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Travel first aid kit checklist: This must be taken with you on vacation

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  • Do you even need a first aid kit when vacationing within Germany?
  • What belongs in the first aid kit?
  • Are insect repellents part of the basic equipment of a travel first aid kit?
  • What should you take with you when you go on a hike?
  • What should be in your first aid kit for a seaside or diving vacation?
  • What should I pay attention to when taking medication abroad?
  • What is the best way to transport travel medication?

If you want to be on the safe side, you would have to plan an extra suitcase with emergency medication for longer vacations. But you don't need it. We'll tell you what's really important when it comes to a travel first-aid kit and how you can store its contents so that the active ingredients are still effective at your holiday destination.

Do you even need a first aid kit when vacationing within Germany?

There are pharmacies everywhere in Germany, although the number has now fallen to just under 18,000. When traveling within the borders, many people forego a first aid kit, apart from the medication they need to take regularly, such as the pill.

But a small first aid kit is always useful to have with you. “If you have diarrhea, the most common travel sickness, any pharmacy outside your home is too far away,” says pharmacist Dr. Ursula Sellerberg from the Federal Chamber of Pharmacists, “And outside of big cities and regular opening hours, the nearest pharmacy can be 20 kilometers away.”

What belongs in the first aid kit?

“Everything you have in your medicine cabinet, supplemented by medication for typical travel complaints and adapted to the type of trip and destination,” advises Dr. Sellerberg.

Checklist: These medications are part of the basic equipment in the travel first-aid kit

  • Painkillers and fever relievers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol
  • Medicines for motion sickness (e.g. Iberogast) and diarrhea (e.g. Imodium), the most common travel sickness.
  • Sunscreen
  • Disinfectant (e.g. Sterillium classic)
  • If necessary, earplugs to prevent noise

Are insect repellents part of the basic equipment of a travel first aid kit?

Not yet, but that may be the case in the foreseeable future. Climate change is to blame. But so far, mosquitoes have transmitted malaria, the Zika virus, dengue or yellow fever to people, especially in distant countries, and the course of the disease can be severe and even fatal. That's why the WHO recommends mosquito repellent sprays containing DEET for many travel countries. Products like Anti Brumm forte or Care Plus Anti-Insect contain DEET.

“Mosquito repellents containing DEET work reliably, but the active ingredient can accumulate in fatty tissue and become a health risk in the long term,” explains Dr. Sellerberg, “Therefore, you should consider its use and seek advice from the pharmacy when choosing the insect repellent.” In addition to DEET, there are other ingredients such as Icaridin (e.g. in Ballistol), which is more skin-friendly and is less absorbed, and weaker but more tolerable products with Citriodil (e.g. Soventol protect mosquito repellent).

Itch-relieving gels (e.g. Fenistil) also belong in the first aid kit. Mosquitoes are always a nuisance, even if they don't carry dangerous diseases everywhere.

That could change in the next few years: Climate change is slowly increasing the risk of being bitten by a mosquito that transmits dangerous diseases, even in our latitudes, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

Hiking holidaymakers in particular should not underestimate tick bites: these can cause serious diseases such as Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis (TBE). Every year the number of federal states in which infected ticks are increasingly occurring increases (you can find a current atlas here). A tick repellent as well as a tick card or tick tweezers to remove ticks from the skin are essential travel first aid kits, especially on hiking holidays.

What should you take with you when you go on a hike?

When hiking and backpacking, it is particularly important to keep your luggage to a minimum. However, the following basics must also be included in your hiking backpack:

  • Tick ​​and mosquito repellent
  • Cooling pad
  • Disinfectant (e.g. Octenisept wound disinfection spray)
  • Wound or healing ointment (e.g. Bepathen)
  • Plasters, quick wound bandages and blister plasters (also available as a compact first aid kit especially for hiking or cycling tours)

Tip: Leave the outer packaging at home and only pack the information leaflet with the medication.

What should be in your first aid kit for a seaside or diving vacation?

In addition to the basics mentioned above, you should pack ear drops; ear pain is more common when diving. Medication against sunburn, which you should of course avoid, can also be useful at the sea, where the reflection of the sun's rays is even more intense than in the city.

What should I pay attention to when taking medication abroad?

When traveling long distance, be it to Thailand, South Africa, Mexico, India or the tropics, your first aid kit should contain everything you could need. The problem: In many countries, counterfeit and, at best, ineffective medications are also offered. Dr. Sellerberg: “Often not even pharmacists can distinguish well-made counterfeits from real medications.” That's why stock up on everything you need at home in case of fever, pain and gastrointestinal illnesses. You should also have a digital thermometer with you in malaria areas.

But be careful: “Unrestricted imports of medicines are not permitted worldwide,” says the pharmacists’ association. Anyone who needs to take strong painkillers or other narcotics abroad should get a certificate from their doctor. You can find samples of such certificates here.

Even condoms, the pharmacists' association recommends, are better taken with you from home: “The quality of condoms made from foreign products is difficult to assess,” says Dr. Sellerberg. Women taking birth control pills should be aware of the time difference when taking it.

What you shouldn't do, to be on the safe side, is to take leftover tablets from an opened antibiotic pack with you as a prophylactic measure. “This promotes antibiotic resistance, which must be avoided at all costs,” says Dr. Sellerberg, “In addition, side effects are also possible.” If you are unsure, talk to your doctor before traveling about whether it makes sense for him/her to prescribe antibiotics in advance to be on the safe side and instruct you in which case you should use them and how.

If you are planning more exotic trekking tours in remote places in the world, it is better to seek individual travel medical advice. This costs money, but it's worth it when in doubt: Nothing contributes to the success of a trip like your health. You can find a list of doctors trained in travel medicine here.

What is the best way to transport travel medication?

Heat is problematic for some medications. “Tablets are usually no problem, but suppositories and creams can melt or become unusable when exposed to heat,” says Dr. Sellerberg, “It's best to transport your first aid kit in the car under the front seat and never in the glove compartment.”

Of course, a place in a cooler bag would be ideal, although you should make sure that the medication does not come into direct contact with a cooling unit. On the plane, you should take (at least some of) your medication with you in your hand luggage, as suitcases can get lost. Decongestant nose drops and EarPlanes, which reduce ear pressure when flying, are helpful when traveling by plane.

On day tours in the destination country, you should always carry the basic equipment with you (such as medication for pain, diarrhea, disinfectants and sunscreen), and leave the rest at the hotel.

Tip: If you have to take medication regularly, always take a little more with you than you mathematically need so that travel delays such as plane cancellations do not result in medical emergencies.

The smarter you plan your travel kit (and adapt your vacation), the safer you can feel during your well-deserved break and do all the activities. If in doubt, save on a T-shirt when it comes to luggage instead of skimping on the first-aid kit for reasons of space.

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