Packing can be a daunting process, and forgetting something is a typical occurrence with any trip. If you leave your toothbrush at home, you can ask the hotel concierge for a backup or pop over to a local market to pick one up. But what if you jet off to paradise leaving your birth control pills on your nightstand?
Obviously, keeping consistent with your birth control is vital to its effectiveness and preventing unintended pregnancy.
So, we talked to some experts to get their take on what to do if you accidentally vacation without your contraception. Here’s what you should know and your plan of action:
Attempt To Get A Replacement ASAP
“The biggest issue with missing one to two weeks of your birth control is the risk of an unintended pregnancy,” said Dr. Kathleen Borchardt, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Houston Methodist Obstetrics and Gynecology Associates. She noted that if you are on an oral contraceptive for cycle regulation, missing your pills “will be more of an inconvenience with your cycle being off and the chance for bleeding for the next couple weeks.”
In order to avoid any of these issues, the first thing you should do upon noticing that you left your pills at home is to attempt to get a refill.
“If you are in the United States, you could call a local pharmacy like Walgreens or CVS and ask them to transfer your prescription to their store,” explained Dr. Jennifer Schell, a Topline MD obstetrics and gynecology specialist in Miami, Florida.
Borchardt said that most national chain pharmacies have the ability to dispense an emergency refill. However, although they may fill your script, insurance may not cover the cost, “so be prepared to pay the cash price,” she explained.
And if your vacation lands you overseas, some local pharmacies may still comply.
“If you are traveling outside of the U.S., many countries do not require a prescription for birth control, so save a picture of your prescriptions on your phone so that you can seek aid at a pharmacy,” Borchardt said. She suggested researching countries that do not require a prescription for an oral contraceptive, which you can find through this map.
If You Can’t Get A Refill, Use A Backup Method
This may be obvious, but needs stressing: The best way to prevent an unplanned pregnancy while off of your pill is to abstain from sex. However, if that’s off the table (let’s be realistic, here!) then the next course of action is to use some type of backup contraceptive method.
“One week of good vacation sex is not worth the risk without any birth control, unless you’re seeking pregnancy,” said Dr. Heather Bartos, an obstetrician and gynecologist with Be Women’s Health & Wellness, in Cross Roads, Texas, who recommended condoms as a safe backup plan. And, if leaving your pill behind happens often, she suggested considering a less cumbersome method of contraception such as an IUD, subdermal implant or injection.
If you had unprotected sex without realizing you forgot your pills at home, then you could consider extra preventative measures like Plan B, which can be purchased without a prescription. (But FYI, it should only be used for emergency contraception and should not substitute for regular birth control use.)
“Plan B can be taken up to 72 hours from unprotected sex but is most effective if taken within 24 hours,” Borchardt said.
Doubling Up On Pills Is OK (But Only To A Certain Point)
Dr. John Thoppil, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Austin’s River Place OB/GYN, stressed that the pill is 99 percent effective with daily use but “in the real world, 10 percent get pregnant in a year because of missing pills.” He added that even missing one pill “makes a slight difference.“
If you leave your pack behind on your trip, miss one pill and can get access to a replacement the same day, then take it as soon as you can. If it’s the next day, take your pill from the day before as well as the current day’s dose. It’s OK to double up, said Jessica Ritch, a gynecologist with Florida Center for Urogynecology.
“Forgetting one pill increases your risk for pregnancy very slightly but since most women have a sufficient level of hormones in their system from the previous pill, you probably have no need for backup contraception,” she explained.
If you miss your pill two days in a row, when you get access to your replacement pack, you should double up the second day as well. But note that if your vacation is longer than a quick overnight trip and two or more pills are missed, you’ll need extra protection.
“If you do not take your pill for three or more days, you are starting from scratch,” Schell said. At that point, she recommends starting a new pack of pills as soon as you get access to them and then using condoms the first two weeks.
Adjust Your Schedule Slightly To Get Back On Track
Upon returning home from your vacation, experts recommend starting a new pack of birth control pills as soon as you gain access to them. Thoppil noted that your body may take a bit of time to readjust if you’ve been off the pill for a week or more. Therefore, it’s crucial that you make sure you to use a backup method like condoms for the whole month just to be safe, he explained. Thoppil also said you may experience irregular bleeding.
If you don’t mind using condoms for a few more weeks, Bartos said it can be easier on your body to wait a few extra weeks to restart your birth control pills.
“The best thing would be to readjust by starting again with your next period to ensure you don’t get pregnant and suppress ovulation and to avoid dysfunctional uterine bleeding for the next month,” she said.
Keep In Mind Some Vacation Habits Can Reduce Your Pill’s Effectiveness
Forgetting your pill isn’t the only thing that can trip up your pregnancy prevention plans while you’re on vacation. Time zone changes and being out of your routine can throw your pill out of whack, since you should aim to take your pill at the same time every day. So what do you do if you jet off 11 hours into the future? Do your best to stay on track.
“Basically you need to figure out what time it is in your home time zone and take it at that time,” Segura said. “If you live in Washington, D.C., and you travel to Spain, which is six hours ahead, you should take your pill six hours later in the day than you normally would. So if you take your pill at 9 a.m. in D.C., you should take it at 3 p.m. in Spain.”
And if you party too hard on your trip or experience any vacation-related health issues, that may also throw off your pill’s effectiveness.
“If you vomit within two hours of taking your pill, take another pill, as the first pill may not have been absorbed properly by your body. Then use a backup method for seven days,” Segura said. She added that if you’re experiencing diarrhea in particular, and it persists for more than two days, continue to take the pill but use a backup method for the rest of the package.