Erica Ho / Map Happy

How To Manage Birth Control on the Road

Guys, if you can’t handle a normal convo about Aunt Flo, it may be time for you to briefly bow out of this conversation. This one is for the girlies.

To be frank, birth control never really entered my mind when I first started traveling. Mostly, well, because I was single and it had been a while. I certainly wasn’t anticipating anything. (Probably the two worst reasons not to think about it in retrospect. However, hot men happen.)

Then one late afternoon, I was sitting at my doctor’s office, getting a refill on my birth control pills when suddenly the thought crossed my mind. Standard birth control protocol requires you to take one pill every day, at the same exact time, without fail. I was going to be in London and Paris for the next few weeks, with a 6-9 hour difference that could seriously put me out of whack. So I asked my doctor what I should do.

The answer, it turns out, is pretty simple. You generally need to take your birth control pill at pretty much the exact time you would normally take your pill in your home time zone. That’s fine and dandy, if we’re talking about a time zone shift of two hours. But there are going to be problems, though, if you’re used to taking your pill at 3 PM, and all of a sudden in China, you are taking your pill at 3 AM. Unless you’re totally jetlagged, what are the chances that you’re going to be awake?

Here’s the thing. Just because time zones are set up the way they are (you can blame the Greenwich Royal Observatory for this one), there is never going to be a singular time that will make it “convenient” in all locations for you to take your pill. Your best bet is to try to best anticipate the places you’d most likely travel to, and then adjust accordingly. The Time Zone Converter is pretty much the most effective tool I’ve found for figuring out times in different locales.

Because I frequently travel between Australasia and North America more often than other places, I have it set up so that my pill is scheduled for a time that falls just right before I go to bed. As a result, the “new” time when I cross hemispheres is typically in the early morning, at hours that I am usually awake for. Unfortunately, it makes it that just much harder when I do travel to other places, like Europe.

In this case, it’s a little difficult when all of a sudden you need to move the time you take your dose by more than a few hours. The only workaround I’ve managed—that keeps me protected for the most optimum amount of time—is to reset your pill-taking time when it’s time for a brand new pack. This, though, does require a little bit of advance planning. The only huge caveat to this method is that it means you won’t be fully protected for the first week, but it’s better than nothing. (Please use backup options if you meet a dark, handsome and foreign stranger!)

Refilling prescriptions abroad, on the other hand, is a trickier but not impossible beast. First off the bat, you should realize your birth control brand may not even be available abroad due to government regulations, so it definitely pays to stock up if you can. If for some reason you can’t, you might have to switch to a more generic brand while you’re on the road. At any rate, it’s worth checking out the local expat community for trustworthy doctors if you run out of your current supply.

For whatever reason, too, in a lot of places like China, Japan and Australia, prescriptions are generally not needed to purchase birth control pills. Basically, you should be able to head to any pharmacy and just buy the birth control pills over the counter. (Ever have a doctor look at you like you’re crazy? Needless to say, the U.S doesn’t exactly have the best and most accessible healthcare system in the world.)

The place where you’re staying at may be able to help you in figuring out medical policies in the country – and if that doesn’t work, usually a quick trip down to the pharmacy will do it. Fortunately, condoms are available everywhere.

As for actually remembering to stave off that baby bump, Google Calendar is probably one of the best systems for having scheduled events transition seamlessly to your new time zone. In conjunction with timed alerts on your smartphone, it’s another thing that’s automatically taken care of. Manual alarms tend to leave too much margin for error to make me feel comfortable.

After all, you don’t really want a souvenir of another kind, do you?

How To Manage Birth Control on the Road via @maphappy
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