Travel Tip: Pack a First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit
A compact travel first aid kit from

Granted basic supplies wouldn’t have helped me in this particular situation, but I learned a very important lesson during our trip to Cancun for a conference last week: make sure to always carry some form of a first aid kit.

I know what you’re thinking. You’ll only be gone a few days. What could possibly go wrong in that short amount of time? That’s what I thought, too – I always think I’m invincible when traveling. But my four days in Mexico last week resulted in the first broken bone I’ve ever had.

We had nearly made it through the entire trip without incident. I had slipped multiple times on the slippery-when-wet marble floors at Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort at the beginning of our stay on a particularly rainy day. Eventually, I had to take my flip flops off and walk barefoot around the resort. Think about it – this is an all-inclusive with just about the biggest pool you’ve ever seen. Women bring “resort wear” which generally consists of flip flips for the pool, and heels for the evening. Either way, you’re going down on those slick floors.

And go down, I certainly did in the early morning hours (3:45 a.m.!) when the bus was coming to pick us up for our transfer to the airport. Don’t get me started on why the bus had to come that early for an 8 a.m. flight, but nevertheless, we rolled out of bed and made a beeline for the reception counter. Cleaners were mopping a large section of floor by the exit, but they had it blocked off like a crime scene with caution tape outlining the perimeter of the wet zone. I was walking about 20 feet away – the only way to get to the check-out counter. And down I went, so quickly I didn’t even realize what had happened until I was on the ground, one leg out in front of me, one knee smacking the marble, and one fingertip throbbing from a direct impact.

Poor broken knuckle

Poor broken knuckle

The cleaners and the girl at reception just stared at me. Kyle helped me up and saw I had landed in a rather large puddle – in the middle of the area that was supposed to be dry. We walked over to check out, and I realized my finger had not gotten through the incident unscathed. A man came out from a side room when he saw the tears forming. He found me a Band-Aid for my non-bleeding finger, and gave me another for the road. Fantastic. Then I was promptly chased around with paperwork – and I do mean chased – as someone speaking furious Spanish tried to get me to fill out an incident report. A translator ran behind him. The bus had already arrived and was threatening to leave if we didn’t board. I’m sure we could have waited and made the flight with plenty of time to spare, but we had paid for the ride, so we left with unsigned paperwork.

We were through security by 4:30 a.m., and thus began what I’d have to rank in my top 3 longest days of travel ever! (We didn’t get home until after 11 p.m.) I was relatively fine until our first layover in Atlanta, where I decided to ask for some better medical supplies. I had put the Band-Aid over my knuckle, which hurt the most. We eventually managed to find an information desk, and all they had was Scotch tape. I took two pieces and buddied my fingers straight. It didn’t take long for me to realize that was a really bad idea. I sat down at our gate and tried to take everything off. The Band-Aid over my knuckle (which I found out the next day was broken) hurt so much, and I started crying. A Delta employee ran over and called their internal version of 911. Several minutes later, two medical people appeared on bikes and went to get me an ice pack. They returned with a grocery bag full of ice cubes.

And that’s all the medical attention and supplies I received in nearly 20 hours of travel.

Delayed in airport 2 of 3.

Delayed in airport 2 of 3.

So, this brings me to the conclusion that travelers should err on the side of caution, and always have some sort of medical supplies with them – whether you’re accident-prone or not! I wouldn’t have had a splint with me—I’ve never broken anything in my life, so why would I just carry around a splint for the heck of it?—but I should probably have had some pretty basic medical supplies.

Here’s what I should have had – and you should, too!




Standard Strip Band-Aids – Now, you don’t have to go crazy and carry them in all shapes and sizes. That’s always better, but you can probably rig up something with a few basic Band-Aids in a pinch.

Antibiotic Ointment – If you need to use a Band-Aid, you’ve probably managed to cut yourself, so it’s a good idea to carry ointment. You could pack some antiseptic wipes, too, if you know you’ll be hiking, for example – or at least somewhere you’re not sure you’ll have great access to soap and water.

Gauze – For larger wounds than you can adequately treat with a Band-Aid, it’s smart to carry gauze. You can either get gauze and medical tape, or you can buy gauze that’s much like a Band-Aid with adhesive.

Medical Tape – Even if you bring gauze with adhesive, it’s smart to carry medical tape, too, especially if you’re planning to swim, or you’re in a place with a lot of humidity, since adhesives will likely peel off.

Ace Bandage – It’s always a good idea to carry one of these around. They roll up relatively small, and can be used for lots of situations.

Painkillers and Allergy Medicine – Naturally, it’s a good idea to carry some version of Tylenol or Advil around for everything from a headache to an ankle sprain. Keep allergy medicine on hand for seasonal allergies and even rashes or bug bites.

Small Tweezers and Scissors – Tweezers are handy for removing splinters, and you’ll need a small pair of scissors to cut medical tape.

Your Medical Information – Carry a card that has a list of medicines you’re allergic to, as well as your blood type (if you know it), and an emergency contact.

Sturdy First Aid Kit – It’s always a good idea to keep your supplies in a hard plastic container or a zip-up canvas case, mainly so they don’t get wet or crumpled in your luggage.

So there you have it: some essentials for any travel first aid kit. There are some specific travel-related kits geared toward avid hikers and outdoor adventurers, but these basics should tide you over for small injuries until you can find medical attention.

But most importantly, just be careful.

Have you ever been injured while traveling? What did you do? Share your comments and stories below!

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