Travelling abroad? Whether you’re headed for a two-month long trip or just a three-day getaway, travellers should always take precautionary measures; get the required flu shots or vaccines (depending on the country you’re visiting) and bring along the necessary medication. Not to jinx the trip you’re planning, but minor injuries and catching common variety bugs can and may happen – and they can also be self-treated and do not require trips to a foreign clinic. NHS Choices has compiled a list of expert-selected essentials that need to be in every traveller’s health kit to stay safe and healthy. These are just a few of the must-haves:
Choose sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. The higher the SPF, the better the protection. Buy sunscreen labelled “broad-spectrum”. This means that it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Don’t use creams that are past their expiry date. Most sunscreens have a shelf life of two to three years. For more information, read the Sun safety Q&A.
First Aid Kit
For minor injuries, use antiseptic with gauze squares, non-adherent dressings, bandages, fabric plasters, adhesive tape, scissors, tweezers and safety pins and tick removers. You can buy bottles or sprays of standard antiseptic such as TCP from all major chemists, or get ready-prepared antiseptic wipes. A first aid kit may be useful if you’re going off the beaten track or taking part in high-risk activities.
Mosquitoes usually bite between dusk and dawn, and are attracted to humans by our body heat, smell and the carbon dioxide we breathe out. Research shows that products containing the chemical DEET are the most effective insect repellents and are safe when used correctly. DEET products are available in sprays, roll-ons, sticks and creams. Your GP or travel health clinic will tell you whether the area you are going to is malarial and what protection is advised.
Condoms are recommended for everyone who is sexually active. Buy condoms with the CE mark on the packet. This means they have been tested to the high safety standards that are required in Europe. Condoms that don’t have the CE mark won’t meet these standards, so don’t use them. Condoms can be damaged by oil-based products, such as suntan lotion, baby oil and lipstick. Heat can also cause damage, so store them in a cool, dry place. For more information on using male and female condoms, see How to use a condom.
Over-the-counter antihistamines can reduce itching and inflammation caused by allergies and insect bites. Antihistamines are available as tablets (oral antihistamines), creams (topical antihistamines) and nasal sprays. Antihistamines work by blocking the effects of a protein called histamine.
Anti-diarrhoea drugs, such as loperamide, can relieve symptoms of diarrhoea by slowing down the movement of bowel contents and sometimes by increasing water absorption from the gut. Loperamide can be taken once or twice a day, over a long period. However:
- Do not take anti-diarrhoea drugs if there is blood in your stools or if you have a high temperature (check with your pharmacist).
- Do not give anti-diarrhoea drugs to your child.
There are checklists that can be found online to help you keep track of all the important items and medication you would need for your trip. Health Xchange has prepared a good and detailed list of must-dos and must-haves for before and during every trip. See the checklist here. There are also mobile apps that you can download to help keep track of the necessary. My Travel Health (available in the AppStore) is a free app that assists in safeguarding your health before, during and after travel.