When people talk about getting ready for a trip, they rarely talk about birth control. If you plan on having the kinds of sex that can result in pregnancy and want to use some sort of contraceptive besides condoms, it can take some planning ahead of time.

IUD

The simplest solution is an IUD. Once they’re inserted, they’re good for up to 12 years, depending on the kind. You can have them removed before then with a simple office procedure.

Most people I know who have an IUD are thrilled with it. It takes a couple months to adjust to, though. My suggestion would be to have it inserted at least three months before you plan on leaving, in case you decide it’s not right for you. You don’t want to spend your first couple months traveling dealing with cramps or finding a doctor to take it out and come up with a new solution.

There are three things that are rarely mentioned when people talk about the IUD:

  • First, there’s a piece of fishing line in your vagina. Pulling the fishing line is how they take it out. Somehow no one told me about this and it kind of freaked me out. Also, I could feel it.
  • The second thing is that, since there’s a hunk of metal (or plastic) in your cervix, if you’re doing anything that’s going to hit your cervix, you’ll feel the IUD. And so might your partner. I could also feel it when I coughed or sneezed.
  • If you’re allergic to metals, this might be an issue with the copper IUD. My doctor did not test for this. Years after I had my IUD removed (after a seriously unpleasant few months) I had an allergic reaction to surgical staples and remembered how I can’t have piercings and thought this might all be connected.

Hormonal implant

This is another solution that you don’t have to worry about. You can have it done before you leave and not have to worry about it for up to three years, depending on the implant.

Like any birth control, it can take some time to get used to the implant. It’s a good idea to have it inserted several months before you leave, so you have time to adjust. Most people love it, but there are also plenty of people who have bad reactions to it.

Pill

The pill is probably the most common form of birth control for those of us from North America, besides just condoms. It’s tricky for travelers, especially when you’re jumping around from one time zone to another. I never had a problem remembering the pill when I was staying in one place, but when I was traveling to a new city every few days for months it became difficult to keep up with.

Depending on where you’re from, your insurance, and your doctor, you might simply be able to tell your doctor you’ll be traveling and get several months worth of pills at a time. Sometimes you can get a prescription for a year (or more) supply, but insurance will only cover one pack at a time. When I went to Planned Parenthood they’d send me home with a years worth of pills at my annual.

It still seems like a hassle, though. Do you want to carry around that much medication? And what happens if your bag is stolen or damaged? Some countries restrict the amount of medications you can carry with you (although word on the street is this is not enforced for things like a personal supply of birth control) while others ban the use of oral contraceptives.

Most countries don’t require a prescription for birth control pills. In fact, they’re easier to get and less expensive in many countries, compared to the US. It’s worth it to do some research to see if the type of pills you’re on is available over the counter where you’re going and how much it costs. If you’re finding unfamiliar brand names, a little online research should be enough to sort it out.

Other medications can make oral contraceptives less effective. Keep that in mind if you’re taking antibiotics, antimalarials, or anything else.

Other options

Sterilization is a great permanent option, but it’s essentially impossible to get any doctor to do it in the US unless you’re married with two kids or a person of color. Let’s not even get into that.

The patch is a great option.

The ring has to be refrigerated, so that doesn’t seem very practical for travelers.

The shot has to be given every three months. If that’s what you’re already on and you’re only traveling for a short time, you’re all set. Otherwise, check to make sure it’s available where you’re traveling and see about getting your prescription transferred.

Some travelers like the peace of mind that comes with keeping emergency contraception with them.

If you’re extra cautious, it’s worth looking to see what type of abortion access there is at your destination.

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