Over half the world menstruates at one point or another, but you would never know it. Isn’t that strange?
– Margaret Cho
I’ve been toying with the idea of writing this post for a while. Not because it is hard hitting, but because it is not the type of thing that is discussed.
So, fair warning, this post is aimed at women.
This post (another warning) is about that time of the month. Specifically whilst you are travelling. Stop reading here if you do not like the sound of it, I won’t be offended. This post is about information and suggestions, not about gory details.
At that time in the month there are options. There are a lot of options in the UK at least. In terms of travelling however, the practicalities benefits and drawbacks of each are to be discussed further below.
OK, so this is what I think are the main (practical) options: Implant, Coil, Injection, Pills, Pads, Tampons.
*Please remember that this is just my opinion, and I am not a trained medical professional.
Benefits: Covers you for pregnancy for 3 years. Slow release of hormones leads to less mood swings than other similar drugs. It can stop your periods altogether.
Drawbacks: It can make periods heavier. Or erratic. Meaning there is a chance of needing pads/tampons (but I’ll come onto them later)
Verdict: If it works to stop you altogether then it is worth looking in to for long term travel, nothing else covers you for this long after all. *I currently have the implant (as of March 2016) and it has been great for me – no period at all in the past year, but I have to admit the procedure to get it in your arm isn’t the nicest!
Benefits: There are a few different types, the most common one used is the copper coil. This is more than 99% effective at stopping pregnancy (yay, no babies whilst travelling). The coil can last for up to 10 years. No crazy hormones being added to your body, so your moods are all yours! It can stop periods altogether.
Drawbacks: The information I have read says that a significant percentage of women get heavier periods than before they had the coil fitted. Not to mention that it is apparently really painful to have it put in (and removed).
Verdict: I don’t want the pain, and I definitely don’t want a heavier period.
Benefits: Pretty much stops periods altogether. Stops you getting pregnant. Lasts for about 3 months.
Drawbacks: It lasts for 3 months, so for long term travel this is maybe not so practical. I don’t want to have to keep hopping onto a flight back to the UK to see my doctor for another injection every 12 weeks. Also, it takes 3-6 months (the first one to two injections) for your hormones to balance, meaning you can have erratic periods for the first little while – so think in advance if this is the one for you! Oh, and the injection is into the muscle in your bum.
Verdict: For short term travel, this is brilliant – especially if you intend to be using it for a long time. But for longer trips, it just wouldn’t be sensible. *I used the injection from March 2013 to March 2016: the injection is not comfortable, but equally, I didn’t have any periods during this time!
Benefits: Don’t get pregnant, very lightweight. Control over when your period is (to some extent)
Drawbacks: You have to remember to take them! The packets are tiny, but easily broken (through experience, it is not pleasant to have to take a pill that has come out of the foil wrapper and been trapped at the bottom of your rucksack with your shoes and dirty clothes for god knows how long). They often make you put on weight. You still have a period – you can back-to-back the packs, but your body pretty much only lets you do that once in a row!
Verdict: Well, you won’t get pregnant, but aside from that, you are pretty much in the same place you were before you were on the pills. Period once a month, plus now you need to carry around loads of packets of pills. *I used the pill for many years from 2002 to 2013, and travelled with them often. It isn’t actually difficult to travel with them, but there are other things I prefer now!
Seeing as most of the period ‘stopping’ methods do not necessarily stop your period, but rather make it lighter an/or slightly more unpredictable (although some people are lucky and do get a complete stop) you will still probably want to be prepared for that inevitable. Here are my thoughts:
Benefits: Very little leakage. Winged ones are pretty secure (you don’t want to leak in a hostel room with 16 others…) Comfortable-ish. No chemicals/hormones going into your body. Pretty easy to change in ‘hole-in-the-ground’ style toilets. Can be bought in most countries (I know that they are hard to find in some African and South American countries though)
Drawbacks: Even one pack is massive. If you are going to places that don’t sell them, you will want enough for your whole trip (Let’s assume you are going away for 12 months, and you use 1 pack a month. That works out to roughly half my rucksack space…. It could be better filled) Often make you feel unclean, especially when it is hot outside!
Verdict: If you are happy using them, and can buy as you go, then go for it. Personally, I think they just take up too much space. BUT, I will always carry an emergency one in my day sack, because you never know. Overall though, not overly practical.
Benefits: Comfortable. You feel a lot cleaner than when using pads. Small and discrete.
Drawbacks: Not sold in an awful lot of countries. When I lived in Turkey, it took me nearly 2 months to find a shop that sold them. Although they are small, you need a surprising amount for a long trip, so again, space becomes an issue (especially if you can’t find them where you are) Oh, and you have to think about TSS – but you always have to think of that!
Verdict: More practical than pads, but harder to buy when you are travelling, so you are more than likely to need to take away a whole trips worth. And that is not practical.
And that brings me to my best tip. I heard about these a long time ago, and never really though much of it until I started travelling more.
For those of you that don’t know, a menstrual cup is a small rubber/silicon re-useable cup that is used like a tampon, but can be re-used almost indefinitely. It washes out (or if you are really desperate can be emptied and re-used dirty and washed out later). It takes up no space at all, and comes with its own little linen bag to keep it clean. It sounds ridiculous, but honestly, if you are going to be travelling for a long time, I really do recommend you invest in one of these. The most well known brands are MoonCup and DivaCup, and they cost about £20 each (Boots sell them for this price), so it seems a little expensive, but it is basically a lifetimes supply of tampons!
[I do not have any affiliation with menstrual cup brands, but I do highly recommend then as an investment]
Anyway, think about it, weigh up your options. Size and practicalities really do matter when planning travelling. And far too often this is something that doesn’t even occur to people!
If you have any tips that I haven’t covered, please comment: I’m always on the lookout for more travelling knowledge!