7 Things You Should Know About Birth Control While Traveling
Planning a trip can be simultaneously very exciting and very stressful. While you have a bustling city or a tropical paradise to look forward to, you also have to think about the nitty-gritty details like transporting your toiletries. Taking birth control while traveling might be one of those specifics that you don't give too much thought about unless you run into a problem. According to experts, planning ahead is key to making sure that you have everything you need in case something goes awry when you're on the road.
One issue you might run into while traveling is some stomach trouble. Whether you're tasting all of the local delicacies in a foreign country or you've just flown to a new city, changing up your diet can disagree with your digestive system. "If your stomach isn’t agreeing with your travel food choices, and you vomit within three hours of taking a birth control pill, then take another pill as soon as you remember," Dr. Christine Yu, PharmD, a licensed pharmacist at Pill Club, tells Bustle. If you take a combination pill with estrogen, use a backup method (like a condom) with any sexual activity that could lead to pregnancy until you've been able to take the pill the way you're supposed to for seven days in a row, she says. If you take a progestin-only pill, use a backup method if you have sex with someone who has a penis within the next two days.
Here are some things you should know about birth control while traveling, according to experts.
1. Stay Active
Hormonal birth control that contains estrogen can increase your risk of blood clots, Dr. Tristan Bickman, MD., OB/GYN, a practicing gynecologist, obstetrician, and author of Whoa, Baby!, tells Bustle. "Flying, or long periods of sitting, can also increase your risk of blood clots," she says. This combination of two situations that make you more likely to experience blood clots can put you at high risk. "These blood clots usually occur in the veins in the lower extremities," Bickman says. To reduce your risk of experiencing a clot, get up and walk to the bathroom (even if you don't have to go) during a flight or take rest breaks to stretch your legs during a road trip.
2. Consider Bringing The "Morning After" Pill
If you plan to be sexually active with a partner who can potentially get you pregnant, you might want to consider bringing emergency contraception — the morning after pill — in case you forget to take your pill or lose your pill pack, Bickman says. If you're staying in the U.S., you'll probably be able to find one in any drug store, but having a pill on hand can reduce your stress a lot and keep you from having to interrupt your vacation plans. If you're traveling internationally, depending on the country, there are different restrictions in terms of getting it, Bickman says. While in most European countries you can get emergency contraception over the counter without a prescription, in countries like Argentina, Australia, and Brazil, you'll need a prescription. In other countries, like Honduras and Libya, it isn't available at all, she says.
3. It Might Be OK To Skip Your Period
Nothing goes with a white sandy beach like a heavy period, am I right? If you're on a hormonal birth control pill and would really rather skip bleeding while you're travelling, just ask your pharmacist or doctor for directions. "Skipping a period is safe and up to a person’s preference," Yu says. "Birth control was designed to mimic a four-week menstrual cycle, so most pill packs have a week of placebo pills for a monthly period." If you're taking a combination pill, just skip the week of placebo pills and begin a new pack. If you're on a progestin-only pill, all four weeks of the pack contain active ingredients, so there’s no placebo week to skip. Talk to your doctor about your options.
4. Set A Timer
If you take a hormonal birth control pill, you know how important it is that you take your pill at the same time each day in order for it to work properly. If you're traveling to a new time zone (or consistently changing time zones over the course of a very long flight), it can seem impossible to figure out when, exactly, you should be taking your pill. "If you’re crossing time zones, you’ll need to continue taking your pill every day at that same original time zone," Yu says. Simply set a timer on your phone to go off 24 hours after your last pill in your original location so that when your phone automatically switches time zones, nothing will be disturbed.
"For combination pills (containing estrogen), if you want to switch to your destination’s time zone," she says, "choose a new convenient pill time, and take it at that new time without going more than 24 hours without a dose." This is only an effective strategy if you're taking combination pills with estrogen, though. If you're on progestin-only pills, make sure to consult with your doctor or pharmacist before choosing new times, because these require sticking to a stricter schedule, Yu says.
5. Bring A Backup Method
It's always smart to bring condoms just in case if you will potentially be having sex with someone with a penis, Yu says, in case you miss a pill or lose your pack. In fact, regardless of your partner's sex organs, it can be important to use a condom designed for a penis or a condom designed for a vagina, since the pill, patch, and vaginal ring do not prevent STIs, she says. Whether you are considering sleeping with someone new in your destination or you and your partner haven't been tested recently, it's always safest to use a barrier method to prevent any sexually transmitted infections.
6. Ask For Extras
Are you planning a long backpacking trip across Europe? Will you need to start a new pack of birth control pills in the middle of your weekend getaway? Part of your trip planning should include counting out the days of birth control pills you'll be needing so that you know exactly how many packs to bring. You're probably used to having to wait until a certain date to fill a new pack prescription, but if you bring up your upcoming travel plans to your pharmacist, they'll be able to give you more than just a single pack, Yu says. "If you provide your travel dates, the pharmacy can help contact your insurance for a vacation override."
7. You Might Be Able To Get A Replacement
If you lose your birth control pack at home, it's fairly easy to call your local pharmacy and ask for an earlier refill than usual. But losing your birth control in a foreign country (or even just on the road) can be much trickier. "If you lose your birth control in a foreign country, you can try to go to a clinic to get a prescription," Bickman says. "This way you will know you are getting something similar to what you are taking." In come countries (China, India, Mexico, Brazil, Portugal, Turkey, Greece, Korea, and Russia), birth control pills are available over the counter. But if you're in North American, Australia, or Japan, you'll need a prescription to get them.
No matter what your birth control situation is or what kind of sexual activity you're planning on doing while you're traveling, do your best to consider every possibility before you leave. The more prepared you are for any mishaps, the less you'll have to stress while you're vacationing.