© Kat Morgenstern, June 2002
Are you are planning to take a vacation this summer? You might want to spend a few moments reflecting on your health and what what to pack into your emergency travel first aid kit, especially if you are going somewhere where access to things you would normally take for granted is restricted or difficult. If you are going on a long trip or on one that will be physically straining or expose your system to unfamiliar organisms it might be wise to discuss your specific needs with a health care professional. For example, some countries require or advise visitors to get certain immunization jabs, and it is always recommended to check whether your Tetanus jab is still up to date. In any case it would be a good idea to get a general check up and make an effort to boost the body's immune system several weeks before departure. Also, make sure to take with you ample supplies of any medications you might need regularly.
But what about emergencies, those pesky incidents that can ruin a holiday unless one is well prepared? How can we guard against these? The trick in assembling a useful first aid kit lies in choosing remedies that serve multiple purposes: Items that will be truly useful and not just cautionary dead weight. Contrary to popular fears, the greatest health dangers while abroad or away from home are not unknown threats, but familiar ailments. Sunburn, mosquito bites, exhaustion, dehydration, blisters, strains, sprains, muscle aches and pains, and if you are unlucky, perhaps a spell of stomach troubles.
When traveling to undeveloped countries, where water hygiene is a problem one should take extra care regarding one's diet and hygienic habits. Use only bottled water, or if this is not available make sure to boil for at least 20 minutes any water you intend to use internally or even just to wash vegetables, or brush your teeth with. Never eat any vegetables that cannot be peeled. (Avoid things like raw tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, strawberries, etc.) If you have the opportunity, prepare your own food. If possible only use your own plate, cup and cuttlery and never share these or your water bottle with anybody, even if this seems mean. Being careful and aware of the dangers of water transmitted diseases such as hepatitis or cholera will be your best protection. If you eat at restaurants or street vendors only eat things that are freshly cooked and have just come off the flame. Street vendors are safer in many instances because you can observe the level of hygiene and you can be sure your snack is as freshly cooked as can be. It is worth packing something for the eventuality of 'Traveler's Diarrhoea' as this is a fairly commonly occurring problem. As a natural remedy purified fullers earth has magic properties (in Germany it is sold as 'Heilerde - healing soil)though many people don't like to swallow the mud. Sometimes a few days of fasting cures the problem, or eating nothing but rice and bananas. The most dangerous thing about prolonged diarrhoea is a depletion of fluids and certain electrolytes and trace substances. To counteract this problem there are special mixes available which are a lot like lemonade powder. They contain all the essential substances and can simply be stirred into water to make a drink that resembles Lukozade. However, for extreme cases it is worth taking some kind of magic bullet pill that will simply stop the diarrhoea (there are several effective brands,ask your doctor or pharmacist).
Sunburn is not just painful but dangerous. Especially in this day and age of growing ozone holes, which amplify the dangers of the ultraviolet rays of the sun, it is foolish to roast on the beach for beauty's sake. Always protect exposed skin more than you think is necessary and during the very hottest part of the day it might be wise to stay in the shade altogether. However, if you do get sunburned, one of the best remedies is Aloe Vera gel, the juice from the succulent leaves of the Aloe Vera plant. Thankfully this magical plant often grows wild in places where it gets very hot and one usually does not have to look for it for very long. Break off a leaf and spread the jelly-like substance on the burnt area. Repeat as necessary. If you don't want to forage for your sunburn remedy it is possible to get Aloe Vera based creams and gels at the pharmacy or healthfood stores. Another tip: always cover your head in the sun and put extra layers of protective cream on ears, noses and other exposed parts. Make sure you drink plenty of fresh water to avoid dehydration.
For mosquito and other insect bites it is usually not the bite itself, but the possibility of transmitted diseases that pose the problem. Ticks can bring on Lyme disease, which can be disastrous if not treated immediately. Mosquitoes can transmit malaria, leischmansiosis or worse still, yellow fever. Thus adequate protection is well recommended. One of the most effective substances against mosquitoes and other insects is DEET. In the US this highly toxic substance is still legal for the manufacture of insect repellents. However, it is not wise to put this stuff directly on the skin and also one has to be extremely careful not to accidently let eyes, mouth or other sensitive membranes come into direct contact with this poisonous substance. It may be used to put on clothes when entering extreme conditions where insects are indeed a plague. However, there are many other less, or non-toxic substances that can be used to ward off little beasties. Essential oils of anise, tansy, crysanthemom, pennyroyal, wormwood, mugwort and rue all have insecticidal properties and can be mixed with a base oil to serve as insect repellent. It should be noted though, that none of these oils are safe during pregnancy. Another measure that may be worth considering is to take a mega-dose of vitamin B complex. Apparently vitamin B makes the human blood unpalatable to biting beasties and they are generally happy to look for victims with tastier juice elsewhere. However, the emphasis here is on mega dosage. Ask you physician, they can administer the correct dose by injection. Another simple protective measure is to cover up during the times of the day when the bugs are most rampant or in places where there is an increased risk factor. If you go into the woods and know that there is lyme disease in the area wear long sleeved clothes and a hat and perform a careful tick check upon return to the house. Depending on where you travel, one of the most widely distributed 'weeds' with the most remarkable bite curing properties might be close at hand. Broadleaved Plantain, (Plantago Major) grows almost anywhere and provides an excellent instant remedy for bites and stings of any description, even spider bites. Lavender and Tea tree essential oils might also be useful, though the potential for allergic reaction is greater.
For strains and sprains there is no better aid than Arnica tincture. It can have a sheer magical effect and take swellings down and pain away almost immediately. Try to get a strong, high percentage tincture. Cremes are usually less effective. Alternatively, or additionally, get some tiger balm. It works great not only on muscle aches and pains but is also great for headaches, coughs and colds. This chinese ointment, based on a combination of essential oils is one of the most remarkable remedies per se. This remedy should not be missing from anybody's first aid kit.
To clean wounds, stop bleeding or treat inflamed gums you can use Myrrh tincture. Carry some surgical wipes with you as these are individually wrapped and thus stay clean.
So here is a suggestion of what to pack:
Also pack remedies or medicines for problems you know that you are prone too. If you frequently suffer from travel sickness take peppermint drops with you, or if you know that your body commonly reacts a certain way to a change of climate take with you what works best in your experience.
When travelling, also think about your sexual health. Holiday romances might be tempting but can be dangerous. AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are a worldwide problem and often rampant at certain tourist destinations. Take protective measures with you as they may not always be easily available in strange and far off lands.
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This Article was originally published in the Sacred Earth Newletter. The Newsletter is a FREE service containing articles, news and reviews on all things herbal and/or ethnobotanical, with an approximate publication cylce of 6 - 8 weeks. If you wish to subscribe, please use the subscription box to submit your e-mail address.
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