Medical Issues – First-aid Kit, Medication & Health Insurance

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Originally published in 2012 / Updated in 2017

What do you bring on your journey in terms of first-aid kit and medication? And what about health insurance? Here’s what we have been doing over the years.

Before our journey I was not only afraid of hospitals outside Europe, I was just as ignorant on the subject of medicines. I consulted my family doctor, who had experience in working in the tropics of Africa. We not only talked about vaccinations but also on what I should take with me in a first-aid kit.

Read More: Medical Issues – Hospitals in Foreign Countries

First-aid Kit

I no longer have that list but among the medicines I brought there were:

There must have been 15-20 items in the box. At the time having all this gave me a feeling of security, and I don’t regret having invested in all those medicines.

First-aid kits come in all kinds of sizes (find them here). Ours is a very basic on with stuff like:

But our first-aid kit but no longer contains all those medicines. As dates expired I threw them out and didn’t buy new ones.

Availability of Medicines in Asia and South America

During those years on the road we learned a thing or two and, as a result, we don’t carry anything anymore except for some aspirin and paracetamol plus one treatment of malaria prophylaxis in terms of medication.

The thing is: people are sick all over the world and in the 30+ countries we traveled, we found pharmacies.

Before this journey I was under the impression that there was no decent health care outside Europe. On many occasions we’ve been proven wrong – fortunately, so. The reason so many people outside the Western world die instead of getting treated properly is that (often) they can’t afford it or it’s inaccessible due to geography (remoteness of the region). This, of course, is a tragedy, a shame even, beyond words.

We are by no means rich but we are in the fortunate position that we can afford medicines and decent treatment in proper hospitals in case our health insurance doesn’t cover it. We can fly to another country, if necessary, to get help there (what happened when my malaria couldn’t be properly treated in Tibet; read more about that here). And I have the luxury of having been able to let go worrying about medication.

There have been pharmacies in all cities in all countries we’ve crossed. Most have an enormous supply of medications, which at least include basic stuff like antibiotics and medication for diarrhea and such.

Fake Medications

Do take note that especially in Southeast Asia there are a lot of fake medicines (including malaria treatments) so make sure you buy your supplies at a reliable pharmacy. In Bangkok I bought medicines in a hospital instead.

I have asked around a lot here, in different countries, and I am under the impression that the bogus medicine business hasn’t infiltrated South America and that pharmacies are reliable (do check expiration dates though).

Having said all that, we haven’t been to Africa or Central Asia so we can’t say anything about availabilities in those regions.

Health Insurance

Which brings me to paying for it. We have a health insurance with world coverage. Since this is a Dutch system, it is useless to discuss it here, but to me this is a necessity whether you travel or not: a proper medical coverage.

A couple of articles on the subject:

Besides the basic first-aid kit we carry two medical handbooks, which have helped me in identifying some of our diarrhea problems in Asia (when I was still too afraid to visit a hospital/doctor):

One Last Preparation

As I have a medical condition that could land me in a hospital any given time, I asked my family doctor to write a letter in English – including Latin terms – to describe my the condition + the treatment I’ve had for it. Especially the Latin terminology may be useful as English isn’t spoken everywhere.

What are your experiences using a first-aid kit and bringing medication on the road? We’d like to hear your ideas on the subject. Please share them with us in the comments below so other travelers may benefit from them. Thanks.

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Thank you for your support — Karin-Marijke & Coen

2 thoughts on “Medical Issues – First-aid Kit, Medication & Health Insurance”

  1. Hi Guys,

    I’ve been following your travels on FB, and really enjoying them. Sorry to hear about the rock landing on you recently. 🙁

    Can you tell me what the Health Cover you have is? My wife and I are also Dutch, but our health insurance only covers us for 60 days outside the EU, and we are about to overland from Amsterdam to Australia in our Land Rover. We have been looking at an English firm which will cover us world-wide for a year, but Dutch coverage is so much better! If we can get it, we will.

    Thank you, and happy trails,
    Craig.

    • Heya Graig, I don’t know jack about the paperwork, but I’ll ask Karin-Marijke to send you guy’s an email. These matters are complicated and change with the winds.. But… eh Australia, that’s the wrong way 😉

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