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Birth Control Travel Tips

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Updated November 12, 2010

Traveling? Don't forget to plan ahead when it comes to birth control. In addition to the travel tips presented below, consider packing emergency contraception in case your birth control malfunctions or if you have unprotected sex. Remember, Plan B may not be easily accessible in certain areas. Also, store all prescribed drugs (such as birth control pills in their original container with readable labels.

1. Traveling and Your Period

Traveling can cause menstrual cycle mayhem. Different time zones, exhaustion, and emotional stress can trigger irregular bleeding. Be prepared by packing personal hygiene products (so you have them easily accessible).

On the flip side, excessive exercise (from sight-seeing, swimming, etc.) and stress also can cause missed periods. This could throw off fertility patterns if you are relying on fertility awareness methods.

2. Bring Condoms

Photo (c) Price Grabber (2006)
Make sure to bring condoms (even if you use another method). Condoms are the only method that protects against STDs - just in case you meet that "perfect" person. Condoms also protect you (and potentially your partner) from urinary and vaginal infections which may be more likely to occur since a traveling environment is often less hygienic than your normal living conditions.

Condoms are usually available almost everywhere, but keep in mind that selection and quality may be limited.

3. If You Use Depo-Provera

Photo Courtesy of K. Price
When planning your vacation dates, remember that Depo shots need to be given every 12 weeks. Typically, you will be protected as long as you get a shot four times a year (every 11-13 weeks).

If you will be away when your shot is due, it's OK to get the shot a week early or up to a week after when your next shot is due. Some studies say you could wait up to four weeks, but Pfizer, manufacturer of Depo, advises not to push the limit past one week, since women have gotten pregnant by doing so. Pfizer suggests using a back-up method if you miss a shot or if more than 13 weeks have passed since your last injection.

4. Vacations and Sex in the Water

Reprinted with permission from R. Strauss
Some people may tend to get a little "adventurous" while vacationing in romantic places. Having water sex in some exotic places can require planning ahead of time, since contraceptives that contain spermicide are not suitable for intercourse in the sea, pool, hot tub or bathtub.

5. Contraceptive Storage

Certain contraceptives, like condoms, are susceptible to heat, so store condoms in a cool and dry place. They should not be exposed to heat, light, air, or sunlight for long periods of time. This means that a condom should not be stored in a glove compartment or carried in a wallet or back pocket (unless planning on using that day).

Make sure to read the package inserts of your chosen method to determine the temperature that they need to be stored at.

6. Remember to Take the Pill

Photo (c) GSM
Surveys show that about 43 percent of pill users in their 20s say taking the pill puts a damper on their vacation. One in five pill users say that they have missed pills while traveling. And one-quarter of these women report that this has negatively impacted their trip.

Other studies have shown that nearly all women who used the pill while traveling with a partner revealed that contraception was always on their mind. About one in 10 women reported the same issue if using a different method.

Also: Four percent of pill users reported that they were unable to take their pill due to their baggage being lost.

7. Romantic Getaways or New Sexual Encounters

If possible, discuss birth control choices with your partner before you go. Plan to discuss STDs, sexual histories, and contraceptive options in advance, since some methods require doctor's visits and could take some time before they are effective.

If you're with a new partner you just met, always discuss contraception before having sex. If caught in the heat of the moment, you may be pressured into something that you may regret later. Unless you want a baby as a souvenir from this romantic voyage, discuss birth control in advance.

8. Over-the-Counter Contraception and Barrier Birth Control

Photo Courtesy of DELC
Bring enough spermicidal creams, film, foams, jellies, and/or suppositories if this is your birth control method of choice. The same goes for the the sponge, since many spermicidal products may not be available in other countries.

Diaphragm users - this birth control travel tip applies you as well! Make sure you pack enough spermicide to use with your diaphragm while you are away.

9. Hormonal Birth Control and Long Trips

Long-distance travel has been linked to potentially fatal deep vein thromboses (DVT) or pulmonary embolism (PE). Women on hormonal contraception may be at higher risk and may need to take added precautions if travel plans include sitting still for a long time. These risk factors can be easily avoided by making sure you stretch your legs from time to time and by staying hydrated (be sure to drink water - not just coffee or soda).

10. Pack an Extra Supply of Contraception

Courtesy of Dawn Stacey

If you are currently using the pill, Ortho Evra Patch, or NuvaRing, it is a wise idea to bring your next month's supply in case you run out while away or used them incorrectly (and need to start a new course).

In some areas, it may be hard to purchase these prescription methods. Plan ahead and pack that extra supply.

Sources:

How Depo-Provera Works: Dose timing. Pfizer, Inc. 2004.

Cedars Sinai Medical Centre. "Physiotherapists Offer Tips On Preventing Deep Vein Thrombosis." Virtual Blood Center, April 2007.

Mols, M. "43% of women find taking the pill a burden while on vacation." Medical News Today, July 10, 2005.

What Travel Tips Do You Have?

Please share any travel birth control tips that have worked for you in the Contraception Forum. What should travelers be aware of when it comes to contraception and vacations?

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