Backpacking on your period can be challenging, but it’s totally possible to navigate your way around the globe even when your menstrual cycle feels like it’s doing everything to stop you.
You get up late, you’ve slept more than usual yet you still feel tired. When you’re travelling, time passes differently, and it doesn’t seem to matter if it’s Wednesday or Saturday, or if it is day 1 or day 23 of the trip. But today you are being visited your period.
So you shower (with a bit of luck with hot water) and wash your panties by hand. Next it’s time to make a pilgrimage to the small shops and the few pharmacies in this town that’s in the middle of nowhere. You finish dressing while you think about all the food you want to devour, wishing you had last night’s chocolate ice cream for which you walked almost 40 minutes to find.
Luckily, you do not have to move today. You do not have to take a long-distance bus or drive a motorcycle through these small, winding roads. Today, you’ll spend the day washing those long overdue clothes and writing about your travel experiences in your journal. You’ll lie in bed scrolling through your photos and sending dozens of audio messages to your friends and family on Whatsapp. It’s important to give yourself this calmness during a backpacking trip, and it’s important to allow yourself to relax. Learn to recognise when your body speaks to you, when you need to stop.
Situations you will face while backpacking on your period
I’m sure that if you’ve spent time travelling that you will have experienced getting your period on the road. You might not just feel a pain in your stomach, but also in your head. Maybe you don’t feel tired in your legs, but maybe your kidneys hurt. Whatever way your period affects you, it’s likely that you’ve experienced a similar situation to me.
From the first time you start to feel PMS, when the desire to continue your travels is gone and suddenly you feel sad and tired, just remember that many of us feel this way once a month.
Obviously, managing your period in a foreign place is harder than from the comfort of your own home. And maybe, especially if you’re travelling to less developed countries, you have faced the difficulty of finding a box of tampons or sanitary products. Maybe you were lucky and you found your usual brand or maybe, like me a couple of weeks ago, you find yourself roaming unknown streets dashing into all the stores and pharmacies with a picture of a tampon on your mobile screen (yes, desperate times call for desperate measures! )
To avoid being in this uncomfortable situation yourself, take a look at our tips below:
Five tips for managing your period on a long backpacking trip:
1. The menstrual cup:
Do you know about the menstrual cup? This wonderful invention came into my life almost five years ago and not only has it saved me from a sticky situation during my travels, but it has also helped me save a lot of money. AND it has reduced the amount of plastic waste I produce in each one of my menses. Not to mention saved me from the vaginal dryness and that unpleasant sensation that tampons can leave on the last day of my period.
For those who don’t know, the menstrual cup is a small cup of hypoallergenic silicone that is inserted into the vagina. This makes a small vacuum that prevents spills and collects the blood by storing it inside. It works like a tampon, you have to change it approximately every 8 hours and, when you take it off, you throw away the blood inside, rinse it with water and put it back in.
Before each period you have to sterilise it. You can do so by putting it in boiling water or in the microwave in a cup full of water for about 3 or 5 minutes. You can also use sterilising tablets or clean it with alcohol.
If you are travelling with no access to a microwave or kettle then the most practical option is the sterilising tablets.
Sure, if you’ve never tried a menstrual cup then it may seem strange to you, but believe me, it is very comfortable, safe, cheap, ecological and if you are going on a long trip then it will save you a lot of trouble. So, personally, I believe that it is the best option if you are thinking about going on a long trip.
2. The cloth compresses:
Another option to be self-sufficient when travelling and not have to worry about buying disposable sanitary products are cloth compresses. They take up very little room in your backpack, you can carry them in a toiletry bag and they are environmentally friendly.
The biggest drawback is that they have to be washed by hand after each use, and this can be a bit tricky when you’re out hiking or frolicking on the beach. Alternatively, you can simply store them in a plastic bag and wash them later, but the longer you leave the stains the harder they are to remove.
3. Always have a back up plan for emergencies:
Whatever sanitary product you opt for, it’s always good to have an extra compress or an emergency tampon to hand. Your period may arrive in the middle of an excursion, on the top of a mountain, on a long bus route, or anywhere else without a bathroom in which to wash your hands or wash your menstruation cup. So it’s always a good idea to carry a tampon or an extra compress in your handbag, your purse or your fanny pack. So if your period arrives suddenly you will always have a backup plan.
4. Contraceptive methods:
If, like me, you use contraceptive methods to control your period, then you will find that sourcing the same contraceptive methods on the other side of the world can be a problem. I’ve found that the contraception that is easiest to find across the globe is the pill. Even if you do not find your usual brand you can use other local brands that have the same composition.
For example, last year I was using the Nuva Ring. Before starting my trip, I decided to buy an extra pair of rings to be able to use them for at least two months. The problem is that they should be kept at less than 30 degrees Fahrenheit and, here in Asia where I am travelling, the temperature often exceeds that figure. So, I decided to travel without them and try to find them here. Serious error! I went to multiple pharmacies with a photo on my phone and the most I could find was a pill for the day after, which is not what I needed!
On the other hand, when I used pills, although I never managed to find the same brand, I could ask for the compound and get other brands with the same composition. So, if you also use a Nuva Ring or some similar method and are considering a long trip, my recommendation is that you go on the pill before starting the trip.
5. Apps to help with your period:
Whether you are backpacking or at home, I recommend using apps to help manage your period. I have been using one for less than a year and it is a great help not only with keeping track of your time of the month, but also to learn how to recognise your hormones changes. Oh! And its gives you an excuse to indulge those chocolate cravings because… I’m hormonal okay?!
Since I started using apps, I have learned to better recognise the reason for my moods and appreciate that those days when I feel low are due to a surge of new hormones.
These applications are also very useful for planning your trip by allowing you to take into account which days of your trip your period will fall on. If you want to spend a few days at the beach or hiking up a strenuous mountain, you can avoid planning these activities for a period day.
There are a lot of applications for keeping track of your period. My favourite is Clue. It’s simple, practical, with reminders and without flowers or kittens or a lot of pink around. Other options are Flo, My Calendar (in which a kitten talks to you), Ovuview or Petal, among many others.
Whatever method you use, try to always carry an emergency backup, use apps to plan your trip around your period and, above all, when it inevitably arrives, do not curse the world for being born woman!
Take advantage of those days to rest and learn to enjoy them. Use them to write, to relax at the hostel by filling out your travel notebook, or to have a massage. Thanks to our periods we cleanse our bodies, so take advantage of those days to recharge, understanding your emotions and respecting them. These days are the days when our bodies remind us that you have to take care of yourself, love yourself, respect yourself and, above all, spoil yourself.
About the author and illustrator
Andrea Bergareche is creative by profession and traveler by vocation. In 2012 she went for the first time alone to Mexico, to do a year of exchange of her arts career and since then she has been hooked on traveling. In 2015 he embarked on his first solo long trip as a backpacker. A trip that at first was going to last two months and ended up lasting seven and in which he went from Argentina to Colombia alone and by finger, tattooing and painting in the meantime.