When you’re at sea on a cruise or in a foreign port on a shore excursion, first aid supplies can be expensive and sometimes hard to find. Here’s how to DIY a cruise first aid kit, tailored to your own family’s needs.
Why do you need to pack a first aid kit for a cruise? Don’t cruise ships have a medical office?
Although large cruise ships do have a medical office with a doctor and several nurses, you probably won’t want to visit just for something basic like a band-aid or some ibuprofen. Your regular health insurance likely won’t reimburse you for the cost of your visit – you’ll definitely be out-of-network, and probably outside of your home country.
Of course, if you’re sick, have an injury, or a medical emergency, the medical office is where you’ll want to go (in case you or a member of your family does have a medical emergency on board or in port, make sure you purchase travel medical insurance).
Ships also have small shops that sell some basic first aid items (at sky-high prices), but they don’t carry a wide selection. During a cruise to Bermuda, I had a painful sunburn and desperately wanted some aloe vera gel.
The shops in port were closed, and the only after-sun lotion they stocked on the ship was from a luxury brand and cost more than $50. Plus it was fragranced, and who wants to put fragrance on a painful sunburn?
Of course, in port you can usually find a shop that carries first aid supplies, but they may not be from brands you know and trust. You probably won’t want to spend your short time in port searching for a specific product that might not even be sold in that country.
When you have an annoying but non-emergency issue like a sunburn, blisters, or a small cut, your DIY cruise first aid kit will have all the supplies you need to make yourself feel as good as new.
Why DIY a cruise first aid kit? Why not just buy a travel first aid kit?
Making your own travel first aid kit for a cruise lets you customize it with exactly what you want and need. Sure, you could buy a pre-stocked first aid kit. If you really don’t feel like making your own (or you don’t have time), this travel first aid kit has excellent reviews on Amazon.
How to make your own cruise first aid kit
Use my printable Cruise First Aid Packing List PDF to assemble your items before your cruise, and organize them in your first aid bag. I like to include a copy of my first aid kit list inside the bag so I can easily refill it when I get home from my cruise.
If you’d like your free copy of my first aid kit printable, just pop your email in the form below, and I’ll send it right over!
Your first aid kit should be easily recognizable. I prefer a bright red model with the widely-recognized first aid symbol, a white cross, on it.
If you’re calling to your kids or spouse to grab the first aid kit, the last thing you want is for them to be searching around, wondering what on earth it might look like!
Put a small supply of each item you might need in your kit. I always keep mine packed and ready for cruises and any other travel adventures. It’s great to have ready-to-go for camping and road trips as well!
Just be sure to do a quick audit of expiration dates on medications before each trip.
Cruise first aid kit basics
Your first aid kit will need some basic supplies that will come in handy for many ailments and minor injuries.
- digital thermometer
- ace bandage
- hand sanitizer
- eye drops
- instant ice pack
- TSA-approved scissors
- a few ziploc bags
Basic care for cuts, scrapes and blisters
If you’re planning to explore the city on foot or you’ve booked a walking tour in port, be prepared for blisters! Take some preventative measures by applying blister protection, like a balm or band-aids. I also like to add some moleskin to the parts of my shoes that tend to create friction.
Active shore excursions can sometimes lead to some minor cuts and scrapes, especially if you have kids traveling with you. Add some supplies to patch them right back up.
- various size band-aids
- single-use alcohol wipes
- medical tape
- sterile gauze
- antibiotic cream (like Neosporin)
- moleskin (to cushion blisters and prevent rubbing)
- blister prevention balm (this stuff is amazing!)
Basic care for rashes and insect bites
If you have a mild rash or bug bite, you’ll be glad you packed some products that will help take down the swelling and relieve itchiness. Of course, visit the medical office if you suspect that your reaction is serious.
- antihistamine tablets
- cortisone cream
Pain relief basics for your cruise first aid kit
Headaches, cramps, and achy muscles are no fun on vacation. Throw some OTC pain relievers in your kit, along with something for sore muscles if your days are going to be active.
- ibuprofen or acetaminophen
- sore muscle rub (like Icy Hot or Biofreeze)
Sunburn care for your cruise first aid kit
Obviously, regular application of a high-SPF sunscreen is the best choice, but let’s face it – sometimes you forget to keep reapplying! Pack some soothing sunburn care items just in case you get a bit of a burn.
- lidocaine spray
- aloe vera gel
Cold prevention and relief for your cruise first aid kit
Cruise ships, airplanes, and tour buses can be easy places to pick up a cold or virus. Throw in some preventive measures to boost your immune system (I swear by zinc lozenges or sprays).
Also pack some cold medicine in case you come down with a minor cold. Remember that anything more serious than the sniffles means you need to visit the medical office or alert another member of staff. Ships’ staff take communicable illnesses very seriously, as they can spread quickly on board.
- zinc lozenges
- vitamin C lozenges
- daytime and nighttime cold medicine
- cough medicine
Learn more: How to Avoid Getting Sick on a Cruise
Seasickness remedies for your cruise first aid kit
Seasickness doesn’t affect everyone, but if anyone in your family has a tendency to be seasick (or motion sick/car sick if they’ve never cruised), pack some seasickness remedies.
If you know you need something stronger, visit your doctor before your cruise to get a prescription for medication in patch or pill form.
- antiemetic pills or tablets (like Bonine or Dramamine)
- ginger capsules
- motion sickness patches
Learn more: How to Avoid Getting Seasick on a Cruise
Digestive relief for your cruise first aid kit
With an unlimited supply of delicious food on a cruise, if you suspect that you (or a family member) might overindulge, include some stomach relief remedies in your first aid kit.
- anti-diarrhea tablets (like Immodium)
- bismuth subsalicylate tablets (like Pepto-Bismol or Kaopectate)
- a gentle laxative capsule or tea
- gas relief chews or drops
If you’ve ever cracked a tooth or lost a filling or cap, you know that all you want is to get to a dentist ASAP. Without a dental office on board ship, it’s always a good idea to take along a small dental emergency kit to treat the injury and help stop the pain until you can visit a dentist.
(Some long sailings, such as around-the-world cruises, may have a dentist available. Check with your cruise line if you’re unsure.)
If your dental pain is excruciating, or you suspect an infection, don’t hesitate to visit the ship’s doctor for pain relief or medication. They can also assist you in finding a dentist in port if you can’t wait until you return home.
You also won’t find an optometrist’s office on board, so if you wear prescription glasses be sure to pack a backup pair, or bring an eyeglass repair kit. It will come in handy if you need to replace a screw or nose pad for your eyeglasses.
You can also use the kit to repair sunglasses, watches, and even replace a screw in some small electronic devices.
Why do I suggest putting a sewing kit in your cruise first aid kit? It’s your first aid kit for your clothes! It takes up hardly any room, and it’s super-inexpensive. (Check the price of this travel sewing kit on Amazon)
If you need to sew a button back on or repair a small tear or fallen hem, you’ll be glad you packed some basic sewing supplies.
I keep my sewing kit on hand especially in case I need to make an emergency repair on one of the few dressy pieces I’ve packed for dancing, dinners, or formal nights.
Tailor your cruise first aid kit for your own family
If you or someone in your family has specific medical needs, such as diabetes or allergies, it’s a good idea to put some backup supplies in your first aid kit. I’ve included extra spots on my printable PDF so you can write these in.
Some examples would include:
- hard candies
- backup inhaler
- backup epi-pen
- allergy medication
- kids’ or baby cold medicine
- kids’ or baby pain reliever
Do you need to take the whole cruise first aid kit with you on shore excursions?
Nope! I hardly ever take all of my first aid supplies on a shore excursion. Just put the items you’re most likely to need in a ziploc bag and throw it in your shore excursion bag.
I usually put in a few pain relievers, bandaids, hand sanitizer, and cortisone cream and I’m good to go (I do take the whole bag if we’re doing a hike without a guide). Everything else stays in the stateroom.
Make sure you download my free Cruise First Aid Packing List PDF. Happy cruising!
Want more tips on what to pack for your cruise?
- What to Pack in Your Cruise Carry On Bag
- What to Pack for a Caribbean Cruise
- How to Pack Light for a Cruise: 9 Essential Tips
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Do you pack a cruise first aid kit when you travel? What essentials would you never cruise without? Let me know in the comments below!