Find out why you should never travel without a properly stocked travel first aid kit.

Travelling without a first aid kit? Think again!

When I went to Bali in January of this year, I brought my travel first aid kit with me. It’s a kit I put together myself and contains items such as Hydralyte, Citravescent, Alka-Seltzer, Imodium, ibuprofen, paracetamol, Phenergan (10mg and 25mg), band aids, Compeeds, antiseptic cream and a broad spectrum antibiotic (I get a script from the GP and fill it before I go). As you can see, it concentrates mainly on internals. It’s a kit that I always take with whenever I travel, and it’s one that has served me well, because I rarely get sick. Even India, where I expected to get sick, I didn’t. Even when practically the entire tour I was on in Turkey had stomach issues, I was fine. I call it my insurance because the day I don’t take it will be the day (or week as it were) that I will be crippled with stomach issues.

And that’s the point of this post. I have only ever packed for stomach issues and the odd minor skin complaint.

Bali conspired against me to teach me a lesson. And it’s a lesson I want to pass on to you.

Bali teaches me a first aid lesson

Find out why you should never travel without a properly stocked travel first aid kit.The best way to get around in Bali is by motor bike taxi. They are cheap, quick and, despite what the scare mongers tell you, safe. Well, it was for me, because I just hopped on the back with a local. I don’t ride a motor bike at home, so I’m not about to start riding one in Bali, with its (sometimes) dodgy roads, dog population and the sheer amount of traffic on the road. I’m not completely stupid!

One morning, I had to go into Ubud—from Nyuh Kuning, the village where I stayed—to do an ATM run and had arranged for Pak Made (the head of family compound where my AirBnB apartment was) to take me. (As an aside, I thought that staying in a family compound would mean that I would be free from the relentless nagging for driver services that usually plagues tourists in Bali. I was wrong. I was still nagged by Pak Made to use his taxi service. I did a couple of times, grudgingly, because I felt that I had no choice.). In the end, because I was just going into Ubud, his wife Ibu Made took me on the back of her motor cycle. (As another aside, I usually hired a motorbike taxi from the service down the road. If I was anywhere in Indonesia again, I would use GO-JEK).

The trip into Ubud from the village was uneventful, but enjoyable. There is nothing like being on the back of a motor bike, mixing it with the locals. I’ve written about the sights, sounds, smells and freedom of travelling this way. In fact, I think it was one of the reasons I found Made so attractive on my first visit to Bali! There is something incredibly romantic about being up close and personal with someone who has your life in their hands. One wrong move, and I’m connecting with the gravel and by connecting, I don’t mean in a deep and meaningful sense. I mean in the life-threatening injuries sense!

But I digress. I was on the back of Made’s motor bike riding up through Nyuh Kuning. She’d toot and wave as we rode past people she knew. And then it was through the green coolness of the Monkey Forest, dodging errant monkeys, politely giving way to other riders and the odd pedestrian. And then it was out into the heat and humidity and traffic chaos that is central Ubud.

Burned in Ubud

Made dropped me off at Ubud Market, and that’s when it happened. I lost my balance as I got off—I’m not the most graceful of people—and when I tried to recover, my right calf connected with the motor bike’s exhaust pipe. I felt a painful stinging sensation: I realised I had been burned and the skin had peeled away, so there wasn’t even a blister to contend with. To be honest, it was painful, but I didn’t think too much about it. I should have poured water on it immediately, but I didn’t because I didn’t have access to a tap. So I soldiered on. The only concession I made to burn first aid was stopping to get virgin cold-pressed coconut oil because I didn’t bring any of that with me from home (I love coconut oil, and you don’t need me to bang on about its virtues, which are many).

As soon as I got home, I slathered the burn in coconut oil, and kept slathering it on for a couple of days. Then I switched to an anti-bacterial ointment that was left over from a couple of tattoos ago. But my burn wasn’t healing. I was worried that it was going to get infected. I was aware that I had to keep it covered, but I had nothing in my first aid kit to cover it. The band aids I had brought were woefully inadequate.

Channelling my inner MacGyver

So I channelled my inner MacGyver and used duct tape (which I always carry with me because, well, it’s duct tape) and a panty liner. It was primitive, but it worked. I realised that covering it wasn’t enough, so I made another trip into Ubud to get some Betadine. And wound dressings that I thought were a good size, but—when I got home—turned out to be band aid size. Back to the duct tape and panty liner fix, but at least I had Betadine!

And that’s how I dealt with my wound for the remainder of the two weeks I was in Bali. And because of the climate, it didn’t start healing until I got home. I was just exceedingly grateful that it didn’t get infected, because it easily could have. The whole thing could have been an unmitigated disaster, and I had visions of my leg being amputated because of the infection. Dramatic, I know!

And a nasty fall

As if a burn wasn’t bad enough, I also had a nasty fall that I wasn’t equipped to deal with. I love to swim, and the apartment didn’t have a pool, so I made a habit of walking up to the Swasti Eco Village for a swim every second day. It was about half a kilometre from where I was staying in Nyuh Kuning. For the cost of a lovely organic meal, you could use the pool, and stay as long as you liked. I tended to head down early on in the afternoon, and stay until around five. It worked perfectly, because I had lunch there (the tuna tatami is to die for) and I indulged my love of coconut water straight from the coconut.

I’d only been there once or twice, when my fall happened. I had just gotten out of the water from my final swim, had half-heartedly dried myself, gathered up my things and had walked into the restaurant area to pay my bill. I took off my thongs before going inside, and before I could say What the hell just happened? I had slipped and rolled my ankle. I had no idea that the floor was so slippery, made even more slippery by my wet feet. Of course, the staff rushed over to see if I was ok, and I was more embarrassed than anything else. Until I got to my feet and went to the register to pay my bill (no, there was no freebie!) and realised that I could barely walk.

I hobbled home, and was struck by that fact that I had no compression bandage and no access to ice. The only things I could do out of RICER (rest, ice, compression, elevation, referral) was rest and elevation. I was lucky. My ankle was sore and swollen for a couple of days, and I sported a nice bruise, but it could have been a whole lot worse.

What Bali made me realise is how poorly equipped and inadequate my travel first aid kit was. And this is the point of this post.

Always travel with a travel first aid kit

Make sure you have a first aid kit that has been designed for travelling. Don’t think you don’t need one. Accidents happen all the time, and you should be as well-prepared as you can be to deal with them.

MacGyver might have been proud of the duct tape/panty liner solution, but it’s not ideal.

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  • Susanna Kelly July 4, 2016 at 7:40 AM

    How clever! I’m from Alaska and we fix EVERYTHING with duct tape. I was a tour guide for a long time up there and my guests always asked why I had duct tape on the bus, that is until I fixed every problem they had with it. Glad you’re ok and great way to think on your feet!

    • Diane Lee July 4, 2016 at 9:31 AM

      Thanks Susanna! Duct tape is awesome stuff… who knew it would a viable substitute for dressing a wound! Alaska is on my “do next” list. It looks amazing!


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