Five Tips for HIV Med Adherence While Traveling

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Adherence Tips From a Pro Traveler

For some, HIV medication adherence is a piece of cake. Others struggle to develop and stick to a routine in daily life. But when it comes to traveling, even the most adherent homebodies can become confused or find their regular strategies falling short.

So what's a traveling person with HIV to do?

We asked David Duran, our most globe-trotting correspondent, to share some of his top tips for staying adherent on the go.

Pack a Few Extra

When traveling, unexpected hiccups may occur. So it's always best to have an extra supply of medication in case of delays.

Traveling through the Midwest once, my flight was rerouted to another airport in another state due to winter weather. I had no idea that I would be held up in a hotel for two days before finally getting on another plane to my original destination. I never grab my pill bottle and toss it in a bag when I travel. I prefer to take the amount I'll need in case I accidentally lose or misplace my bottle.

The problem is that, if delayed by days, the effort spent counting out the exact number of pills backfires. The stress I caused myself by being two pills short during that trip wasn't worth the time I spent counting the pills. I still pill count, because that's just my style and the way I do things. So if you're like me, just make sure to add a few days' worth extra, especially if your travels take you anywhere near Chicago during the winter.

Keep Your Meds Close

Make sure to always pack your medicine in your carry on.

You know when you get that sinking feeling that something is about to go wrong, and then it does? I'm not sure what possessed me to toss my vanity kit with my medicine into my checked luggage, but that's exactly what I did when I was traveling overseas.

I arrived on a Caribbean island and watched people retrieving their bags. When the luggage belt stopped and I was still empty handed, I knew I was in trouble. With lost luggage, it could be a day, days or longer before you are reunited with your possessions -- if you ever are. So what was I to do on an island without my meds?

In this particular instance, I found myself without luggage for days! Since I was planning a long stay, I had to call my doctor in NY and have her refill a prescription, then have my friend pick up the medication and pay for an international overnight package ... which was not cheap. That was the last time I ever packed my medication or anything of extremely high value in a checked bag.

Set Alarms

Traveling causes exhaustion, and with exhaustion comes forgetfulness. Setting a daily alarm will help, at least with the forgetting.

I am always really good about remembering to take my medication, but when I travel, it gets tough. When I first get to a destination, I'm a little loopy, no matter if it was a two-hour or 15-hour flight.

One time, I found myself questioning whether or not I had popped my pill. After I decided to take the medicine, I agonized all night, convinced that I had taken a double dosage. (This is one of the reasons why I count my pills, by the way.)

But when I learned to take the time before my trip to schedule daily alarms, life became much easier. It may seem silly to remind yourself about something you do on a daily basis, but when you're not in your normal element, alarms on your phone or watch can be a great tool for making sure you don't accidentally skip a dose (or take two doses).

Extreme Time Zone Changes

If taking a long-haul flight, take the time to do the math and calculate your medication times.

You can get on a flight in the morning, land after 11 hours and adjust your watch to find it's only a few hours later! Time-zone changes can play tricks on your mind and really confuse you.

Traveling to Australia, I had no idea what was happening. Since I take my medication at night, it was tough for me to understand that, on the first day of travel, I had to take my medications during daylight, while on my flight.

Having an "oops" moment when you just skip a day to adjust is not recommended -- but wouldn't be the worst thing either. If you are a heavy sleeper and miss a dose mid-flight, just regroup, refocus and start your routine the next day with daily reminders.

Because I travel so often, I've become a bit of a wizard with time-zone planning. When I board a plane for a long flight, I know exactly when I need to sleep, take a pill and wake up in order to arrive well adjusted. That skill didn't come easy and took hundreds of thousands of flight miles to perfect, so for those who aren't as meticulous as I am with travel planning, use the alarm method while in-flight to keep yourself on track.

Pocket Your Pills

While traveling, make it a habit to carry a daily dose or two in your pocket or some sort of carrier.

When not at home, and out of your normal routine, it's hard to predict exactly what may prevent you from taking your medications. Part of traveling is the adventure of not really having a set schedule. I know that when I'm on the road, I find myself eating out a lot, or staying out later than I would normally at home. I personally take my medication with my dinner -- so if I'm out and about without my meds, it makes it hard to do that.

There have been several times when I've not made it back to my hotel room until very late, or even the next morning. To help myself out, I've trained myself to always carry a dosage of my medication in a small pill case each time I leave the hotel. I've just added it to my pre-checks before leaving the hotel: keys, wallet, phone ... and pills.