Men and folks uncomfortable with womanly body issues: Skip this post. Everyone else, keep reading because at some point you’ll need these tips, especially if you’re traveling in the Developing World. (Former students, don’t even start to freak out about this article because I have heard enough graphic period emergency details from you to last a lifetime — normally on the day you’re scheduled to take a big test!)
If you are a non-menopausal female world traveler, you will inevitably get your period each month in the most awkward, random location and time possible. What are ways to make your cycle-on-the go as easy as possible?
1. Anticipate timing changes. Know that your period will likely come later or earlier than scheduled, because your world-aware body shifts with travel stress, changes in diet, and strange medication (such as the anti-malaria tablets many Developing World travelers take). Mark your calendar clearly with the expected date you will need your female supplies, but also make a small note a week before to begin getting prepared.
2. Always have in your bag a wide assortment of tampon and pad sizes and types. In more conservative countries, tampons are harder to find (some cultures think it makes a woman impure) so stock up. Also consider having both non-applicator tampons (much more portable and small) and applicator tampons (good if your hands are dirty and there’s nowhere to wash them; don’t underestimate the amount of sink-free and soap-free zones you will encounter). Pantyliners are also vital to have for the cycle irregularity explained in number one, and for many other reasons as well.
3. Plastic bags are a major panic-avoider. In many stores, you will get a small plastic bag with even the smallest purchase. Keep and hoard these! In rural and less developed areas, you may find yourself in a toilet (or hole in the ground) with no trash can in sight, and pipes too weak to flush tampons. If you have a plastic bag on hand you can discreetly stash your trash until you come to a public refuse receptacle. Also, always have tissues in your pocket or purse, as few holes in the ground have toilet paper supplies!
4. Remember that developing country toilets often cannot flush toilet paper, and they sure as heck can’t flush tampons! Don’t even try to flush tampons down, as I promise this will cause nothing but messiness and deep embarrassment when the cleaning woman slaps your face.
5. Keep a good stash of Advil around, as cramps will ruin an otherwise lovely day trip. Be aware, however, that Advil is not to be mixed with excessive alcohol! ‘Tis bad for the body.
6. When cramps and period blues strike, sometimes the best cure is to distract yourself. Go on that 8-hour tour, or hop on that elephant. Exercise, drinking plenty of water, and swimming often help, too, as does eating healthy foods. That said, there is also a place for curling into a ball and feeling sorry for yourself for a day or two.
7. Reach out to other women. As embarrassing as it is, remember that every single other woman in the world past puberty has had at least one period in her life and knows how it is. If you are in desperate need of supplies, are feeling raging PMS or cramps, or just need someone to know your body drama, women of the world are there for you.
8. Know that you will have to rapidly hand-wash some clothes, undergarments, and sometimes even linens. You may also have to throw out some. So it goes.
9. Accept that you will have at least twelve embarrassing period stories by the end of your trip, and will probably have embarrassing period stories for the rest of your life, long after you’ve gone home. It’s all good, though — we women have the superpower ability to create life! All our body asks in return is a bit of preparation and care every month.
Solidarity, women of the world! Happy and easy periods to all.
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!
Monday 13th of July 2015
My story is a wee bit more extreme than where to get pads. My advice is to get checked out before you go travelling. It started with 2 months straight of a very heavy period with no let up. When I went to the pharmacist for drugs they were horrified, 'you must stop the bleeding'. I had to wear jeans in 30 to 40 degree Celsius heat in case I bled through. I almost passed out while hiking at altitude, and had to cut back on the hiking. In the end I went to A&E and had 2 ultra sounds, one in Ecuador the second in Colombia. One doctor had to dig out my mirena coil with one gloved hand. He kept saying 'almost have it'. He got it on the 4th time. Then I had more drugs, some to stop the bleeding and then had to inject myself with deprovan as the doctor was a country behind, and my boyfriend has a phobia. All in all it's been interesting, and I'm waiting for the next instalment. I carry pads with me everywhere, they don't do tampons in most Latin American countries. You need your humour with you and find a good doctor.
Thursday 16th of July 2015
Oh my gosh! What a story! I'm glad you ended up ok. You make a good point to have "internal" things set straight before traveling abroad for extended amounts of time.
Kate @ 30Traveler
Wednesday 12th of February 2014
These are great tips Lillie, especially the one about having a mix of applicator and non applicator. I find my biggest issues are not planning to be in a bus or plane during the first couple of days when I get pain and being patient with myself on the days when I get ridiculously freaked out and emotional and it's just hormone related and will pass.
Monday 12th of August 2013
I thought I was the only one hoarding small bags! It really can be awful when traveling. I'm in China waiting for a box of tampons from my mom. The box is late - I have 3 days till I get my period and only 5 small tampons left. What if the box doesn't come?! haha. I guess I'll have to live as the Chinese. GROSS. :-) You are awesome for writing this.
Thursday 5th of May 2016
How do the Chinese live? And why is it gross?
Monday 12th of August 2013
Monday 24th of December 2012
Good tips. I find U by Kotex = great tampon (w/ hidden, compact applicator) as it's smaller than most lipstick containers.
Monday 24th of December 2012
Sunday 18th of December 2011
This is a very special article. But I guess it's normal.