Uh-oh! The flights are booked and your bags are packed when suddenly, you realize you’ve made a major miscalculation. You’re about to head off for a week of beachside bliss or backpacking, but it’s that time of the month! You weren’t prepared for this, and now you’re not really going to be able to fully relax and enjoy the trip.
You wish it didn’t have to be this way, but it’s way too late: you’re in for a world of hassle. You chuck a box of tampons in your luggage and hope for the best, knowing your trip just won’t be the same. Here are some ways to manage it, and what to do next time to make your period a less unwelcome traveling companion.
1) Use Birth Control
Hormonal contraceptive methods, like birth control pills, can make your periods lighter, more regular, and less painful. Pills are even designed so you know when your period is coming: the placebo pills you take that week are a different color. You can even plan to skip your period while traveling by skipping the placebo pills and taking the active ones instead.
Other forms of hormonal birth control can also make your periods more manageable in other ways. Some people with IUDs stop getting their periods entirely or experience a lighter flow. The birth control shot can also make periods lighter, or stop completely for some users. The birth control ring and patch may be used to skip periods, but they can also cause more irregularity.
2) Bring Menstrual Discs and Cups
Menstrual cups and reusable discs can be a good option for people who want to save space in their luggage. They’re environmentally friendly and easy-ish to clean on the road, so you don’t need to worry about bringing enough supplies. You simply pour out the contents and wipe or rinse them out, and boil for a few minutes after each cycle to kill bacteria.
Most menstrual cups and some brands of discs can be safely used for up to ten years with proper care. Some discs, though, are made to use for just one day before disposing. Some people don’t like to clean their menstrual cups in public bathrooms or while, say, squatting in the woods. You might not need to worry about this, though, since cups and discs can stay in for up to 12 hours.
3) Wear Period Underwear
Period underwear used to be a good option mainly for light days and catching tampon and menstrual cup leakage. However, some newer brands may be able to hold up to two to five tampons’ worth of menstrual blood. Like cups and discs, period underwear are a more environmentally friendly option, though they naturally take up more space in your bags.
One thing some people don’t realize about period underwear is how accessibility-friendly they can be. With period underwear, you don’t need to worry about the mechanics of changing a pad or inserting something in the body. This can make it easier for trans and non-binary folks to manage gender dysphoria. Period underwear can also be more convenient for people with disabilities or their caretakers.
4) Consider Menstrual Sponges (With Reservations)
Menstrual sponges have gotten a bad rap for carrying a higher risk of bacterial infection and toxic shock syndrome. Natural sea sponges, in particular, have been found to contain particles of sand, yeast, mold, and even Staphylococcus aureus. Some brands do, however, make synthetic versions (sometimes called soft tampons) that may be safer.
The risks are significant, and should be considered carefully before deciding to use any form of menstrual sponge. That said, sponges are widely used by people in industries like sex work and pornography. They can be useful if you’re planning to have sex while traveling, or if a heavy period threatens to ruin your honeymoon. Note that they can be prone to sudden leaks or spills if significant pressure is applied to the abdomen or vagina.
5) Pack or Buy Painkillers and Other Medications
Period pain and other symptoms like bloating and breast tenderness can also make a vacation less relaxing. It’s always a good idea to pack different medications you normally use to ward off discomfort on the road. If you’re traveling abroad, though, check local laws and make sure everything you bring is allowed. Keep medications in their original packages with labels, just in case.
If you forget or run out of medications, you should be able to find alternatives at a local pharmacy. If you’re traveling abroad, you may even find that some available medications are cheaper and potentially more effective. Use search engines and translation software to find the best medications for your needs, and carefully research safety risks.
6) Cope with Local Customs Abroad
If you need to buy menstrual products abroad, you may need to exercise a bit of patience and flexibility. In some places, the products available may be very different from what you’re used to. For instance, you may have to settle for local brands that may be bulkier or much less absorbent than your usual options. It may be hard or impossible to find tampons in some countries, and you may have to rely on pads.
Using bathrooms and toilets abroad can also be a little bit of a cultural adjustment for many folks. Changing a tampon or menstrual cup over a squat toilet, for example, could be … well, a fun little adventure. It’s a good idea to carry tissues and sanitary wipes wherever you go. There might be no toilet paper, or it may be taboo to wash your cup or disc in a public bathroom sink.
A Universal Experience
Wherever you go, whether it be a weekend at Disneyland or a month of machete-ing your way through the Amazon, periods aren’t fun. One thing to remember is that you’re in good company: over a quarter of the global population menstruates each month. That’s great news, if you run out of period products or get bad cramps during your journey. You’re likely never far from someone who’s willing to help you find what you need.