How to survive your period while travelling - practical tips to manage that time of the month while adventuring.
June 23, 2016
The ultimate guide to travelling on your period. How to find what you need and travel without discomfort or stigma.
It’s inevitable, despite planning sooner or later you are going to get your period on the road. Probably sooner with time zones, breaks in your routine and added travel stress but this shouldn’t be something that puts you off travelling. Generations of women have survived their periods in much more difficult circumstances than you. With a little preparation, your body's natural cycle will not hold you back from epic adventures all across the globe.
Travel can make your period unreliable – Even if your cycle is usually like clockwork, the changes and stresses of travel are likely to throw it off. Some women chose to use birth control to stop their periods altogether. There are other options though, if you are going to be on the road long term or don’t like the idea of interrupting your cycle. I suggest you prepare a period survival kit so you know you will always be ready if your cycle starts unexpectedly.
Getting pads and tampons - You should be able to buy pads in any city in the world and tampons in most western and developed cities. However the brands and styles you prefer i.e. applicator tampons, may not be available. If you know you are picky about your products, you may want to stock up, otherwise lighten your load and buy as you go. Remember nowadays you can buy online and have things shipped to any central post office.
You may also want to consider either a disposable or washable panty liner for long trips. They are great when you think a period might be threatening, or just to keep everything clean and hygienic on a 12-hour bus ride. Worst case scenario be prepared to hand wash your unmentionables in the sink (not all that difficult and it’s only if you really get stuck).
Staying clean and healthy - Hygiene is even more important off the beaten track. If you don’t think you will have use of modern facilities make sure to carry a bottle of clean water, some wipes, and hand sanitizer for before and after. Keeping things clean will reduce your chances of TSS and thrush and also just generally make you feel fresh and less yucky.
Disposing of pads and tampons - Be prepared, toilets may not be what you’re use to and will likely not have the plumbing to flush toilet paper and tampons. If there is no where to dispose of your sanitary items, carry a small plastic bag to slip your rubbish into until you can find a bin. Better than dealing with the embarrassment of an overflowing toilet! There are also biodegradable options that can be burned or buried if you are away from toilets altogether.
Why menstrual cups rock my world – Ok this is a blatant personal endorsement, no I'm not being paid, and I know that the idea of menstrual cups freak some people out. Try and keep an open mind for me for a second. Menstrual cups revolutionized travel for me! I have horrible periods, heavy, painful, bloating, sometimes for up to 12 days! Needless to say, I know a thing or two about compromising around my periods. Menstrual cups changed all that for me.
Imagine being able to sit on a bus or plane in comfort for 8-12 hours without having to worry about leaks even on your heaviest days. Imagine not having to find a loo every few hours, while site seeing for fear of dying from TSS. Imagine not having to lug around pads and tampons and then having to find a way to dispose of them. Of being able to run and swing and hike safely, without a bulky - just in case pad, during your period. This is not even mentioning the impact on the environment and your wallet having something reusable makes.
Ok, so I have to wash the thing, no grosser than removing a tampon really. I know the idea of having something inside you collecting blood seems icky. You might have even tried it once and thought it was uncomfortable, do you remember the first time you used a tampon? I do, it was bloody unpleasant until I learned to do it right too!
All I’m saying is that, when used correctly a menstrual cup should be a comfortable, practical solution that gives you a whole new level of freedom during your period. If you’re interested in learning more there is more info here. I also found these cool collapsible Lily travel versions here (though I haven’t tried one myself yet).
Dealing with pain and side effects – So periods suck enough when you're comfortable at home right! Well, the fact of the matter is you need to look after yourself when you're travelling as well. Unless you have come half way across the world for a one-day event, seriously consider taking it easy for a day. Go for a wander around the local area, or curl up with a book in a scenic spot. Believe it or not, travel isn’t some kind of endurance race. It’s ok to look after yourself, to wear the comfy yoga pants and take it easy for a day or two once in awhile.
If you use painkillers, it may pay to bring a supply from home if you favour a particular brand otherwise, the basics should be available over the counter in any developed city. The other thing that is universally great for cramps is a hot water bottle, as a traveller I recommend Vapur A collapsible flask that you can pour hot water directly into. Not only can it carry your tea but it doubles as a hot water bottle when need be. I have also survived many adventures with a reusable hand warmer tucked under my waistband where no one can see.
There are a few other things I have found helpful in making periods more bearable on the road. Regular exercise and healthy eating help and exercises during my cycle will actually help ease the worst of my cramps after the first few minutes of movement. If I know my period is imminent, I try to drink lots of water and cut my salt and caffeine intake. Vitamin supplements can also help, particularly magnesium, calcium, and B6. (It’s great to have a good multivitamin when you travel anyway to make up for the nutrition you lose eating out). I also find that a cup of peppermint, or green tea can help ease my cramps and bring comfort and relaxation in a foreign place. I usually try to stash a few tea bags in my pack just in case.
Social stigma – For the most part if you have to ask a local woman for help they will be supportive and understanding. We all know what it’s like to have an uncomfortable period (A photo of a box of tampons on your phone will save you some embarrassing charades, if you do have to approach a male clerk at some point).
There are a few places in the world where periods are still taboo, don’t worry you won’t be in trouble, like I said women have periods everywhere. Just in some communities women are still separated during this time. For example in some parts of Japan, Africa, and South America, women are separated from the men and will not be allowed to enter a Mosque or temple during their time of the month. A little bit of research before arrival or approaching the local ladies should give you an idea of the etiquette required.
Well there you have it, the ultimate guide to travelling on your period. It may seem like a lot to manage but as long as you pack your trusty period survival kit, you will quickly find that having a period does not need to affect your adventure. I hope this guide has been helpful. If you have any other tips please let me know in the comments below.