16 Essentials for Surviving Abroad

When the going gets tough, the tough bring a backup plan

Emergency essentials you'll want to keep close at hand. (Zlikovec/iStock)
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If you’ve spent any significant time overseas, you know that it’s not just getting lost in the backcountry that you have to worry about. Often the smaller, less extreme problems present the biggest challenges. Take it from someone who learned the hard way. I used to think emergency travel kits were a waste of luggage space. I’ve paid for my naivety with everything from traveler’s diarrhea in India to dengue in Indonesia. When you’re sick or injured, having a familiar solution within reach is crucial. Here are the emergency essentials I keep close.

Problem: Mosquitos

Solution: The Mombasa Defender mosquito net. Tuck it around your mattress or sleeping bag to provide some serious bug protection. An optional InsectShield repellent with permethrin built into the fabric of the net is worth the extra $10 and provides long-lasting, odorless protection.

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Solution: Nature’s Bounty odorless garlic pills. These provide an added (and natural) layer of defense when you’re traveling in an area with mosquito-borne illness. Start taking them a week before you travel, and go odorless if you want to avoid the unrelenting garlic stench.

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Solution: Malarone. This anti-malarial drug is almost impossible to find in places you’ll need it, like India and Southeast Asia, because of concerns that the disease will develop a resistance to the drug. Play it safe and buy well in advance of your trip.

Problem: Fever

Solution: The iProven digital thermometer. I bought this during a bout with dengue in Indonesia. Taking my temperature at home beat daily trips to the hospital, and I knew within 25 seconds if I should toughen up or see a doctor. If the thermometer reads 103 or higher, I headed for the nearest medical professional. This model is waterproof, super compact, and known for spot-on accuracy. 

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Problem: Blisters

Solution: 3M surgical paper tape. When hoofing it around unfamiliar cities and trails, the battle against blisters is a given. Hopefully you’ve got your hiking shoe size dialed, but if not, you’ll be better off placing a strip of this stuff on the heel and sides of your feet before heading out for the day.

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Problem: Cuts, Scrapes, and Burns

Solution: Medique antiseptic wipes. These kept me infection-free after I severely burned my leg on a motorcycle exhaust pipe. The single-use packets are easy to tote around, too.

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Problem: Torn Tent, Dead Flashlight, Hangnail

Solution: The Huntsman Lite Swiss Army knife. I’ve used this to pull out splinters, cut my hair, and spread PB&J. This model can double as an LED flashlight and has all the basics without being too heavy.

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Problem: You’re in a Foreign Country and Need Medical Help

Solution: The TravelSmart app. This free app from Allianz Global Assistance allows you to search for hospitals, translate first-aid terms, and find the international name for medications. Biggest plus: because the app is downloaded locally, you don’t need a cell signal to use it.

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Problem: Dirty Water

Solution: Potable Aqua Drinking Water Germicidal Tablets. If you’re visiting remote areas or find yourself with questionable drinking water, you’ll be glad you packed these along. The magic ingrediant is tetraglycine hydroperiodide. When dropped in water, it releases iodine, killing most water-borne pathogens in 30 minutes.

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Problem: Wet Clothes, Expanding Luggage, Broken Gear—Everything, Really

Solution: Survival Straps Custom Survival Bracelet. It can be used to fix or rig almost anything. I’ve used it to string up my mosquito net, and it makes a great makeshift clothesline. Plus, it’s only $3.

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Problem: Ear Infection

Solution: Ciprodex antibiotic eardrops. Some of the best waves are in the dirtiest water. When I got swimmer’s ear from surfing in Bali, these drops were my go-to.

Problem: Traveler’s Diarrhea

Solution: Imodium. This over-the-counter medication stems the frequency of diarrhea. When you’re about to board a flight and have no control over your bodily fluids, it’s essential.

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Solution: Trioral oral rehydration salts. When I got food poisoning in Delhi and spent three days on the toilet, these salts were my lifeline. The mix of electrolytes and sugar optimizes the body’s ability to absorb water, helping you rehydrate faster.

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Solution: Cipro. You’ll need a prescription for these pills, which contain ciprofloxacin, a broad-spectrum antibiotic that fights bacterial infections. I used it to beat off a bad case of the runs, but it also works for respiratory infections.

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