Are You Prepared to Get Busy Abroad?
Got travel plans? Be sure to keep your sexual health top of mind before strapping on your backpack. Here's a comprehensive packing list for optimal sexual health while traveling abroad.
Barriers for STD/STI prevention
No matter what kind of sexual contact you're considering with possible foreign companions, using a condom or other protection is important for everyone's sexual health. However, don't rely on readily available barrier methods—as not every country promotes these important elements in sexual health—and bring your own.
When packing for your trip, be sure to bring the barriers you find most reliable: internal or external condoms, dental dams, finger cots, etc. Buying items at home and bringing them with you means you'll have them at the ready if the mood turns romantic. Always check the expiration date before using barrier products as they could become more prone to break with age. Don't use the item if it is expired, feels brittle or sticky, is discolored or has an odd odor.
Birth control or other contraceptives
Always double-check to make sure you have enough birth control to last for the duration of your adventure. Pack your period-related supplies, birth control pills and condoms in your carry-on (as well as any other important medications) so you have them at all times, with much less chance of these critical items being lost or delayed while you travel.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are no fun to treat while abroad, as they often require antibiotics, which would require a visit to a foreign doctor or pharmacy. Other than urinating before and directly after sex, another way to avoid a UTI is to pack cranberry pills and take them daily. Cranberry pills reduce the frequency of UTIs in many people when taken daily, so ask your physician if you would benefit from bringing them along.
Emergency contraception, such as the "morning-after" pill, is another optional item that differs in price and accessibility worldwide. Depending on the travel scenario, the morning-after pill could be sold over the counter or require a prescription. Packing a morning-after pill (or two) is a step toward being "prepared for any scenario" while traveling. To find out about emergency contraception availability in Europe, refer to the European Consortium for Emergency Contraception website, which provides country-by-country information.
Although an optional item, it doesn't hurt to pack a couple of pregnancy tests with instructions in your native language while traveling for optimal reassurance and less stress. Some doctors recommend carrying a pregnancy test because they are not always readily available around the world or maybe more expensive overseas. Again, check expiration dates before using.
Vaginal probiotics to avoid yeast infections
It can be difficult to avoid an irritating yeast infection when you're exposed to new climates, environments and products, making travel a prime time for one to appear. One way to prevent Candida albicans and other fungi from growing uncontrollably is to take a daily probiotic containing the bacteria Lactobacillus to support your natural vaginal flora. Again, consult with your OB-GYN or physician to get advice on how to prevent and deal with a yeast infection while abroad.
If you experience itching, burning and redness around the vulva or a thick, white discharge, you may have a yeast infection. Over-the-counter antifungals may have different names abroad, but you can certainly try asking a local pharmacist for recommendations. Be sure to download a good translation app to help before your travels.
If you are sexually active while traveling, pay close attention to your body. If you think you might be ill, see a doctor, nurse or pharmacist as soon as you can. The medical professionals may want to know your recent sexual history and can advise on where and how to get tested. (Again, a translation app can help with any language barrier.)
Not all medical or health insurance plans from the United States will cover you during international travel, so check with your carrier before you go and consider purchasing appropriate travel insurance. If you do need a physician while abroad, the local U.S. embassy or consulate can help. Travelers can also contact the International Society of Travel Medicine or consult the CDC's travelers' advice on its website.
All of this information may feel overwhelming. However, it'll be worth it knowing you won't have to worry while on your adventure—even when the unexpected happens. The more time you give yourself to plan and consult with your physician, the less stressful this aspect of your trip will be—no matter what romantic scenario comes your way.