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Birth Control Options for Female Travelers

birth control pills
Birth control pills (photo: nateone)

For a man, packing birth control for long-term travel is easy. Pop a handful of condoms in your medical kit and one in your wallet, and you're good to go.

For women, birth control often goes beyond just protection for sex, and having a back-up in case other methods of control fail in their time of need.

It's also about regulating periods and hormones.

I don't know about you, but I like to know the exact day I'll be needing to worry about Aunt Flo on my travels.

With birth control, I know when she'll be arriving, and that gives me peace of mind.

When addressing birth control for travel, women have to consider packability, the shelf life of the product, side effects, and maintenance on the road.

I know — sounds like a lot of extra thought, right?!

Plan in Advance

The best plan of attack is to address the issue early on.

Talk to your medical care provider and let them know that you plan to travel for an extended time and will need easy birth control.

If you need to switch to a new method, it is best to test it out for a few months to make sure the hormones work well with your body.

Some questions to ask:

  • Will this method store well in my backpack, in hot or damp weather?
  • How can I make sure I have enough for my entire time on the road?
  • Will it be easy to remember (for those that are always forgetting to take their pills)?
birth control pills taken
Empty birth control packaging (Photo: [email protected])

Pills

Pills continue to be the most standard option for birth control for travelers.

Taken daily, however, they can be easy to forget when moving and repeatedly packing — and when figuring it all out for time differences!

Still, pills keep well, are reasonably cheap, and pack without taking up much room.

Nowadays, birth control pills can go beyond the monthly ritual to provide months of period regulation.

Seasonale, for example, provides women with periods only once every three months, which can be a good idea for the traveling female.

Seasonale is a specific brand of pill that allows women to skip their periods.

Still, it is possible to skip periods with other types of birth control pills by heading straight into the second pack of active pills instead of taking the placebos.

A word to the wise: Check with your health care provider first.

Some types will not work. Instead of skipping your period, you could just give yourself spotting for a month until your next proper cycle rolls around.

injection
The birth control shot (Photo: nathanf)

Shot

The shot, or Depo-Provera, prevents pregnancy for three months, so you will need a shot every 12 weeks.

As this can be tricky when planning to travel, they say a shot up to one week before or after this 12-week point can also keep you covered.

The benefits of the shot are clear: You don't have to take a pill every day, and you don't have to pack months of pills or other methods in your bags.

However, the major downside is that you have to get an injection every three months, which could be hard to acquire in some parts of the world — unless you plan to carry your own vial and needles around (not for me!).

Some women also find they have irregular bleeding, or no periods at all, during the entire use of Depo-Provera.

nuvaring
NuvaRing logo (Photo by urbanlatinfemale)

Ring

If you're on the “ring” (NuvaRing), you'll have to consider the longevity of your travels and the style.

The NuvaRing was like a gift from God in my eyes since I only had to think about it on a monthly, instead of daily.

You simply insert the flexible ring into your vagina, leave in for three weeks, take out for a week, and insert a new one for the next month's cycle. Simple, simple, simple!

Unfortunately, with travel plans looming, I had to switch up my options. The NuvaRing is a birth control method that goes “off” faster when exposed to heat.

I was told to store my rings in the fridge to make sure they maintained their protection level of hormones.

So, if you're planning to travel — especially backpack — for months on end, then tossing these bad boys in your bag through all sorts of weather conditions is just asking for trouble down the road.

However, if you will be traveling to one place for a few months, with access to refrigeration, you might be able to continue using the ring.

Patch

The Ortho Evra patch was another favorite birth control method of mine years ago.

It is a sticky patch, much like a nicotine patch, that stays on the skin to release a steady and constant flow of hormones.

Instead of a daily need to address your birth control, the patch was replaced weekly, for three weeks, with one week off.

However, after maybe a year of use, I was advised by my health care provider to come off the patch as there were health concerns with using it.

Even though the patch is still on the market today, I suggest doing your research before starting on this method and also reading this article on Today Health.

IUD
Types of IUD's. (Photo by ideonexus)

IUD

The IUD, short for intrauterine device, is a semi-permanent birth control method.

There are several variations of the IUD to choose from, but the two categories include a copper (non-hormonal) device and a hormone device (Mirena).

The IUD is inserted into the uterus, where it can act as birth control for up to five years.

The IUD is not for every woman, and it is often recommended for women that are older and are done having children.

But, every woman and body is different, so it is worth consulting with your health care provider about if looking for something more long-term.

nyc condoms
Condoms (Photo: victoriapeckham)

Condoms

Even if you're traveling with your monogamous partner, condoms are recommended as a back-up.

Did you know that certain medications and antibiotics can render your birth control useless? It's true.

What birth control method did you use on your travels, and why?

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:

Abby Okeden

Wednesday 20th of February 2013

For those who are travelling to Europe there is good news. You no longer need to cart around excess pill packets in your jumbo-sized backpack that is already backbreaking. I'm not a big fan of the IUD as too many friends have had bad side effects on it. You can now buy any of your regular prescription contraceptive pills online safely. All the well-known brands women take are available including; Yasmin, Dianette, Noriday, Logynon and so many more. I live in London and buy by pill here - http://www.loxdoc.com/noriday/

FYI- Purchasing medication online is legal in Europe and becoming more and more popular with women who simply don’t have the time to see a doctor. You don’t have to be a resident in the UK or anywhere in Europe you just need an address where the clinic can send you the medication. They can send your prescription medication within 2 or 3 days depending on where you are staying. Mine arrives on 3 days after ordering as I live in Italy. The site is www.loxdoc.com if that helps.

The big advantage to buying medication online is that you complete a consultation online with a doctor and it’s a simple process that takes a few minutes. After being approved for the contraception, you pay for the medication by credit card or debit card and it’s sent to you in a discreet package within 48 hours.

Vicky

Wednesday 5th of September 2012

This is something I was pondering for a while as our trip starts in 10 days and will last 2 years. In the end I went with implanon and since that's valid for 3 years it seems like the best option. One of the biggest side effects and causes for having it removed are spotting and period irregularity, where I have read some women literally just have their periods for months. I am a tad worried about this since I didn't get mine inserted until 1.5 months ago and definitely don't want to end up in South East Asia with month long periods but we'll see (fingers crossed). I know the implanon does not regulate periods so if you take birth control to regulate yours it might not be the best option but I feel a lot more comfortable with this than an IUD which if it shifts inside of you needs to be adjusted by a medical professional and I definitely would not be comfortable having that done in any random foreign country.

Alex

Wednesday 25th of April 2012

I just want to make a second nod to Implanon... I think it's a life saver. It's been about a year so far and I LOVE not thinking about birth control on a daily basis, not worrying about pill refills or time changes or... anything, really! I think it is the best method for travelers.

Ashley

Friday 13th of April 2012

Great article, it's the first I've seen on this topic. It's so important to think about these things BEFORE you start to travel, especially since many medicines are different overseas. I personally went with the IUD, specifically the ParaGard, which is a non-hormonal IUD that lasts for 10 years. My period is fairly regular now, though not as precise as when I was on the pill. I chose it mostly because when we set off to travel we quit our jobs, leaving me with no insurance to cover the pill. This will cover me for up to 10 years, is non-hormonal, and I don't ever have to remember to do anything!

alex m

Friday 6th of April 2012

Because I prefer not to support the pharmaceutical industry more than I have to, and I don't like my body constantly thinking it is preggers, condoms work great 4 me. When used correctly (which my bf and I do) they are very reliable. I always carry both a plan b pill and a pregnancy test with me while I travel just to be safe tho. I am not a fan of what artificial estrogen does to the environment, but I will succomb to it (plan b) if i ever need to over a baby right. now. Great article, important subject to think about

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