I have to smile when I unpack after a trip and take out the bulging plastic bag that goes everywhere I go.

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I have to smile when I unpack after a trip and take out the bulging plastic bag that goes everywhere I go.

It’s full of remedies and nostrums, therapeutics and medicaments, a sort of first-aid kit for every malady known to man, aside from broken bones and mosquito-borne fevers.

It may look like a first-aid kit, but it’s really a kind of medicinal travel journal, a memoir of trips to other ends of the earth manifest in orange pill bottles, pop-out capsule packets, gauze and adhesive tape.

I paw through it every now and then, checking pull dates and reminiscing about trips that went wrong because of this nasty bug or that achy muscle.

This preoccupation with never being forced to see a doctor in a foreign country began on a cold January day in an old wooden train, clattering across the frigid white-out landscape of Sweden.

I’d come down with a wretched cold, a gift from my husband who’d been blowing and sneezing since we got off the plane and breathed in the arctic air. We’d gone to a pharmacy but, without a doctor’s prescription, the only medication we could buy was saltwater nose drops.

We only had a week, and instead of taking a half day to see a doctor, we suffered, gazing bleary-eyed out the train window until darkness settled over the snow-blanketed farmlands and iced-over ponds at mid-afternoon.

That’s why the plastic bag I won’t be without these days contains cold pills, a nasal spray, those new strips that melt in the mouth and supposedly quiet coughs up to eight hours, and lemon menthol lozenges and homeopathic tablets if the other stuff doesn’t work.

Every time I take that plastic bag out of my suitcase I think of Sweden in winter, draped in darkness and muffled in snow. I see babies in strollers swaddled in furs that match their mothers’ coats. And I remember being in chilly churches that first welcomed congregations in the Middle Ages.

I stuffed the moleskin in my kit before we went to Switzerland.

Fat lot of good it did me.

My husband I weren’t five miles into a 10-mile alpine hike before he plopped down amid a field of wildflowers and said, “I have a blister that’s killing me. Where’s the moleskin?”

“In the plastic bag in our room,” I said with a wince. “Sorry.”

He limped the rest of the way to the inn, slapped a patch of moleskin onto his throbbing heel and headed for the pharmacy, where he bought medicated blister pads to put in the kit.

The little box of meclizine pills are supposed to keep us from suffering motion sickness.

They remind me of the trans-Atlantic cruise we took last year, when I stayed in the cabin one whole day with mal de mer, washing down the pills with clear bullion and wishing I were anywhere but in a bobbing ship on a heaving sea.

But then my brain snaps into synapse mode and I recollect the quaint green farms and rolling countryside of the Azores, the gorgeous, back-to-the-past Portuguese isles where we landed — at last.

Near the meclizine is now a little box of three plastic buttons you press into your wrist at the first sign of nausea. The box says they’re effective against queasiness from motion or morning sickness. I wouldn’t know. I’m certainly not pregnant and, while I’ve cruised since, it’s all been in calm, protected waters.

After we ordered sweet but deadly cappuccinos in Mexico a few years ago, we got serious about adding an antidote to food poisoning to our bulging bag.

We were attending a language school in Morelia, a lovely city in the interior with a gold-embossed cathedral and ruined aqueduct to charm tourists. We’d studied up enough to know we shouldn’t drink milk-based coffee drinks because pasteurization isn’t the norm there, and we knew not to eat raw fruits and vegetables because the water isn’t always pure.

But after a long bus ride from Mexico City, those cappuccinos looked so good . . .

The doctor administered antibiotics and said we’d live, and after a few days we did begin to feel better. Until our dinner plate one day featured lettuce piled high and dressed beautifully.

The family we were staying with weren’t supposed to speak English to us so that we’d improve our choppy and way-inadequate Spanish.

“Es OK,” the lady of the house urged when she saw the look of terror on our faces as we spied that lettuce. “Es disinfecto.”

“It’s all right to eat it,” I told my husband, who was threatening to run for the bathroom. “It’s been disinfected.”

I don’t remember how much of the salad we actually ate, but we still laugh about whether the salad dressing contained DDT.

When we got home we added chewable anti-diarrheal tablets to the bag so we’d be prepared if we ever faced an irresistible cappuccino again. If those don’t work, we also have a package of stronger stuff. And if that doesn’t work, our doctor prescribed an antibiotic that we renew every so often.

The rest of the kit consists of the usual — aspirin, Band-Aids, antihistamine in case of bug bites, and first-aid cream. A few years ago, I decided for some reason that eludes me now that we should have a tube of that gummy stuff you squirt into a tooth to ease the pain of a lost filling until you can get to a dentist.

It’s really amazing. The first-aid kit has also apparently become something of a talisman against the ails of the trail.

We haven’t had to take the antibiotics or the cold pills, haven’t had to make a bandage or replace a filling since we started carrying it with us.

But a few months ago we were hiking along the coast on the Isle of Wight when my husband suddenly said, “I think I’m getting a blister. You got the moleskin?”

You know where it was, of course.

In the plastic freezer bag in our suitcase back at the B&B.

Sally Macdonald, a retired Seattle Times reporter, is a freelance writer. Tom Reese is a Times staff photographer.