Local health facilities in countries with malaria are well-versed in malaria diagnostics.
The medicines should be stored protected from heat (in countries with high heat no suppositories) and checked for their expiration date (indicated on the package as EXP xx / 20xx; takes charge of any pharmacy free of charge).
Travelers, who need to take medications on a regular basis, should have enough reserve medication and, best of all, a medication plan (which also includes the generic substance name) for the duration of the journey.
Insulin-dependent diabetics must be careful to carry a written confirmation on air travel that they carry grouting material in their carry-on baggage. Insulin belongs in the hand baggage (danger of falling below the minimum temperature in the hold, endangering if the baggage does not arrive on time or is lost…).
People with an increased risk of thrombosis can protect themselves from long flights with a self-administered thrombosis prophylactic syringe, also a written confirmation is necessary if the dose for the return flight is carried in hand luggage.
Note especially for prescription drugs that they may not be imported into every country. This applies above all to drug substitutes (methadone) and certain psychotropic drugs (sedatives, possibly neuroleptics), etc. The corresponding consulates and embassies provide information about the import regulations.
In other countries, prescriptions are often given by pharmacies without a prescription. If this is not the case, for example, in other European countries, the local pharmacy can fax a prescription form with a therapy suggestion to the family doctor at home, which only needs to countersign and fax it back. Keep a receipt for the annually due reimbursement by the health insurance.
Vaccinations can be done by the family doctor, by the specialized tropical doctor or eg by a vaccination center of a clinic. The costs are comparable in all cases, the tropical doctor or the vaccination centers but have the advantage that the vaccine is in stock, at the family doctor you have to occasionally buy the vaccine on prescription at a pharmacy or order a day ahead.
Hepatitis A: viral hepatitis is fecal-oral (ie drinking water contaminated with faeces) and manifests with abdominal discomfort and jaundice. The vaccination is generally recommended if it is in countries and regions with poor sanitary facilities and drinking water treatment. Only Western Europe, USA, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand are considered safe. Hepatitis A is considered one of the most common travel illnesses, two vaccinations at intervals of 6 to 12 months provide long-term protection.
Hepatitis B: This highly contagious viral hepatitis is transmitted via blood contacts and unprotected sexual intercourse. Three vaccinations are needed for the basic protection, which are administered within one year. The first two vaccinations take place within 4 weeks, the third after half a year. A hepatitis B vaccine is mandatory for anyone working in the health sector (including humanitarian work in emerging markets)!
Tetanus (tetanus) is a frequently fatal infectious disease, caused by pathogens, which are in the soil, thorns, etc., or which can be transmitted by animal bites. In Western Europe, most residents are protected by vaccinations in routine inoculation from the 2nd month of life. At least three vaccinations are required to obtain protection. After 10 years, a refresher is necessary for an adult.
Yellow fever – yellow fever (a feverish disease that can lead to jaundice) is common in central Africa and also occurs in South America. When traveling to the corresponding countries, a yellow fever vaccination must be carried out, and some states require the vaccine even after a previous stay in an endemic area, except if it was only a transit. One is still to carry out the yellow fever vaccination Gelbfieberimpfbewilligung WHO necessary, which is why this vaccination can be administered by of tropical medicine and special vaccination centers.
Rabies – Three vaccinations are required 1 week or 2 weeks after the second vaccination, so you need 3 weeks for a complete vaccine. For the exact vaccination plan but it depends on the preparation. The cost is around 180 € for three vaccinations. Even after the vaccination you need a vaccination on the day of the infection and three days later. If you are not vaccinated, you need it immediatelyan active vaccination on 6 different days as well as rabies immunoglobulin as a passive vaccination (ie you get injected body defense). Vaccination is recommended for longer stays in emerging markets and humanitarian operations, as infections can be transmitted through contact with rabies – afflicted street dogs and cats. Under no circumstances should one approach or even touch a sick or strangely behaving street animal (no false sympathy with the dying kitten…).
Typhus – is caused by bacteria (salmonella) in the food. The vaccine protection of the oral vaccination occurs about 7 days after vaccination and is not one hundred percent. Recommended for longer stays in emerging markets and humanitarian missions if the classic “cook it, boil it, peel it or forget it” principle can not be adhered to.
Japanese Encephalitis – tropical disease caused by viruses. Two vaccinations are needed within 30 days. The vaccine used today has only been released since April 2009.
Polio / poliomyelitis – In the past vaccination against polio vaccinated against vaccination, today the vaccine must be injected (lower risk of very rare side effects of vaccination). The risk of infection is greatest in the middle of Africa and Asia (countries around India). In the case of a tetanus (booster) boost, which is necessary, if desired, on a planned trip abroad to an emerging country, the combination vaccine also effective against polio may be administered.
Diphtheria – a severe bacterial respiratory infection found after the collapse of health care in countries of the former Soviet Union and India. The vaccine is virtually always given with the anticonvulsant (dT)vaccine and alwayspersists if thevaccine isproperlyadministeredafter routine inoculation. The costs of vaccination are borne by the health insurance companies.
Measles – in the routine inoculum is a measles vaccine against measles infection, which may manifest with fever, sore throat, a rash and unfortunately also a potentially severe meningitis. Problems have arisen in Switzerland as a result of an increasing number of vaccinations, as a result of inadequate vaccination of the population, resulting in measles outbreaks, which resulted in travel warnings from non-European states prior to travel to Switzerland.
TBE vaccination – Especially in holidays in regions in which the TBE virus is transmitted by ticks (large parts of Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg, northeastern Switzerland, Austria) one should be vaccinated against this virus, if one likes to be outdoors (Wanderer, Joggers, dog owners). Some days after a tick bite fever, body aches, headaches and signs of meningitis occur. There are three vaccinations for the basic protection and then booster vaccines every ten years necessary.
Influenza vaccination, especially in older people with pre-existing conditions and other risk groups recommended. The vaccine, which is updated annually according to updated WHO recommendations, contains active substances against the influenza strains that are likely to be transmitted, and these usually change from year to year. Active ingredients against the Asian-derived so-called swine flu (H1N1) are included in the current flu vaccines. It should be noted that, especially on air travel, the risk of infection is very high, the infection is transmitted as a droplet infection, ie a patient who coughs and snorts fogs the whole environment with it.
Especially in Africa and Southeast Asia malaria is widespread. In Kenya and some areas of Southeast Asia (such as Cambodia) exist against the common prophylaxis resistant pathogens. Updated recommendations for prophylaxis or medication may be obtained from specialized travel medical websites of the health or trophic institutes or the family doctor, who has the same sources of information. Information about the regions to be traveled is necessary for the assessment.
The usual preventive measures against mosquito bites (long, light clothing, mosquito spray, mosquito net) are important as protection. According to recommendations of the tropical medicine centers, antimalarials will be used for prophylaxis or as an emergency medication. The malaria medicines are prescription-only in Germany and the Switzerland and must be paid usually by the traveler. In any case, you should consult a doctor before leaving to discuss the necessary arrangements.
In countries with insufficient drinking water quality (almost all of them outside Europe, North America and Australia) tap water or even water from public wells and streams should not be consumed. Better is the consumption of bottled water, if necessary, the decontamination using filters or water treatment tablets. Regarding food, Cook it, boil it, peel it – or forget it goes on.
with regard to the transmission of blood-borne infections and venereal diseases, the corresponding recommendations (no unprotected sexual intercourse, no tattoos with unsterile material) must be observed. Much more often it comes as a result of criminal carelessness to such infections, as that someone would have been infected by a hospital treatment with unclean injection material!
Regular medication: If you are on any regular medication, take a good supply with you, together with a copy of the prescription. Make sure it’s carried in hand luggage on planes. The prescription will help if you do need to replace it, or if customs are unsure what it is.
Antidiarrhea: Loperamide (e.g. Imodium) is the most common form of anti-diarrheal medicine for over-the-counter use. Never use it if there is blood in the feces – this could be an indication of something much more serious and requires immediate medical attention. see also Travellers’ diarrhea.
Anti-inflammatory: Ibuprofen (e.g. Nurofen) is good both as an anti-inflammatory and also as a general analgesic (pain killer). Other people prefer to use Paracetamol (acetaminophen), or an Aspirin/Paracetamol combination.
Note, however, that if dengue fever is a possibility then neither ibuprofen nor aspirin should be taken since either increases the risk of dangerous complications. Paracetamol is safer, but if you are in a dengue-risk area (most of the tropics), the safest course is not to self-medicate; consult a doctor instead.
Sunscreen: You are likely more exposed to the sun when traveling than during your normal routine back home. Sun burn can cause high discomfort and fatigue which is mostly avoidable with sunscreen (and a hat). An after-sun lotion containing aloe might help too. See also Sunburn and sun protection.
Adhesive bandages: Open cuts can become infected, especially when traveling. Clean the cut, cover up and continue your travels. Also useful for covering blisters on your feet.
Anti-bacterial: Neosporin, for example, handy to have for treating popped blisters, cuts, and burns once they have cooled; this will help to prevent infections. An alternative which can be bought in most destinations is hydrogen peroxide solution, but be sure to get the 3% mix normally used in first aid not the somewhat dangerous 15% mix used by dentists.
Insect repellent: Insect bites can cause discomfort, but also potentially infection and disease as well. Plan ahead, as in many areas where mosquitoes and other insects are a significant problem, effective DEET-based repellents cannot be bought locally.
Condoms: HIV and hepatitis are much more common in some parts of the world, and unprotected sex with an unfamiliar partner is highly risky anywhere — and much riskier without a condom. Female travelers who use contraceptive pills should also carry condoms as even minor stomach upsets can decrease the pill’s effectiveness.
Proof of your health insurance coverage: Even if you’re only taking a day trip across the border of a friendly country, the insured health care at your destination will not be the same as it is at home. Purchase the best health, life and disability coverage that you can afford, and keep a copy of the insurance details in your travel health kit along with your other health information. Of course in the European Union you’ll mostly be covered across the border as well.
Syringe cutlery can be purchased “unused” in any pharmacy and can prevent the risk of transmission of HIV by improper injection material, should a treatment with injections during a trip become necessary.
However, it should be remembered that injection material (except with appropriate medical confirmation, for example, in diabetics) may not be carried in hand luggage, may attract attention during fluoroscopic checks and give the border authorities the false assumption that the traveler is a drug user…
Even in emerging countries, travelers can purchase unused, flawless injectables for a handful of dollars (if a serious infection requires treatment with infusions over a long period of time, the single cannula brought brings nothing…), local doctors and pharmacies will like to take on the bill. In the treatment of foreigners, resources that are quite different are generally exhausted, as compared to locals living in a country with health care free of charge to the local population.
Off the beaten path
If you are going away from major towns and cities where medical help may not be accessible, you might like to consider taking a more complete first aid kit. Make sure you have the knowledge to use it, too! Consider water purification tables, sterile sets, and so on.
Also, travelers may wish to take a comprehensive first aid course if traveling for an extended amount of time in a rural area. The knowledge from courses such as Wilderness First Aid or Wilderness First Responder can come in handy when away from hospitals.
Many countries and venues restrict the carrying of knives, scissors and other sharp objects which might be included in a travel health kit.
Countries with harsh anti-drug laws might outlaw painkillers and other medication.