IUDs are awesome for long-term travellers

Awhile ago I wrote a blog post about my challenges finding suitable birth control for long-term travel. I had been on the pill for 10+ years (!!!) before I went to Germany, but I couldn’t load up on my prescription a year in advance.

Plus, at the time, I only had personal health insurance rather than group insurance, and most birth controls aren’t covered under a PHI. Yes, I agree that’s some bullshit.

When I started working for the film fest, I went back to a group insurance plan. Hallelujah, what a luxury! All of da birth control! And then I found out that my insurance would also cover the IUD. The total cost of the IUD without insurance was nearly $500 – but with insurance, it brought the whole thing down to just $80.

For reals.

The IUD appealed to me as a long-term traveller because:

  • I didn’t have to think about it once inserted
  • It was the most cost effective option spread over five years (different IUDs have different lifespans)
  • I wouldn’t have to worry about periods anymore
  • Its effectiveness rate is extremely high — for most gynaecologists, this is personally their birth control of choice

There are a few different options for IUDs, including a copper IUD that doesn’t release hormones, and a Mirena IUD that does release hormones. I went with the Mirena, because HELLO NO PERIODS. The dreams of long-term travellers.

I’m not going to sugar coat the experience, though. The insertion process lasted a very short time, but it was so unbelievably painful. I started sweating on the bed, and shaking like crazy, until the nurse brought me orange juice and told me to stay there awhile so I wouldn’t pass out.

This was the day after my birthday. Like, welcome to 31, Candice.

And oh my god, the cramping. I was given some pretty strong painkillers, but it took me awhile to leave the clinic because I was in excruciating pain. After an hour or two, once I was home with a heating pad on my belly, things started getting better. For weeks after that I’d get cramps occasionally as well, which apparently isn’t typical for most people. I have that ginger curse.

But now? I love my IUD. I’d marry it if I could. This is a relationship for life, you guys. I ain’t ever turning back, and I’ll happily go through that ordeal all over again, and again. It’s well worth it.

I do have some friends for whom the experience didn’t go so well – like complications with removing the IUD. These stories always seem particularly horrific because nobody wants a plastic antenna-like object floating around their uterus, but such stories always have a way of overshadowing all the positive outcomes.

Basically, I’m not a doctor and I know nothing about your body. But I could rave about this all day.

I appreciate that women can mostly count on an IUD. (Although, of course, it doesn’t prevent against sexually transmitted diseases.) I love that you can forget about it for a few years once it’s inserted. I love that you don’t have to carry along all those feminine hygiene products when you’re travelling, and you don’t have to worry about surprise periods. I could have used this on the Camino, when some towns didn’t even have shops — never mind a place to purchase pads or tampons.

(I should also note that your period stopping altogether isn’t entirely promised. They could just end up being months apart. Still awesome.)

I was lucky to have group insurance, though. That $500 price tag isn’t great. But neither is unwanted babies, or sucky periods. Even though I’m freelance again and back to a PHI, I’ll probably still spring for the IUD in five years time.

I’d love to hear your experience on birth control abroad — especially since the topic never seems to get covered. 

  • February 05 2018

    You’re brave! I’ve heard too many IUD pain-that-never-ends-until-you-get-it-removed horror stories. I’d be hella scared to try one.

    I’ve actually found that finding birth control abroad is really easy once you have a pill that you feel comfortable on (now that part took me years, but I did eventually find one that leaves me feeling normal). When I’m down to only about a month’s worth of BC left, I go to a local pharmacy (and bring my BC packet with me). I ask if I need to see a doctor for a prescription (some places yes, some places no) and what the equivalent BC is in that country (basically, you just need the same mix of ingredients in the same amounts – the names change across borders, but I’ve always been able to find an equivalent). When I get some from the pharmacist or doctor (again, depends where you are: it’s over the counter in places like Mexico and Colombia but requires prescription in places like Germany or Canada), I always ask for a six month supply. Pretty much everywhere but the US, doctors are fine with that. So I end up picking it up twice a year.
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    • February 05 2018
      Candice

      I think those stories just get shared more than positive ones!

      My friend did the same thing in Greece! But after being on the pill for so long, I wanted to give my body a break anyway. And it was like I became a whole different person — I think I was just so USED to being on the pill, I didn’t even realize how much the hormones were affecting me. I was on a high dosage to deal with menstrual cramps. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the pill again.

      • February 05 2018

        I was on the pill for 15 years. (Minus maybe a month or two off here and there). I stopped it a couple months ago mostly because I just didn’t see the point anymore if I wasn’t in a relationship. After I stopped it, it was so weird. I felt generally lighter/happier. I then found some articles that linked the pill to depression. I’m not saying I won’t ever go back on it but yeah it’s been nice.
        Also the IUD can go the other way with periods. My friend got one and had a period for months. Yikes!

        • February 20 2018

          I’m an ICU nurse and travel blogger. I stopped taking the pill in college when a fellow classmate died of a pulmonary embolism. She was 19 and on the pill. As an expat, you’re more at risk to develop DVTs with the amount of time you spend on planes. Not to mention the weight loss and mood swings from the pill. My periods never got heavier or crampier off the pill (the whole reason I went on it) it was so strange. I’ll probably never go back on the pill!

  • February 05 2018
    Ashley Buckle

    I LOVE my IUD. I had a pretty hard time going through the process of getting it in (silly cervix was being hard to get along with) and ended up requiring day surgery….But it has made my life on the road so much easier!

    I also went through a few months with cramps and wonky periods, but after 3 months, notta! (minus some breast pain when I should be on my period). I wouldn’t change any of it though. I was so irregular before that I just couldn’t cope, but now, NOTTA! YAY!

  • February 05 2018

    I’M SO TEAM IUD. My women’s health teacher in college mentioned that she thought it was the best (least work, most effective) birth control option for women. I got my first one before moving to Australia after the hassle of figuring out pills and periods while living in France, and I’m so glad I did. I got a second one a few years ago, and it’s made life so easy in terms of travel and also just in terms of keeping my hormones pretty leveled out (I used to get terrible hormonal breakouts, which is why I went on the pill in the first place). I’m also super lucky that I’m in the group of women where insertion felt like a bad cramp for a few minutes, but other than that, zero complications.

    • February 05 2018
      Candice

      Yessss! I was so bad at taking the pill on time, and daily! Haha. I was hoping I wouldn’t have a pain either since I’ve had like 32093023290 colposcopies but this was next level, lol.

  • February 05 2018
    Leah

    I loved my IUD for the whole five years I had it. However, when I went to get it removed I found out it had perforated my uterus and that it now needs to be removed in a hospital. It’s taken me three months to get a referral (because the NHS is falling apart) and now I won’t be able to get it taken out until I come back from my next trip because I can’t get an appointment before I leave. It’s a shame, because I really was so Team IUD before – but I wouldn’t get another one now.

    • February 05 2018
      Candice

      3 months?!! Good god. Shouldn’t it be more urgent than that? Yeah I’d probably change my tune too if I had a bad experience.

  • February 05 2018

    I moved to Ireland 18 months ago, and before I moved I just got a year supply of the birth control pills I’ve been on. And it’s fine, but I kind of wish I had looked into an IUD. No periods (or less periods even) would be amazing. On the upside I got a 6 month refill on my pills here and it was only €20 for the whole six months. It was a lot less than I was expecting to pay.

    • February 05 2018
      Candice

      Oh wow that’s super good! I think it was only like $12 a pack for me here, although it’s been awhile now. I was also never very good at taking them on time, so there’s that.

  • February 05 2018

    Ahh thanks for this post! Lately I’ve been tossing up whether or not to go off the pill after 11 years of being on it. My doctor said “Most women your age get a break when they stop to have children so they’re usually not on it for that long. Probably wouldn’t hurt you to have a break.” …Thanks for the super clear medical advice??
    In general the pill has been great, but I don’t love the fact that I’ve been hormone-controlled for so long. What if I’m a different person off the pill and it’s amazing? Or what if my early-20s acne and monster cramps come back? When is this mythical male birth control coming? Ugh. Going to look into the IUD for sure.
    Lauren recently posted…Red Bluff, WA: How’s the Serenity?

    • February 05 2018
      Candice

      Lol! I started taking the pill in my teens because my menstrual cramps were SOOOOO painful, so I was terrified of the same thing! But amazingly the cramps never returned for me. No idea why. Occasionally I’d feel shitty, but not like…lying on the bathroom floor wish I was dead shitty.

      I feel like I totally mellowed out when I went off the pill. Like, no wonder I was such a bratty teenager. Hahaha.

  • February 05 2018

    IUD seconded! Mirena has been good so far, hardly any period in the last three years. Definitely painful to have put in (and a pain dealing with the doctor’s office) but otherwise no regrets.
    Caroline Eubanks recently posted…Travel Writing Round Up [February 2018]

  • February 12 2018

    I just had my copper IUD taken out after ten years. I still had periods with that (and they were heavier and more painful) but I loved it no hormones was a big one for me. Getting it out was easy but they weren’t able to get a new one in – my cervix would not relent – so now I’m on the pill, at leasthe until I decide whether I want to try again with another doctor trying to insert the IUD. I’m on a pill which apparently doesn’t have high levels of hormones and so far so good so might just stick with that. It was over 10 years ago but by God, do I remember the pain and cramping when I got my IUD in, no sure I’m up for that again

  • February 12 2018

    Okay, this is super interesting! Every time I read about IUDs, I’m like, ‘ya know, it does sound like a good idea.’ I’ve used Nuvarings for the past 7ish years. I fill the prescription 3 months at a time which covers most trips, and then a couple times I was away longer or forgot a ring I just popped into a pharmacy and was able to finagle one (thank you, Canadian healthcare). Right now I have almost no period pain at all, so I’m also nervous that if I switched I might start getting cramps and then I’d be like, ‘Dammit, Mel! You screwed yourself!’ Haha, pretty ballsy getting it done on your birthday. Way to go!

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