Our pharmaceuticals are in a carry-on pouch. Our first-aid supplies are checked separately.
Our pharmaceuticals are in a carry-on pouch. Our first-aid supplies are checked separately.

For our round-the-world adventure tour, we wanted to “BE PREPARED,” a motto I learned as a Boy Scout years ago.

I think I was carrying more  medicines than were stocked at this drugstore in El Chaltén!

It’s a good idea for all international travellers to have a basic medical kit. First-aid supplies and medications may not always be readily available in other countries, or they may be quite different from those available in Canada. A good travel health kit contains enough supplies to prevent illness, handle minor injuries and illnesses, and manage pre-existing medical conditions for longer than the duration of your trip. An excellent reference is the Centre for Disease Control site  which lists, by country, what to pack in your kit.

In planning our trip to Oman, Bhutan and New Zealand, our activities included long hikes in remote areas (sometimes at high altitude), exposure to infectious disease through dodgy water and food, rabid animals, off-road driving and camping by ourselves in countries with far higher traffic fatality rates than at home and often with slow access to emergency medical services.

Having advanced first-aid training through the Canadian Ski Patrol and through PADI’s Rescue Diver course, I had been taught the skills but needed supplemental first-aid supplies to respond to a medical emergency. The kit I chose was the Mountain Series Fundamentals by Adventure Medical Kits (AMK).

“The popular choice for backcountry guides, medium-size groups on short outings, or small groups on extended trips. The extensive components selection includes supplies to treat a wide range of injuries, irrigate wounds, stabilize sprains and fractures, and manage illnesses. Featuring Easy Care™ organization, contents are organized by injury along with specific instructions enabling anyone to administer first aid quickly and confidently.”

A bonus is this kit includes the compact book A Comprehensive Guide to Wilderness & Travel Medicine by Dr. Eric Weiss. The appendix includes his recommendation for first-aid equipment, supplies and prescriptive and non-prescriptive medicine, much of which we added to our kit.

We also added a Grayl Water Filter to our health supplies. After watching a video clip of the company’s founders drinking water filtered from a toilet bowl, I was convinced it would handle any questionable water we might drink.

Ouch! Five vaccinations in our first of three trips to the Travel Clinic

Through Vancouver’s Coastal Health Travel Clinic, we made sure all of our vaccinations were up-to-date and added a rabies vaccination. Within Bhutan, access to treatment after an animal bite can be slow because of the developing road system and the limitations of domestic air travel at high altitudes. The central hospital is often without rabies immune globulin, so you have to be flown out of the country if bitten by an animal. The staff at the Travel Clinic told us that about 10% of the dogs in Asia are rabid. It was one of our biggest decisions as the rabies vaccination was expensive at $580/per person but we felt it was another step in being prepared. And it’s good for life.

Our first-aid kit weighed three pounds, which may seem like a lot with the weight restrictions on international travel. Would we have removed anything? No. Would we have added anything? I wanted a suture-and-syringe pack as recommended by the AMK when you are travelling to areas where non-sterile supplies may be used, but it was impossible to get in Canada and US shippers won’t send it across the border.

Was this preparation of value? We think so. Our rental Land Cruiser in Oman wasn’t equipped with a first aid kit. If our guide and driver had a kit in Bhutan, it was small and hidden in the glove compartment. And although Kohanga, our rental motorhome in New Zealand, had a kit, it was modestly equipped compared to ours. Fortunately, we never had to treat a wound or trauma injury. But we did use prescription medication and ginger-flavoured Gravol for altitude sickness, plus a few of the other non-prescriptive medicines.

Like travel insurance (which we discussed in a previous post), a first-aid travel kit is something you hope you’ll never have to use—yet the best advice is not to leave home without one.


Adventure Medical Kits have a broad selection of kits to match your travel plans and first-aid experience.

An excellent health reference for international travelling is the Centre for Disease Control.

Our Grayl Filter will double as an emergency water supply in the event of an earthquake.

4 Responses

  1. That would have been a nice First Aid Kit to have in Africa. When John fell in the dried up sewage gutter in Ghana, all we had to clean the wounds was hand sanitizer-ouch! And our Bandaids didn’t stick worth a darn. Had to ask for “plasters” at the pharmacy. Congratulations on your first 5 months! Looking forward to more in 2016!

    1. Using the advice from Dr. Weiss on Wilderness-Travel Medicine, we would have been prepared for your accident by irrigating the wound with diluted Betadine (10% Povidone-Iodine) solution. A bonus in carrying the “extra weight” is that 4 drops per litre can be used to purify back-country water. In Fiji years ago, Spice scraped her ankle on a rock covered with some coral. We didn’t irrigate it quickly, and she had a very severe reaction for almost a month that became resistant to most antibiotics.

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