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Are you sick of living in a little box?

Maybe it's time to get off ya butt and see this magnificent country! I did - I just spent the last four years travelling around Australia and have been hiv+ and hep C+ for the past 18 years.

WHY did I do it? Was I crazy to leave my comfy couch in my beachside apartment?, Even crazier to leave my established medical team? Some would say, maybe, but I have absolutely no regrets about driving off to places unknown with my partner and our dog. I experienced deeply memorable times, saw some truly awesome sights (Uluru comes to mind instantly, as do summer sunsets over WA beaches), my personal growth was enormous, and I had my soul enriched by many special people I met along the way.

HOW did I do it? Well, pretty easily actually - our daily dilemma was usually, Should we stay camping by this wonderful beach/river/waterhole or move on?‚ Against my partner‚s initial reservations (I will not go more than 50kms inland‚) we braved the harsh Australian outback - The Oodnadatta Track, Gibb River Road and Arnhem Land - without encountering any major hassles. The freedom of the open road was enticing, exciting and exhilarating.
Of course, travelling was sometimes a rollercoaster, as life often is. Here are some tips from our experience for other readers contemplating a drive around Australia (to be used of course in conjunction with standard travel advice and a good dose of common sense).

Travelling companion
It is advisable to travel with someone. Choose them well - you will be spending almost 100% of your time together. Test the friendship first by having weekends away - the time together should be happy and flowing. Your companion should also hold a drivers‚ licence.

Comfort is a priority. I travelled in a Volkswagen Kombi campervan, which was cosy, fun and a conversation starter but not really ideal. It was difficult setting up camp - putting the pop-top up, pulling the bed down, getting the van level, setting up a tarp, etc. Camping trailers and caravans have similar difficulties. The van was also a bit crowded during rainy weather (our constant companion on the east coast in summer).
I would recommend a small bus or motorhome, something with a few mod cons and a bit of leg and head room. Your mini-home is always with you - if you are feeling tired, pull over, make a cup of tea and lie down!

Mod cons
I would suggest: definitely a fridge, essential for medication storage and availability of cool drinks
· A tv is useful during rainy weather or if unwell
· air-conditioning and heating
· a private toilet/shower - cramped but possibly fun.
The bigger the vehicle, the more mod cons!
Join your state's automobile club and take out membership at the top rate. It may be expensive but invaluable for peace of mind. My club offers 10 days car hire and accommodation if you break down. It also offers the option of having the broken down vehicle returned home. Check the club in your state - different clubs offer different benefits.
Check your insurance policy for possible travel assistance.
If intending to travel to remote locations, look into getting a UHF CB radio to use to contact emergency services
Obtain an accommodation guide (usually free from automobile clubs) and make enquiries/bookings before getting into town, especially during school holidays. Accommodation in capital cities can be difficult - budget accommodation can be unclean and dodgy, and comfortable accommodation can be expensive. If possible, stay with friends or family - it is always a relief to see familiar faces after meeting strangers. Cook them meals or clean their house in lieu of board.
We found caravan parks welcoming, comfortable and clean - especially large chains, such as Big 4 and Top Tourist Parks. Some were even 5-star resorts. We generally avoided parks with permanent residents and stayed at specific tourist parks. It's likely your neighbours will be grey-haired, but we found them polite, honest and enjoyable company and still keep in contact with many surrogate grandparents we met along the way! If your vehicle is fitted out for 12V camping, check out camping areas in caravan parks - there is usually more privacy than the powered site section. Avoid caravan parks during school holidays unless you enjoy the energy of over-excited children and crowded parks with inflated prices.
Another option is roadside stops. They are free and some offer shade, BBQs and toilets. Choose these sites with caution - stay only at those situated well away from main roads and only at ones with toilets (unless you want to camp with other people's loo paper. Too foul!). We only ever stayed at roadside stops after meeting the other travellers staying there too.
Most national and state parks offer cheap camping in magical, pristine surroundings. They usually have BBQs, toilet facilities, and some have showers.
Splurge on B&Bs, guesthouses, hotels and motels whenever financially possible.

Check whether your travelling companion is eligible for the carers pension.
If you are up to working, pack your resume. We found jobs easily and didn‚t have to pick one piece of fruit! Hospitality, housekeeping and caretaking staff are always in demand, especially just before the tourist season. Teaching, nursing and admin staff are always being sought for short-term contracts. I noticed hairdressers and massage practitioners operating out of their caravans. Work locations can be in stunning places too - our favourite job was sitting on a beach at Coral Bay WA, hiring snorkelling equipment to backpackers and international tourists!
Most caravan parks offer seven nights for the price of six if paid in advance. Large chains offer membership deals for further savings.
Try to stash approx $1,000 in a special bank account for emergencies.

Consider doing a basic first aid course before departing.
Don‚t try to do too much in one day. Travelling can be tiring for everyone, but especially for people with compromised immune systems taking high levels of medication. Relax, take it easy, enjoy the scenery - you will enjoy it more and it will be easier if you are fully rested.
Drink only bottled or filtered water.
Watch open wounds, especially in tropical areas. Change dressing regularly and disinfect, disinfect, disinfect.
Insect bites should be treated immediately with an antiseptic, such as tea tree oil.
Use plastic bags to dispose of any waste that contains body fluids (used condoms, bloody tissues, etc).
We concocted this amazing drink to combat nausea and travel sickness: Chop fresh ginger into small pieces, pour boiling water over, add fresh lemon juice, strain, add honey and fresh herbs (mint, parsley) if desired. Drink hot or add cold water to make a refreshing iced tea. Refrigerate. Discard any left over after 24 hours.
With regard to your health status, keep everyone you meet on a Œneed to know‚ basis, with the exception of health professionals and sexual partners.

Get a dosette box with enough space for a fortnight‚s worth of medication, or even a month if intending to travel to remote areas.
Make a medical file and ensure your travelling companion is aware of its location. Include a brief medical history and details of current medications. A Medi?List - available from Carer Resource Centre (ph 1800 242 636) is excellent.
Discuss hiv medication with your doctor. Ask them to write a letter mentioning your health status and detailing all current medications. Discuss procedure for obtaining repeat prescriptions while you are away. If storage limits allow, pack enough meds for the entire duration of the journey.
If a medical appointment or prescription is required during travel, contact the local AIDS Council or sexual health clinic for details of GPs or hiv prescribers. For travelling in NSW, pack a copy of Contacts (available from PLWH/A NSW), for details of hiv services. Advise the practitioner what medication you need before the appointment as they may need to order it in for you. As a last resort, attend the casualty ward at the hospital. Keep in mind you may very well be the first hiv+ patient the doctor has ever encountered!
Vehicle interiors can get hot, so always refrigerate medications and condoms. Ensure the fridge works while driving (powered from the engine) and camping (12V battery, solar or gas). Alternatively, keep a large esky stocked with frozen ice-packs (difficult for long-term travelling).

Medical emergencies
These emergencies are unfortunate but they may occur (as they also might have if you had stayed at home) and don‚t necessarily mean the end of your travel plans.
If the situation is serious, the hospital will arrange for the kind folk at Royal Flying Doctors Service to evacuate you to the nearest major hospital. However, when you are discharged, it is up to you to organise the return journey.
If you are hospitalised, use the services of the hospital social worker and/or local AIDS Council.
If evacuated and you are still in your home state, make enquiries for accommodation and return travel through the patient travel assistance scheme at the hospital.

In conclusion

I guess the best advice I can give is to always keep an open mind. Never limit yourself by saying, I don't like Queensland.‚ or I won't visit Aboriginal communities.‚ Some of our most memorable times were completely unexpected and in the most unimaginable places. I won‚t go into the Nullarbor roadhouse story just now!

Suffice to say it was memorable for its isolation.
I really hope I have inspired some readers to get out and see this magnificent country.

Are you STILL on the couch?


Sent via Email, January 6, 2005 from Northern NSW, Australia.


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