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Periods never come at a good time, but they are especially inconvenient while traveling. Let’s face it, nobody wants to have stomach cramps or back pain while hiking, and bleeding has never made swimming or camping more fun.
When, at 19, I took my first solo trip to Mexico, I was intensely nervous about getting my period in a foreign country. Did I bring enough tampons? What if I ran out and couldn’t find more? What if I soaked through my pad and stained my clothes in a public place? What if I couldn’t find clean bathrooms or there wasn’t a waste bin to throw the pad or tampon in?
All of the inconveniences and embarrassments associated with menstruation seemed to amplify in my mind. While I didn’t have any embarrassing moments on that trip, I would later face the various challenges of traveling on my period and thought about how to handle them.
I’ve traveled solo for 18 years, and I’m an international tour leader of mostly-female group trips, so I’ve had my fair share of bloody trips abroad. I’ve had to empty my menstrual cup while camping in a forest in Guantanamo, Cuba and in the desert in Baja California, Mexico. I’ve gotten my period while hiking in Jordan, where I struggled to get the blood off my hands before re-joining the group on the trail. I’ve run from the ocean in the Caribbean, feeling blood dripping down my legs, hoping that the snorkelers next to me in the crystal-clear water were too focused on the fish to notice my predicament.
Traveling to a new city or country is not the time to bust out a new pair of shoes that may wind up being uncomfortable, and it’s definitely not the time to pack a new feminine care product you’ve never tried.
Go with what you know.
If you’re prone to menstrual cramps, pack your favorite pain-relief medication, as it may be difficult to find while traveling. In general, it can be more difficult to find all things period-related in rural areas and in developing countries (pads, tampons, wipes, pain pills, herbal teas, and heating pads). Reusable menstrual cups and period panties definitely won’t be on the shelves either.
While leading a group trip to Jordan, one of my trip participants got her period as soon as we got to Wadi Rum desert, where well-stocked supermarkets and pharmacies aren’t an option. Though Jordan is a safe country for women, it can be a difficult place to find menstrual products.
We stayed at a traditional Bedouin desert camp, where all the staff were men (this is common in desert camps). I had an awkward conversation that included some descriptive gestures with a modest Bedouin guide, and asked if he could take me to the nearest village to buy tampons. He assured me that he understood the situation and came back with two packages of wingless maxi pads, which I felt were completely unsuitable for overnight bleeding. We improvised that night and visited the nearest store in the morning.
I was terrified the first time I missed my period. It wasn’t just a few days or weeks late; it didn’t come at all for nearly three months. I wasn’t pregnant so I worried something bigger might be wrong. My period is fairly regular (I know this because I use a period tracker phone app), but when I first began traveling significantly for work, my flow was a bit wonky. If you’re worried about something more serious, speak with your doctor, but in my case, I suspect it was to do with my regular traveling.
The act of flying itself won’t necessarily affect your flow but travel can be stressful on the mind and body and that stress can affect your period. Traveling breaks up your normal routine by bringing about all sorts of changes in eating habits, sleep, activity level, and stress. These changes – stress in particular – can cause delayed or even missed periods. Trips that are the most likely to cause changes in your period are those that include long-haul flights, significant time zone changes, and those that are especially anxiety-producing.
Periods haven’t stopped women from swimming across the Atlantic Ocean or traveling in to space, so there’s no reason why it should stop you for taking a trip. Plan ahead, pack appropriately, and have a bloody good time out there, ladies!
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With more destinations becoming overwhelmed by visitors, it's time to look beyond the well-loved travel hot spots.
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