Information, Thoughts, Travel

Travel and Contraceptives

Creative Commons via margolove on Flickr

I am going to make a claim that may sound incredulous to many of you.

Married people have sex.

I know. I know. It is hard to believe. Some more than others but the fact remains the same. There is one thing on my brain for our oncoming trip – travel and contraceptives.

Shaun and I are going to be on the road for quite some time and I have some concerns in regards to keeping my womb a baby free zone. While I have nothing against those of you who travel with children, we just choose to keep it just the two of us until further notice (if not forever). Other than pregnancy fears, I’m already trying to figure out how we are going to even finagle us time while we hostel and Couchsurf our way through Central/South America.

I feel as though this is an important conversation to have in the travel community and it not talked about much. I know about the backpacker trail. I’m sure many of you are very familiar with forms of contraception. So here we go:

I found this freakin’ hilarious. Creative Commons via modashell on flickr

Before we head out on our extended trip, I am going to have to go through that all too familiar visit to my OBGYN. Most women are familiar with this visit – complete with the awkward pokes, prods, and the cold metal “duck”. I’m currently looking at my choices for our upcoming trip so I thought I would give the long and skinny in regards to the most common forms of birth control that are possible for our lifestyle.

Please note that I am not a medical professional and these observations are my opinion only.

No. Not going to do it. I’ll be celibate on another trip sometime (yeah, right).

I used to be an avid user of the aforementioned form of birth control until I realized I’m terribly forgetful and that is not something to take lightly when it comes to a contraceptive that needs you to be punctual. The hard thing about birth control pills is that most pharmacies will not sell you more than a few months at any given time. Unless you can be buddy buddy with your doctor to have them help you beat the system or give you a million free samples, this just isn’t a viable option.

While I’ve had a few friends that have had terrible experiences with this form of birth control, I would be good for 3 months and then left out in the cold when it came to protection.

While this is the preferred choice of many and has proven to be tried and true, I am terribly allergic to latex (tragic, I know). I do realize that they make them out of other materials now, but what happens when we cannot find them when out? I know for most people condoms are used for STD and pregnancy prevention so this option is often used on top of another option or stand alone. How many condoms do you, as a backpacker or traveler in general, keep on your persons?

I think this definitely has the opportunity to be a female traveler’s best friend because it lasts for 3 years. The down side to this is that most insurance companies in the U.S. do not cover the product and can cost hundreds of dollars. Besides my terrible fear of needles and things cutting into me, this is definitely on the “maybe” list.

This form also lasts quite a while. Depending on if you go for something like Mirena or the copper version, you are looking at 5-12 years of pregnancy prevention. Most insurance companies have stopped providing coverage for this as well (I have had very heated conversations with my insurance providers). I think Shaun and I are going to bite the bullet and get this procedure done. The final price will be a staggering $800. Technically I will save money on birth control over the period of those 5 years but paying the cash upfront is demoralizing.

Important notes about ANY form of birth control in Central/South America:

Due to the religious and political atmosphere where abstinence is looked at as the only way to prevent pregnancy, getting contraceptives in South America can prove to be difficult.

The malaria pill, doxycycline, is an antibiotic that may have the capability to mess with your birth control.

So food for thought while you plan for your next trip down to South America. Contraceptive measures didn’t occur to me until I was preparing for our trip and I think it is quite an important conversation to have before you leave the country for any extended period of time.

Have you been to Central/South America? What was it like getting contraceptives?

121 thoughts on “Travel and Contraceptives”

  1. I’m SO GLAD you wrote this post! I have been wanting to do a post like this for a long time because it is a real dilemma that nobody seems to talk about. Like you my number one priority is NO BABIES PLEEZ, especially when travelling though countries that are not terribly pro-choice. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any perfect answer for this one- every option seems to have major drawbacks.

    Hope you figure out what works for you!

    1. @Stephanie: It is strange that this topic isn’t covered more. I tried to do some searching for information on the subject and there really is no discussion going on. That worries me to no end. Going to the doctor soon and asking her opinion. 🙂

  2. I’m sure lots of us have thought about this issue. I’ve heard lots of good things about the IUD, thinking of doing that too. I admire you for putting this out there, like you said it’s one of those things people don’t talk about much.

    1. @Ali: I’ve always been one to bring up discussions about every day issues that aren’t talked about. I’ve notoriously had some of the most in depth conversations about sex with people I’ve just met because I’m not shy about the matter. Why should we be – this is something a good majority of people face.

      1. I used to do HIV testing/counseling, and I’m utterly terrified of diseases. So…any partner that I have gets quizzed to death on TOP of expertly applied latex. If I get a false or stumbly answer…nope. Sorry, Jose.

        1. @Jeanie: I can imagine that working in the industry can make you paranoid as hell. I worked in the tattoo industry for 3 years and it turned me into a germaphobe.

  3. Yeah, we do the no-baby-now way too. Upsetting 2 sets of parents (mine and his). Long ago we decided that condom is not the way to go, pills they are. We stocked up on pills when we were in Indonesia: cheap and no prescription needed. Also stocked up in Andorra before that: while it’s not as cheap as in Indonesia, no prescription required. In fact, even viagra doesn’t require prescription.

    1. @Dina: My parents give me the puppy dog face often when it comes to the NO BABY issue. My sister is married, I’m waiting for her to finally get preggo and then most of the pressure will be off. I haven’t been on pills in a while because I’ve had the convenience of the NuvaRing – which has been a godsend. Just not feasible abroad.

      1. It’s “handy” your sister is married. Until now, Ryan and I are the only married one between our siblings from both side. So yeah, the pressure is on. Before I said to myself and them that I would think about it once I hit 30, and last year I hit 30. Well…. yeah, not happening yet.. haha.

        1. @Dina: I thought I would re-evaluate at 30 as well.. it was 28, and then I got here and realized it was a no go. I can’t imagine much will change over the next 2 years but you never know!

  4. Brilliant ideas. Yes, medical included problems are not something that solve easily on the road. My friend visited me once, she wanted to buy specific type of birth control pill but the pharmacy said they can’t sell without doctor’s note.
    No right answers but hope you can figure it out what’s right for you!

    1. @Juno: Thank you for joining in on the discussion! The doctor’s note is what makes it so difficult here. I can’t get forms of birth control without a prescription. It is a huge pain in the ass.

  5. The up-front cost of the IUD is galling, but I know so many people who have been happy and baby-free for years with one. Another thing in the plus column for the IUD is that for some people (by no means all, though) the Mirena can reduce your PMS symptoms and make for a lighter cycle. So if you’re one of the lucky ones, you may end up with fewer issues and a more comfortable period. That HAS to be a travel bonus.

    1. @Deanna: Mirena is something I’ve been chatting with my doctor about for the past year. She is all for it but I’m definitely going to bring up my million concerns when I finally make it in.

  6. great post, I didn’t really need to think about it before I left as I had had the implant in for 12months by the time I left! Luckily I live in the UK where nearly all contraceptive methods are free so I didn’t need to worry about the cost! Also we can get the contraceptive pill for 12months at a time so that would cover most RTW trips.
    The only problem for me is that I am planning to be away for more than the time that the implant covers me…. ummm… i’ll cross that bridge when i come to it!!!

    1. @Kirsty: lol I’ve even thought about buying roundtrips tickets to the UK because on some occasions, it is cheaper to do that than pay for the birth control methods here. Most pharmacies here (at least in Texas) will only sell up to 6 months at a time and I still pay ~$25 per month. Good luck on the bridge crossing. xoxo

      1. Ain’t that the truth! When my insurance dropped me I was facing having to pay $70+ a month for the cheapest/most generic brand!!!!! Ridiculous!

        Not to start another discussion but how can a country/government/community expect to preach safety and good health and ‘planned parenthood’ and charge out the asshole for contraception! You can’t force someone to use a certain method so make them all accessible!

        Ok rant over, sorry bout that. Makes me angry.

        1. @Annie: $70/mo? GOOD LORD LADY!

          Yeah, I get on the rant about the health thing often. You are allowed to be healthy unless there is a chance that you may be having sex for pleasure in which a baby or fetus may be involved. It is insanity.

  7. I had an implant for nearly five years, but in 2009 during traveling it wasn’t “working” the same way it used to, I was told that it was due to stress (?).

    I took it out and started using pills, I’m a forgetful person too but I always put the alarm on in the morning so I take it before I leave.

    I would suggest you try and stock up on them before leaving, just in case.

    1. @Sofia: Oh man, if the implant can dysfunction due to stress, I’m not sure that would be the one for me. I’m super high strung sometimes and quite the worry wart (although I’m wondering how much that will change when we’re on the path I would like to be on).

  8. I’d say to be wary of embarking on a new contraceptive method before you go travelling, if you have any complications then finding adequate medical help may be an issue. I had a copper IUD for 9 months, I went from having periods that lasted 3-4 days to periods that lasted 7-8 days that were MUCH heavier (changing tampons every 2 hours & sometimes having to double up with pads). I also had a constant dull pain in my abdomen that the doctor assured me would go away, but it didn’t, and after the trauma of having it put in (it was awful), being in almost constant pain and having insane periods of 9 months I ended up having to get the damn thing removed. I don’t feel like the doctor in any way prepared me for the possible complications and I’m sure glad I didn’t have to pay $800!

    I had considered the implant also, until I read this article:

    I know each person reacts differently to each form of contraception, but I’d recommend that if choosing a new form you do it a good 6 months before you go travelling to make sure it’s the right kind for you or sticking with something, which may not be ideal, but you know at least works relatively painlessly.

    Have you tired talking to the doctor about the fact you’re going travelling and asking for a longer supply of the pill? The kind I used to use was effective if taken within the same 7 hour period each day so you didn’t have to remember to take it exactly at the same time. It was also handy in the fact you could go straight on to the next packet and effectively skip your “period” (they’re not real periods when you’re on the pill anyway) meaning if you’re hiking through the rainforest you won’t have to find a toilet every few hours.

    1. @Steph: I’ve heard extreme sides to the IUD. Some love it, some have the same issues you have had. That is one of the only things that is keeping me from truly committing to it. I’m currently using NuvaRing but due to the need to have it refrigerated, I can’t take multiple doses with me.

      Thank you for the heads up on Implanon – I’ve considered it and I’m totally going to bring up that article to her. I love my OBGYN – she is a badass.

  9. As an FYI I have had no problem buying the pill here in Latin America. In fact it’s cheaper $6 in Ecuador for my exact brand Marvellon, and $4 in Colombia for a Bayer version.

    I just keep the packaging and show it to them.

    1. @Ayngelina: Knowing those prices, I may have to switch to the pill and get more on top of my timing. I had read a few articles recently that were talking about a contraceptive shortage in Colombia.

      1. I just bought the pill today with no problems (and no prescription) in Colombia. It did cost $20 a pack though for my brand, which was painful as I’m used to it being free in the UK. I did see another brand for $4 but didn’t think it was a good idea to switch.

        If you use doxycycline you just need to use an alternative contraceptive for 3 weeks while your body adjusts to it and then it’s fine.

        1. @Erin: $20 a pack is still cheaper than what I pay *WITH* insurance! I have my appointment set up so now I just have to wait on it. 🙂

        2. @Erin

          I always take the box to my prescription so there’s no mistake. In Colombia, the pill was the same but Marvelon no longer had the monopoly and Bayer had the exact same medication but it was generic.

          I’m buying a year’s supply here before I head back to Canada.

    2. Thank you this was really helpful to find I just ran out of my pills and I’ve been super scared this whole week with out them but if you don’t mind me asking where you purchased your pills in Ecuador? I’m on the coast near Puerto Lopez and the Pharmacy that I usually go to rarely ever has Aspirin so I’m worried they wont have any birth control.

      Thank you for your post in 2011

      1. Hey Valerie! If you just bring in your birth control box so they know what to look for, they will let you know. I got them from almost every place we went to.

  10. Erica, think more about the IUD. I was on it once and it was great for a few months (until I started bleeding nonstop, but that’s another story), but I wouldn’t travel with one — what if it expels when you’re in a rural area? That’s something that would terrify me.

    1. @Kate: Yeah, I’ve heard about the cons of the IUD. Now everyone is making me paranoid (in a good way). How terrible to be bleeding nonstop. The things we do to stay baby free!

  11. Go with the IUD and skip your regular doctor and go to Planned Parenthood. They have a sliding income scale and it won’t come close to $800.

    1. @Carrie: Called planned parenthood and they basically were going to charge me the same thing. No mention of the sliding income scale – which is why I didn’t bother with them.

  12. This is something that I literally was just thinking about a couple of days ago.

    When I graduated from Uni my insurance company IMMEDIATELY dropped me off my parent’s insurance and that was in the middle of me trying to get them to renew my prescription for the pill so I was out of luck. When I came to Italy I found it both cheap and easy to get (even though you are actually supposed to have a prescription).

    Now that I’m back on it I’m worried about what I should do when I go off traveling again! I’ll be interested to see what people say in their comments, I’ll be checking back for advice!

    1. @Annie: See, I’m glad to have brought it up then! I love hearing personal experiences from other women. It makes the choices a little more real and putting a face to them helps me make a more educated decision.

  13. I travel to Mexico a few times a year so I took my prescription for bc to the pharmacy there and they found the Mexican equivalent for my brand. You can buy as many packets as you like… cheapest at the Government subsidized pharmacies “Isste”. Depending on the exchange rate they cost me $5- $7 a packet as opposed to $30 each here in the states. I buy 6 months or a year at a time. They are lightweight and easy to travel with. I spend my summers on a remote island in Alaska and, again, never have to worry about refills. I have my cache. (not that I’m getting laid way out there, but, hey, a girls gotta keep her hormones level)

    I had an IUD years ago… in fact, I conceived my second son with an IUD! Bad cramps and heavy flow for me (until there wasn’t) Overall wasn’t a good option for me. 😉 Best of luck! Thanks for opening the discussion…

    1. @Sally: You are the second person I know to have gotten pregnant with an IUD! Goodness! The cost factor in Mexico will convert me to birth control pills alone. Well, you never know if some amazingly hot Alaskan man will show up at your doorstep in the middle of nowhere. Gotta be prepared!

  14. the safest bet is condoms, but since you are allergic to some brands, try telling your partner to cum outside. it will help when you dont have condoms with you. all other methods will mess up with your biology

    1. @Zablon: I’ve been on birth control for over 12 years now so the biological aspect doesn’t worry me too much but the chances of getting pregnant from just pulling out is too high for me.

  15. So far our plan has consisted of taking extra supplies of condom with us (and refill it whenever we have a chance), just like my disposable contacts. I’m not particularly comfortable messing around with hormone-based methods. I’d be very interested in finding out more about what you decide to do…

    1. @Jill: As I was telling Zablon, I’ve been on birth control pills for 12 years now. I’m almost scared to find out what I’m like without them! I’ll let everyone know what comes of the doctor’s appointment.

      1. I was on the pill for 14 years, and went off of it in August…my moods are SO much smoother. I was an “irregular” pill taker…so..I’m much happier now. Also, using silicon menstrual cup–ecofriendly and reusable. 🙂

        1. @Jeanie: I’ve been on birth control for the past 12 years of my life – not sure if I’m ready to drop it completely. As for the silicon cup – I’ve heard amazing reviews about it and I’m totally considering packing one for our upcoming trip.

  16. Great post!!! I’m so happy you addressed this issue, which is so important for women. Hopefully, your doc will be able to steer you in the right direction. They do have non-latex condoms, but they are insanely expensive.

    1. @Andi: I think this issue is way too hush hush for something so important to traveling women (and even not traveling women!). It is a good thing that I like my doctor and trust her judgment. She is a traveler too so it will be interesting to hear what she has to say. Granted, she did happen to mention that inserting a NuvaRing is like stuffing a chicken (and even made a popping sound while making hand motions).

      1. That and if you vomit or have diarrhea within a certain number of hours after taking it, it makes that pill less or ineffective. You may not get sick at all in SA, it isn’t a given, but if you did, you can’t get that missed pill back.

  17. I say pill & condom (non latex brand). That way you will be double protected should you get ill or have to take antibiotics. Def. DO NOT get the shot. My friend did that, she gained a ton of weight and was miserable. She told all of us to NEVER do it so I’m passing that advice to you. I would also be nervous, like other commenters said, about an IUD or an implant on the road. Esp. if you don’t know how your body will react.

    Also, you can go to planned parenthood and stock up on pills before you leave. REally PP is a great resource for womens health and they will help you out if you go there. In fact, if you are on limited income you can probably get your pills for free, or almost free. I have found the nurses & doctors at PP to be some of the best I have ever seen – in fact it was someone there that caught my thyroid cancer – even after my reg. doc did not. I love PP!

    My other advice is to get some Plan B while you are there. Tell them your plans and have them give you 2 or 3 pack of it. It’s not the abortion pill but IF there is an accident, you can take it right away it will make pregnancy less likely. It’s not 100% but still if you are out in the middle of nowhere and something happens at least you know you can back up with that pill the next day. You have to take a couple pills w/in 72 hours after the event. If nothing else, it will give you peace of mind knowing you have it.

    1. @Bethany: I did the pill and condom combo for most of my college life as a super protected way to make sure I made it through college in one piece. Although you do bring up a good point about the second form when I do get sick.

      As for the shot, I won’t do that. I good friend of mine had increased osteoporosis (a very rare side effect) and now has the bones of an 85 year old. If that isn’t enough to keep you from getting that, I don’t know what is.

      I used to use PP for a while when I was uninsured in college. Although, now I am wondering at what cost I could get my pills since we are making substantially less money with one income currently (well, besides me few wedding shoots). You got Shaun on the Plan B boat for sure. He is all about it.

  18. Great post b/c this is a big concern for most travelers. I use the pill which I get extra packs of in the U.S. (as Bethany mentioned, Planned Parenthood is a great resource). When traveling, I explained the situation to my doctor and she prescribed me a year’s worth in 3 month packs . . . that is, I got 4 rounds of 3 packs. I used my insurance to pay for the first set of 3 months worth and then paid for the rest out of pocket (it sucks but is actually not all that expensive if you get the generic brand of pills). We also realized that pills are relatively available abroad, as well (and is often quite cheap elsewhere as Ayngelina mentioned). In my opinion, pills are the best option for travelers especially if you have been on them for a while.

    If you’re allergic to latex, condoms aren’t going to work but, just so others know, they sell condoms pretty much everywhere. In Africa, when you enter the customs office for Swaziland, they have free condoms sitting out b/c they are encouraging AIDS safety. As long as you are in a major city (or even a medium-sized town), you won’t have any trouble finding condoms.

    1. @Akila: Thank you for the general information on the availability of condoms abroad. I’m totally loving where this discussion is going. Such amazing information and firsthand experiences.

      I’m starting to rethink the pill thing more and more.

      1. One more semi-tricky thing with the pill: the pill works best when you take it at the same time every day but if you are leaping over borders, then you are constantly changing time zones. I stick to taking it in the morning every day even if we change borders but I know that it isn’t exactly the best system because, at some point, I end up skipping a full day’s worth of the pill.

  19. What an interesting topic – something that Jess and I don’t have to think about 😉 (LUCKILY!) I think you should go for the pill though – I don’t think you’ll have problems finding it in the bigger cities – you don’t need a prescription and it is cheap. Just set an alarm on your watch, then you won’t forget to take it. Dani @Globetrottergirls

  20. I had a Mirena for 5 years, and it was a godsend, because no periods. Don’t spend the money getting it done in the States, though. It’s an incredibly simple procedure, and you’ll be able to get it done for a fraction of that wherever you’re starting out in LatAm. Where do you land?

  21. Aah, awesome important topic! Yes!

    A friend I traveled with in Peru had a UID. She said that she originally had complications (her body basically went into labor), but after a year she absolutely loved it and highly recommended it.

    I go the pill route. BUT, insurance doesn’t like to pay for them if you buy more than 1 month at a time. For mine, I had to fax them a copy of my plane ticket to prove I’d be out of the country before they would pay for them. So if you do pills you need to go and talk to the pharmacy about a week beforehand. Maybe two weeks.

    Finally, I haven’t had problems getting condoms in Peru. In fact, sometimes the people in the pharmacy try to sell them to me when I want something totally different. “No, cough drops! Not condoms!! COUGH DROPS” 0_0

    1. @Aly: A year of complications.. I’m not sure if I would go through that. I should be going into the doctor within the next few weeks. I’m dying to find out her opinion.

      As for your “cough drops” – you don’t have to lie. We’ve all been there. ;P

  22. I cracked up a bit when I read the announcement “yes, married couples have sex”… well, that’s great news!!!
    I don’t know about Central/South America, sorry! But I was so surprised when in Cairo I found that contraceptives are so available (and with a vast choice!)
    I even needed to look for the “morning after pill” for a friend once and I immediately found it.
    Sometimes there are good surprises 🙂

    1. @Giulia: Well, we do! I keep hearing everyone saying they would never get married because people stop having sex! It only gets that way if you let it.

      I think the lesson I’ve learned from the many comments is that birth control is widely available no matter where you are in the world!

  23. AWESOME post!!! and i think a good honest post deserves a good honest comment, so here goes. have used many of the above mentioned forms with varied comfort. HATED depo provera. gained 30 pounds, didn’t recognize my own behavior- horrible. would definitely recommend that any woman considering it, google “depo provera horror stories” before proceeding. that having been said, different bodies react differently to different things. had an IUD for 5 years (paraguard) until recently, and aside from heavier periods it was definitely my fave method ever. i got it from a community health faciility that completely covered the cost (had a break between freelance gigs and got it then). would suggest doing it asap so you have time for the followup appt. to make sure things are okay before taking off.
    so glad you wrote this! worth talking about for sure 🙂

    1. @Lorna: A friend of mine had her life turned upside down due to Depo – I would NEVER do it just from the experiences I’ve read. So bad!

      Heading to the doctor ASAP so I can talk to her about the best method. If we do decide to do an IUD it will be in enough time to have the follow up appointment. 🙂 I’m going to also look into ARCH. They provide funding for women who have insurance companies who don’t cover IUDs. Seeing as we have been a one income family for a while now, I’m thinking I may actually qualify.

  24. Having been on the road for four years with my husband, I get this question a lot 🙂 Fortunately, for those women on the pill most pharmacies outside the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia will sell birth control pills without prescription. I was able to pick up extra packs in Guatemala and Peru (although expensive by local standards, still cheaper than the States), but found that Argentina was the best place on the continent to pick up birth control. I was able to pick up about a year’s worth for around $100. Thailand is another easy place.

    A piece of advice for women on the pill who decide to pick up the pill overseas – ask your doctor to put you on a more standard/universal pill as opposed to one that is cutting edge. It will be much easier to find replacements overseas.

    1. @Audrey: Thank you so much for your price assessment in other countries. This information is so incredibly hard to find and is a gold mine of knowledge for women looking to spend time on the road. Good deal on getting the standard prescription – I’ll definitely keep that in mind.

  25. Great post! We’ve been using condoms, which have been easy to find everywhere so far (but I fortunately don’t have to deal with the latex allergy). Also, a recent oopsie-daisy need for the “morning after pill” in South Goa, India led to the surprising discovery that it was easily available in the small town pharmacy for just 80 rupees. (Less than $2.) I think it was called something charming like “No Want.” Pretty funny.

    For what it’s worth, my brilliant cousin is a nurse practitioner in the U.S., and a passionate supporter of the IUD. Says it’s the best method.

    1. @CTW: The “No Want” pill sent me into a giggle fit for a while I’m not going to lie. It is quite an honest description of the pill. 😛

  26. Interesting topic, but I still can’t figure it out why can’t you buy the pill for as many months as you please. Do you need a prescription? I never thought about this problem before as here in Spain you don’t need a prescription for the pill and as far as I know, you can buy supplies for as many months as you please. I’m just curious 🙂 This subject never bothered me before but now that you brought it up…

  27. I read IUD as IED…(*chuckles to himself)
    Does wishful thinking count as birth control?

    Ya know there is also the “controlled detonation” approach, but that is baby roulette.

    1. @Joshy: You know, I’m not about to put explosive devices up my hoohah but I guess that method would work as well? 😉 Thanks for the controlled detonation pun… lovely. No baby roulette here!

  28. Interesting post. I was thinking about this the other week too. I have been travelling for a year already and before I left Australia I got a prescription for the pill with repeats so I was able to go the pharmacy and get a years supply to take with me. A year has now gone by and up until recently, I was down to my last month of the pill. We were in America at the time and it as so expensive to go to the doctor there and trying to get the repeats I needed for a whole new years worth, so I decided to try my chances in Mexico. We went to Cancun first, and luckily the pharmacies there held the exact same prescription to my pill at home! I couldn’t believe my luck. I was able to 15months worth for a fraction of the cost I would of paid elsewhere. I didn’t have any problems getting the pill here in Mexico. Just something to think about for any other women travelling through Mexico. Now I don’t have to worry while we travel through central and south america.

  29. Great post on a topic that needed to be brought out there. We (and by we I mean my partner, because the options available to men are somewhat shorter than this list rather sadly, consisting of condoms, abstinence or surgery..) are on the IUD. This is a great option in terms of convenience and not having to remember to buy condoms / take the pill.

  30. Interesting discussion. I guess it all depends on the person, but those travelers with a partner who tolerate the pill have a simple way of taking care of it, otherwise, and the rest of travelers, can use condoms that can be found everywhere.

    1. @Fede: Totally depends on the person! I could use the pill I’m just terribly forgetful. It is interesting to hear other people’s experiences. 🙂

  31. Hey dude, great topic! I might do this topic for next month’s FTU so can I link to your work in it?

    Here’s what I did… I bought like a year’s supply of pills before I left, and packed 5 or 6 in my bag, and then had my mom send me the other 6 when I was abroad. Luckily that worked out just fine.

    When I was in Kyrgyzstan, I had to go to the woman doctor (I am the queen of having issues in weird countries), and in the process I asked about birth control. She prescribed some to me and I went and filled a few months because they were sooooo cheap! They were from Germany so I had a bit of faith in them. Now I normally don’t like to switch pills all the time, but I thought I was going to be in Bishkek for a while. I then went home and got another year’s supply of my other pills before heading back off.

    1. @Brooke: Link away! My pills cost me ~$25/pack with insurance. I’m actually on the NuVaRing which is the same amount of money but the though of dropping $300 on pills makes me sick to my stomach. 🙁

      1. Hey Erica, you might want to think about storage of your NuvaRing while traveling. Before I left, my doc put me on pills again because the nuvaring loses potency if not kept at a steady temp… like in a fridge. That’s what I was told anyways. I did love the ring, though. *sigh*

        1. @Brooke: I have to get a new form of BC because of the fact I won’t be able to guarantee the Nuvaring’s temperature. It just sucks because I REALLY like it.

  32. And us unmarried couples have sex too 🙂

    I knew from a fairly early age that I was likely not cut out for the parenting thing. At age 29, I got my tubes tied. It was so incredibly freeing! A few years later (while I was traveling full time), I needed a hysterectomy for other reasons. I would definitely say that I’m now spoiled being able to travel without worrying about birth control OR a period. (Side note, definitely second the recommendation for a re-usable menstrual cup. It’s the one thing I miss about not having a uterus, it was that awesome.)

    Not worrying about this stuff for myself for so long caused me to have to do a double take on your post. I had literally completely forgotten that other women travelers have to deal with these considerations.

    Should you ever get to the point of making a definite decision to be childfree by choice (for life), I highly recommend sterilization for one or both of you.

    1. @Cherie: We’re not quite sure if we’re completely on the no children boat but I like the fact that male sterilization is reversible if it did come down to that. 🙂

  33. We used the pill while traveling. I was fortunately able to get quite a few samples from my doctor as well as fill a 3-month prescription before we left. That didn’t cover the entire trip, but in Bangkok I was able to buy my pills over the counter at the Boots pharmacy (a trusted name for me). The trick with the pill is sticking to the schedule, which can definitely be hard as you travel and switch time zones and all that. Also, you have to keep in mind that many medications are supposed to be kept at a relatively stable temperature for max effectiveness. Not the easiest thing to do as you travel through various extremes. We just didn’t worry about it and it worked out. Not sure if it’s the best method, but I’ve yet to find the ideal one. As you pointed out, basically every option has its downsides.

    1. @Theresa: Thank you for the heads up on getting pills in Bangkok. I totally didn’t even thing about the temperature thing – I’m sure that traveling in SEA was interesting with varying temps!

  34. Love that you wrote about this topic! Definitely something that isn’t talked about often. I’ve thought about this, too. I was recently very interested in the non-hormone IUD (Paraguard) because I have been on the pill for so long and I would love to get off artificial hormones. But when I went to my gyno, she was really against it. She said that the insertion process is EXTREMELY painful for women who have never had kids (something about the cervix having never been stretched out). She said every time she inserts one on a non-labored cervix, she always regrets it and never wants to do it again, but patients keep asking for it so she keeps giving in. She said IUDs also increase cramps and heavy bleeding, and I used to have awful cramps before I was taking this current pill. So I decided against it for now, but if I do decide to do long-term travel, I may have to get that or a shot. Good luck figuring this out, and thanks for writing about this!

    1. @Emily: I’ve heard about the cervix pain. It is definitely something to think about. After getting thoroughly tattooed in painful areas, pain really isn’t an issue for me personally, but I’m sure it would be a factor for many.

  35. My god… finally a “woman’s travel tip post” about…. an actual, real woman’s travel issue!! I knew there would be one someday. Well done. Good discussion and needed one. Excellent post.

  36. You are right, this is an important topic that no one discusses! Besides just my general noninterest in having babies at this particular time in my life, I didn’t want to accidentally get pregnant for insurance reasons. Pregnancy is not covered by our travel insurance or the insurance we got to cover us when we return, and since pregnancy would be a pre-existing condition, it would not be good to have an oops for sure.

    I would be wary of making a major contraceptive change right before travel, but only you can make that choice. I was on the pill before I left and that’s what I continued to use. A couple of months before we left, I did switch pills to another kind, generic Seasonale, which is the type where you only get your period every three months. I did it to help my migraines, but it has the added benefit for having less periods while you travel, which is awesome. I take several types of prescription meds, and all of my doctors were less than helpful in getting me a year’s supply. They all warned me not to get prescriptions filled abroad because of quality issues, but then refused to write a prescription for any more than 3 months. I ended up having a doctor friend write the prescription for a year – not a solution for most, I know. So I have no advice, just wanted to wish you luck in deciding and figuring this important issue out.

    1. @Amy: I totally didn’t even think about the pre-existing when our insurance drops.

      I normally would be wary about changing before traveling but my insurance will not cover my appt if it doesn’t fall within the year. I have the NuVaRing so I can’t take that along with me when I go abroad.

  37. I went to Planned Parenthood in my home state of Washington (BCP is free if you earn under a certain amount- great for unemployed travelers!). They gave me a prescription for 12 months and they could give me 8 months of pills at the time (any more and they would have expired before it came time to use them). Someone from home went after I was gone for 6 months and got the rest of the prescription for me and sent it to me in Europe. I was lucky to have an address of a friend where they could send them.

    I ended up traveling more than one year, so I had to find something else. I happened to be in Albania when they were expiring and discovered that they had Yasmin (not what I take, but no problem) at the pharmacy for 1400 lek (about $14 US) a month and no need for a prescription. Figuring in the option of getting a yearly checkup in Europe (not covered by my travel insurance), sending the results in to Planned Parenthood, getting them to write another year’s prescription, then having someone pick them up and ship them to me, $14 for a few months was the cheaper and certainly easier option for me.

    I heard later that some drugs in certain countries are just sugar pills. Luckily, these worked and I had no problems, but it’s certainly something to be careful of when buying contraceptive in foreign countries with questionable standards.

  38. Depending on what country you’re hitting first, get your IUD abroad! It’s way cheaper! I got mine in Korea in a clinic fancier than any doctor’s office I’ve been to in the USA and the whole procedure, plus the Korean-branded Mirena, cost me a total of $45. Look into it!

      1. If you’re going to spend some time in Mexico, I would recommend getting it done there. Since there’s an increasing amount of medical tourism there (including myself), they have some pretty great facilities which cater to foreigners. IUDs are also a common form of birth control in Mexico and other parts of Central/South America because it’s the cheapest and easiest form of birth control out there, which is appealing in poorer countries, so doctors will be quite familiar with it.

        I’d also look into getting some of your vaccinations done while abroad as well. As long as you start off in a city where random diseases are less of a concern, you can start there and get many of your vaccinations there at pennies on the dollar. Get the rarer and more important ones in the states, but leave the more common ones for a doctor visit abroad.

        1. @Kelsey: I’m totally about getting the shots abroad as well. After spending what we spent, I’m totally going to advocate for other people to do that.

  39. Fantastic post and comments – so long overdue!
    Some additional points to consider:
    1.) While many birth control pills (BCP) have equivellent or sister brands in other countries, you should always use a backup form of contraception for a min of 2 weeks whenever you switch your BCP in any way – even going from brand name to generic equiveillent. If you’ve been using one form for a long time, it can take your body a while to adjust to even subtle changes.
    2.) I’m not sure if this would work in every jurisdiction, but you could try visiting a couple of walk in clinics, health centres, etc.. to get your BCP script and then take the scripts to different pharmacies. Or, by the method, ask for samples. I don’t think it’s a good thing to do for most medication, but it might be a way around the problem of only being able to get 3 months of a drug at a time.
    3.) Take a pregnancy test or two with you. Make sure you get a quality brand that has clear instructions you can read and understand before you travel and then can throw out the extra packaging. Your period can be thrown off by the changes of travel, and you might not want to try to figure out these tests in a foreign country. As I had a friend go through this in Malawi, I can attest to this!
    4.) Consider taking a morning after pill with you – good as a back up plan, good for emergencies, etc…
    5.) Most contraceptives work best if taken consistently. In this age of smart phones, set a reminder on a 24 hour basis when travelling through time zones to make sure you don’t double/skip a dose. Then slowly adjust, an hour a day, to start taking the pill at the time when you’ll most likely remember. Set alarms on both your phone AND your partner’s – they’re responsible too!

  40. Great post! On top of everything I had to sort out for my trip to South America on a one-way ticket with no idea of when I was returning, I had to think about contraception too and how I could possibly get my pill prescription. Luckily it’s free in the UK so and having been on it for 3 years it take me about 2 minutes to get a prescription. In the end I lied to the doctor saying I’d lost my old prescription, so she gave me a new one, and now I’m stocked for a year! I know it’s pretty bad for me to have lied to get them, but it was for the right reasons!

  41. An even more often overlooked option is sterilization. For those of us who know that we never want to reproduce, it’s a viable and very handy option. My HMO performed the operation for free many, many years ago, perhaps realizing that the cost of one surgery far outweighed the cost of decades of pills and injections.

    As the choice to remain child-free comes out of the shadows, I think it’s important to include this in any discussion about birth control.

  42. We have found that the IUD is the better option s while on the pill, I once forgot it at home and we had to drive an hour home (luckily it was not to far from home) then an our back (so 3 hours in total that day) just for a stupid little pill!

    while $800 is a lot of money the cost to raise children is much higher!!

  43. Not that I really *recommend* this method, but my boyfriend and I use no contraception. He just pulls out. I have severe adverse reactions to any hormonal contraceptive (near psychosis) which at this point is almost the only thing offered (even the IUD comes with a hormonal component now) Condoms as we all know are obnoxious, expensive, and often hard to find in the 3rd world. That leaves nothing. So we just do our thing, and in the rare occurrence an accident happens I get the morning after pill, which is surprisingly easy to find, without prescription, everywhere I’ve had to look for it so far. (Most north american pharmacies will ask you to wait for the doctor on staff and ask you a few questions, central america and the DR have it available over the counter, you just need to figure out how to say it in spanish.)
    I’ve not had to take it often and although it’s stock full of hormones I seem to react to it a lot better than being on hormone therapy constantly. So it works for us, but I can see how it would not work for everyone.

  44. Thanks for talking about it, I appreciate it.

    US care system is incredible, pharmacies and doctors charge as CRAZY… Ladys and women, you should protest! It does not make sense. In France, cost of a Copper IUD =30 Euros that is around 50$ US. And doctor visit another 50 Euros. and free for the young ladies (less than 18 years old). and the IUD is fine for 5-10 years… good luck.

  45. Hi Erica! Thanks so much for writing on this topic, there’s a shameful lack of it elsewhere – my own doctor recently put me on a mini-pill that can interact with Doxycycline malaria tablets (which she knew I was on!?) so now I have a last minute panic trying another type of pill (they usually don’t agree with me) and trying to get a big enough prescription, before I head of to South America on my own in a few weeks time on a one-way ticket..

    Needless to say I’m pretty stressed at the idea of going with not enough pills/a pill that isn’t right for me..but the timing has left me no choice.

    I’m wondering how accessible you found the healthcare in South America? Were you able to get access to the contraception you needed or was it not as widely available for tourists?

    I hope you’ve not been asked this exact same Q before, I scanned the comments section and couldn’t see it

    Thanks again for bringing up the subject – while I was in a bit of a blind panic, coming across your article was great!


  46. Birth control is not that frowned upon everywhere in south america.
    In Brazil, for instance, you can buy it freely without a prescription.
    All you need to know is the best kind for you.
    Some brand name pills we have here include: Yaz, Yasmin, Diane.

    Source: me, Brazilian gal.

    you’re all welcome.

  47. Hey there! If you want to find contraceptive options around the world, a new wiki is up: It’s 100% free and open to all users. So, now you can search for any city in the world and find information on contraception, emergency contraception, gynecologists, abortion, STD tests, etc. Or, if there’s no information yet, please feel free to contribute & help the community. While I know your post is from a few years ago, I’m sure many women will find this information useful now. Thanks for posting on this topic!

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