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    Essential First Aid Packing Tips for Summer Vacations

    Dr. Mary Williams, RN, DC

    About the author

    Dr. Mary Williams, RN, DC

    Dr. Mary Williams, R.N., D.C is a Doctor of Chiropractic with an extensive background as a Registered Nurse and experienced Core Instructor for the American Heart Association. She has over 30 years of hands-on medical and instructional experience.

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    There are still a few weeks left of summer vacation—and if you plan to use the last few weeks of summer break to go on a trip, it’s important to make sure you pack well. In addition to the typical essentials, a first aid kit is crucial for any trip. Here are a few things you should always include with yours.

    antibiotic cream

    Band aids, disinfecting wipes and antibiotic cream

    Kids can get scrapes and cuts while running around in the big outdoors—and adults can, too. It’s important to be ready with disinfectant to treat small cuts and scrapes safely. Band-aids are an obvious item to pack, as well as light bandages just in case.


    Look for broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVB and UVA rays, with an SPF of at least 30. It’s also best to go for a “sport” sunscreen that is water-resistant. You’ll still need to reapply after swimming, but it will stand up to sweat better than the non-water-resistant variety—and you won’t have to worry about reapplying as often. If you have room, pack both the spray—which is easy and fast to apply, especially for kids who don’t want to sit still—and the cream.

    Bug repellent

    Bug bites are more than a nuisance. Ticks can transmit Lyme disease, which can be serious. Ticks are everywhere, and especially easy to pick up on hikes and family camping trips. Look for a bug spray with a DEET percentage of 10%, and bear in mind that bug spray is not particularly water-resistant—so you’ll need to reapply after swimming or periodically after physical activity that works up a sweat.


    Summer allergies can really put a damper on vacation fun. Even if you don’t have allergies at home, going to a new environment—even a few states away—can expose you to pollens and irritants in the air that you’re not used to. If you have kids, look for kid-strength anti-histamines. In addition to relieving allergies, they also bring down swelling in case of bee stings.

    Pain reliever

    A general pain reliever is a good thing to have in your first-aid kit—to relieve swelling as well as aches and pains and common headaches. If you have children, it’s best to have the children’s version of these medications.

    Ibuprofen is generally considered one of the safer choices, as it has a lower chance of causing stomach issues and does not stay in the body very long.

    Aspirin has anti-clotting properties that make it good for people suspected of having a stroke, but it is not as commonly used as an everyday pain reliever for these reasons.

    Tylenol and other pain relievers with acetaminophen can cause liver damage at higher doses; this can happen more easily than you’d think, especially with children.

    It’s important to talk to a doctor if you aren’t sure which non-prescription pain reliever is best for you and your family.

    ice pack

    Ice packs

    Instant ice packs are ideal for anyone who’s fallen over or gotten a bruise or bump. They can also help bring down swelling in the case of a sprain.  Ice packs come in two forms: as a chemically-activated pack that turns cold when handled, and a gel pack that should be stored in the freezer. The chemically-activated version is best for travel, as it does not need to be refrigerated and it’s small enough to fit in travel first aid kits.

    A sterile needle and / or a pair of tweezers

    Splinters can happen at any time, no matter how careful you are. Be sure to have one of these handy tools to help you deal with them when they arise.

    Hydrocortisone cream

    This will bring swelling down in case of bug bites and rashes.

    Ear drops

    Swimmer’s Ear can be irritating at best and painful at worst. Ear drops, including Swim Ear and Aqua Ear, don’t need a prescription—although it’s a good idea to discuss buying it with a doctor first, especially if you get Swimmer’s Ear a lot.

    Essential oils and gels

    Some natural remedies are better than the drug store versions. For example, tea tree oil is a great remedy for reducing poison ivy’s itch, and aloe vera gel will help you soothe a sunburn. Anything new and unfamiliar should be spot-tested first to make sure it doesn’t give you or any family members a rash.

    first aid supplies

    A Note on Containers and Storage

    It’s important to have a full-size first-aid kit for cars and campers, but if you’re going on a plane, you’ll need a travel-size version. For carry-on, all liquids, gels, creams, pastes, and aerosols must be in bottles or containers of 3.4 ounces or less. The bottles must all be placed in a clear plastic zip-loc bag. The bag can be no larger than one quart in size.

    You can buy travel-sized versions of sunscreens, bug sprays, and other items in stores, as well as plastic carry-on cases that are more convenient than a zip-loc bag. If you want to carry more than the allotted amount, you can also check your bag. Aerosol bug sprays are among items permitted to be checked.

    No matter whether you’re traveling on foot, by car, or in a plane, it’s important to pack all your first-aid supplies in a waterproof case. Moisture can damage first aid supplies. Another thing that can damage it is direct sunlight, which can overheat medications and make them ineffective. When home, store your first aid kit in a dark, dry place, easily within your reach but out of reach of children.

    Summer vacation may be almost over, but that doesn’t mean the fun of a trip isn’t. You still have time to travel—and if you do, there are a few things you should have with you to make sure the trip stays safe. Pack travel versions of the items on this list, and you should be able to face most minor injuries and issues that come up—no matter where you are.



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