Travelling health essentials

With expert advice on what to pack, including first aid essentials, you can stay safe and healthy abroad.

For every travel kit


Choose sunscreen with a sun protector factor (SPF) of at least 15. The higher the SPF, the better the protection. Buy sunscreen labelled "broad-spectrum". This means that it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Don't use creams that are past their expiry date. Most sunscreens have a shelf life of two to three years. For more information, read the sun safety Q&A's.

First aid kit

For minor injuries, use antiseptic with gauze squares, non-adherent dressings, bandages, fabric plasters, adhesive tape, scissors, tweezers and safety pins and tick removers. You can buy bottles or sprays of standard antiseptic such as TCP from all major chemists, or get ready-prepared antiseptic wipes. A first aid kit may be useful if you're going off the beaten track or taking part in high-risk activites.

Insect repellent

Mosquitoes usually bite between dusk and dawn, and are attracted to humans by our body heat, smell and the carbon dioxide we breathe out. Research shows that products containing the chemical DEET are the most effective insect repellents and are safe when used correctly. DEET products are available in sprays, roll-ons, sticks and creams. Your GP or travel health clinic will tell you whether the area you are going to is malarial and what protection is advised.


Condoms are recommended for everyone who is sexually active. Buy condoms with the CE mark on the packet. This means they have been tested to the high safety standards that are required in Europe. Condoms that don't have the CE mark won't meet those standards, so don't use them. Condoms can be damaged by oil-based products, such as suntan lotion, baby oil and lipstick. Heat can also cause damage, so store them in a cool, dry place.


Over-the-counter antihistamines can reduce itching and inflammation caused by allergies and insect bites. Antihistamines are available as tablets (oral antihistamines), creams (topical antihistamines) and nasal sprays. Antihistamines work by blocking the effects of a protein called histamine.

Anti-diarrhoea pills

Anti-diarrhoea drugs, such as loperamide, can relieve symptoms of diarrhoea by slowing down the movement of bowel contents and sometimes by increasing water absorption from the gut. Loperamide can be taken once or twice a day, over a long period. However:

  • do not take anti-diarrhoea drugs if there is blood in your stools or if you have a high temperature (check with your pharmacist).
  • do not give anti-diarrhoea drugs to your child.

Travel in the developing world

Rehydration sachets

Rehydration sachets help replace fluids and salts lost through diarrhoea, vomiting and too much sun. You can buy sachets of rehydration salts from your pharmacy and add them to water. They provide the correct balance of water, salt and sugar. Your doctor or pharmacist may also recommend rehydration drinks for your child, if you are worried they may become dehydrated. Do not use homemade salt or sugar drinks. Always consult your pharmacist.

Mosquito net

A mosquito net is vital for sleeping in malarial countries. When buying a net, make sure it is impregnated with permethrin. Permethrin is a contact insecticide, which will kill insects landing on the net and, therefore, increase the net's effectiveness. Generally, nets will need to be impregnated again with permethrin after six months of use. Carry a small sewing kit so you can repair any holes that develop in the net.

Anti-malarial drugs

Visit your GP, pharmacist or practice nurse four to six weeks before you leave to find out what malarial cover you'll need, and which strains of malaria are resistant to which drugs.

Emergency medical supplies

Kits available from pharmacies, including sterilised and sealed syringes, sutures and needles, can be useful when visiting developing countries, where hospitals and dentists may not have properly sanitised equipment.

Last Updated: 01/04/2017 09:00:00