When it comes to women’s health, the internet can be both a helpful tool and a major source of false information. In an effort to combat some of the less-than-accurate sources out there, we teamed up with Allergan to bring you some facts, straight from healthcare providers.
A good vacation should be an opportunity to kick back and escape all thoughts of real life — preferably on a chaise lounge with a tropical drink in one hand and a beach read in the other. But this sunny state of relaxation can be hard to achieve when you’re dealing with a reproductive-health hang-up abroad.
According to Melissa Ferrara, MS, FNP-BC, associate medical director at Maze Women’s Sexual Health, the best way to prevent potential mishaps abroad is to check in with your healthcare provider well before takeoff. Ahead, we asked Ferrara to walk us through her recommended pre-vacation checklist. Prep a couple of weeks before your scheduled departure, and enjoy your time off. May your biggest vacation stressor be choosing the right spot to lay out your beach towel.
Consider getting backup birth control.
Things tend to go missing when travel plans involve jet-setting to multiple locations. If we’re lucky, it’s just a rogue flip-flop that gets left behind at the hostel. If we’re less lucky, it might be our oral-contraceptive pill pack. “Your provider should be able to write you a prescription for an extra pack of pills for a trip that is longer than one month,” Ferrara explains. Getting backup pills is dependent on pharmacy policy and insurance plans, but she recommends checking in with your healthcare provider to explore your options ahead of time.
No luck? Come prepared with responsible alternatives in your suitcase. “Bringing condoms is a great idea for a backup method,” says Ferrara. (As a friendly reminder, because birth control pills do not protect you against sexually transmitted infections, you should always use condoms.)
“If you are using condoms alone as your birth control method, you might want to bring an emergency contraception with you, just in case,” Ferrara adds. It's important to remember that emergency contraception — sometimes referred to as the “morning-after pill” — isn’t always readily available in other countries the way it is in the United States.
Research local healthcare providers.
Before you leave, create an emergency list (both tangible and saved to your phone) of important phone numbers to have on hand. This should include local emergency contacts — “911 is not a universal emergency number,” reminds Ferrara — and trusted healthcare providers in the areas you'll visit.
Overwhelmed by the listings on Google? Ferrara recommends getting an insider’s take. “If you’re staying with family or friends, ask them who their providers are,” she advises. “If you don’t know anyone local, often the hotel concierge can give you information on nearby providers.”
Finally, do a Google search of these doctors' office locations ahead of time to get acquainted. You hopefully won’t have cause to whip out this info, but knowing it is available will definitely promote peace of mind for anxious travelers.
Pack your carry-on like a pro.
Anyone who’s ever sadly lurked around the luggage carousel in hopes of spotting a long-lost suitcase will corroborate this one: The vital stuff needs to stay close at hand. “Any birth control, analgesics, and other medications should go in your carry-on,” says Ferrara.
Check in on vaccinations.
If you’re embarking on an international adventure or planning on taking an extended trip (sigh, lucky you), Ferrara recommends meeting with your healthcare provider to discuss any relevant vaccinations. They can share what is currently recommended — the many dubious sources of the internet can’t always be trusted with up-to-date information — and can answer any questions that might arise.
Make sure you adjust your birth control clock.
The general rule still stands, even if you're on vacation: Always take oral contraceptives at the same time every day. “For implants and IUDs, time zones will not cause any change in effectiveness,” Ferrera says, but for oral contraceptives, that's not the case. "There can be a reduction in efficacy for oral contraceptives if you skip or delay taking your pill, so it's important to follow your doctor's instructions and ask any questions you might have before you leave for vacation."
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