Let’s Talk Contraception: Birth Control and Travel — How to Stay on Schedule

beachIt’s summer and time for a much-needed vacation. But will crossing time zones require you to recalculate when you need to take your daily birth control pill? With a little pre-planning, you can enjoy a trip far away and still keep on schedule with your contraception.

If you use birth control pills, it’s important to take them on a regular schedule, usually one pill every 24 hours. But what do you do if your travel schedule has you in another time zone where your 9 p.m. dose is now due at 3 a.m.? You do have a few options.


Planning ahead can keep you on schedule with birth control and reduce stress while on vacation. Bon voyage!


One idea is to use a time zone calculator to keep taking your pill every 24 hours regardless of the local time. You may need to take it at 3 a.m. while on your trip, but when you return home, you will still be on your regular schedule of 9 p.m. A good way to keep on schedule this way is to have a clock or watch with you set to stay on your time zone at home so you are able to keep track of the correct time to take your pill. An alarm at the right time can be extremely helpful if you do have to take it in the middle of the night.

Some birth control users might find it difficult to follow this schedule or may want to take their pill at a more convenient time for their new time zone. In that case, you can adjust the time you take your next pill by an hour or two earlier each day until you reach the desired time you want to continue taking your pill. For example, if the new time is 3 a.m., you can start the first day at 1 a.m. and the next day at 11 p.m., etc., until you reach your convenient time of 9 p.m. Just remember to shorten the hours in between doses, not lengthen them so you are still protected — adjust your schedule by taking your pills every 22 or 23 hours, not every 25 or 26 hours. Of course, when you return home, you’ll need to readjust your schedule again by taking your pills a little earlier each day until you’ve reached your desired time.

If adjusting your daily pill schedule in this manner sounds a little too annoying for you, you might be able to switch to another form of contraception while on your trip. NuvaRing, an intravaginal ring that you insert for 21 days, then remove one week before inserting a new ring, doesn’t require taking a daily pill. But storage requirements are stricter for NuvaRing, so keep that in mind. Another alternative to daily pills is the birth-control patch, which only needs to be changed once a week. Women who might consider wearing a patch need to check with their health care providers or read the instructions about their particular product, because some patches cannot be exposed to sunlight or may become loosened when swimming or bathing.

If you are using the Depo-Provera shots, which need to be given every 12 weeks, it might be OK to get the shot a week early. But if you miss a shot or go longer than 12 weeks between shots, you’ll need to use a back-up method, like a condom, to protect against pregnancy. Or you may be a candidate for an IUD or an implant, both of which protect against pregnancy for years before you need to change them. All of these choices need to be discussed with your health care provider well in advance of your trip.

Crossing time zones can not only wreak havoc on your sleep schedule, sometimes the stress and exhaustion from traveling can affect your period, which may become irregular or sometimes even stop. Keeping your birth control on schedule can alleviate the worry of pregnancy when your periods may be altered. Also, personal hygiene products may differ in other parts of the world, so packing your preferred brands can be comforting.

Your brand of birth control may not be easily available everywhere. It’s a good idea, if possible, to bring enough contraception to last your entire trip. Some medications, like doxycycline used to prevent malaria when traveling, can cause vomiting or diarrhea. This can affect the absorption of your birth control pills, so it’s good to have extra pills or a back-up method of contraception with you. Emergency contraception, such as Plan B, is good to have for those unexpected emergencies. If you use a diaphragm, include enough spermicide for the entire vacation. Remember to include your medication instruction leaflets to answer questions you may have about your birth control pills or other medications. You should not pack contraception or other medications in your checked luggage in case it’s lost. And, always keep birth control pills, condoms, and other meds in cool, dry places not exposed to excessive heat or humidity.

Don’t forget condoms, as they are the only protection against sexually transmitted diseases!

A little proactive planning can keep you on schedule with your birth control and make for less stress while on vacation wherever you go. Planned Parenthood can help you with your contraceptive travel plans. Bon voyage!


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