"I've always wanted to go there." Something clicked when Lori Ayers heard herself saying this to a friend who was packing for Africa. It was the spring of 1992 and Ayers had just found out she was HIV positive. "I said, 'What am I waiting for? I might as well do it now.'" Two weeks later, she flew to Botswana. "I came home a different person. I wasn't just waiting to die anymore." Since then, Lori has traveled to Europe, Asia and South America. She's learned how to balance adventure with the bureaucratic and medical necessities of dealing with HIV away from home.
Here are some ways to fortify your defenses-physical, mental and spiritual-while you travel:
Six months in advance: If you haven't been exposed to the hepatitis B virus, your doctor may recommend taking three vaccines over a six-month period.
Two months in advance: Planning ahead is crucial. Once you've chosen your itinerary, start collecting information to avoid hassles and limit exposure to bugs and environments that could make you sick. Consider your overall health, immune-system status, necessary medications, length of trip and access to medical care.
Consult with your doctor, a travel clinic (ask your local health department for a referral), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the foreign consulate if applicable. Find out about recommended vaccines, current outbreaks of infectious disease, and HIV-testing rules for countries you plan to visit. Get referrals to HIV-savvy, English-speaking doctors. American Express, Diner's Club and MasterCard or Visa can sometimes help you locate an English-speaking doctor in case of an emergency.
Think about what you'd like to get out of the trip: A clearly articulated intention-to relax or stay well-can focus the mind's healing power on the body.
One month in advance: Choose your lost-luggage strategy: Obtain copies of your prescriptions and/or a two- or three-day supply of medications to put in your carry-on. Before you go, pack the rest of your meds and another set of prescriptions in your backpack or suitcase.
Shop for herbal remedies for common travelers' complaints. Daniel Gagnon, a medical herbalist in Santa Fe, New Mexico, suggests the following to make your trip more healthful and enjoyable:
Black currant leaves, 30 drops of formula taken twice a day for at least two weeks before you leave and while you're on the road can raise your overall resistance.
Acidophilus, in liquid or capsules, which should be refrigerated, can help your intestines fight off harmful microbes.
Ginger drops, powder or raw dime-size slices taken an hour before flying, driving or sailing can prevent motion sickness.
California poppy, 30-40 drops taken on hour before bedtime, acts as a natural sleep aid that can help you deal with jet lag.
Chamomile tea will cool an upset stomach.
Sweet annie and quassia, 20-30 drops of a combined formula taken every three hours, can help free you from intestinal gas, diarrhea and cramps.
While you're away:
Avoid fatigue: You don't have to taste all of Rome's pasta and vino in a day. Design an itinerary with free time for rest. Make allowances for jet lag and changes in your usual pace and climate. Include some yoga or medication in your unscheduled time.
Avoid infections: Observe food- and water-safety precautions (see "Road Trip Grub Tips"). Assert your right to sit at least five rows away from a coughing or sneezing fellow traveler on a plane, bus or train.
Let AIDS fade into the background: Waking up in new places makes it easy to shape an identity broader than your diagnosis.
Once you've returned:
Don't lock your new perspective away with your suitcase: Approach your neighborhood and the sacred world within you like a wide-eyed explorer.
Start planning your next trip! Even on a limited income, you can break from your routine with friends. Create a "Spanish Saturday": Invite amigos for flamenco dancing, paella and sangria-with or without alcohol, but with lots of fruit. Or visit the planetarium, your local beach or park.
When we leave familiar routines and surroundings, todo es posible-anything's possible. Lori Ayers watched the sun rise outside her tent in the Kalahari Desert and suddenly remembered that she is more than the virus swimming through her veins. You, too, can dream up creative vacations that open you up to new possibilites. Deep healing requires this kind of openness, this knowledge that miracles can happen.