Why An IUD is the Best Birth Control for Travelers

Do you ever discover something and then seriously kick yourself for not knowing about it earlier? I’ve felt like that about many things: Breaking Bad, stand up paddle boarding and Sri Lankan food for starters. And now I feel this way about my IUD.

IUDs are having a bit of a moment now, thanks to all the BS surrounding health insurance in the US. Many doctors are recommending patients get one now, while birth control is still covered under Obamacare, because they will last you well into the next presidential administration (please god).

Personally, I’m sold. I had one put in post-baby (some might argue babies themselves are great birth control) and it’s been the best birth control experience I’ve had in my adult life. Mainly because I don’t have to do anything.

Why didn’t I have one of these years ago? It’s such an elegant simple birth control solution that would have been so perfect during my years on the road.  Worrying about the reliability of your birth control while traveling is a total pain. I spent years struggling to remember to take my birth control pill, looking for the right brand in foreign countries, calculating the right time of day through so many time zones etc. etc.

Of course, everyone has different bodies with different needs and no form of birth control is perfect for everyone. And it’s best suited for people in long-term relationships, or as a backup method along with a condom, as an IUD isn’t going to do anything to protect you from STDs. But here is why I think you should at least consider getting an IUD before you go long-term traveling:

It’s Travel-Proof

A Girl in Front of Stormy Seas - Why An IUD is the Best Birth Control for Travelers
Forget something?

I’m amazed there aren’t more accidental travel pregnancies (or maybe there are and nobody is owning up?). Remembering to take the pill while traveling can be really, really hard. Travel destroys your usual routine, basically by design, and there is nothing more routine than taking a pill at the same time every day. I can’t count how many times I’ve been halfway up a mountain, mid-flight or far off on a day trip somewhere, only to realize I never took my medication.

With an IUD there is nothing to mess up because there is nothing to remember. It’s completely fool-proof, which makes it the most dependable form of birth control. You just go about your life, secure in the knowledge your ladybits are safe and secure. It’s so freeing.

It Lasts for Years

The View of Fiji from the Sea
Not going to buy any birth control here…

Running out of birth control pills on the road is basically a nightmare. In the United States, you need a prescription for birth control, which requires having a doctor that you see on at least an annual basis. This isn’t always possible if you’re abroad for months or years at a time.

So, you can carry around a year’s supply of birth control pills (assuming your doctor and your insurance will allow that), and hope they don’t get lost of waterlogged. Or, you can dip your toe into the foreign birth control market.

Many other countries do sell birth control pills over the counter, which is nice, but the brand names and formulations are usually different. You have to figure out the equivalent medication in a foreign language, and sometimes there is trial and error involved. You might need to try a new pill completely and deal with all the potential side effects of a new hormonal cocktail. It can feel a little fast and loose when your fertility is on the line.

Depending on what IUD you get, they can last for 3,5, or even 10 years. That’s a long time not to have to worry about prescriptions and pills.

You Might Stop Having a Period

VW Van Parked on the Beach - Why An IUD is the Best Birth Control for Travelers
Having your period while camping is the literal worst.

Even more annoying than taking birth control on the road is having your period. Dealing with sanitary issues coupled with long bus rides, questionable bathrooms, and athletic activities are just a pain in the butt. Plus, finding tampons in a lot of foreign countries is next to impossible. Diva cups can make things easier, but it’s still something you have to think about and plan for.

Depending on what IUD you get, you might get to skip the whole ordeal altogether.  90% of women on hormonal IUDs experience lighter periods and many stop menstruating altogether (Although some people on the copper IUD experience heavier periods so factor that in your decision).

These three things make the IUD a great birth control choice for anyone who is backpacking, traveling or living abroad for long periods of time. It takes the focus off your reproductive system and allows you to live in the moment and enjoy your travels without hassle.

Have you used an IUD while traveling? Why or why not?


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Why an IUD is the Best Birth Control for Travelers

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18 thoughts on “Why An IUD is the Best Birth Control for Travelers”

  1. I had a lot of drama trying to get an IUD at my doctor’s office, but once I did, I’m glad I did. But yes, definite pain. I have to hope that I have better insurance before this one needs to come out!

  2. The points you make in this post are super true! You have to change your alarm to take your pill EVERY TIME the time zone changes. It’s so easy to miss a pill that way. Hm… I may consider it!

  3. Rather than an IUD I actually got Nexplanon which is an upper arm insert. Basically the doctor puts it in and it has many of the same benefits as an IUD (no/little period, no daily pill). The one I got is good for 3 years, and if you decide you want to have a child before then they can take it out.

  4. I’ve got the copper one and it’s ideal! I had been having some skin issues that may have been related to hormones, so I went copper – and it’s great to get off daily pills. Periods are heavier (a lot heavier in the beginning, now just a bit heavier), but the actual insertion was shockingly nearly painless despite my tilted uterus and their extra caution in doing it. I asked if they were almost ready to insert,and it turned out it was already in!

  5. For what it’s worth, I actually chose to have my IUD removed before my travels in Southeast Asia. The reason? Expulsion risk.

    IUDs can expel and it’s not uncommon for them to do so. My big fear was having my IUD expel while I was somewhere like Laos and nobody knowing how to take care of it, and me somehow having to get to Bangkok with plastic stuck halfway out my cervix and not being able to move.

    1. That would be scary!
      I actually did ask about this and they told me most expulsions happen in the first 3 months and usually it just comes all the way out. She said it’s pretty rare for it to get stuck in some weird painful way. But of course there is still risk!

  6. My IUD, which I got in February, has been LIFE CHANGING. I don’t want kids and it’s so reassuring that’s it’s pretty much the best thing out there. I finally bit the bullet after having to wake up at 3am while I was in Europe last year to take my pill. It was ridiculous and I was so done after being on the pill for 15 years.

  7. I got my Mirena IUD in 2013, and I have done a fair bit of travelling with it – including 3 months in Africa. I had intended on doing more long term travel, but life happened and I wound up with a long-term boyfriend, a job, a mortgage and all those fun things. I still travel more and further than most “settled” people, and I thank my lucky stars that I’ve had the Mirena. It’s been really good to me. Insertion was uncomfortable and made me feel a bit dazed/ woozy, and the insertion cramps were awful.
    I popped a naproxen and had a nap for the rest of the afternoon and by the next day was good as gold. The first year I rarely got a period, which was super convenient. However, it did come back for the most part, and I would say I get about 10 out of 12 periods a year. My period is also (for the most part) lighter. The only annoying this is that my gyno ended up cutting the strings a little short, so each year at my “iud checkup” he can never find the strings and makes me go for an internal ultrasound to ensure it’s still in place.

    I was lucky that I was on a great drug plan at the time I had it put in, and the entire $400 was covered. However, even if it wasn’t I believe it’s a great deal. Especially when you consider what you would pay for condoms/ bc pills/ etc. over 5 years. Well worth the investment.

  8. I got an IUD before I moved to Australia, and it was 100% the best decision I made before traveling. It’s super reliable, I never got a period so never had to worry about that (especially when traveling in SE Asia), and it cut down on my healthcare costs dramatically. I’m on my second one now and recommend them to all the ladies in my life!

  9. Ive never thought of remembering to take a pill as such a daunting task! I don’t like the idea of sticking a foreign object up there and keeping it there. But I also take other medication every night so I don’t usually forgot about a birth control pill and also out of all the prescription drugs I take, BC is the easiest to find abroad. Different strokes, for different folks.

  10. Thank you for this post! I’ve been planning on getting one post-baby as well, but even made an appointment and chickened out because I watched too many YouTube videos that were scary. Was the insertion super painful? TMI?

    1. I honestly didn’t find it very painful, especially compared to having a baby! I had mine put in about 4 months post-birth and it was mostly just uncomfortable for a minute or so, then just fine. I took some extra strength ibuprofen 30 minutes beforehand.

    2. If it’s helpful, I haven’t had a baby and have heard it’s terrible if you haven’t had kids. It was certainly uncomfortable, and I took the rest of the day off of work, but it wasn’t as terrible as I had built it up to be in my head. My best advice: stop reading all the horror stories online and talk to your doctor about pain management 🙂

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