Okay, boys… remember that time in health class when they took you to watch a movie and talked to the girls alone? This is along those lines…so you can sit this one out.
Are they gone? Okay.
Gals, I HATE talking about this crap. HATE IT. Did I mention I hate it? But I feel like 2019 is the year we need to just own our womanhood, lest everyone take it from us and claim it’s theirs, so I’m diving down. I’m going deep. Someone pour me a cosmo.
We need to talk about travels with Aunt Flo.
Helpful tips for traveling with your period
I’m gonna give you just a little TMI, in the spirit of universal womanhood. I have what my medical records elegantly refer to as “uterine disfunction,” which leads to all sorts of horrible, painful, inconvenient issues, and has resulted in a panicking need to find supplies, without warning, while sitting in meetings, standing in a TSA line, traveling in foreign countries, or getting from A to Z on planes, on trains, on boats….you name it. It’s a huge issue in my life, and because I engage in long-term travel, it’s a huge issue in my travels. Yet I never talk about it. Until now.
I travel often, so you’d think I’d have SOME flights without worry. But it seems without fail, as soon as I smell jet fuel in the air, my body is off to the bloody races.
And I figured since about half of the world deals with shark week 12 or more times a year for much of their lives, whether you have disfunction of your own, or just regular function, we might as well lay our pads on the table and help each other out.
I’ve learned to deal, as we women all do. I pack light, usually with just a 40 liter pack, and probably 1/8 of my pack winds up being special super moon time lady supplies with wings.
I do this because in much of the world the products are different, and it’s hard to find what I need for personal care and to avoid embarassment.
Simply put, there is no guarantee you will have access to the products you prefer when you travel. Here’s what you should expect.
Things you should know before you get up and go with Aunt Flo:
- In developed nations and very touristy areas, you should not have much of a problem finding the basics.
Travel off the beaten path and finding items you need may be harder. You should be able to find SOMETHING in most large cities. So if you’re caught by surprise, or didn’t pack anything, you should be in luck. Drugstores like Walgreens or CVS and convenience stores like Circle K or 7-Eleven are located around the world, and often have a selection, though it may be limited.
- In many countries, feminine products must be bought at the pharmacy.
That means you have to talk with someone about what you need, sometimes in a foreign language, though most pharmacists I’ve encountered speak English as the universal language for travelers in need. But to be safe, do a little research on where you are going, and look up translations for the specific products you might need. Guidebooks rarely address this topic, so you’ll probably have to log in to the internet of womanhood to get the inside scoop.
- In countries where it is possible, I find it easiest to shop for feminine products at the grocery store.
That way I don’t need to have the discussion with anyone and can just buy stuff with my groceries. Even if I can’t read the package, there are usually indications or icons of features you might be seeking…if, for example you want wings, or something for overnight, or something for the monsoon/flash flooding days. But these products are not universally available in grocery stores. If you don’t see them there, or at convenience stores, you may need to hit the pharmacy.
- In some countries, it may be difficult to impossible to find tampons or whatever products you prefer.
Culturally, it’s a tricky thing. So if you prefer to use tampons or a specific product, realize that you may not find them everywhere, and might want to bring them from home.
- In developing nations especially, you may be hard pressed to find any feminine hygiene products at all.
In some countries, women use rags, or whatever they can get their hands on. In some places, I’ve been left scratching my head wondering if the fruit vendors have any intel on where to score the goods. It leads to all sorts of issues, including hygiene problems and even an inability for girls to attend school. It breaks my heart. But if you want to see an uplifting documentary along these lines, check out Period. End of Sentence., on Netflix. It’s about 24 minutes long, and well worth your time.
- In Asia and other regions of the world, the products are much smaller and less absorbent.
If you require super absorbent products, you might want to pack them to carry with you lest you spend several days of your trip hiding out close to a bathroom.
- I have also noticed that some pads I have purchased smell….different.In Vietnam they smelled like maple syrup and pancakes. I’m not kidding! It’s weird. And I kinda wonder if it’s wise from a hygiene perspective, but I have no expertise on that. I turned out just fine but didn’t crave pancakes for a while. But this is good to know if you are sensitive to perfumes and such.
- Bathroom facilities are not the same in other countries.It’s important to be prepared for hygiene standards that are different. In many countries, I’ve had to use bathrooms where there is no sink–a pretty major issue if you’re using a sponge or a menstrual cup or tampon. And sure, you think you can do that roll up the toilet paper in a pinch trick–well, that only works if there’s toilet paper. In Southeast Asia and other regions you may only find a bucket of water next to a hole in the ground. For these reasons, you may want to pack sanitizing hand wipes or hygiene wipes of some sort, toilet paper or at the very least hand sanitizer. And there is often no garbage bin. Bring a baggie with you and you can discreetly dispose of things when a bin appears.
- Pain relief medications you depend on may not be found in other countries.
This includes items as common in the U.S. as ibuprofen. Bring them with you if you know you will need them.
- Never, never, never flush supplies.
Our plumbing the states can’t handle it, and in many countries the plumbing can’t even handle toilet paper. Don’t be that girl.
Overall, there are a few tricks I’ve learned along the way.
- It’s cliche, but I pack a lot of black clothes, particularly when I know I have a 15 hour flight, a tight connection and a bathroom so small I can’t change clothes if something happens. It has saved my nuggets on several occasions.
- I try not to wear a pad through TSA checkpoints. Some women say they get stopped and subjected to additional search (sometimes the horrifying “vaginal chop”) if they are wearing one. I figure it’s better to play it safe, just get through security and then adjust as needed.
- I always pack sanitizing wipes and at least a couple of supplies in my purse for the flight. In a pinch I’ve had to dig clothes out of my carry on bag, clean up and change quickly in the bathroom, repack my blowout clothes and wash them when I get to my destination. It’s less than ideal, but it got me through.
- I always bring a travel towel. So many places provide only white towels and I just hate to ruin them on my black towel days.
- You can never pack too many underwear. They’re small and lightweight, so go crazy with your bad self. Along those lines, has anyone tried those period panties? I’ve wondered….but they’re pretty pricey.
- A sarong or sweater, creatively tied, can cover up any number of ills. As we all know. Just be sure to pack one.
- I bring pantyliners for long flights, no matter what time of the month it is. It’s easier to swap out than changing undies if you want to feel a little bit fresher near the end of a sweaty overnight flight.
Okay, glad we got that off our chest. Awesome.
Ladies, you are now free to roam the world with or without Aunt Flo! Hope these tips helped you along your way.
I certainly haven’t been everywhere, so this list of learnings is limited. If you have any helpful tips you’ve learned in your travels, or while at home, drop them here!
Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning features, food and travel writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog, she applies her worldview to her business, Rollerbag Goddess Global Communications, providing powerful storytelling to her clients.
Posts on the Rollerbag Goddess travel blog are never sponsored and have no affiliate links, so you know you will get an honest review, every time.
Find Charish on Twitter: @rollrbaggoddess, on Facebook at @rollrbaggoddess, and on Instagram at @rollerbaggoddess. You can also read more about Charish Badzinski’s professional experience in marketing, public relations and writing.