*Updated February 17, 2016*
As a longtime traveller, I’ve developed a tried-and-true list of travel essentials for health and wellness over the years. My adventures bring me profound joy and meaning but that’s not to say they’re always easy (India comes to mind), so I always prepare for situations I know will test my limits of discomfort or put my well-being at risk.
You should too.
From my favourite travel pillow to a remedy for the stench of your travel companion’s “number 2” (because shit happens), these products have helped make my trips painless, trouble-free and more restful.
Don’t embark on a trip without this. Just don’t. Luckily, I’ve had to make a claim only once for a minor medical issue in Peru, but read this story about Dave of The Planet D who broke his back and required air evacuation out of the Amazon.
For my travel insurance needs, I like World Nomads. When I extended my stay in Southeast Asia earlier this year and my travel insurance policy expired by one day (oops), my provider was unable to sell me a new policy because I had already left Canada. But World Nomads, one of the few insurance companies that provide coverage after you’ve departed your home country, came to my rescue.
Their policies include everything from emergency medical coverage to cancellation insurance, and the convenience of allowing you to extend your policy online. And, well, they’re just a cool company of passionate travellers with great customer service. In a panic, I messaged them over Twitter and the General Manager himself, Chris Noble, responded immediately. Would I get that kind of service from a giant corporation? I don’t think so.
But before shopping for insurance, check your government’s travel advisory for the country you plan on visiting. This is important. If the instructions are to avoid non-essential travel to your destination country, most insurance companies won’t sell you a policy. If your government advises against non-essential travel to specific regions within the country only, your provider may insure your trip but not for those areas. For Canadians, travel advisories can be found here; for U.S. residents, here.
If you do plan on travelling to a country for which your government has issued a non-essential travel advisory, Bupa (for Americans) and Ingle International (for Canadians and Americans) are two insurance companies that provide worldwide travel medical coverage (although you may pay a premium for it). Be aware, however, that you likely won’t be covered for treatment for injuries related to a travel advisory for the country you wish to visit. For example, I cannot make a claim for an injury I sustain from a terrorist bomb in Cairo because the Canadian government currently advises against all non-essential travel to most areas of Egypt (including Cairo) due to the country’s civil unrest. I could, however, make a claim if I sustain a head injury by slipping and falling down a staircase, which is more than I could do with most insurance companies.
And if you engage in activities deemed high-risk (e.g., mountain climbing, scuba diving), both Ingle International and World Nomads offer adventure travel coverage.
Travel policies are not created equal. Before you make a purchase, review the details to get a solid understanding of what and how much you’re covered for.
I threw my U-shaped travel pillow out a long time ago when I made the switch to the J-Pillow.
I’ll concede it looks somewhat obscene but it is the most comfortable travel pillow I’ve tried to date (read my full review here). What sets it apart? It provides neck, head and chin support. I have the regular version for at-home use and the inflatable pillow for travel, which I’ve lost twice and replaced both times.
Contoured eye mask
Traditional eye masks place pressure on my eyes, but this kind is contoured over both the eyes and nose for maximum comfort. With this, I can actually blink while wearing it. Not only that, it’s thicker, making it more effective at blocking light on a plane, train or in a hotel room.
I may look like I’m wearing a bra on my face and, paired with the J-Pillow, I probably attract some unwanted attention, but my sleep is important.
Don’t leave home without a first-aid kit. You’ll need the antiseptic wipes, band-aids and antibiotic ointment when you cut your finger or scrape your leg after a fall.
Motion sickness medication
If you’re prone to motion sickness as I am, you’ll need something to prevent the nausea. You may find yourself in an unexpected situation that requires it, and you may not have access to a pharmacy.
I always pack Dimenhydrinate tablets (a.k.a. Gravol in Canada, Dramamine in the U.S.) and, for continuous relief up to three days, Scopolamine patches are highly effective (caveat: a common side effect is dryness of the mouth, which can become uncomfortable after a while).
I usually pack Imodium, but I never leave my country without ciprofloxacin (cipro). Ever. Cipro is a stronger treatment for both traveller’s diarrhea and urinary tract infections, so it serves a dual purpose. And, if you don’t end up needing the tablets, they’re good for at least three years so you can take what you don’t use on your next trip.
Prescribed by a doctor, this antibiotic has cured me multiple times in desperate situations. A good Peruvian doctor once made a visit to my hotel to prescribe me more after I depleted my supply and my symptoms returned. Be warned: this is a powerful drug so talk to your doctor about the risks and side effects.
I don’t need to explain why you’d need these, but did you know ear plugs are made with a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR), the highest being 33? If you’ve gone through multiple ear plugs that do little to mute the noise, look for a set with the 33 NRR, like these ones.
I desperately wish they didn’t, but mosquitoes love me. I spray repellent on my skin, my clothes, even the bed sometimes. For me, it’s an absolute necessity for the wilderness, tropical destinations (especially in malaria zones) and travel during the rainy season. For a high-DEET, almost odourless mosquito repellent, my favourite is Ben’s.
I’ve also been having success with citronella- or lemongrass-based formulas (citronella and lemongrass are similar or the same, depending on who you ask). Although it doesn’t last as long as DEET repellent, it’s a natural alternative that emits a fresh, citrus scent. A woman sitting next to me in a Balinese guest house once complimented me on my fragrance. Imagine her shock when I revealed it was my mosquito repellent! I haven’t tried a citronella/lemongrass repellent from Canada or the U.S. yet, but the ones I used in Southeast Asia worked like a charm. I’m convinced, however, that the extent to which I attract mosquitoes depends on the country I’m in.
So sometimes I forget to apply the mozzie spray and I get stung. AfterBite, a treatment for insect bites, helps me resist the urge to scratch them.
We all have our favourites, but I use Neutrogena’s Ultra Sheer Sunscreen. It’s waterproof, sweatproof, light, non-greasy and non-comedogenic (i.e., it won’t clog pores).
This heavy cotton fabric provides relief from painful blisters, calluses and tender spots on the skin.
Cut a hole in the middle of the moleskin (these ones by Adventure Medical Kits come pre-cut and shaped) and press the self-stick adhesive side onto the skin around the wound to protect it from pressure and friction against your shoes. It really works.
For the times you don’t have access to soap and water, you’ll need alcohol-based hand sanitizer to kill those germs. I’m not a fan of strong scents but I’ve yet to find a hand antiseptic that’s both odour-free and contains alcohol. For now, I use Purell. If anyone has alternative suggestions, I’d love to hear them.
These are useful when, for example, I spill coffee or juice on my hands and I’m nowhere near a sink. Antibacterial wipes are better at cleaning up the mess than hand sanitizer is.
Tissue packs are multipurpose and, in developing countries, you won’t always find toilet paper in public restrooms, so these come in handy. Keep a pack in your bag and you’ll always be ready for messy meals, spills, a runny nose and bathroom breaks.
I know, you’ve been waiting for this. Introduced to me by a friend some years ago, this scientifically tested concoction of essential oils comes in a variety of scents and makes sharing a bathroom with a travel companion a lot less awkward. Just spray it 4-5 times in the toilet, do your business and the Poo~Pourri will trap the odour under the water’s surface. It’s aromatherapy toilet magic!
Take your pick: the original scent, “Crap Shooter”, “Heavy Doody”, “Deja Poo”, “Trap-A-Crap” or “Poo La La” (among others). Poo~Pourri doesn’t eliminate the stink 100%, but it sure makes a significant difference. I once shared a hotel room with my sister and two teenage nephews. Needless to say, for that trip, the Poo~Pourri was a necessity.
P EZ Female Urination Device
This one’s for the ladies: a female urination device that allows you to pee while standing up! It’s a brilliant invention: a soft, silicone funnel, ideal for camping, hiking and squat toilets — and it really works. I wish I had it years ago in India when I found myself in the vilest public restroom I’ve ever had the misfortune of using. I emerged from it with pee-soaked pants as a result of my life-long clumsiness with squat toilets. With the P EZ urination device, no more messes. There are a few other brands out there, including GoGirl and the popular SheWee. All are shaped differently; this matters because you don’t want it to leak. To find out if it will, I suggest testing it at home before your trip.
Some Final Notes
I’ll update this list regularly as I come across other praiseworthy travel essentials for health and wellness. But, right now, these are the items I typically don’t travel without.
Have I missed anything? Let me know in the comments below.
Disclosure: The J-Pillow was sent to me for review purposes. I also earn a small commission if you click on the links above and make a purchase through Amazon or World Nomads (thank you for helping me support this blog). Rest assured, however, that all views expressed in this post are entirely my own and I would never recommend a product I wouldn’t use myself. If the product I use is no longer available for purchase, I’ve linked to a comparable product.