Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE
Author: Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE, General Practitioner (GP)

Dr Sarah Jarvis is the Clinical Director of the Patient Platform, an active medical writer, broadcaster, and the resident doctor for BBC Radio 2.

6 min read

If you’re heading off on holiday, chances are that medical problems are the last thing on your mind. But medical mishaps, both large and small, do happen, and it’s a good idea to be prepared.

Whether it’s a cut finger, upset stomach or uncomfortable blister from those brand-new holiday sandals, it’s always a good idea to pack a few holiday health essentials. Having a basic holiday medical kit to hand can save time, and hassle, and help sort out your ailment on the spot.  

1. Travel Sickness Medicines

Travel sickness is caused by your brain getting confused from the messages it receives from your ears (where your balance mechanisms are) and your eyes. It’s worse if you’re looking at something close by – such as focusing on a book or reading a map.

It’s less likely to be a problem if you’re driving. Your pharmacist can sell you travel sickness medicine – let them know if you have any medical conditions, as it’s not suitable for everyone.

2. Painkillers

Ibuprofen, aspirin or paracetamol will treat headaches and minor pains. However, codeine is illegal in some countries and may be confiscated or even lead to your arrest if you don't have proof of prescription.

Check out our guide to travelling with medication for more details. Check that you have something appropriate for everyone, including children, pregnant women or anyone with a specific condition.

For instance, ibuprofen can bring on asthma in some people and should also be avoided by those with stomach ulcers.


3. Plasters

All it takes is a stubbed toe or a momentary loss of concentration while prepping dinner and you can end up with a nasty cut.

You can protect against possible infection by packing a box of plasters in different sizes. That way, you can cover any open wounds swiftly and (almost) painlessly. If you're going to be doing lots of walking, add in a few blister plasters too.

4. Anti-Diarrhoea Medicine

An absolute travel essential, particularly if you are heading abroad. Often our bellies are not quite in tune with the sudden influx of unfamiliar food and drink we indulge in when sampling local fare.

If you’re in a country where the water may be contaminated, drink only bottled water at all times - including for washing fruit or brushing your teeth. However, even with all our best efforts, upset stomachs are an unfortunate by-product of exploring the world.

Your pharmacist can offer medicines such as Loperamide (Imodium®) or diphenoxylate plus atropine (Lomotil®).  These can help, particularly if you also have tummy pains.

5. Indigestion

All that rich food may seem like a good idea at the time, but it can play havoc with your digestion. Try to avoid eating a large meal late at night, which increases the risk of heartburn.

For occasional indigestion, antacids from your pharmacist can soothe pain quickly – opt for tablets rather than liquid if you’re planning to take them in your hand luggage. Alternatively, your pharmacist can sell you tablets called PPIs (they all have names ending ‘-azole’) for longer-term relief.

Tweezers and Scissors

6. Tweezers and Scissors

A nasty splinter can cause discomfort which you don’t need on holiday – particularly if it lodges itself in the sole of your foot. Pack a decent pair of tweezers to pluck the culprit out.

A pair of scissors could also be useful for trimming down plasters or bandages. Make sure your chosen pair is stashed in your checked-in luggage or otherwise complies with hand baggage regulations.

7. Insect Bite Cream

As anyone who has visited a destination where mosquitoes are rampant knows, those bites can be incredibly itchy and irritating.

If you are heading off to a tropical paradise known as a hang-out for mozzies or sandflies, be sure to pack a strong insect repellent. Not only will this prevent any itchy welts from forming, but it will also help reduce the risk of contracting mosquito-borne diseases.

If you’re travelling anywhere outside Europe, North America or Australasia, do check with your pharmacist if you need to take anti-malarial medication. They can sell you the correct medication and give details of when to start and stop the course.

8. Sterile Gauze and Bandage

For larger cuts or those that are awkwardly positioned on the body, sometimes sterile gauze and a bandage make for better and more secure protection than a plaster.

Always be sure that the gauze fully covers the wound, before winding the bandage round.

Sun Cream

9. After-Sun Lotion

Of course, prevention is always better than cure, and sunburn is no exception. Do make sure you use plenty of high-protection sun cream – and apply every couple of hours, as well as after you go swimming.

Follow the Australian ‘slip, slop, slap, slide, seek’ rule – slip on a shirt, slop on the sun cream, slap on a hat, slide on some sunglasses and seek shade when the sun is at its hottest. But if you do have mild sunburn, a soothing after-sun spray or cream (like aloe vera) can provide relief.

10. Anti-histamines 

Even if you’re generally not affected by pollen and dust allergies can react to something new when travelling. From heat rash to bites and stings, a pack of over-the-counter antihistamines can help to reduce inflammation and provide relief.  

Of course, there are some accidents and injuries that you may not be able to deal with by yourself. This, is why it is essential to book the right travel insurance for your trip. Medical Travel Compared offer access to a range of insurers, many of which provide cover for pre-existing medical conditions.

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