9 Simple, Stress-Reducing Items That Doctors and Nurses Always Pack for Vacation

published Jul 13, 2021
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You know the feeling: you’re on a vacation or a work trip, and suddenly you’re dealing with a headache, motion sickness, or even blisters from a new pair of shoes. Whatever it is, it sucks — and you didn’t pack a remedy for what ails you. Maybe you’re camping and forgot to pack calamine lotion for bug bites, and now you’re awake scratching your knees all night, or you got a nasty sunburn while out kayaking and are in desperate need of aloe’s comforting, cooling touch.

Because no one wants to schedule a drugstore stop when they’re on the road or to be stuck in bed dealing with a stomach bug, we consulted medical experts for their top travel “first aid” essentials that address a variety of concerns, from riding-in-the-backseat nausea to those pesky blisters. Here’s what nurses and doctors always pack when they’re on the road.

Pepto Bismol

According to Vanessa Coppola, a board certified nurse practitioner, aesthetic specialist, and the owner of Bare Aesthetic in Closter, New Jersey, the familiar pink over-the-counter cure is travel must-have if you have a sensitive stomach or are traveling abroad. “Gastric discomfort and travelers’ diarrhea may occur on travel abroad due to different qualities of water filtration systems where drinking and/or cooking water may have contaminants our digestive systems are unaccustomed to,” she says, adding that Pepto or a similar remedy is perfect for treating an occasional upset stomach. (If you have lingering or chronic pain, see a doctor, stat.) It also helps if you’re having bathroom problems. “It works by reducing the growth rate of bacteria that might be causing the diarrhea,” she says. The chewable version is carry-on friendly and easy to take whenever, wherever.


Travel, even if it’s just to your parents’ house, can wreak havoc on your sleep patterns and leave you feeling tired, grouchy, and restless. Early morning flights, time changes, and more can make drifting off difficult (or make you drift off at the wrong times). “Melatonin is a necessity for me because I like to be able to fall asleep easily during travel,” says Dr. Howard Sobel, the founder of Sobel Skin + Sobel Skin RX in New York City. “[It also works if] I want to fight off jet lag and be able to adjust to a new time zone quickly.”

Electrolyte Packs

Dr. Sunitha Posina, a board-certified internist in Stony Brook, New York, makes sure to pack snacks and electrolyte packs when she travels to keep her energy up. “Electrolyte packs are ideal for that extra boost of hydration in the heat,” she shares. “Healthy nuts or nut bars are great for when you’re sightseeing and need a snack.”

Mini First Aid Kit

Dr. Darria Long, an emergency room physician in Atlanta, Georgia, always packs her own kit of feel-better essentials. “It saves time and hassle not to have to derail my trip if I need to find some of these basic items,” she shares. Among her must-haves are a pain reliever and anti-inflammatory medication for long flights, headaches, and strains, like Aleve; tweezers; antibiotic ointment; various bandages; antihistamine and a nasal saline for the allergy-prone; plastic zipper bags for an ice pack if needed. If you have children, Dr. Long advises adding a thermometer and a pain or fever reducer for kids to your kit.

Foot Powder

If you’re embarking on an outdoorsy trip or are walking long distances, think ahead and your feet will thank you. Dr. Ebonie Vincent, a board-certified podiatrist in Orange, California, and the star of TLC’s “My Feet Are Killing Me,” says she often sees patients with foot issues post-travel. “I’m always seeing patients who have picked up a fungus from vacation, either from being barefoot in moist areas or spending days hiking,” she explains. “I recommend packing water shoes and an over-the-counter preventative treatment, such as Lotrimin AF Daily Medicated Foot Powder, to keep feet dry and prevent bringing home any fungus.”

Dr. Alyssa Dweck, a gynecologist in Westchester, New York, and the host of Business of the V podcast, agrees. “Whether on a beach vacation or touring a new city, I always have foot care items with me because blisters are awful. [I pack] flip flops, Bandaids, and bacitracin,” she says.

Anti-Nausea Remedies

Motion sickness can be a real drain on travel fun. (This writer may or may not have thrown up after a particularly riotous New York City taxi trip.) Dr. Vincent likes motion sickness patches to reduce nausea. “Whether I’m going on a cruise, driving through winding roads, or know I’ll have to spend a couple hours in the car, these are a must for me,” she says. 

Dr. Dweck packs mints or mint gum, given that peppermint has been shown to help alleviate feelings of nausea. And Coppola likes using ginger-based products for nausea; the root has been used as an anti-nausea remedy for centuries. “To combat motion sickness from air or water travel, or even aquatic sports such as snorkeling and boating, ginger can be very helpful, and it can also help with indigestion,” she says. Try travel-friendly chews if you’re feeling woozy.

Bug Spray

Camping or backpacking trips require dedicated first aid kits. “You never know what type of wildlife, especially insects, are lurking on new adventures, so bug spray always sits right next to my sunblock,” says Dr. Vincent. Dr. Long always packs an anti-itch cream for outdoor trips, and Dr. Sobel is a fan of the classic calamine lotion.

Masks and Sanitizer

The pandemic isn’t over, so it’s a good idea to pack sanitizing wipes, hand sanitizer, and, of course, a stash of masks (or a few washable ones you can alternate between) for your trip. “As I prepare for airline travel, I always take disinfecting wipes such as Honest hand sanitizing wipes,” says Coppola. “These are non-irritating and essential for coming into contact with frequently touched surfaces during air travel. They are also helpful for disinfecting frequently touched items like your phone.” If you’re vaccinated, Coppola recommends keeping a copy of your vaccine card with you, as well as checking with your insurance carrier for potential coverage needs while you’re away — especially if you’re traveling abroad.


No matter where you’re heading, you need SPF — yes, even if you’re visiting the Arctic! “Sunscreen is an everyday essential and that goes for traveling as well, especially if I plan on relaxing at the beach or spending any extended period of time in the sun,” says Dr. Sobel.

Dr. Vincent agrees. “[Sunscreen] is always a must regardless of if you’re on vacation or not! Packing plenty in your carry-on is a must,” she says. Bring a small stick for on-the-go use and pack a spray or lotion in your bag to ensure you’re fully protected; a packable sun hat is never a bad idea either. Keep your bag wisely packed and you’ll be ready to see the sights!