If you’re planning on spending some time out of the country, what do you need to know to take good care of your sexual and reproductive health while you’re away? Let’s say you find yourself in need of the morning after pill, or an abortion, or you lose your birth control pills (it happens). What should you know before you leave?
Before you go, find out if it’s possible to stock up on your medicine. L, a travel writer who uses the Nuva Ring, is able to get up to three at a time, and brings them with her to avoid having to visiting pharmacies. Using Nuvaring, she’d also sometimes delay her period until her trip was over.
Leslie Heyer, Founder of Cycle Technologies, a women’s reproductive health company, recommends bringing things with you even if you’re not sure you’re going to need them (like Plan B). “Don’t take any chances,” she says. “If you think there’s a possibility that you’ll need something, however small, take it with you.”
Alana Kolundzija, an international development professional who has traveled and lived abroad extensively, suggests researching what’s available ahead of time, since even items like tampons might be difficult to obtain and/or really expensive, depending on where you’re going, and recommends bringing as much as you can with you, and even more, just in case.
It’s not always going to be difficult to get what you need – when Kolundzjia’s friend came to visit her in Brazil, she was able to stock up on a year’s worth of birth control because it was available over the counter for very little money. But when Kolundzjia lost her own birth control pills on a trip to Paris, she had a great deal of trouble refilling her prescription: “Luckily, I was able to reach out to a friend who was from Paris and we went to the pharmacy together. The pharmacist was hesitant at first because he did not have the brand I was asking for, but my friend was able to explain the type of birth control I was looking for and he agreed to sell me a similar alternative to what I was looking for. Even though I knew birth control was available over the counter in Paris, I was not able to get it because of my poor French language skills and not knowing the correct protocol for accessing it. Whenever possible try to find a trusted local who will be familiar with the local scenario and can help you navigate the system. ”
The language barrier can be a real issue when it comes to accessing reproductive health care abroad. Don’t assume everyone speaks English, even if you’re staying in a touristy area. Leslie Heyer recommends downloading a translation app before you leave, so you’ll have that information at the ready. Additionally, says Heyer, you should have the address of the US Embassy on you at all times in case you need to find a hospital.
If you don’t head out on your journey with the morning after pill, and you do end up needing it, it’s possible that you will be able to find it in the country where you’re traveling. (Again, researching this ahead of time is essential.) Should you not be able to find it, though, don’t panic. “There are several ways to take multiple birth control pills from a monthly pack to get the proper dosage for a morning after pill,” says Dr. Richard Honaker, Chief Medical Officer at Your Doctors Online. “If you are going to travel, ask your OB GYN or primary care physician how many birth control pills to take and when in order to simulate the morning after pill.”
Let’s say you’re traveling long term in a country where abortion is not legal, and you get pregnant. If you aren’t able to get back to the States, or to a country where abortion is legal, there are resources to help you. Women on Waves (WoW) is a service that allows people to access medical abortion ( the abortion pill), and other reproductive health care, in situations where abortion is illegal. WoW operates via ships with medical clinics on board. You make an appointment, get on board, and the ship sails out into international waters, where the abortions are performed. WoW has also successfully operated abortion drones to drop the pills in Ireland.