What to pack for India - First aid
Travel health

What to pack for India – First aid

Now here is a post you will not want to miss out on. What to pack for India is a big question for us all and what you should be putting into your first aid kit up is essential for you to know. I am not a doctor and would never claim to be one. However, I have spent more than enough years travelling on the Indian subcontinent to be able to give you some coherent and well-sourced advise.

When I first started my backpacking life twenty years ago, I read lots of books on staying healthy while travelling. The end result was a first aid kit that was ready to face the apocalypse. I had syringes, scalpels, stitches and even my own blood transfusion kit. I think it is fair to say that reading too much on these matters certainly has its setbacks.

I did some calculations a while back, and I worked out I have spent about 28% of my whole life backpacking. A lot of that time has been in Asia, and it is safe to presume that I have been sick a lot of times. Even though that is true, I never needed almost all of the things I packed in my first ever medical kit.

So what did I need? I will now walk you through all of the most common things I have had to use over and over again. This information comes from years of getting my self into messes. It pays for first-time travellers to read blogs like mine as they will get into plenty of messes of their own.

Before we jump in, I will state that you don’t need to buy most of the stuff that I talk about as you can get it along the way. The medical industry is huge in India, and supplies are available almost everywhere. So your medical kit doesn’t need to weigh a ton and take up most of your bag. With that said, let us get started.


We all come to India for a reason but it all comes with risks of needing first aid

We are drawn to India for a variety of reasons. It could be you want to experience a little of the countries incredible biodiversity. Or perhaps you are embarking on your own spiritual quest. No matter what the reason is, there is a good chance you will get sick along the way. That is just the reality so packing correctly is essential. 

What are 10 groups of items in a first aid kit for India travel?

There a million things you could be carrying in your first aid kit but only a handful you are likely to need. There is certainly a multitude of diseases you could potentially pick up. However, I suspect you will find it is the same few problems that come up over and over again. I think my Indian readers will agree with these points and if  I have missed anything then leave your comments below, please.

Number 1 – Taking care of your stomach.

The most common issue any traveller is likely to face is a stomach complaint. Also known as the infamous Delhi belly.  It is definitely not unique to just that one city and is very much a countrywide problem. In fact, it is very much a safe bet you will get a touch of diarrhoea at some point while backpacking in India. So for this, there is no harm coming prepared as you will certainly use it all.

Imodium will stop any bowel movement in its tracks, and it is super useful to carry for long journeys. After all, you don’t want a crisis on your hands or in your trousers, right? Remember not to take to much of the stuff, or it will turn the contents of your stomach to clay for days. It does not cure anything neither it only stops things happening temporarily.

If your diarrhoea persists, you will need an antibiotic such as Narfloxocin or ciprofloxacin to fix it. You can purchase both over the counter with no prescription from any pharmacy. Except in Mumbai for some reason and there I found I needed to see a doctor first.

If you are going to the toilet ten times a day, you will be losing a lot of water. In the ruthless desert sunshine, this can obviously lead to complications fast. I would suggest you purchase ORS formulate rehydration salts from any pharmacy. They make a world of difference, and they only cost a few rupees. That does not mean you should not drink plenty of water, though. Carry Multivitamins as it can get to the point where it is hard to hold anything in. As crude as that sounds that is certainly my experience of the Delhi Belly.

If you are unable to hold down the pills because you are vomiting, you will need to make a beeline to the hospital. Please don’t wait too long as it can become life-threatening.

Northern India's food and your belly.

Local restaurants are called Dhabas. They are where you can get a lot of the best food in the country. With a complete lack of health and safety rules or anyone to enforce them, many restaurants can get quite dirty. Before sitting down to eat check to see if the restaurant is even vaguely clean or if anyone is washing there hands? Is it popular with the locals? Does it sell meat? These are all things that can minimalise the chances of you getting sick.

Number 2 – Mosquitoes Protection.

In Truth, it is not just mosquitoes that will bite you in India. However, they are certainly the most numerous and most likely to make you sick. Ticks can also give you nasty diseases, but unless you are spending masses of time hacking your way through jungles, it is not really an issue. Bed bugs and leeches are just annoying but carry no risk of illness.

Mosquitoes can give you dengue fever, and I can confirm it isn’t very pleasant. There are also parts of the country that have outbreaks of malaria from time to time. To check to see if you will need medication for malaria on your trip, check out your government advisory website. In the UK that is fit for travel. Get your medicine in advance as it can be hard to find.

There is no protection from Dengue so just cover up as much as possible and remember these little buggers bite in the day time and in cities. Take lots of strong spray with a high DEET content if you will be in a high-risk area. I hear many travellers say I dont want to use DEET as it is bad for your skin? I’m sure it is, but do you know what’s even worse for your well being? Wear the bloody formula, and dont put your life in unnecessary danger. Dengue is a significant risk in the rainy season in many parts of the country.

I always buy the local insect repellents as they are effective and cheap. Use mosquito coils if you are sitting outside, and if you are coming from abroad, get them from India as they are way cheaper. Also do not neglect to bring a mosquito net. I have found it is best to bring one with four corners as it is often easier to find things to hang them from.

A tip I learned from South East Asia is when you have been bitten apply some tiger balm to soothe the itchiness. This sounds like an old wives tale on face value, but I have found it really works. You will undoubtedly get bitten often, so anything is worth a try right? If you want to give this a whirl purchase the white one as the tanned one dyes your clothes and it never comes out ever!

Number 3 – Hand sanitizer and wipes.

I dont need to write loads on this topic. You can get this stuff anywhere, and I always end up using buckets of it, even before the covid-19 outburst. Trust me when I say it comes in use all the time. For example, when you have just used the public toilet on a sleeper class train, and you are about to sit down and eat. Coldwater and a bit of well-used soap if you are lucky is definitely not enough.


definitely pack this in your first aid kit for India

I always keep one of these in my day pack, and I would suggest you do too. You never know when you will need it.

Number 4 – Pain killers.

Ibuprofin and paracetamol are available everywhere, and there is no need to stock up on masses of pills. If you want something fancy such as codeine, you will find that hard to get anywhere. If you develop flu-like symptoms for the love of god dont take ibuprofen as you may have dengue fever and you wouldn’t know without a blood test. Ibuprofin can lead to complications and make a nasty disease so much worse. There is also evidence to support ibuprofen makes things worse in the event you catch COVID-19 as well. In short, unless you have a toothache, it is probably best to stick to Paracetamol unless you absolutely know.

Number 5 – Slips trips and falls.

While you probably won’t need a blood transfusion set it pays to carry supplies. You don’t need to go nuts, but you do need to be prepared. If I am not hiking, you can get away with just a few plasters. You can buy anything you need from one of the many pharmacies you will find.

If however, you will be spending time in the wilderness, you will need a much bigger kit. Bandages for a start. Take a mixture of crape and support. Take it from me the Himalayas are taxing on your limbs. Also, take Scissors, Antiseptic wipes, Gloves, Surgical tape and even some butterfly stitches wouldn’t go amiss. It is better to have it than not. A foil poncho and high energy sweets are also useful when you feel like you are hitting rock bottom from exhaustion. It happens, guys. It is also important that you know how to use this equipment properly in the event you need it.

Number 6 – Indigestion treatment.

Ok so as you can imagine your belly can find the local food a little rich to put it mildly. I get through loads of the stuff while I eat my way across India. Buy a big bottle and carry it because if your belly is anything like mine you will use it. I also take a big tub of Andrews, and I have been super grateful for that several times. You would think I would simply slow down on the local food but its all so good!

First aid in the Indian wilderness is very important.

It is not hard to picture why you will need to carry extra supplies while trekking based solely on this picture. Even on the popular treks, there is no guarantee when someone may or may not be coming to your aid. Better to take care of yourself in Indias great outdoors.

Number 7 – Water treatment.

You should never drink the water straight out of the tap in India. That is just asking for trouble. So what can you drink? Many travellers consume bottled water only. It is both safe and affordable. However, that generates a lot of plastic waste, so many people buy the bottles with a filter on it. You can also purchase iodine tablets that take up considerably less space than a filter, but it makes everything you drink taste like a swimming pool. If you are going off-road for long periods of time, it is unlikely you will be able to find any bottled water, so make sure you have something in place.

I will also add a tip for foreigners. There is no need to be scared to drink the water on the tables at restaurants or in peoples homes. Indian people are reluctant to drink from the tap as well.  That water will be treated as buying a lifetime supply of Evian would cost a small fortune.

Number 8 – Fungal infections.

I have had the pleasure of getting one of these many times. I have read the average human being has dozens of species of fungus living on or in their bodies at any one time. We only notice them when they get out of hand. Well, the conditions are just right for them to get out of hand in the tropics so get ready to get lumpy. Particularly watch out in the run-up to the monsoon when all that heat turns to steam. Your skin will never really get dry. You have a shower, and unless you are under the AC, you will start to sweat again immediately.

Treatment comes in the form of powder or tablet. I normally show the person behind the counter of the Pharmacy my disgusting rash, and they know. Show some compassion and refrain from whipping your stinky foot out in the event you get athletes foot as that’s just cruel. Look for any medicine containing these common drugs:

  • Clotrimazole.
  • Econazole.
  • Miconazole.
  • Terbinafine.
  • Fluconazole.
  • Ketoconazole.
  • Amphotericin.
The jungles is one of those places you will need a good first aid kit in India

It is hardly surprising that in the rain forest is one of those places everything goes mouldy, including your skin. Especially in the rainy season. The forests may be pretty, but it is hard going on your body. Everything gets wet and things can quickly become an uphill struggle trying to stop mould from setting in.

Number 9 – Sun protection.

India is one of those countries where the sunshine will pretty much always be an issue. Sun protection is certainly something you will need to put some thought into. If you are coming from a country where it is not baking hot, I would suggest you cover up as much as possible. You will need to apply sunscreen to where ever is left exposed at least until your skin becomes accustomed. Buy sunscreen from a reliable source as believe it or not there is plenty of counter fit sunscreen in wide circulation. Who would have known that is something you could do that with?

In the event, you do get burned rub something soothing on it. There are a million lotions and potions that people from across the world would recommend, and I feel like I have heard them all. For me, I would suggest a good moisturizer as this definitely works, but it is whatever suits the individual on that one.

Number 10 – Eye protection.

Yes, your sunglasses are part of your medical kit. The sun is brutal and can be blinding. Please make sure they are UV protected and don’t be afraid to spend out a little on that. In the Himalayas, it is particularly bad, and even though it might not be hot, those suns rays are mean. Buy sunglasses with thick frames as they will take a beating on a long trip. Keep them in a case when they are not in use. They are an important part of your kit. Be kind to your eyes as you only get one set.

Carry some purified water with you in case dust gets in there. It is not just in the desert where this is a problem neither. If you feel like you have something in your eyes, wash it out immediately. This might not seem like a big deal, but it really is. I have permanent damage to the skin under my right eye from an infection I got on a train coming from Mumbai to Jodhpur. The dust in this country can wreak havoc on your poor eyes trust me.

Adventure travel in India

Here you can see me sporting what must have been my 20th pair of shades I bought on that trip. I seem to lose or break them continually. I have learned as long as they have UV protection, there is no need to spend too much on a style as it gets you nowhere.

Storing your medical equipment.

I must make it clear that in no way do you need to purchase all this stuff before you travel. Your kit would take up most of your bag, so buy stuff as and when needed. Unless I stated to have it in advance as somethings that are good quality can be hard to get your hands on.

I normally have a first aid kit and a wash bag for tablets. It starts off empty but ends up bulging at the seams with my lotions and potions I picked up along the way. The mosquito net will be obviously separate, and it takes up a lot of space. You won’t need it often, and I know it is frustrating to carry it. However, the few times you do find a use for it that might be when it saves your life. Get a double even if you are a single traveller because many rooms only come with a double bed.

Hand sanitiser and your sunglasses go in your day pack. You will need them so often it is unwise to keep them in your bulk luggage. Everything else you will only need from time to time.

Summary of my post on what to pack for India – First aid.

I hope you have enjoyed my post and found it of value. As I said, I am no doctor, but I have been travelling a lot of times. What’s more, I have been sick a lot of time too. While it is true, you can get some pretty exotic diseases from travel in India i am sure it is the same few that keeps coming up again and again. I think this is quite a concise guide to what to pack for India. Well for the first aid kit anyway. For further reading of my many tips on staying out of the hospital, check out my post.

I think that covers everything I want to say on the matter but if you do have any more questions or feel I missed anything then just leave your comments in the box provided. So that’s a wrap guy’s and until the next time, stay safe and travel hard.






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