What’s the best birth control for long term travel?
I’ve been living abroad, first as an expat and now as a digital nomad, for five years with my husband. We’re not ready to start a family yet, so, unfortunately, borth control is part of my daily life.
Since we’ve been married I’ve tried three of the most popular birth control options – the pill, condoms, and the Nexplanon implant – to find the best one for our lifestyle and have found that, spoiler alert, one is way better than the others.
Now I’m happt to share my experiences to help other backpackers, digital nomads, and world wanderers find the best birth control for long term travel as well.
Let’s dive in!
Option 1: Birth Control Pills
I’ll just preface this section with my unabashed opinion on the matter: I hate birth control pills.
First, they really mess with my drive (and not in a good way) and can cause a variety of other side effects like acne, mood swings, and more.
Plus, you have to take them at the same time every day and remembering to pack them up and bring them along on day trips or trying to decipher when to swallow one after crossing multiple timezones is just a pain all around.
Even worse, pills are the most inconvenient birth control for long term travel because they require a doctor’s prescription. When I’m traveling I usually leave the country for six to ten months at a time, and it’s difficult to get prescriptions filled even three months in advance, let alone up to a year.
So why I don’t get a prescription from a doctor abroad or travel to countries where birth control is over the counter? Both those ‘solutions’ come with their own set of problems.
First, it requires time and effort to even find English speaking doctors, let alone figure out how to call them and make an appointment, and then it still requires the expense of the visit along with the pills themselves.
And I haven’t even gotten to the biggest obstacle yet – getting a hold of the exact birth control brand I use.
Women’s bodies are so sensitive to these hormones that even a minor change like switching from brand name to generic or vice versa – even when the pharm techs swear they’re the same – can cause us to react totally differently to the pill. I did time and time again with my preferred brand and the generic version of it, so switching brands (especially if they have a different chemical makeup) is not something to take lightly.
And I tried, I really tried with the pill.
I was so reluctant to swich birth control methods that I even asked my sister to pick up my prescription and mail it to me when I lived in the United Arab Emirate as an expat. Postage was expensive, and then customs opened the package on arrival and, inexplicably, took half!
That was the last straw for me, and I stopped taking birth control pills because I couldn’t get the brand I wanted abroad and couldn’t get a long enough supply for my travels when I was home.
Option 2: Condoms
Next, I tried the condoms-only method of birth control which we all know just kinda… sucks.
This is fine in a pinch, but not my preferred method of birth control for long term travel because I began getting pain and infections from switching brands so often and from using brands with questionable quality when they were the only kind we could find.
Low-quality condoms also often made everything a bit less comfortable and less enjoyable as well.
We started bringing along a few boxes of our favorite condom brand from the US when we went abroad, but this article is about long term travel and we always eventually ran out and had to begin experimenting again with whatever condoms were available in the new country to find one that – at least – worked ok.
If your choices for birth control for long term travel are the pill or condoms, I would recommend the condoms just because both choices aren’t ideal, but at least with the latter, you’re not messing with your hormones, drive, and overall mood as well.
Option 3: Nexplanon Implant
Finally, during a trip home, I decided to visit my gynecologist and try the Nexplanon implant.
I was nervous because I had so much trouble finding a birth control pill that didn’t kill my drive or mess with my emotions. I didn’t want to get the implant and be stuck living with adverse side effects while I was out of the country for six months, but I took the risk.
The implant is a small rod – about the size of a match stick – that they inserted under my skin in my arm. It releases hormones in a steady stream which does some sciency thing to keep me from getting pregnant.
Women’s biggest complaint about the implant, my doctor told me, was that it can cause bleeding outside of your regular period, but she gave me some pills that I can take to put a stop to that if it happens. It also may or may not stop your period while you’re on it – another of my friends has reported that it did for her, but I’ve yet to be so fortunate.
So far, the only side effect I’ve has is the light bleeding that my doctor warned me about and I have to say, I love the implant.
The best part about it is that the implant lasts for up to three years and is the safest method of birth control (behind abstinence, of course) when it comes to preventing pregnancy. According to this chart by the American Sexual Health Association, the implant is 99 percent effective, the pill is 92 to 97 percent effective, and condoms are 84 percent effective in preventing pregnancy.
With this implant, I no longer have to make long calls to my insurance to get advance prescriptions, ask friends or family to mail me pills, search for condoms in unfamiliar cities, or worry about my access to birth control abroad anymore.
The Best Birth Control for Long Term Travel Is…
The Nexplanon implant.
I’m well aware that every woman’s body is different and one of the options on this list may work better for you than it did for me.
But, I just wanted to share my personal experience and some of the reasons why, after trying the pill, condoms, and the implant, I’ve found that Nexplanon is definitely the best birth control for long term travel because it lasts for up to three years, is the safest method, and, for me, has the least amount of side effects as well.
Of course, I’m not a doctor, but if you’re looking for a new birth control method, I recommend talking to your gyno next time you’re home and considering the Nexplanon implant before you hit the road!
Looking for more tips and advice about the digital nomad lifestyle? Check out the Long Term Travel Series to discover how to convince your boss to let you work remotely (in 7 steps), 6 ways traveling full time changed our relationship, how digital nomads make friends while traveling and much more!