Let’s be honest, who likes writing out checklists and to-do lists? Not us!
It’s hard enough picking out our “Insta-friendly” outfits… but having to tick off all the boxes in planning our gay vacation can be nauseating. Especially when some countries have such grey areas when it comes to what you can and can’t bring across their borders.
One of those items being PrEP.
When PrEP arrived on the scene, we danced with joy. It was a massive step forward in the fight against HIV, and has created the possibility of completely eradicating new cases of the disease arising by 2030. It’s just one small blue pill and offers near-complete protection. You’d think no one would have a problem with such a revolutionary preventive treatment, right?
*ERROR SOUND* Sadly, not all countries provide PrEP. And many don’t have free or affordable access to it. Boooooo!
So, when it comes to getting down and dirty on vacation, you need to be PrEPared. We’ve put together our top tips on how to travel safely when you're on PrEP, so you're ready to play safe for your next gay vacation. We also recommend checking out our Gay Travel Page for other important practical tips.
What is PrEP?
PrEP (which stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) is a pill that can prevent the user from contracting HIV.
It has been a massive game-changer in decreasing the spread of HIV, with one study finding a 95% reduction in HIV cases arising in the US. When taken as prescribed, it reduces the risk of contracting the disease by almost 100%. Yup, that’s right! After 7 days of use, you can expect to be protected from contracting HIV.
To find out more, you can read more about PrEP here.
1. Take enough PrEP for your trip
Seby always forgets to pack enough sunscreen. And I often don’t bring enough socks. Let’s just say, we can relate to the plight of the absent-minded traveler.
At the end of the day though, those things are accessible all around the world… so it’s no biggie. But one thing you should make sure you DO have enough of is your meds. And if that includes PrEP… then so be it.
We say this as there are many places in the world where PrEP isn’t as readily available as it is in Western Europe, North America, or Australia. So, if you’re planning a trip, make sure to bring enough pills to cover the entirety of the journey. Pssst, don’t forget to count any days with long-haul flights!
Calculate the number of pills you’ll need, making sure you have enough to cover each day, as well as a few spares just in case.
2. Pack it in your hand luggage
Selecting which items to put in your carry-on can feel a bit like Sophie’s Choice. You basically have to decide which of your personal items are more important than the others, as sometimes checked luggage goes missing…
We can’t tell you the number of times we’ve lost our suitcases whilst on the road. As a precaution, we always put the most necessary items in our carry-on. That way, if our suitcases get lost, we’re still covered for all our essentials.
So, if you are on PrEP, then make sure it’s added to your carry on. Or, if you prefer, split your supply in two between your suitcase and carry-on. If anything, it means that you have the box with the prescription notes to hand if security have any questions/problems with you traveling with it.
3. Check if you’re allowed to carry PrEP
Remember in Sex and the City 2 when Samantha’s menopausal treatment was confiscated at the Abu Dhabi airport? Well sis, that stuff really happens! And you really don’t want it to happen IRL as it won’t be a cute moment.
So, before you pack those little blue pills in your bag, check out this website (or ones like it) that lays out different countries' laws around importing HIV meds.
In some places (i.e., Vietnam), you may need to supply a doctor’s note or prescription explaining that the treatment is for personal use only. In other places, such as countries in the Middle East, it’s best to leave them at home, and protect yourself with more traditional means. We’ve put together many guides for gay travelers on how to travel safely, including our tips for gay couples traveling together, which we recommend you check out.
4. Take rubbers and lube with you
Dorothy, from the Golden Girls, once said: “Coɳdoms, Rose, coɳdoms, coɳdoms!!!”
And we concur. Somewhere between hiding in the closet for forever and relying on PrEP, a gay guy’s best guard against STIs is the trusty coɳdom.
And just because you are on PrEP or in a monogamous relationship, doesn’t mean you should stop using coɳdoms. PrEP only protects you from contracting HIV – it doesn’t ward off other STIs.
Plus, not all countries have access to PrEP, so the LGBTQ locals may not be DTF with people who don’t have coɳdoms. So, stay smart, be safe, and bring a box of rubbers! Oh, and lube. Always bring plenty of lube.
5. Research the STIs awareness in your destination
You may have a first-class healthcare system at home, but that dream location of yours may have anything but. Even in Eastern Europe there can be notable doctors who have an extremely poor reputation for identifying or treating STIs… and that’s if there’s even STI screening clinics in the first place.
Before booking that trip, research, research, research, the heck out of your destination. Not only to get a sense of the local attitude towards gay people, but to see how the HIV/AIDS epidemic is being addressed.
All in all, our main advice is to bring coɳdoms regardless of how advanced their STI treatment facilities are, to prevent taking home anything more than souvenirs and memories.
6. Check where the local STI clinics are
As hard as it can be to pull yourself away from scoping out the local restaurants, the vibrant bars and clubs, or the fabulous gay scene, finding out the closest STI clinic in the area is a must.
Trust us. If you come down with an infection during your trip, the last thing you’ll want to do is try and follow Google Map’s confusing directions. Especially when you have an unwanted party dancing in your pants.
To find out where the local clinics are, turn to Google. Or failing that, just ask the bar staff in the local gay bar/club – they’ll always have the knowledge.
The NHS website, AIDSmap, and AIDS Health Foundations give locations on all the HIV testing centres in the UK, Europe, and North America. If there are no STI clinics, then check out where the local private hospitals are located instead.
7. Get travel insurance
We know, we know. We sound like your overbearing mother.
But having travel insurance is the ultimate way to protect yourself from any disaster that may occur on your trip. Not only will you be covered for missed or canceled flights, but you’ll be covered for lost or stolen luggage too. So, if you find yourself stuck abroad with no PrEP, you’ll at least be compensated.
You can often get single-trip or annual coverage through your own healthcare provider. If you travel often, like us, then we recommend World Nomads Travel Insurance as they are absolutely wonderful and have been taking care of us for years. Their cover is affordable and very comprehensive. When we have unfortunately needed to make a claim, it's also really easy to do online and get your money back.
Let’s put it this way… if you did have to go to a private hospital for whatever reason, those medical bills aren’t cheap. In the long run, travel insurance is the best pre-journey expense you can make.
8. Make sure you follow a schedule
PrEP needs to be taken every day.
We’ll say that again in case you didn’t hear. PrEP needs to be taken EVERY DAY! One missed day could put you at risk of contracting HIV.
We know what you might be thinking: “But guys, I can barely remember to floss! How will I remember to take this tiny pill?”
Well, we've got you covered. There’s a useful PrEP app that’ll remind you when to take your pill. This comes in handy for when you’re moving between time zones and dealing with jet lag. It also has tons of information about PrEP, PEP, and vaccines.
Otherwise, consider setting an alarm on your phone to go off at the same time each day. Or if you have a partner/travel buddy who also takes PrEP, you can sync up your schedules. Two heads are better than one!
9. Store them carefully
Just because you like to get all hot and sweaty doesn’t mean your meds do.
Exposure to heat or dampness can damage your pills – so your safest bet is to keep them in their original, watertight packaging… and for the love of gawd, don’t put them in your fridge! You should also bear in mind the pill’s shelf life, as some types of PrEP can expire after 30 days. No one wants stale, useless meds.
Most importantly, don’t lose them! We can’t count the number of our friends who lost their PrEP because it was either stuffed at the bottom of their suitcase or in a hidden coat pocket.
Lastly, if your pills have split, chipped, or crumbled in their box, don’t take them. Go back to your pharmacy and get a replacement.
10. Get checked up when you’re back home!
Everyone loves a souvenir… except the kind you find in your pants.
It’s happened to the best of us. You visit a new city, discover a fabulous bar, meet a cute stranger, and indulge in some saucy, fun time. You walk away thinking, “Wow, what perfect night out” and imagine how you'll brag about your conquest to your friends at home. That is… until you start to feel an itch a couple of days later… Yikes!
So, as soon as you get back home from a vacation, book an appointment at your local clinic, and get tested for ALL STIs (not just HIV).
Remember, there’s no shame in testing positive for any disease – even the most careful of us can contract something. But the sooner you find out, the sooner it can be treated.
So, get tested and hopefully, the only clap you’ll experience will be when the plane lands!
For more inspiration:
- Make sure you also read our tips for traveling with intimate toys
- Check out our safety tips for using gay dating apps if you're planning on meeting other guys while traveling
- These are our favorite gay travel apps for everything you'll need on your trip
- And our list of the most gay friendly countries in the world for you to visit
- If you love pride (who doesn't?!) these are the biggest and best pride events in the world
- Get inspired with our gay pride outfit ideas
- And don't leave the house without these must-have gay pride accessories