Frugal Traveler

Frugal Traveler: Packing a first aid kit

April 13, 2013 

On a recent trip, an accidental injury reminded me that skimping on first aid supplies is a packing strategy with potentially serious repercussions. Fortunately, I was able to fashion the few items I had at my disposal into a workable solution. But getting caught by surprise inspired me to consider 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 limit your medical supplies. One wrong step, however, and you may be too restricted 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. You can purchase them in a large box for less than $3 at 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 airport security concerns and are all easily refilled from family-sized bargain jugs I keep 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 your itinerary will be focused on extreme sports, you can probably skip the bulky bandages and rolls of tape and opt for easily-packed adhesive bandage strips in a variety of shapes and sizes. A thermometer may seem like overkill, but having one in my travel gear has come in handy.

During a getaway to Egypt, for instance, my husband developed a 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. I’m also a huge fan of having at least a small supply of triple antibiotic ointment for scrapes and cuts. It’s easily purchased at a dollar store, and provides me with a peace of mind that’s in line with my penny-pinching 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 reason I include bandanas in my gear 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. They make great napkins and breathing filters, and can also be used to cover wounds, buffer ice packs, serve as slings and can be pressed into service as tourniquets under extreme and unforeseen conditions.

Maxi pads can also come to the rescue if 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 place that will be 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 won’t be lugging it while exploring attractions like Angkor Wat or Jerusalem’s old city. One way to work around this is 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 need to dig for individual items in cavernous spaces cluttered with souvenirs, clothing layers and travel documents.

It’s tough to be prepared for everything unless you’re 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.

Myscha Theriault/McClatchy-Tribune News Service

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service