I realize that figuring out the best birth control for travel isn’t fun. While researching fun activities, the best restaurants, and finding the cheapest flights are far more entertaining, pregnancy never takes a holiday. If you’re a person with a uterus, and you’re playing with penises, chances are you can get pregnant–surprise! And if you don’t want to get pregnant, you have several options. Shocking information, I know.
You may be rolling your eyes, I’ve counseled SO many women who weren’t too concerned with pregnancy during their trips abroad. Then they come back home and proceed to freak out and need a pregnancy test ASAP. That’s right about when I would talk to them. Sure, most of the time a pregnancy won’t happen, but if you want to take the steps ahead of time to not be pregnant at the end of an extremely fun trip, I have a couple of recommendations. Picking out the best birth control for travel doesn’t have to be difficult, but there are a few extras to consider.
Disclaimer: This advice is limited to US-based options.
First, if you have a method you really love, try to make it work into whatever travel situation you’re in, especially if you’re leaving soon. Do your research to make sure it will work throughout your trip, but don’t feel like you have to switch unless you’re ready and willing for a change.
That being said, there are plenty of reasons why a method won’t work, depending on your type of travel. If you’re starting from scratch, or are searching a new method for whatever reason, I recommend the implant or an IUD. There’s a reason why they’re extraordinarily effective—there’s very little you can do to mess it up. The more stuff you have to do for your birth control, the more ways you can make a mistake. Avoid the to-do list, the mistakes, and the pregnancy with one of these little guys–they happily last for years and years.
This is going to change from person to person. There’s no one best method for everyone, which is why we have options. But when traveling, there are a few factors that make one method stand out from the rest.
The Implant is the easiest and most effective birth control method on the market in the United States. I can’t emphasis this enough. It is more effective than sterilization with no more than a matchstick-sized rod inserted into your arm.
No, it won’t hurt too much— just the numbing medication going in and a small bruise afterwards. It’s not visible, doesn’t affect your muscles, and with one of the lowest doses of hormones, it lasts for 3 years. Back when I was explaining this to 14 year olds, I liked to joke that it would work unless you accidentally ripped out that part of your arm. Unless there’s a specific reason it won’t work for you, this really is the “best” option.
It must be inserted and taken out by a medical professional, and it’s a fast procedure that can be done anywhere. The appointment should take 30-60 minutes, but the actual insertion takes less than 5 minutes. Most of the appointment will be educating you, getting consent, prepping you, and waiting for the anesthetic to kick in.
Another Great Option
An IUD is an intrauterine device, which is basically a T-shaped thingamabob that a medical professional puts into your uterus. There are many IUDs available, but they all work really well. They generally fall into two categories—hormonal and non-hormonal. The hormonal IUDs have super low doses, and are more likely to make your period lighter or even go away altogether. The non-hormonal IUD, or copper IUD is great for people who overly sensitive to hormones, or who don’t like the idea of long-term hormones. The only caveat is that they can make your period a bit heavier or crampier, so this is definitely one that you want to test out in advance.
Timing It Out
The one issue with these two methods is that they can take some adjustment. Both the Implant and the hormonal IUD can cause irregular bleeding for up to 6 months. That can mean random, but otherwise normal periods or daily spotting. Or you could be one of the lucky ones and have no period after a few months with less than 10 days of spotting, like me. Everyone is different and there is no way to predict how you’ll react. If you don’t mind traveling while spotting, this is less important. But it annoys many people with a uterus, and all those panty liners can be a pain to lug around/find, so that’s why I specifically mention it.
The reason I don’t recommend an IUD over the Implant is because of the tiny risk of expulsion. (And I mean tiny–less than 2% of IUD users have any complication, let alone expulsions). Most providers will want to see you a month after insertion to make sure it’s in properly. After 6 months, the chances of issues are near nil, so the IUD is a great option because they last anywhere from 3-12 years.
Sometimes, it’s not practical to get this second appointment scheduled or get your insertion done 6 months before you leave for a trip, so just remember that IUDs expel most frequently while you’re pooping and/or during your period. They can technically come out anytime, but that’s the riskiest time. Not everyone will feel an expulsions and it can happen without you knowing. This continues to blow my mind–bodies are so fun and weird!
The timing for the IUD is important to keep in mind because if there’s a problem, it will require a medical professional, which isn’t fun abroad. Finding a doctor in general is one thing, but also they may not be familiar with the device. Methods/products range from country to country as well. Again, don’t get me wrong, there are so few issues with IUDs so please don’t let that detract you. I’ve had an insertion done days before long-term travel, but if you have time to plan it out, that’s the absolute safest.
Whichever option you go with, remember that when you don’t want to be pregnant, being not pregnant is the best feeling in the world, and the best way to start and end a trip of a lifetime.