Failure to pack the proper emergency supplies is a fast way to turn adventure into misadventure, and like most people who wander far from Walgreens’ range, I’ve built my first-aid kit through bitter trial and error. But I’ve got it down now, and here’s the best addition I’ve made to my ready-for-anything list: vodka.
A flask of 80-proof is wildly useful, wherever you are. Vodka is literally—not just psychologically—good medicine. It’s a disinfectant, an antimicrobial, and an anesthetic, so it can clean a cut, prevent infection, and de-stress the patient all at once. Dab it on poison ivy to stop the itching. Pour it on a jellyfish sting to quell the pain—no need to ask someone to pee on you. Vodka cleans dirty surfaces and can sterilize a needle or a safety pin. A dropper of it will clear up an ear infection. In a pinch, vodka works as a fire starter. It’s a hand sanitizer! It’s a dessert topping! Well, maybe not. But it does nicely as an aperitif.
Or a nightcap. Setting aside the obvious benefits of a personal stash on, say, an overnight bus ride through Hunan province, if you have jet lag, a vodka hot toddy will help you sleep. To soothe a sore throat, gargle your medicinal vodka with warm water. A splash of vodka on your forehead will lower a fever; on your foot it can help heal a blister. Do your running shoes stink? A light sprinkle on the insoles will freshen them up. Does someone in your travel party stink? Rub vodka under your nose. If you’ve eaten something unfortunate, you could do worse than tossing back a shot or two, in an attempt to kill the bacterial invaders. Look, I’m not a doctor. There may be zero medical evidence this works. But take it from Sir Richard Francis Burton, the 19th-century explorer who specialized in Africa’s most inhospitable corners. He claimed that the reason he survived the parasitic illnesses that killed all his explorer friends was that, every day he was out in the field, he drank like a fish.
Speaking of fish, you can use your adventure vodka to humanely kill them, by pouring it over their gills. No nasty, messy gaffing required. And when you’re sitting around the campfire, eating grilled trout and enjoying a riverside martini, you can spritz some vodka into the air to keep mosquitoes and blackflies away. Vodka repels insects: they really prefer tequila.