Here’s a disclaimer for any sensitive readers out there: this post is about menstruating while traveling. If you’re not interested in the subject, I kindly suggest that you reconsider reading this article.
Menstruation gets a lot of negative press. My bachelors degrees are in women’s studies and cultural studies, and I can tell you right now that anytime menstruation is advertised or discussed in the public sphere, it’s with disgust, reserve, and more than a little condescension. If the ads for Seasonale and Playtex are to be believed, your period is a major shortcoming in your achievement of full personhood because, once a month, you’re going to be bloated, grumpy, messy, and need a lot of trips to the bathroom. The afterthought of the ads, of course, is that their products will make you cleaner, menstruate less, and remove the red tide from the list of things that are keeping you from living a real life. Without those products, they say, you’re screwed. And the crazy thing is, we’re buying it- both literally and figuratively! Well to that, I’m saying ENOUGH.
“But Erica,” I can hear some say, “periods really can be a pain! I was in [insert name of city here] when I ran out of pads and money, and it turns out they use corn husks instead, and by the end of my trip I was chafed and sore and needed expensive surgery and I’m NEVER traveling with my period again!” While this isn’t a true story, it is true that menstruating can bring a unique set of challenges to travelers. How do you dispose of pads and tampons in the middle of the Appalachian Trail? Where do you empty your DivaCup if there’s no toilet to be found? How do you avoid detection by bears while in the wilderness (true story)? Point of fact: none of the products your TV wants to sell you will put an end to these questions. Bears will be bears, after all. But they’re not worth postponing or canceling your trip, either.
The fact is, a little planning ahead is all you need to overcome the so-called barrier of having your period, and it really doesn’t have to involve large expenses or messes. One option is to consider investing in reusable menstrual products, such as the DivaCup, the Keeper, or the Mooncup. Between $20 and $45, depending on where you shop, these cups not only save you the cost of purchasing packages of pads and tampons month after month, but they save you from needing to dispose of those pads and tampons after they’ve been used. They also need to be emptied less frequently than pads and tampons need to be changed, they’re easily washable (or wipeable), and they come with a reduced risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome. It’s also easier to dispose of menstrual by-products when using one of them- they can easily be emptied into whatever toilet you’re using. If you don’t have a toilet available and are simply peeing onto the ground, dispose of it the way you would fecal matter: scuff a small hole (up to about four inches) into the ground, empty, and bury. Problem solved. And, of course, the ultimate bonus of reusable cups: they last upwards of five years.
For those who are “squicked” by the idea of using a reusable cup, consider reusable pads. They come with many of the same benefits as the cups, but are externally worn and machine-washable. They also don’t require wearers to empty anything anywhere, which might be a bonus if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of burying your period (hey, if you hike, you know exactly what I’m talking about). Instead, carry a zip-lock baggie with you and put your used pads in there, to be washed when next you have access to laundry facilities. If you’re an especially crafty person, you can save yourself even more money by buying cloth in bulk and making your own. Not only are you saving the environment, but you can customize the shape and size of your pad to be the most comfortable and effective for your own body. I’d like to see Playtex try THAT.