Taking a semester to study abroad can be an incredible, life-changing experience—maybe even the most memorable one throughout college. You get the opportunity to fully immerse yourself in another country, learning a new language, meeting the locals, getting exposure to other cultural norms. Best of all, you can take advantage of your time away from home to travel around on the weekends.
But for all the thrills of studying abroad, planning for your big adventure can be a little overwhelming. Figuring out health insurance, a cell phone plan, necessary vaccinations (if you need them), and getting all the right documentation require extra time and planning. On top of that, if you’re taking birth control, you’ll have to plan ahead to make sure that you don’t run out of your prescription while you’re abroad.
We put together some travel tips to make it easier to stick to your birth control schedule
Because traveling has its challenges (and let’s face it, you might forget to take a pill after a day of sightseeing), we put together some travel tips to make it easier to stick to your birth control schedule.
You got distracted people-watching at a local cafe and forgot to take your pill. What now?
For combination pills (with estrogen): if you miss 1 pill, then take it as soon as possible (no backup method needed). It’s okay to take up to 2 pills in one day. If you miss 2 or more days, then take 1 pill as soon as you remember, and use a backup method like a condom until you remember to take your pills for 7 days in a row. If you have unprotected sex within 5 days of missing your pill, then we’d recommend taking emergency contraception.
For progestin-only pills (POPs): a dose taken more than 3 hours after the previous day’s dose is considered a missed dose. If you miss a pill, then take it as soon as possible, and use a backup method like a condom if you have sex within the next 2 days. Or, if you have unprotected sex within those 2 days, we’d recommend taking emergency contraception.
Keep in mind that the emergency pill is most effective if taken within 72 hours
Just in case, pack an emergency pill or condoms to have on hand in case you miss your doses. Depending on where you’re traveling, it’ll be easier to bring an emergency pill or condoms, rather than finding a local pharmacy and trying to explain the circumstances in a language that you may not know as well. Keep in mind that the emergency pill is most effective if taken within 72 hours, but can be taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex, and it’s more effective at preventing a pregnancy the sooner it’s taken after sex.
What about time zones?
If you’re crossing time zones, you’ll need to continue taking your pill every day at that same original time zone. For combination pills (containing estrogen): if you want to switch to your destination’s time zone, choose a new convenient pill time, and take it at that new time without going more than 24 hours without a dose. *
For example, let’s say you’re studying abroad in Tokyo from California. If you usually take your pill at 9:00pm in California (2:00pm in Tokyo), and you want to stick with an evening 9:00pm time, then take your pill at 9:00pm in California, and the next dose at 9:00pm in Tokyo time (about 20 hours later).
*Please note: this is only for combination pills containing estrogen. Ask a pharmacist or your doctor for time change directions for progestin-only pills that have a stricter time regimen.
What happens if I get sick when I’m on the pill?
If the local fare doesn’t agree with your stomach and you vomit within 3 hours of taking a birth control pill, take another pill as soon as you remember.
For combination pills (with estrogen): if you can’t keep that one down, use a backup method like a condom until you’ve been able to consistently take your pills for 7 days in a row.
For progestin-only pills (POPs): use a backup method like a condom if you’ve vomited and have sex during the next 2 days.
Add condoms to your packing list since the pill, patch, and vaginal ring don’t prevent STIs
Lastly, don’t forget to add condoms to your packing list since the pill, patch, and vaginal ring don’t prevent STIs (sexually transmitted infections). Only male and female condoms can prevent STIs, including HIV. This is especially true if you’ve recently met your partner and haven’t had the talk about being tested—wrap up for safe travels!