Traveling for business or pleasure was once extremely difficult for people living with HIV/AIDS. Today, with proper treatment, travel is definitely manageable. Here are some ways to stay safe and healthy while travelling.
Taking a few simple steps before your trip can pay off, especially if you are headed to a developing country.
- Check where you can go. Some countries check incoming travelers for HIV infection, though such checks are limited to those plan an extended stay. Learn about travel bans and restrictions at www.hivtravel.org.
- Ask an expert. A physician who specializes in travel medicine can make specific recommendations for you about vaccinations and other ways to avoid becoming ill during travel. It’s best to see this type of doctor at least 4-6 weeks before your trip.
- Get vaccinated. Make sure your routine vaccines are up to date. Depending on where you are going, you may also need to get vaccinated against Hepatitis A, typhoid, yellow fever, or other infectious diseases.
- Check your insurance. Call your health insurance provider to see if you’re covered outside your home area and what you need to do in case of an emergency. If you’re traveling outside the United States, you might need to buy extra health insurance, especially to cover the cost of evacuation if there is an emergency.
It’s one thing to have your toiletries or a phone charger disappear with lost luggage, since you can easily replace them at your destination. But you can’t do without your HIV medications, even for a day.
- Make sure you have enough pills for the duration of your trip, plus a few extra to cover travel delays or a change in plans. Keep your medications in their original containers, clearly marked with the prescribing information.
- Pack your pills in a carry-on bag, not in checked luggage. You may need to take your medication while on the plane, train, or bus, and there’s no guarantee that your checked luggage will be waiting for you when you arrive at your destination. Replacing your medication can be difficult, especially outside of the United States.
If you will be crossing time zones, ask your doctor if you need to modify when you take your pills. If so, a simple adjustment can keep you on track:
- Traveling west to east: Take the next dose of your medication one hour earlier than usual. Repeat the earlier dosing for the number of time zones crossed. Then go back to your normal schedule.
- Traveling east to west: Take the next dose of your medication an hour later than usual. Repeat the later dosing for the number of time zones crossed. Then go back to your normal schedule.
- Traveling north to south: No adjustment needed.
It’s hard enough to remember to take your medication at home. It’s even harder when you are traveling and your daily schedule is anything but routine. Setting a timer on your phone or another reminder help you stick with your medication schedule.
Part of the joy of travel comes from eating new foods. But if those foods make you sick, a dreamed-about-vacation can turn into a nightmare.
If your travel plan will take you to a developing country, you may encounter food and water that isn’t safe for a compromised immune system. You can get Hepatitis A, E.coli, and Salmonella infections, as well as toxoplasmosis, cryptosporidiosis, and other conditions, from food and water. To avoid getting sick from bacteria, parasites, or viruses, steer clear of:
- tap water, ice made from tap water
- raw fruits and vegetables
- meats eaten raw or rare
- food from street vendors
Instead, drink bottled or filtered water; eat only fruit and vegetables that need to be peeled before eating, or eat only cooked fruits and vegetable; eat only well-cooked meat; and buy food in grocery stores or vetted restaurants.
PLAY IT SAFE
Planning ahead might fell like a hassle. But it’s a great investment if it helps you stick with your medications and avoid getting sick. Two other things you can do to have a safe and healthy trip:
- Wash your hands often, or use alcohol-based hand wipes.
- Follow the same safe-sex practices you do at home.