Hello ladies. (Sorry chaps, this post is not for you. You're welcome to read it but frankly, there's little of interest to you here, unless you've got a fetish or something).
If you're going travelling for more than a month, you are definitely going to have a period while you're away. Unless you're pregnant or post-menopause, obvs. Normally periods are manageable but if you're far from home, or indeed, decent toilet and washing facilities, you're going to need to do a bit more planning than usual. Here are some tips on how to menstruate on the move, and the different options available to you.
How to manage your period step 1: don't have a period
Yes, this is a viable option. If your periods are a royal pain in the arse and you really don't want to have to manage them while you're on the road, you can skip them. Not by wishful thinking (sadly), but by taking hormones. The most common option is the contraceptive pill, but there are other, similar drugs available. Go to your GP to get the right one prescribed for you.
Pros of not having a period:
- Er.... everything?
Cons of not having a period:
- Taking artificial hormones doesn't suit every body (physically or mentally)
- There might be other reasons (eg religious, cultural) for not taking hormones
- You have to remember to pack your pills - and take them!
- You can't skip every period forever so you'll still have to have one at some point
How to manage your period step 2: pack everything you need
Depending on where you go, you may or may not be able to buy everything you normally need to have a period when you're travelling. You may not be able to find the kind of tampons you like, the sort of towels you're used to, or even the painkillers you normally use for cramps. And hot water bottles don't tend to be widely available in the tropics! Packing a few of those disposable heat pads you can get from the pharmacy can do instead.
The only thing is, you've got to carry it all until you come home (which could be a while if you're on a long trip).
How to manage your period step 3: take disposable everything
The advantage to most towels and tampons is that once you've used them, you just flush them away (or bin them) and never have to think about them again.
Also, once you've ditched them, that's one (or two or ten) fewer things for you to carry!
The downside is that you have to get new ones to replace all your disposables - whether that's taking them with you or trying to mime "sanitary towel" in a pharmacy where neither of you speak the same language.
The other downside is the environmental impact. You may not give a stuff about flushing your sanpro down the toilet here, but in poorer places with less investment in sanitation and the environment, you may be contributing to a big problem. The impact is even greater if you use plastic, for example, in compact tampons or with individual disposal bags.
How to manage your period step 4: take reusable everything
If you love the environment, and hate filling up your backpack with huge packets of tampons and towels, go reusable.
The most common reusable tampon alternative in the UK is a menstrual cup. If you're unaware of these, they're exactly what they sound like - it's a silicon cup you put in to hold everything until it's time to empty it. Then you wash it and use it again. They are tiny so they're a good option if you don't like carrying loads of stuff.
The obvious downside is the washing - if you're somewhere with little clean water you may find disposables a more hygienic option. It's not just the cup itself, you need to wash your hands too and some women prefer to do this in a more private place than a hostel bathroom with shared sinks.
You can also get reusable sanitary towels. Again, you only have to take one set and they tend to be thinner than disposable towels so take up less space. However, very few travellers have access to their own washing machine, and communal or commercial laundry places may not be appropriate (both in terms of your privacy, and not grossing out other people who might be putting your washing on).
How to manage your period step 5: have a back-up washing plan
Whatever you choose to manage your flow, you're going to need to keep everything clean. That can be difficult some places so a packet of soap leaves, some antibacterial wipes or some hand sanitiser can all help to keep you hygienic while you are sorting yourself out.
Using reusables means more washing - of your hands and pads mainly. Practically, this means having a sink in the same room as the toilet for washing your hands or other bits, and it also means you need to be able to wash your own stuff (either in a machine or a sink).
Even without reusables, leaks can happen and if you don't want to share your stained stuff with others, again, you're going to need a sink, plus some travel wash. If you're far from facilities, some packet stain remover wipes can get you through a few more wears of your clothes.
How to manage your period step 6: be culturally sensitive
You may like to be very quiet about your period, or you may be the type of lady who likes to share every detail. This might be fine where you come from, but do remember that in other countries, people can be weird about periods (especially men and older folks). You might find you're not supposed to go in the swimming pool when you have your period (particularly in places where tampons are not culturally acceptable), or you're not supposed to do certain stuff.
A young, modern woman might find this attitude anywhere from odd to downright offensive, but do be aware that these cultural norms are important to some people and offending them will probably not do anyone any good. Also, a lot of old-school period habits come from the very simple and scientific fact that blood can carry diseases, and therefore there's a sound background behind some of the rules, even though it might not be that relevant in a modern world.
You have a right to privacy, on and off your period, and there's nothing archaic about exercising that right.
How to manage your period step 7: be kind to yourself
When you're travelling, or working abroad, or volunteering or whatever, it can be tempting to want to make the most of every moment. And that's a good thing! But not always possible.
For some lucky ladies, their period is a breeze. Others are not so lucky and have to pretty much lie down until the whole thing is over. If that is you, there's no need to feel guilty, even if others are picking up the slack. If you were a man and felt this ill, no-one would expect you to work or go gallivanting, and even though many people underestimate how bad a really bad period can be, there's no shame in stepping out of the action until you feel better.
You probably won't enjoy yourself, or do as good a job, if you're full of cramps and feeling miserable. If you take some time to ride it out, you'll be able to return to whatever it is you're doing with more energy and enthusiasm. Which, after all, is what travelling is about.
If you think you can travel while on a period, why not have a look at all the awesome things you can do here?
Header image credit: Paxson Woelber.