What should you pack in your travel medicine bag?

How to pack medicine for international travel

Whilst nobody ever wants to become ill while on holiday, sometimes it just happens! So what do you do if you fall ill?


Pre-holiday preparation

Preparation before leaving for your holiday destination is vital. People are tending to travel further afield and so are likely to come into contact with a much bigger range of risks and disease. If you have a pre-existing condition it may be necessary to prepare by ensuring that you have enough medication to see you through your trip as well as checking the guidelines on bringing medication into your destination country. It may be that you will need a copy of your prescription in order to prove that the drugs you are carrying are necessary and above board.


Travellers First Aid Kit

Packing a traveller's first aid kit is a very good place to start. It is possible to buy ready ‘made up’ travellers first aid kits but they may not contain every type of medication you might need so it may be worth adding to a kit or making up a kit of your own which suits your needs more closely. It is important to tailor the kit to the individual or party of travellers, the travel destination and method(s) of travel.


Items which may be useful in your travel kit

The list below may act as a checklist and a list which you can pick and choose from to suit your own personal circumstances:

  • Travellers diarrhoea - this is the most commonly experienced malady associated with travel. It may be caused by many different bacteria such as e.coli, salmonella and campylobacter, parasites such as giardia and cyclospora and viruses such as norovirus and rotavirus. There are some over the counter diarrhoea treatments that may be included in the kit but if the condition persists it will be necessary to seek advice from a doctor.
  • Sunburn and sunstroke - avoiding overexposure to the sun is the best way to avoid sunburn and sunstroke but to protect the skin while in the sun use sunscreen and wear a hat. If needed, sunburn can be treated using ointments or creams that contain aloe vera or soya; take painkillers if required and drink plenty of water. For sunstroke, the best treatment is to cool the body down with cool packs or cool showers as well as drinking plenty of water to relieve any dehydration.
  • Motion sickness - medication for motion sickness that is available over the counter includes tablets, patches and pressure bands.
  • Altitude sickness - if you are affected by sickness while travelling at high altitudes then antiemetics (tablets to treat nausea and vomiting) and painkillers for headaches may be taken. If you are to be travelling in these conditions then adding this medication to the kit may be advisable.
  • Jet lag - melatonin supplements may help your body’s circadian rhythm adjust to a new time zone. Sleeping pills may also be prescribed by your doctor to help your body’s natural rhythm adjust.
  • Sinus infection - nasal decongestants and antihistamine sprays or tablets can be included in the kit to treat a sinus infection. If these do not relieve the problem then antibiotics may be needed.
  • Insect bites - if the bite causes itching then antihistamine cream will help and if the area is red or swollen then a cold compress will help.
  • Cuts and abrasions - it may be that you cannot find a pharmacy in your holiday destination so it is worth stocking your first aid kit with a selection of sterile plasters, bandages and antiseptic cream.
  • Headaches - painkillers are always useful!
  • Period delay - for some women having a period on holiday can be very disruptive. If they are not on the contraceptive pill they can ask their doctor for Norethisterone tablets.
  • Sexually transmitted disease - it is important if you are sexually active and intend to be having sexual intercourse while travelling. For this reason, it is important to carry a stock of condoms which will protect against infections.



If you are travelling abroad it will be necessary to investigate which vaccinations are recommended or even required for travel to your holiday destination. It is necessary to find out this information at least eight weeks prior to travel as some vaccinations may need a period time for your body to develop the required immunity. In addition, some vaccines need to be repeated with doses being spread over weeks or months.

A list of recommended or required vaccinations for travel destinations can be found at:



Some vaccinations are available on the NHS but some will need to be paid for. Ask your GP for more information.

If you are pregnant it is advisable to take advice from your GP before having any vaccinations.



Protecting yourself from contracting malaria is vital. The first line of defence is to protect yourself from being bitten by using protective netting at night and using appropriate insect repellant at night.

A vaccination that protects against malaria has not yet been developed; as a result, it is very important that you are protected by taking anti-malaria medication. Antimalarials will reduce your chance of contracting the disease if you are bitten by malaria carrying bug by 90%. So they are not foolproof. This is why it is so important to take steps to prevent being bitten in the first place.

Antimalarial medication should begin before travelling and continued for four weeks after returning.

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