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Birth Control Travel Tips
How to Avoid the Unexpected
If you're of childbearing age but don't necessarily want children, a few birth control travel tips might help you avoid the unexpected.
Bear in mind that I'm not a doctor, a health practitioner, or an advisor of any kind. Any information I provide here is culled from my own knowledge, that of other travelers, and published materials. So use this as your first stop but then go see your doctor or health clinic for a proper consultation. Every birth control method has its benefits and risks and only a health professional can advise you about which one is best for your trip.
It is imperative to check with your doctor about these birth control travel tips because some contraceptives may react with other medication or conditions: oral contraceptives can interfere with malaria pills, while other types may increase blood clot risks. Conversely, diarrhea can reduce the Pill's effectiveness, as can the use of certain antibiotics.
In addition to your doctor's advice, a number of factors will affect which type of birth control you eventually decide to use when you travel. These include:
- length of your trip
- weather - how warm and humid will it be where you travel
- availability abroad and legality
- size and weight for carrying in your backpack
- durability and expiration dates
- whether you want to 'suspend' your period while you travel
Hormonal contraceptives during travel
If you're already on the pill, you might choose to stay on it. But keep the following in mind:
- According to surveys, nearly half of all women dislike taking the Pill when they travel.
- One of the biggest hassles on the road is getting your period. Newly-licenced pills exist that eliminate periods altogether so you might consider these if you're traveling for any length of time.
- If that's too radical, Seasonale (a brand name) cuts your periods down to four a year - and fewer periods make travel easier.
- These are easy to wear and can be placed on any part of the body, so they're discreet.
- The patch is changed once a week and doesn't take up too much room in a backpack, so you can carry a good supply.
- Patches can lose their stickiness under humid or wet conditions so they need to be monitored carefully when you travel.
- Not widely available - for example, as of this writing, the only availability on the African continent is in South Africa
- The vaginal ring is changed only once a month, so you can carry a decent supply with you on the road.
- It can be conserved at room temperature only four months - and in some countries it's far warmer than room temperature, so be aware of storage concerns.
Depo-Provera and other injectables
- The main advantage for travel is that you only require one injection each three months.
- Because it needs to be injected, you'll have to find a professional health practitioner where you are.
- Be cautious when you carry syringes across borders: always carry a doctor's prescription for them. I have carried syringes internationally and have never had a problem.
- The implant is a little rod that is placed just under your skin. Its main advantage for backpacking women is that it lasts three years so you don't have to think about birth control when you travel.
- It is also becoming increasingly available in developing countries.
Diaphragms and cervical caps
- A diaphragm or cervical cap is easy to carry, but the spermicides used with it are less so.
- Diaphragms, caps and spermicides need to be stored in a cool dry place, which isn't easy to find in the tropics. They also require an airtight container, which isn't that easy to carry in a backpack.
- Smaller than a diaphragm, but difficult to find in developing countries.
- They aren't as small as some other methods.
- The advantage of condoms is that unlike other birth control, they can also protect against sexually-transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS.
- Condoms are relatively easy to buy, although in some societies women will be frowned upon or actually refused the sale.
- Carrying condoms through borders has its risks. In some countries, a woman with condoms might be considered a sex worker and questioned accordingly.
- If you buy condoms overseas, make sure they're a reliable brand. Rubber doesn't stand the test of time, so make sure the condom looks pristine and fresh before use.
- This tends to be used more in developing countries than in wealthy ones, where many other birth control methods are available.
- The culture of your partner may not be accustomed to these, so have a chat about it first.
- The good thing is that it too protects against sexually-transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS.
- These are often much harder to find in developing countries.
- They're also harder to carry and conserve, as they are temperature-sensitive.
Intra-uterine devices, or IUDs
The IUD is the most common intra-uterine device and is a favorite among travelers.
For really long-term travel, an IUD - depending on the type - can last from 5 to 10 years.
While complications are infrequent, they do occur, so an IUD might not be suitable if you plan on living in inhospitable areas with poor medical care for great lengths of time.
A few additional birth control tips for travelers
The first thing you need to know is the length of your trip. Not all medicines travel well and you may not be able to carry enough contraceptives with you if you're gone for a year or two.
Often, doctors' prescriptions won't be for more than a few months or a year at most. If you're traveling longer than your prescription, make sure to visit a doctor in time. You can also get them sent to you but that can be a hassle, especially if you're not in a major city. Couriers are expensive, and in many countries postal service is unreliable.
Whatever method you choose, make sure you try it out several months before you go. The last thing you want is a bad reaction or discomfort once you're on the road, especially if you could have avoided it by doing your research early on.
And finally, bring some emergency contraception with you - you never know, and it might not be available where you are.
Where are you going? Not everything is available everywhere so find out whether your preferred form of birth control will be available at your destination.
Birth control travel tip resources
Planned Parenthood - different types of birth control
Emergency Contraception - where to find the 'morning after' pill
Availability by country - Wikipedia list
Directory of Hormonal Contraceptives - which brands are available in which countries
Marie Stopes International - another good site for information on birth control methods
New Contraceptive Options - medical article on what's what in birth control
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