Deciding what medication to take backpacking
There is nothing worse than getting sick on the road and in certain situations its simply not possible to reach a pharmacy (think long heady boat trips or hot deserted islands). From our experience, it is always good practice to have a well-stocked medical kit to hand. So without further ado, here is our recommended packing list of medication to take backpacking!
Malaria still exists in certain parts of SE Asia so check your destination before you travel. We took a two months supply to cover us during our initial stay in West Papua and the Philippines, and opted for Malarone which had minimal side effects. Discuss this with your GP first – It isn’t recommended to take Malaria tablets for an extended period of time.
As we only bought a two month supply, when we went back to Raja Ampat for the second time (unplanned) we weren’t taking any Malaria precautions. This was a bit risky, but we made up for it by covering ourselves in clothing and 100% Deet at dusk and dawn to avoid bites as much as possible.
Ibuprofen & Paracetamol
Pain killers are an essential regardless of where you are in the world! We took a good supply with us but have had to re-stock on numerous occasions. It’s possible to buy Paracetamol off the shelf in supermarkets and 7-Elevens across SE Asia, but if you want Ibuprofen this is only available over the counter. The good news is, its inexpensive and tablets are normally 400mg each, helping maximise space and minimise packaging.
Cold & Flu Tablets
Much like painkillers, these are an essential item. After experiencing a few rainy days and sleeping in a damp bungalow in Raja Ampat, Nick got sick – which just goes to show that it is still possible to catch a cold in paradise! Colds have a tendency to make you feel really lousy, so we also recommend packing some effervescent tablets and sore throat relief like Beekeeper’s Naturals propolis to ease symptoms.
Top tip – Even after a couple of months of travelling, certain supplies had diminished, so we always try to stock up on our must-have items (like painkillers) if we are ever near a pharmacy.
With a high chance of insect bites and jellyfish stings while in the tropics, it is sensible to bring along some antihistamine tablets. I was bitten by a horrible horse fly once and it made me feel sick and a bit dizzy, so I quickly popped an antihistamine which did the trick.
For obvious reasons. You’ll likely be eating a lot of foreign food that your stomach may not be used to… The last thing you want is a bought of Bali belly ruining your trip!
Stomach Settler / Indigestion Relief Tablets
If you suffer from food poisoning or an upset stomach during your travels (which is highly likely) it is really worth packing a good supply of indigestion relief / stomach settling tablets to ease delicate bellies. We use Pepcid AC, which is very effective.
Water Retention Tablets
I personally suffer from excess bloat and puffiness after flying so I take water retention tablets like Diurex to help these symptoms when travelling. Aspirin is also a good alternative.
Oral Rehydration Tablets
ORT tablets are used to treat dehydration and replenish your body with electrolytes. With temperatures well into the 30’s and a feeling of constant humidity it is very easy to get dehydrated in SE Asia. This can also be brought on through diarrhoea, therefore Oral Rehydration Tablets are a sensible addition to your medical kit
It’s often difficult to maintain a consistently healthy diet while backpacking – especially if you travel on a budget like us. We try our best to keep things balanced, but in certain locations this can be challenging and we lack vitamins and minerals. It’s important to supplement this, especially whilst on the go. Multivitamins are generally cheaper at home, so stock up before you leave.
For snorkellers and divers, ear infections, like swimmer’s ear (ottis externa) is the most common ailment, so if you’re planning on spending a lot of time in the water, be prepared. Infections are rife in places such as Raja Ampat where there is a lot of plankton in the water. As a preventative measure, we created our own homemade mix of alcohol and white vinegar and use this once a day after snorkelling or diving to help clean and dry out our ears.
Top tip – It is important to wash out your ears with clean water straight after snorkelling or diving and if you are travelling by boat, cover them from the wind with a towel.
Nick and I have had laser eye surgery which makes us prone to dry eye. So artificial tears are a must-have medication to take backpacking. Symptoms are generally worsened whilst flying and when spending a lot of time in air conditioning.
This is a med kit essential! Antibacterial cream is a multi-purpose item which can be used on a variety of ailments including cuts, bites, burns, coral stings, rashes and minor skin irritations. In hot, humid and often damp climates skin takes a lot longer to heal and is also prone to fungal infections, so make sure to apply cream ASAP.
Even after 12 months of travelling, we still hate mosquitos. But since they’ve become part of daily life we’ve learnt how to deal with / put up with them! By far the best solution is Afterbite, which includes ammonia. If this is applied directly to a fresh bite, the itchy side effects and swelling are minimised significantly. Afterbite is also great for other insect bites and stings, so if you’re planning on trekking though the jungle this will be a firm favourite in your kit.
Alcohol and antiseptic wipes are a necessary addition to your backpacking medical kit, especially if you sustain injuries while on the go. These clean the wound, killing off any bacteria.
We are a little bit obsessed with Tiger Balm with its primary use on our mosquito bites – the cooling sensation helps to ease itchiness. It’s also great for clearing nasal congestion, rubbing onto the temples to soothe headaches and muscular pain.
Top tip – If we’re staying somewhere a little on the stinky side (occasionally the bedding and pillows at homestays in Raja Ampat were a bit smelly) I rub Tiger Balm under my nose for soothing aromas to help me sleep!
First Aid Kit Checklist
Band-aid / Plasters
I like to keep a little stash of band-aids in our day-bag in case of any accidents, and generally opt for waterproof band-aids or the super strong old-school fabric type. It’s really easy to sustain minor foot injuries like a stubbed toe or blisters during a hike.
In case we need to use the bandages, we packed half a dozen safety pins. These also come in handy for other things such as temporarily mending holes in backpacks etc.
Surgical tape is strong and water tight so if you have an injury that needs sealing this will do the job!
A pair of stainless steel folding scissors are a backpacking must-have. Of course they are meant for cutting plaster strips and bandages but you’ll be surprised how useful they are. We tend to use ours on more of a day to day basis – especially for opening packs of powdered coffee and instant noodle sachets!!
Mini Sewing Kit
Our clothes have sustained some significant wear and tear on this trip, therefore I highly recommend a travel sewing kit to our fellow travellers for mending clothing and bags while on the road.
Is this enough medication to take backpacking?
In truth we probably packed over-cautiously, because in most cases it is not difficult to pick up medical supplies in South East Asia. For example in Thailand you will always find a chemist in large Tesco Lotus stores and in Indonesia there are local ‘Apoteks’ in the most surprising of places!
Pharmacists generally speak English, so don’t be shy – its never been a problem for us to communicate our needs.
If you’re transiting through a town or city to reach somewhere more remote, its worth picking up any last minute supplies – even if you think you might not need them. Whilst we were in Raja Ampat I had to travel a long distance by boat to the Port of Waisai to grab medication for Nick. I really didn’t know what to expect, but thankfully found a very affordable and well-stocked pharmacy.
However, this is not always the case. So in our opinion, its always better to be safe than sorry!
We hope you found our list of medication to take backpacking useful! If you like our packing lists and want to read more blog posts like this one then please check out our Travel Guides. Have any questions? Give us a shout in the comments below!