The best birth control to use if you're traveling long-term, because your sexual health matters
If you’ve decided to radically shake up your life and embark on a stint of long-term travel, first off, high five! That’s exciting and gutsy. It also means you’re probably dealing with some major prep right now, from figuring out your job situation and vacating your apartment to storing your belongings and buying travel health insurance. These are the not-so-glamorous tasks that come with full-time travel, but ultimately they’re necessary stressors. If there’s one thing you shouldn’t be worrying about pre-trip, however, it’s figuring out your birth control situation while on the road.
While it might seem like a daunting task (how many pill packs will I need?!) there are a number of things you can arrange prior to leaving that will keep you safe and healthy while you’re away. To ensure you choose the best method for your needs, though, meet with your provider well before leaving on your trip. Depending on which option you select, one or two follow-up appointments may be needed, so you’ll want to ensure you’ve got plenty of time to get everything sorted. As noted by June Gupta, the associate director of medical standards at Planned Parenthood, “Birth control is not one-size-fits-all. There are many methods of birth control to choose from and all come with different benefits and risks.”
If you’re already on the pill and want to stick with what you know, you’re in luck. Most providers can prescribe up to a year’s worth pills, so as long as you’ve got enough room in your bag and are diligent about taking them every day, they’re a very viable option. But, said Gupta, “If you’re on the pill and traveling across time zones, it can be confusing to stay on track with taking your daily pill. It’s a good idea to speak with your health care provider before you leave about how to avoid missing pills so that you’re protected.”
When it comes to longer-term methods that don’t require daily attention, there are three routes you can take based on your needs and preferences. The first is the birth control shot, also known as Depo-Provera, which is safe, simple and can even make your periods shorter. The downside is that it only lasts for three months, so if you’ll be away for longer than that or have left your travel plans open, the shot might not be for you.
Implants and IUDs
While slightly more invasive, both the birth control implant and IUD (intrauterine device) are extremely effective, hands-off methods. The implant, which needs to be inserted by a nurse or doctor, can prevent pregnancy for up to five years and, as described by Gupta, “is get-it-and-forget-it birth control.” It’s a tiny metal rod that is inserted into your upper arm and can be removed at any time should you decide you want to get pregnant or simply don’t want it anymore.
IUDs, which also need to be inserted by a professional, can last between three and 12 years, depending on which kind you get. “Plus,” Gupta added, “hormonal IUDs can help treat people who suffer from severe cramps, really heavy periods, and anemia.” If you prefer an IUD that doesn’t release the hormone progestin into your body, choose the copper version.
It’s important to remember that these birth control methods do not protect against sexually transmitted infections, so you should still use condoms every time you have sex. Depending on where you’re traveling, they might not be readily available—so pack some in your suitcase before you take off.
It’s also a good idea to bring emergency contraception (aka the morning-after pill) with you so that if you’re in a situation where you need it you can take it as soon as possible. Like with condoms, emergency contraception may not be easy (or legal) to obtain in some parts of the world, so grab a supply at your local Planned Parenthood health center, by prescription from your provider, or over-the-counter at a pharmacy prior to jetting off.
The last thing you want to be worrying about while exploring the world is whether or not you’re safe and protected. We’re privileged to come from a country where multiple birth control methods are still available (knock on wood!) so take full advantage of them and adventure on with peace of mind.