Preparing to Go – Contraception

Not that I’m specifically planning to get up to much while I’m away, it’s always good to be prepared for any situation you might get into abroad.

As I have a particular fear of getting pregnant accidentally (I once genuinely took a pregnancy test as a virgin, don’t ask…), the thought of only relying on condoms doesn’t stick with me, although as they are the main protectors against STIs, it is obviously important that these are still used. I’ve heard the quality in other countries and particularly in Central and South America isn’t the same as in the UK, so I’ve been advised that taking a few with me is the best course of action.

Now, I also looked into several other contraception methods which I could use whilst travelling. I’ve listed them below with some pros and cons.

IUD or IUS (otherwise known as ‘The Coil’)

There are two different types of the coil available; one which releases hormones (IUS) and one which releases copper ions which stops the egg implanting (IUD). This can be inserted free at a clinic in the UK, although I have heard that the process of insertion isn’t a particularly comfortable one…

Pros for travelling: the coil is good in the fact that once it has been put in, it can essentially be left to do its job for 5-10 years. This beats having to remember to take a pill everyday, and another bonus is that the non-hormone releasing coil doesn’t screw with your hormones, something which I find very appealing as hormones affect my mood quite badly.

Cons for travelling: the main problem I had was the thought that if something went wrong whilst I was out there, I wouldn’t have easily accessible healthcare to be able to sort this out. This wouldn’t be a problem if I had had the coil put in a while before I travel – most of the pain, discomfort, falling out of coils and infections occur within the first month of it being put in. The problem is that the only available appointment was about 11 days before I set off, so I didn’t want to risk having the procedure done so close to my departure date. If it weren’t for that, I probably would have got this, even after reading all those online articles about how painful it is to have one inserted.

The pill

The combined pill is the most common (one which releases progesterone and oestrogen), though a doctor may prescribe progesterone if this is more suitable for you.

Pros for travelling: This is not an intravenous device, meaning if something wasn’t going right then I could simply stop taking the medication. It also gives me control of my menstruation which is invaluable when travelling.

Cons for travelling: The main thing I hate about the pill is that you have to take it every day at roughly the same time for it to be effective. Although I guess this isn’t really too much hassle, but it’s something else you have to remember. Furthermore, being on the pill in the past has really screwed with my moods. I get depressed often when my body is feeling hormonal and this is a feeling I would rather not have travelling.

The injection

My uni friend used to have an injection of hormones every three months from the doctors and recommended this as a form of contraception. Of course, because I’m planning on staying away for longer than three months this wouldn’t be suitable, but it is another option for shorter term trips. The usual con of having your hormones messed with is there.

The implant

This is having a small tube-like container inserted into your upper arm which releases hormones into your blood stream every month or so for a year.

For some reason, the thought of having this inserted scared me far more than the contemplation of having a T-shaped coil shoved into my nether-regions, but as I’ve previously mentioned, I’m not that great with needles.

Pros for travelling: this is once again something you can have put in a forget about. It also lasts about a year, which is a good duration.

Cons for travelling: what also put me off this one (apart from having a large needle shoved into your arm) is that it is once again an intravenous device, meaning that if there are any complications abroad then I would have difficulty sorting it out. This one also didn’t have the advantage of the IUD in that it still messes with your hormones, so I didn’t really like the thought of it. A few of my friends do rate this form of contraception though, so it is up to your personal preference.

Emergency contraception is apparently quite hard to get hold of in a lot of countries in Central and South America and Asia, so there’s no back-up plan, which is why I don’t really want to entirely rely on breakable condoms.

For me, I settled on the combined pill for the main reason that if I was experiencing complications with it, I had it in my power to stop taking it. Many sex clinics in the UK hand out this type of contraception free, and the lovely nurses there also offer free condoms if you visit! I’m always one for a freebie.


Preparing to Go – Travel Inoculations

So nobody likes injections. Or rather I know that I really really don’t since I fainted straight after the first lot of travel inoculations. Though to be fair, I am prone to fainting and have fainted for stupid reasons such as swallowing food that was too hot and standing up too quickly, so I think my body’s just a bit useless in the blood pressure department.

Regardless of this, inoculations are a wonderful invention and I felt very privileged being able to protect myself from some very nasty diseases. Contact your doctor or clinic nurse at least six weeks before you plan to travel as some of the vaccines are required to be taken in courses spanning a month.

This is some advice I got from my very lovely nurse at my GP clinic:

Travel Vaccines FREE on the NHS:

– Diphtheria/Tetanus/Polio x1 injection

(not really a travel injection – many get this done as a teenager, specifically after HPV if you are a girl and had that done at school. I couldn’t recall being offered it, and it wasn’t on my medical records, so the nurse decided to jab me again just in case!)

Hepatitis A + B Combined (or Twinrix)

x3 injections

Now this is a combined vaccine taken over a month. The first two injections need to be taken within a week of on another. The last injection needs a space of two weeks from the one previous. The nurse also advised that having another injection in a years time will give lifelong protection. Getting this done in a private travel clinic costs £70 per injection

Typhoid x1 injection

A straight forward travel vaccine to protect you from this nasty bacterial infection.

Travel Vaccines PAID for:

Rabies x3 injections done over a month

£50 per injection at my clinic meaning £150 overall.

Now I’m sure you’ve all heard of Rabies – a nasty viral infection which induces a fear of water. My nurse explained to me that this vaccination wouldn’t stop a person from contracting rabies, but it would make it a lot easier to treat. However, as Rabies is contracted from animal bites from:

  • dogs
  • bats
  • raccoons
  • foxes
  • jackals
  • cats
  • mongooses

And I have absolutely no plans to come into contact with any of these, not to mention I am extremely broke apart from my travel funds, I have opted not to have this injection. I’m choosing to lean on my travel insurance quite heavily, as you can tell…

 – Yellow Fever x1 injection
£65 for the injection at my clinic
In travelling to Central and South America, this is a must. I’ve been told that when moving from country to country, many border controls will ask to see certification showing evidence of your vaccine.
It is also possible to be vaccinated for Cholera and Japanese Encephalitis though the latter is quite rare in travellers.
Protection against Malaria:
Although there is very low risk of Malaria in my first port of call of Costa Rica, I have been advised to take tablets with me for my travels to South America. The disease is particularly prevalent in low areas near water and the nurse also suggested other precautions such as using a net and insect repellent. As I am quite prone to getting mosquito bites (I think I once read somewhere that blonde people are far more likely to be bitten by mosquitoes…) the thoughts of catching this illness cause me quite a lot of anxiety.
Fortunately, there are anti-malarial tablets you can take, namely doxycline (which I understand you can get on prescription in the UK), Mefloquine and Atovaquone.
These require you to be stringent with your course and you do sometimes have to continue taking the drug up to four weeks after leaving a malarial zone.
One very good website for finding out whether you are travelling to the malarial zone is below:
Going to the ‘Destinations’ section, there’s all sorts of relevant information about the injections you need and the ‘Malaria Map’ tab shows the relative risk of Malaria in different countries.
Anyway, if your arm doesn’t hurt too much after all that prodding, I would give you a high five. You’re all protected against some very nasty diseases and ready to enjoy some backpacking!