On my very first trip out into the wild, I did what many an eager young wanderer would do: I packed up what might’ve been a year’s worth of pharmaceuticals that would make any overly concerned mother proud.
With a backpack filled to the brim with sterilising gauze, medical tape, scissors, bandages of all sizes, safety pins, wipes, a clinic’s supply-worth of medication and gloves just in case, I was all set and ready to go. And this was after getting miscellaneous jabs I and a dozen travel guides and worried relatives deemed necessary, as well as a heavy dose of malaria pills.
Mosquitoes and tropical diseases could try and take me down, but they would fail. I was invincible, highly medicated and first-aid-kitted up to the gills.
Fast forward to a few weeks later, when I would find myself tripping horribly on those same pills, unable to piece together the days and unsure where the people around me came from, where we currently were or what my (or anyone else’s) name was. While hallucinations and severe confusion aren’t much fun, the vomiting and fevers weren’t anything to be envied, either.
Of course, this severe reaction is perhaps the “this probably, almost definitely, won’t happen to you but caution is made clear on the box just in case” luck of the draw, but it can happen still, and it did. It was enough to knock me hard off the cautious route of overmedication and steer me firmly towards a path far more unmedicated and free. I have since shaken off the shackles of my overly cautious ways, stocked up on a couple of essentials and picked up some MacGyver-like tricks to make do with the available equipment wherever I may end up.
Disclaimer: I’m not outrightly recommending that you follow these recommendations to the letter; I’m merely suggesting that unless something truly tragic transpires, you’ll probably be fine with a few of these trip-saving tips.
PLASTERS AND BANDAGES
Clumsy as we humans often are, a bunch of plasters in various sizes take up almost no space and almost always come in handy. Even if you manage to make it through a trip with no skin-slicing incidents and without any grazed knees, someone at some point will probably have use for your collection of Band-Aids, and it’s a good feeling to be that person who gets to save the day.
If you’re prone to more serious injuries or have a habit of missteps or falling off things, it won’t hurt to add a couple of bandages to your pack, perfect for immobilising a wonky ankle or keeping a strained wrist straight. It won’t fix your problem, but it’ll hopefully keep you on the right track long enough to see your adventure through until you’re in a position to seek further medical help, if necessary.
When there are falls, there are often cuts and grazes and when there are cuts and grazes, there are open wounds and broken skin. And where there are open wounds, there are plenty of germs to be fought. If you have space for toothpaste (which you hopefully and presumably do), you’ll have space for this. Slap some cream on and kill bacteria, relieve pain and sooth your weary soul with the knowledge that you’re keeping it clean and inhibiting the growth of sneaky invited guests in the form of microorganisms while you’re at it.
Obviously if you suffer anything worse than a mild cut or abrasion this isn’t going to cut it (pun intended), but antiseptic cream can do wonders for both the body and the (peace of) mind when you have easy and instant access to it.
KEEP IT CLEAN
Before performing any sort of minor procedure on yourself or on a fellow traveller – even if it’s as simple as getting some of the aforementioned cream on – it’s best to start with clean hands. A true gem and a faithful friend of the modern world, hand sanitiser comes to the rescue time and again after a trip to a suspiciously scented toilet or before you dig in to a meal. Have some ready to sterilise yourself with before you get down to serious medical business.
Also travel-friendly and great to have on standby are alcohol wipes, which can be a quick clean for minor cuts or scrapes.
In place of a dozen different types of over-the-counter medication, Paracetamol is a first-aid staple for fighting colds, muscle aches, headaches, and fevers. Keep a couple of them ready for your fever-fighting, pain-relieving needs.
What’s worse than a pulled muscle and a long road ahead of you? Having nothing to help relieve the pain with. While Paracetamol can ease your pain over a longer period of time, a strong muscle spray can help to ease your strain almost immediately.
If you, like me, are prone to tired tendons and muscle malaise when you’re hitting the trail hard, you’ll thank yourself later when you’ve got something to keep you going a little further and with a lot less pain.
TAKE WHAT YOU NEED (AND BE ON YOUR WAY)
Ultimately, you know your own body best. Bring the things you will likely need, and do some research in advance so you know what you can pick up as you go in the locations that you’ll visit.
Travel far, pack lightly, tread safely and don’t be afraid of a little wear and tear along the way.