On a recent trip to the Caribbean, an accidental injury reminded me that skimping on first aid supplies is a packing strategy with potentially serious repercussions. Repercussions I was going to have to deal with before I could possibly continue with my travel itinerary. Fortunately, I was able to fashion the few items I had at my disposal into a workable solution. However, the fact that I was caught by surprise inspired me to spend some serious time considering solutions easily implemented by the average traveler. Here are my top tips for figuring out a frugal first aid kit to meet your unique needs.
Space: For those who make packing light a priority, it can be tempting to try and limit your medical supplies. One wrong step in your streamlining procedure however, and you may find yourself in a situation thatís too restrictive to meet the needs of even a minor emergency. A common vacation gap exists with the cleaning of wounds, which is critical for even moderate scrapes and cuts. If for example you leave the peroxide home in order to reduce liquids while traveling, consider including individually-packaged alcohol wipes as an alternative. They are small, pack flat and weigh next to nothing. From a budget perspective they are also attractive, since you can purchase them in a large box for less than $3 at a number of discount department stores.
Space-efficient options also exist for pain relievers. At my local pharmacy, I purchased travel-sized tubes of aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen. They came labeled which helps alleviate security concerns at the airport, and are all easily refilled from family-sized bargain jugs I keep stored at home. These same products are available in bulk boxes of personal packets as well, for those with space concerns precise enough to make even the small tubes inefficient.
Staples: Unless youíre planning an itinerary focused on extreme sports, chances are you can skip the bulky bandages and rolls of tape and opt instead for easily-packed adhesive bandage strips in a variety of shapes and sizes. These will do the job more often than not, and help maintain your focus on size concerns when organizing your luggage ahead of time. A thermometer may seem like overkill at first, but having one in my travel gear has come in handy on numerous occasions.
During a getaway to Egypt for instance, my husband developed an unexpected fever. When a quick check showed a temperature approaching 106, I knew it was serious enough to put him under a cold shower while I ran downstairs to coordinate an ice delivery and a pharmacy run. Iím also a huge fan of having at least a small supply of triple antibiotic ointment for scrapes and cuts. Itís easily purchased at Dollar Tree, and provides me with a peace of mind thatís completely in line with my penny-pinching travel priorities. Other recommended medical staples are listed on the web site for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including such things as cough drops, antacid and antihistamine.
Substitutions: One of the reasons I love using bandanas as a multi-purpose travel supply is because the weight of the fabric is conducive to air drying. This means you can clean them nightly in your room and have them fresh and ready for the day by the time you wake up. While itís great to have them on hand for napkins and breathing filters, bandanas can also be used to cover wounds, buffer ice packs, serve as slings and pressed into service as tourniquets under extreme and unforeseen conditions.
Maxi pads can also come to the rescue if you find yourself in a situation where you need more than a basic adhesive bandage strip. Place the absorbent side against the bleeding wound after cleaning and secure it in place as you make your way to the nearest medical facility.
Storage: The most convenient place to pack your medical supplies when traveling on the plane is not necessarily the solution that will serve you best during light daytrips or more strenuous activities. Reaching into the front pocket of your carry-on bag might work fine while dealing with airport delays, but chances are you wonít be lugging that same piece with you while exploring attractions like Angkor Wat or Jerusalemís old city. One way to work around this is to allow time to reconfigure your pack or tote before heading out for the day.
Climbing even a moderately-difficult trail requires different storage solutions than strolling through cobblestone streets on a walking tour. Keeping the basics stored together in resealable packs provides you with a plug-and-play solution that can easily be relocated from a rustic daypack to a stylish fabric tote without taking valuable tourism time to dig for individual items in cavernous spaces cluttered with souvenirs, clothing layers and travel documents.
Bottom line? Itís tough to be prepared for everything unless youíre planning a multi-person expedition. Doing your part by bringing along the basics will allow you to coordinate initial self treatment, while local pharmacies and clinics stand ready to help you pick up the slack for restocking supplies and more serious emergencies.
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