If you are going on a holiday, you try to foresee all possible scenarios – often worst-case ones – for your whole family. All too often, though, you forget about your own cycle.
Will you be having your period on some paradisiacal beach or while skiing? Most inconvenient! Some women even go so far as to take birth control pills two months in a row just to avoid having their period. But what if you are travelling for a couple of months or for a whole year? Do you take supplies for the whole trip or just enough to get by for the first month?
There are other factors to take into consideration. If you only use tampons, be aware that not all toilets around the globe are as clean as you’re probably used to. Plumbing often isn't that great either: in many countries, throwing paper or tampons in the toilet bowl is a big no-no. If you use disposable pads in places where it is hot, like Asia or Africa, the plastic top will feel really sweaty and uncomfortable. It will cause itchiness and unpleasant smells, which may lead to fungal infection. Also, if you plan on exploring a city or going on an extended hike, you may not be able to change tampons or pads regularly. Or if you don’t take sufficient supplies, shops stocking them may be few and far between.
A sustainable solution
Have you ever considered tackling this problem by switching to reusable pads or a menstruation cup? These are far more convenient, hardly take up any space at all and there is no risk of running out of them! With a few reusable pads and two menstruation cups, you’re good to go for a couple of years. Yes, you read that right: years!
Some advantages are glaringly obvious: if you use a cup, you can go for almost 12 hours without needing to change. In need of a refreshing dip? Just hop in, there’s nothing to worry about. You’ll also save some money and won't be agonising about running out or not finding your preferred brand.
OK, you’re convinced to make the switch. But where to start? If you’ll only be using reusable pads, first count the days you’re menstruating (usually 3 to 5) and the amount of disposables you use (usually 3-4 per day). This will give you a rough idea of the number of pads you’ll need to take on your travels – normally 10 to 15.
If you’re experiencing incontinence, take about eight pads, i.e. a week’s worth with one spare. Use bamboo-based pads or soft ones like those sold by Hannahpad. Alternatively, Charlie Banana offers pads with a fleece top to provide a dry feeling.
I had been using reusable pads for almost twelve years before I started combining them with menstruation cups. An excellent decision, as it turned out, as together they provide more comfort and sometimes more flexibility. Taking two of them on your travels should be sufficient, although it never hurts to take a spare.
A menstruation cup is really simple to use. You insert it like a tampon, but it is healthier and can be held in for about twelve hours. If the cup is full, it leaks a little so you’ll immediately know it's time to change. To do so, simply remove the cup, pour out the blood , rinse the cup with cold water, clean it with hot water and soap, and then you can reinsert it.
I like to use the menstruation cup during the day as I find it more comfortable, especially in warmer climes. Also whilst hiking or sporting I find you’re better off with a cup – I wouldn’t recommend doing handstands, though... I do combine it with a day pad for my psychological ease. This also helps with possible leaks while changing your cup. And if you failed to insert it correctly, you have a back-up solution.
The art of maintenance
By now, you’re probably thinking: ‘Wait a minute, I'll be travelling, so I won't have a washing machine and all that. So how do I maintain my reusable pads?’ It’s pretty basic, really: just clean them in the shower with a bar of soap. Instead of wasting that first splash of freezing cold water, use it to soak the pads through. Make sure the water doesn’t get too hot, though, or you’ll have a hard time getting the bloodstains out.
Try to wash your pads shortly after removing them, preferably in the evening, as not allowing the blood stains to dry will let you clean the pads much faster. If you leave the pads to dry overnight, they’ll be ready to use in the morning, reducing the number you need to take on your travels.
Be aware that thicker pads will dry more slowly. If you have a blow-dryer available, use it to reduce drying time. If you don’t feel like taking a shower or your accommodation doesn’t provide any, just wash the pads in the sink. When camping, take no chances and only use river water that has been boiled first, as you never know what germs it may contain. This will take a bit longer, but may save you a lot of trouble later on.
As to soap, Korean-made Hannapad bars are my favourite – they’re compact, last long and really speed up the washing process. They also make washing your underwear a breeze, by the way. If no Hannapad bars are available, I use the generic white soap provided by my hotel or a Lush lemon-scented soap bar. I also always take tea tree oil on my travels for extra cleanliness: just spray a little oil on the used pads before washing.
For menstruation cups, there are multiple scenarios:
1) I try to change in the shower whenever possible, as it's far more convenient. If you are a mom and shower with your little ones, remove the cup before they enter or explain what you are doing.
2) While travelling, you can use disabled toilets as the cubicles nearly always sport a sink. Another possibility is to take a bottle of water with you and use the toilet paper provided or – if you have them – cheeky wipes or reusable wipes.
Good to know: most Asian toilets come with water hoses (known as bum guns) so you’ll always have more than enough water. Make sure to take along some toilet paper before entering the cubicle.
3) When hiking, you will need to make a hole in the ground, pour out the contents of your cup and insert your second cup. Place the used cup into a bag. This can be a bit awkward – it helps to secure the bag around a tree branch or around your neck before changing. Next, dig a deeper hole a bit further away and use it to rinse the used cup with water and biodegradable soap. When you’re done, cover or fill up both holes.
Even if you clean your cup after each use with clean water and soap, it is imperative to rinse it with boiling water after your period is done. Most hotels provide this free of charge or have rooms equipped with a kettle. If you have two cups or don't insert a cup at night, you can opt to use boiling water each evening.
When camping, you can boil water in a pot over a campfire. Clean the cup, let dry it thoroughly and store it in a clean bag, so it remains free of dirt and dust.
What to take?
Much depends on your mode of travel:
- By plane: take sufficient pads with you for your flight, but also some spare ones in case your flight is delayed or your luggage fails to turn up! Sometimes it's easier to take your whole collection on board. Changing is easy: store the pads you need with your toothbrush and an empty opaque bag for the used ones.
If using a cup, try to empty or change it just before boarding. Even if you fail to do so, changing on board is easy because a sink is provided in the toilet cubicle. As a matter of course, I don't empty the cup in the toilet – as plane toilets are known to splash when flushing – but in the sink.
- By campervan: you almost always spend the night on camping grounds, so toilets and showers are usually available. If you do end up in a self-contained campervan in the middle of nowhere, I wouldn't advice emptying your cup into the chemical toilet. I use a glass as a recipient, empty it in the drain and clean both glass and drain thoroughly. It's a bit of a hassle, but beats being stuck in the wild with a bin full of smelly disposable pads.
- By train: similar to travelling by plane, albeit bumpier.
- By bus: you can nearly always ask for a restroom stop, so you should be OK.
In short: wherever you are, you will do just fine! Just make sure you buy the reusable pads and cups before you leave, as they can be hard to find while travelling. Most are sold online and shipping them out to you while travelling can be tricky. (you can use post restante)
My personal travel set
I always carry two different cups, various brands of reusable pads and some other basic supplies:
o 4 Mylly Muksut bamboo day pads, 2 small Hannahpads, 2 Lunapads mini panty liners
o 1 Cheeky Mama cloth sanitary panty liner, 1 Cheeky Mama cloth sanitary bamboo night pad, 1 Momiji small, 1 Cheeky Mama charcoal panty liner.
o 1 Divacup size 2 and 1 Intimina lilycup travel size two (always in my purse in case of)
o 1 Hannapad probiotic soap
o 1 Charlie banana with waterproof lining
o 1 My little patch, also with waterproof lining
o 1 small laundry bag
- Cheeky wipes
These are reusable wipes I always take, whether I have my period or not. I take 6 cotton and 2 microfiber ones. Some cup brands offer disposable wipes to clean your cup on the go, but I prefer cheeky wipes as they last longer and are more environment-friendly.
Not only green gals will adore using reusable pads and menstruation cups. They also provide you with more comfort and are far healthier – there’s nothing wrong with a bit of self-indulgence. But I do have to warn you: once you’ve experienced the comforts of reusable pads, you'll never want to go back to disposables!
Enjoy your holiday, period!