By Jim Ferri
I started my career as a freelance magazine photographer and learned early on that no matter where you are in the world you have to be able to survive the unexpected. Whether you’re in your 20s or your 80s, when you’re traveling you sometimes need a safety net to get you through a day, a night or, possibly, a week. And since most often it involves your health, you’ve got to be prepared.
Today, instead of bags of cameras and cases of film, I usually travel only with carry-ons (one of which is mostly filled with a computer, cameras, reference materials, assorted plugs, battery chargers, etc.) but I have enough in my “emergency kit” to keep me well for a week or more. And before I’m deluged with emails or comments on the matter, I well understand that women oftentimes cannot travel as lightly as men, although I have seen exceptions.
Most important for a traveler is the need for a variety of medications should something go awry. In addition to various prescribed medications, my “emergency kit” always contains Advil or Tylenol and antihistamine tablets (the latter in case of an allergic attack); eye drops, Chapstick and skin cream (both heat and air conditioning, especially on a plane, dries out your eyes, lips and skin); extra contacts and lens solution (plus an extra set of glasses); Neosporin and a few bandages; Pepcid and Alka-Seltzer (in case I didn’t realize the food was going to be that spicy); sanitizing hand wipes/spray; pills to combat an occasional bout of diarrhea, constipation or whatever; tissues and an Ace bandage which can be a trip-saver should I sprain my ankle.
Believe it or not, I use at least one thing from the “kit” every time I travel. I keep everything in 3-4 zippered plastic pouches and when I return I just refurbish the pouch with what I have on hand in my office, and don’t have to go running down to the drugstore like a maniac before heading out on the next trip.
From a non-medical perspective I also tuck away a tiny tube of Krazy Glue and Velcro, shoe laces, luggage locks, Wine Out Stain Remover (a great product), small packets of Woolite, Scotch Tape, and little adhesive page tabs I can stick on the pages of guidebooks, etc.
The key, though, is not to empty your medicine chest into your luggage — you only need a few tablets of anything to get you through until you can get to a pharmacy. Keep in mind, however, that the pharmacy is a lot closer on the Champs-Elysées than it is in the jungles of Papua New Guinea.
Regarding prescribed medications, I carry only enough for the trip’s duration plus two extra days supply (in case a flight is canceled or that pill rolls into God-only-knows-whatever-that-is on the hotel rug). It’s also not a bad idea to get copies of your prescription from your doctor, especially if it’s anything narcotic, and carry them with you. If you check your luggage keep a small portion of most of the medical items in your “emergency kit” in your carry-on (as well as all your prescription medications and copies, if any, of your prescriptions).
Should you have any medical condition, you’ll be smart to also carry a copy of your medical history or records with you. Paper copies usually suffice but in this day and age you can put tons of information, even copies of cardiograms and other medical tests, on small computer USB flash drives which not only take up no space in your luggage, but also provide doctors nearly anywhere in the world with the same info your doctor has in his/her file.
And finally, of course, before you go speak with your doctor to find out if you need to take any special precautions or get vaccinations to keep you healthy.