Safe travels : Birth control when you’re abroad
Whether you're traveling with your partner or putting a pin in the map for each international fling, don’t forget the birth control.
Soon my boyfriend and I will be headed to Europe for a few blissful weeks of travel. Being a bit type-A, I’m already working my way through my pre-trip checklist (renew passport, buy European outlet convertors). I breathed a little sigh of relief when I got to “birth control.” My new IUD will be effective far beyond the timeline of my trip and doesn’t require me to do anything on a daily or weekly basis to prevent pregnancy. Even so, I’ll be packing condoms as a backup method.
Other methods, besides the IUD, may bring up more considerations. Like, how does changing time zones affect when you should take the pill? Or, is emergency contraception available over the counter in Asia?
Whether you’re travelling with your long-term partner or putting a pin in the map for each international fling, travel can complicate your birth control routine. This guide should help simplify things.
Getting ready for your trip, by method
Just as you’ve counted out how many swimsuits and pairs of underwear you’ll need on your trip, make sure that your chosen birth control method will have you covered until you’re back on home soil. You can discuss with your health care provider ways to stay protected on your travels, and search online for information specific to your destination. Here are a few guidelines to get you started.
No matter what your chosen birth control method is, condoms can protect you from STIs and cover you if you need to back up your preferred method. It never hurts to pack some. You’ll probably be able to find them while you’re away, but availability and quality of condoms may vary.
If you use internal condoms, bring some along—they may be harder to find than other condoms.
Remember to avoid exposing condoms to direct sunlight or extreme temperatures. And always make sure to check expiration dates!
The IUD and the implant
The IUD and the implant both last for years. (Like, anywhere from 3 to 12.) Still, if you use one of these methods and you’ll be traveling for a while, make sure you’re not due for a replacement anytime soon.
If you use the shot, double-check the date of your next injection appointment. If it falls during the span of your trip, talk to your health care provider about what options you have to stay covered for the duration of your travels.
The pill, the patch, or the ring
You may want to bring an extra pill pack, patch, or ring even if you’re pretty sure you’ll be covered right through your return. Depending where you’re going, it could be hard to get a prescription or to get to a pharmacy if something unexpected happens. If you plan to use your pills or ring to skip your period while you’re away, factor that into your count.
“It’s five o’clock somewhere,” may hold up for cocktail hour, but the effectiveness of your birth control pill is a little more sensitive to time zones. Let’s say you’re going to London. If you take your pill at 8 A.M. when you’re home on the east coast of the U.S., you would have to take it at 1 P.M. in London to account for the five-hour time difference. Oh, and daylight savings time isn’t a thing at every destination, so keep that in mind as well. Adjust your usual pill time based on your destination. Or, if it’s easier, you can change your scheduled time, as long as you don’t go more than 24 hours between pills.
Use a time zone chart and an alarm to make sure you are taking your pill at the right time throughout your trip. Or just use Bedsider’s Reminders app.
The ring and the patch are less time-sensitive than the pill, so your schedule for those methods shouldn’t be impacted by time zone differences of less than 24 hours.
It’s common to request additional birth control if you will be away long enough to warrant it—or even if you just split your time between two places and want to be covered in both. While your provider may be happy to prescribe an extra pill pack or ring, keep in mind that insurance may only cover one per month. Using the generic form of your birth control can lower the out-of-pocket expense.
The diaphragm, the cervical cap, or the sponge
Having an extra diaphragm, cervical cap, or pack of sponges with you is a good idea in case you misplace or damage one while abroad.
If you use the diaphragm or cervical cap, remember the spermicide!
Keep diaphragms and cervical caps out of direct sunlight.
Travel often means an unpredictable schedule, which can make it harder to keep track of your fertility. The stress that sometimes comes with travel can also potentially affect your ovulation schedule. On the other hand, if you’re a pro at using fertility awareness, it could be a great option for travel since you don’t need to worry about doctor’s appointments or packing extra birth control.
During Your Trip
Access to various forms of birth control differs by country, method, and brand. Your travel possibilities are so enchantingly limitless that we can’t cover every destination here, but there are online resources for determining the availability of your chosen method in the places you plan to travel. A few more pro tips:
If you need a prescription, or just a doctor in general, the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT) can help you get health care while you’re abroad. Their website lists the maximum charge rates for the doctors in their network.
You may be surprised to find that in a number of countries outside the U.S. you don’t need a prescription for the pill. Still, many things can come between you and your birth control when you’re abroad, including cost, language barriers, availability, and typical travel woes like flight delays or lost luggage. Plan ahead.
Pack your birth control in your carry-on baggage in case you don’t have access to your checked bags when you need it.
A note on emergency contraception
Even the most careful planners can get off track with their birth control. In the very unlikely event that your IUD expels, you will need to use a backup method. Jetlag may find you sleeping during your time-zone-adjusted appointment with the pill. A night out in Prague can turn into a spontaneous excursion to the Czech countryside, while your diaphragm is back at your Airbnb.
If you have had unprotected sex you may find yourself in need of emergency contraception, EC for short, a.k.a. the morning after pill. This is a list of EC for sale in various parts of the world. But just like getting a prescription filled, getting your hands on EC may be more difficult than it is at home.
The best bet is to get emergency contraception before your trip and pack it in your carry on. With a little extra preparation you can avoid compounding the stress of needing EC with trying to get access to it in an unfamiliar place.
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