How to Travel Safe like a Jedi: First Aid Kits, Travel Insurance, and Instinct
Unpredictability makes traveling exciting and like anything else worth doing it can also make it a bit dangerous. I’ve had my fair share of calamities on the road, but ye must remember the old military saying, “Victory through preparation.”
There are three things I contribute to my ability to walk away healthy from my travels; a solid first aid kit, travel insurance, and following my gut instinct.
First Aid Kit
If you intend to spend any amount of time traveling having a first aid kit is a no brainer. I never leave home without one and on my journeys I became known as the dude to go to when someone bumped their head or got cut.
Most stores carry pretty nice travel size first aid kits. You don’t want to buy a jumbo one, because remember you have to carry everything in your backpack. My kit is about 7x4 inches and is contained in nylon bag, which is easier to pack than kits that come in hard boxes. It looks something like this:
Most store bought first aid kits include: bandages, antiseptic wipes, gauze rolls, tape, gauze pads, and maybe even some antibiotic cream packets.
These things are great to have, but you’re a traveler, so I’ve compiled a list of things you specifically will need to add to your kit to make it pro-level.
-Stomach Antibiotics/Imodium for Diarrhea: If you travel extensively, longer than a month in a foreign land, you will get food poisoning. Sometimes this means your puking, but most times this means you’ve got the squirts and your making chocolate sauce like it’s going out of style. Losing water from the body is probably the most dangerous thing you can have happening when you travel and diarrhea is the fastest way to lose it. It’s critical to have some Imodium in your kit to stop this from happening. Sometimes Imodium isn’t good enough, this is when you need the real chemical warfare of antibiotics. The drugs abroad are ok at best, but the smartest move is to see your doctor and get a prescription for some real heavy hitting stuff beforehand. My buddy Dale in Burma saved my ass, literally, when I was decimated and laying by the toilet in the fetal position. Ol’ Dale had thought ahead and brought prescription stomach medicine from home, which ultimately salvaged my time in Burma and made it an experience to remember.
-Condoms: This is not a joke, especially in Asia, they are not easy to find and do not, how shall we say this, fit western men and are prone to breakage. I’ve put this in my top ten essentials list before and I can’t reiterate it enough. An STD is the last souvenir anybody wants, so is getting preggers.
-Extra Neosporin and Band-Aids- you can never have enough of these things. I blasted through half my supply walking through a jungle of leeches in Laos. My legs looked like Carrie at the Prom, not a pretty picture.
-Sunscreen/UV Protective Chapstick- Obviously when I went to Southeast Asia I knew my pasty German ancestral ass wasn’t going to handle the sun well. What surprised me were the mountains. When I trekked the Himalayas I got burned up, even when it was cold, because you are physically closer to the sun. One thing I didn’t expect was how bad my lips would get burned. When I finally picked up UV protective chapstick I no longer had to share the same smile as Ronald McDonald.
- Antihistamines/Benadryl- When you’re out exploring the big crazy world you’re probably going to bump into something your allergic to; plants, food, animals, you name it. That’s why it is good to have some Benadryl or other antihistamines in your kit. Also, having a Cortaid cream is pretty major if you develop an allergic rash.
- Motion Sickness Medicine- Oh baby this is a big one that bailed me out time and again. Whether it was a boat ride from Korea to Japan during a typhoon, a bus-ride from hell through the mountains in northern Thailand, or sitting third class in some dodgy trains in Russia a couple of motion sickness tablets can go a long way, a very, very long way. Mine went around the world.
-Moleskin- If you are going on a long trek, or even plan on spending a week walking the streets and houtongs of Beijing, you are going to want to have some Moleskin. Moleskin is like a second skin, sticky on one side and soft on the other, that you put on areas where you are developing lots of friction/blisters. As a backpacker I used this stuff on my feet like crazy. When I did Muay Thai kickboxing in Thailand I couldn’t live without it as this picture of my feet below illustrates. Trust me, save your feet from blisters, because they are your number one travel asset. Get this stuff.
-Ibuprophen- this seems like a no brainer and your store bought first aid kit may even already have some, but I’m telling you now, get extra. From soar muscles, to hangover headaches, to tooth aches, to relieving an ankle sprained in a Vietnamese beach volleyball game this stuff does it all to relieve pain and you will use it more than you’d ever think.
As great as a first aid kit is it can’t do everything. In my many years on the road I’ve done some dumbass stuff and had some dumbass stuff happen to me and no first aid kit in the world could’ve helped in either of those instances. Three different noteworthy instances where travel insurance was great to have in order of occurrence:
1) I got the super flu from my germy little students in Korea. After weeks of cleaning snot from their noses I was down and out hard; fever, body aches, the works. Luckily, my travel insurance covered my trip to the hospital and I had to pay out a shocking (sarcasm) $6.
2) Walking home from the bars in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia one night two friends and myself where absolutely drilled by a drunk driver who jumped the curb and nailed us on the sidewalk at full speed. Amazingly no one was seriously hurt. He didn’t stick around to find out if we were ok or going to beat his ass and he drove off. Unlucky for me my hand got jacked in the encounter. Luckily for me my travel insurance covered the bill.
3) I didn’t have to go to the hospital, but this video below explains how travel insurance can come in handy. For the back story of what happened below follow this link. And yes, my pride is still recovering.
Travel insurance, especially for Americans, is usually cheaper than regular insurance and as you can see from above totally worth it. Some good companies to go with if you’re thinking about getting some, which you should, are IMG and STA. In case you’re still thinking about getting it, go on google and read a few horror stories about seriously injured backpackers that were denied access to leave countries because they can’t pay hospital bills, scary stuff.
You’ve always had it, that feeling in your gut, even when you were a kid thinking about ramping your bike off a cracked board supported by a paint can, “Is this a good idea?” Your gut whispered back, “Nope, definitely not.” After you tried to jump that board and it broke and you smashed your ribs off the paint can and you laid gasping for air and your knees were covered in blood you learned an important life lesson, listen to your gut baby. It is no different when traveling, if something looks like a monkey, eats bananas like a monkey, and throws poo like a monkey; it’s probably a monkey. By recognizing shady people you develop situational awareness (being aware of what is happening in your vicinity and understanding how it can potentially affect you). This can save you from pickpockets, muggings, and God forbid kidnappings. I trust exactly no TukTuk drivers in Southeast Asia, never, never, never and neither should you. In the immortal words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.”
Once, arriving late at night to a bus station in Cambodia a TukTuk driver decided to drive me to the middle of the ghetto instead of my hotel. My gut, my instinct told me to abandon ship. So after I forced him to pull over I saw in the distance his cronies approaching in gang like fashion and I got out of there, probably saving my self from a beating and a robbery. I will say this was a rare occurrence in my travels, but an occurrence nonetheless. Don’t be paranoid, enjoy your adventure, but always remember to listen to your inner-Yoda, he knows what he’s talking about.
Now that you’ve got an amped up first aid kit, some butt-saving travel insurance, and you’ve gotten in tune with you inner-voice it’s time to hit the road like a boss. May your first aid kits go unused, your insurance cover cock fighting accidents, and your travel instinct remain sharp as a razor. Until next time- ST