Tips for women travellers
This article is a travel topic.
This article contains some general tips for women travelers. Tips for women at individual destinations (such as, say, appropriate dress when visiting a temple, especially safety issues) are addressed in those articles. This article covers more general issues for women travelers.
Women planning to be sexually active with men during their travels may want to consider taking steps to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. Follow your usual contraceptive measures, but take into account any difficulty you might have obtaining contraception:
- In some countries, contraceptives might not be available easily, particularly to women or unmarried people. Consider taking adequate supplies from home.
- If you use hormonal contraceptives such as a daily pill, you might not be able to obtain your usual prescription at your destination. If you can, it could be expensive. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about getting enough doses to cover your whole trip. Take them with you in the original packaging with a copy of your prescription. Women who need to visit a doctor regularly for a dose, such as women who receive contraceptive hormone injections, might consider switching contraceptive methods for a long trip.
- Oral contraceptives may lose their effectiveness if you become ill and vomit or have diarrhea. Time zone changes may also make it difficult to take each dose 24 hours after the last dose. You need to use a backup contraceptive measure, such as condoms, for 7 days after any interruption in effectiveness, which means either a late or missed pill or illness that might have affected the absorption. Check the information packet that comes with your pills for details of exactly what affects the absorption. Hormonal contraceptives that are delivered at a constant dose, such as by injection, by implant or by vaginal ring, are not affected by illness or time zone changes but are affected if you do not change them or have a doctor change them at the right time.
Just as at home, safer sex methods (condoms for sex with men, and dental dams for sex with other women) should be used if women want to reduce any risk of being infected with, or infecting someone else with, a sexually transmitted disease. The only method capable of 100% protection against all sexually transmitted diseases is abstinence.
Barrier protection such as condoms may not be manufactured to an appropriate quality in all countries, or might not be available for easy sale to women. You should bring a supply from home (watch the use-by dates!)
There are a number of health issues that women who are planning to travel while pregnant should consider, and discuss with their doctor or health provider as needed:
- Risk of pregnancy complications, miscarriage or premature birth varies between pregnancies, and pregnant women might want to consider their own risk when planning travel where they will be away from their own medical practitioners, or away from medical facilities of the kind they are used to.
- Most vaccines are not considered safe for pregnant women (or often even women who are planning a pregnancy) to receive due to a risk to the health of the fetus. You might not be able to travel to destinations which require vaccinations you haven't had before getting pregnant. A waiver for the yellow fever vaccine can sometimes be obtained, depending on the prevalence of yellow fever at your destination.
- Malaria, in addition to its danger to the woman, can also cause miscarriage or premature birth. Not all anti-malarial drugs are safe to take during pregnancy.
- Air travel is considered dangerous for pregnant women who have complications or are more than 35 weeks pregnant. You may need to present a letter to the airline from your doctor stating that you are less than 35 weeks pregnant and that it is safe for you to fly. Inquire with your airline.
- Some travel activities are not safe for pregnant women, particularly hottubbing, saunaing, water skiing and scuba diving. Unaccustomed strenuous activity might also be dangerous, check with your health provider, but in general the guideline is to maintain about the same level of activity that you did before pregnancy.
- Travel at high altitudes is not advised.
Check that pregnancy related illness, childbirth itself and medical care for a baby born while travelling are covered by your travel insurance if you're outside the reach of your normal healthcare arrangements. Pregnancy is usually considered to be a pre-existing medical condition that you must disclose to your insurer, and which will have limited coverage, particularly after the 30th week. Pregnancies that you don't know about at the time of application might not be covered. Read your travel insurance documents carefully.
No policies cover expenses associated with a full term birth. Some may cover a very premature birth but then may not cover the baby's healthcare costs (which would likely be considerable).
Most travel insurance policies do not cover multiple pregnancies (twins, triplets etc) or any pregnancy that is the result of medically assisted conception (fertility drugs, IVF etc) even with an additional premium. If you do get cover for a higher risk pregnancy it will not extend as far into the pregnancy as cover for a naturally conceived or singleton pregnancy; it will probably only extend to 15 or 20 weeks. It is close to impossible to get cover for any pregnancy that has already had complications.
Remember that you can't just "fail to mention" pregnancy (or any other information) to an insurer: failing to disclose relevant information invalidates the policy.
Remember to wear cotton underwear. Synthetics encourage fungal infection. If you do end up with a bout of thrush, eating yoghurt containing the acidophilus bacteria can be helpful (it will be the sour "natural" kind of yoghurt; in many countries, acidophilus cultures are advertised on the label).
Many women travelling for an extended period of time will have their period while travelling. Some extra preparation might be needed to deal with it.
- Pack enough supplies of your usual menstruation product (tampons or pads), particularly if you are going to a less developed country where they might not be available easily.
- If you use any pain killers for cramps, take them along after checking their legality at the destination. If crossing international borders, leave them in their original packaging so that customs can determine what they are. If you find yourself without the necessary medication, or this medication is not helping the pain, possible strategies for reducing cramps include:
- making sure you are not dehydrated, by drinking a lot of water and steering clear of very processed salty foods
For women doing extended travel in areas where obtaining and disposing of normal menstrual products is annoying, consider reusable menstrual products. The primary products in this category are the suction cups: the silicone Diva Cup and the rubber Keeper. These are non-absorbant, reusable and do not even need to be rinsed before re-insertion every time.
Some women travelers (particularly athletes and honeymooners, but others too) might consider using the contraceptive pill to postpone or skip a period. Extended cycle pills such as Seasonale (one period every three months, rather than every 28 days) are approved for use in some countries, however normal monophasic pills can be used to skip periods as well, by skipping the different coloured sugar placebo pills. Discuss this use with your prescribing doctor.
While travelling, the best option may be to wax. Often it is cheaper in developing countries where this is the primary form of removal. When seeking cheap locations, try to inquire about a "Little India" in major cities. This is a part of town where most of the shops, including salons, are owned and shopped at by Indian people, where waxing will inevitably be considerably cheaper.