What You Should Know About First Aid For International Travel

Your Raven Medical training is one of the best pieces of carry-on you’ll take with you overseas. But what else should you know about first aid for international travel before you head into the backcountry of Botswana or Brazil? 

Raven’s Medical Director, Christal Dionne, and Curriculum Director, Len James, know a thing or two about taking their training into foreign environments.  Between the two of them, they’ve worked in over a dozen countries; from Benin, China and Haita, to Brazil, Guyana, and Taiwan.

Get ready for whatever the world throws your way, with this advice from Christal and Len.


Space in your pack is limited, and you’ll have to be selective in the meds you take along.  Make your packing decisions based on items that are readily available overseas.

Syringes, needles (like glucometers and epipens), liquid medications and inhalers can be difficult to find overseas.  If you hope to bring these items in your carry-on, they will require a letter of explanation from a health care provider.

Common medications like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, dimenhydramine and diphenhydrinate are usually available over the counter overseas.  But if you’re travelling to a tropical destination where the risks of enteritis are high, consider packing along the appropriate prescription medications.  Most doctors will give you a prescription for a five to seven day course of antibiotics.

Christal’s packing list always includes a few key items, particularly when she’s traveling in rural parts of the world:  “I always bring an Epipen (and I check to make sure it isn’t expired!), oral rehydration salts, ciprofloxacin eye drops, which can also work for external ear infections or swimmer’s ear, antibiotic ointment and proper dressing material for wound treatment.”

First Aid Equipment In Your Carry-On

Casts, support braces, and all diabetes related supplies are permitted to be taken overseas in your carry-on luggage.

“Tensor bandages can be useful in the event of a sprain, and I never go anywhere without tweezers,” adds Christal.  “You can use them to remove anything, including ticks and splinters.”

Vaccinations Before You Fly

Travelling with all the medication and supplies in the world will not protect you from viruses like Hepatitis A and B, yellow fever, bacterial meningitis, influenza, measles, polio and rabies. 

Before you travel, make sure you are up to date with your immunizations. Visit the Government of Canada website and chose your destination to consult the recommended vaccines.

And when it comes to malaria, avoiding a bite is the best way to deal with the disease. “Insect repellent, mosquito nets and staying inside after dusk are my most important recommendations,” Christal suggests.  “Consulting your doctor is imperative in choosing the best malaria prophylaxis for you and for the country your are travelling to.”

Insurance For International Backcountry Travel

Medical care abroad can add up fast.

Check your insurance coverage before you travel to ensure that you’re covered for the destination you’re visiting, and the activities you intend to participate in. Many providers shy away from covering “extreme sports” such as climbing, mountaineering, and rafting or kayaking on whitewater. 

Read the fine print, and pay for coverage that will protect you in the case of an emergency.

Practicing Wilderness Medicine Overseas

You may be confident in how you’re equipped to care for yourself and your travel partner, but do you know how to handle providing care to a stranger in distress on the trail?

“Every country is different,” says Curriculum Director, Len James.  “Some countries have no laws in this area, and other countries require you to provide aid.”

Raven Medical courses teach students about the concept behind the The Good Samaritan Act, which encourages individuals to render aid, while remaining exempt from liability if they do harm.  “This is a very North American concept,” Len cautions.  “In Germany and France, for example, there is actually a duty to respond.  You are your brother’s keeper, and you are required to do the best you can.”

And yet the likelihood remains that if you render aid to someone in distress on the trail in a foreign country, the discussion on legal liability will probably only be relevant to them if they are from North America or the UK.  “The outdoor adventure world is 90% North American focused,” explains Len.  “In fact, when I’ve taught medical courses in China and Hong Kong, they shake their heads at this conversation.  It just simply isn’t a construct in their society.”

However, the history of legal liability in this area suggests that if you render aid, and remain conservative in your decision making, you will be safe from legal action – no matter where you are on the globe.

Keep in mind that your legal obligations change if you are performing the role of a guide, whether professionally, or through implication with a group of friends or associates.  And if you are travelling overseas to work for a guiding company, be clear on your rights and responsibilities when it comes to rendering medical aid.

First Aid For International Travel

Raven Medical training is one piece of luggage you’ll never leave behind when you travel overseas.

With the right tools and preparation, you’ll be able to keep minor emergencies from growing into major incidents, on even the most remote trail or river.