A Piece on Periods
This article is one for the girls. It's been written by gapyear.com girls who have travelled and had some experiences on the road. It's packed full of advice that may help you on your adventures in the future. It may also put a smile on your face, so get reading.
Preparing to Travel
Where are you going?
Is it a developed country such as Australia or New Zealand or is it somewhere less developed like India? If it's a developed country then you don't need to take months' worth of supplies as you will be able to buy them over there and they do tend to have similar brands to us. If it isn't too well developed then think about taking some supplies to last you 'til you do get to a developed country. However, you can get western-style products in most major towns, especially if there is a tourist industry, but don't rely on them being available. Wherever you go you need to take into consideration that your periods may be lighter or heavier or slightly less regular than they are at home. My general advice is: if you're travelling anywhere then always take at least a day's worth of supplies, and bear in mind that it's very likely that your cycle will be messed around a bit, so expect the totally unexpected.
What should you use?
You have the choice of towels, tampons or the pill. Do note that the pill cannot guarantee that you will not have a period, as things such as a change in diet, altitude, and the stresses of travel can disrupt it. There are other forms of contraception such as the contraceptive injection or implant but again these cannot guarantee that you will not have a period. Your doctor can prescribe you a pill to prevent menstruation, which you can take for a length of time. This cannot be taken alongside the contraceptive pill but it does stop your period. Talk to your GP before choosing any of these options.
It's an individual choice what you prefer to use, but do consider what things you may be doing. For example, if you are going to do a lot of activities then probably the best thing to use is tampons as they are so discreet. Also tampons are easier to dispose of than towels as they are biodegradable.
What other things do you need to take? Do you suffer from cramps?
If so, you may need to consider taking a form of pain relief such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Lil-Lets have also brought out a Heat Soother Patch; this is a self-adhesive patch that heats up within minutes, to ease cramps. Far better than carrying a hot water bottle around with you! And most important of all, don't forget the chocolate for the PMS: nothing works better!
On the Road
How do I cope?
This is the real question! Sometimes it's hard enough when you have all your home comforts, let alone out in the middle of nowhere! But women all around the world have to deal with it everyday, so you can too. Unfortunately, there isn't really that much you can do to make it easier, except grit your teeth and get through it.
What do I do with 'it' when I'm off the beaten track?
If you have got biodegradable tampons, then the fire and the shovel are your friends. Ideally they should be burnt, but if that's not possible, then make sure they are buried away from human habitation and deep enough to not get dug up by animals. In some places it may be possible to flush them down the toilet, though generally this is not a good idea if you have any alternative. If you have towels or panty-liners, then you're going to have to carry them until you can get to a bin. Take a plastic bag to put them in, and don't leave it lying around unless you have no shame!
What about the locals?
Be careful about letting people know you are having a period. Although most will be helpful and have no problems with it, in a few cultures menstruating women are considered 'unclean'. While it's highly unlikely you will be driven from the village with sticks, you may find that you are treated differently, so try and be discreet about it!
Be prepared for everything. If you are prone to thrush or similar problems then take the required medication.
Forget when your period is due as it may not follow the usual pattern, and watch out instead for other signals, such as changes in mood.
Even though it can be tempting to avoid washing properly when the only water available is a cold river, make sure you wash well and wear clean underwear!
TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome)
Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is a rare but serious illness. Toxins, produced by bacteria that are commonly found in the nose and vagina, cause it. It can occur in men, women and children. However approximately half of cases occur in menstruating women and girls. Menstrual TSS is associated with tampon use. It is more likely to occur in teenage girls and women under 30. Early recognition and treatment of the symptoms are important.
TSS can occur any time during menstruation or shortly afterwards. It can rapidly progress from flu-like symptoms to a serious illness that can be fatal. The warning signs of TSS are listed below, but they may not all be present at one time:
- High fever
- Rash that looks like sunburn
- Muscle aches
- Fainting or near fainting when standing up
- Skin peeling may occur in later stages of the illness
If you have one more of these symptoms, you must immediately:
- Remove Tampon
- Seek medical attention
- Tell your doctor you have been using a tampon and are concerned about TSS
If you had TSS once, you can get it again. You should talk to your doctor before using tampons if you have had symptoms of TSS in the past.
Ways to reduce the risk of TSS
You can reduce the risk of menstrual TSS by using a pad instead of a tampon at least once each day during your menstrual period, and by using a tampon with the minimum absorbency required to meet your needs. The easiest way of eliminating the risk of menstrual TSS is by not using tampons.
The right way to use tampons:
- Remember to wash your hands before and after inserting and removing the tampon.
- You should change the tampon every four to eight hours.
- Be sure to use the lowest absorbency tampon for your flow.
- Always remove your used tampon before inserting a new one.
- Be sure to remove your last tampon at the end of your period.
- Tampons are designed to absorb menstrual flow only. Do not use a tampon in anticipation of your period or to absorb non-menstrual vaginal discharge.
- If you wish to use this product overnight, you may do so, provided that you insert a fresh tampon before retiring and remove it immediately upon waking. You should never wear a tampon for more than eight hours.
I have highlighted this risk because I know what travelling is like. You're stuck on a bus for God knows how many hours and the last thing on your mind is to go and change a tampon - you'd rather get in a nice hot shower first. Another reason is that a lot of the symptoms that have been described you may put down as being out in the sun too long or travelling a lot. Its better to be safe than sorry; if you know you are going to be travelling for a great length of time you should consider what form of protection you want to use. You can always go back to a tampon later on.
Women's Travel Tales
"I was in South Africa on a rugby tour and it was coming to the end and the perfect way for the tour to end was for me to start, wasn't it?! I was sat on a bus desperate for it to stop at a service station as we had a full day's travel to get to the airport. When we eventually stopped I dashed in to get supplies but they hadn't got anything! It took me forever to ask the assistant if she was sure there wasn't anything, as every time I went to ask one of 30 boys from the tour walked in. I had to spend the next three hours sat on the bus with a piece of loo roll in my knickers and keeping my legs crossed! Rest assured I stocked up for the journey home!"
"From my own experience, local women are generally happy to lend you some pads/tampons if you have been caught out. The one instance I remember was when I was travelling through southern Italy with my brother and some of his mates, and I came on a full two weeks early, when (to top it all off) we were staying in the guesthouse of a monastery. It took every bit of nerve that I had to tell the monk who was looking after us that I'd caused a bit of a mess, upon which he just smiled, and within an hour a small bag appeared outside my door, with a little note from the nuns down the road! I went to thank them later that day, and they were all just wonderfully understanding about it! I didn't tell the lads I was travelling with though!"
"Trekking in a remote area in Nepal, I took tons of stuff with me, even though I had guessed I would be starting just as we arrived back. It was just my luck to start in the first week, just as we prepared to go over a 4,500m pass. I got through it with plenty of Feminax, and a shovel to bury 'stuff' with. The strain of the trek did have one good consequence though; it made the whole experience only half as long as usual..."
"When I was 15 I went camping in Sweden. This was fine, until my period started, a week early, and with no 'sanitary' conditions to do anything about it. Basically the loos were sheds over a hole in the ground. I was too embarrassed to ask any of the people I was camping with for some help, so I went off on a quiet trip to the camp shop where I bought some Tampax from a strange man who spoke only Swedish. (I really can't stand the stigma that menstruation still has in Western society. It happens, there is nothing that any girl can do about it! Please, please, please can men just accept it and not be all weird about it?) I was really worried about Toxic Shock Syndrome because there were no taps to wash my hands under, but the wet-wipes I'd brought along seemed to do the trick. The moral of this story is: take tampons (or whatever you use) even if you aren't due, and wet-wipes and don't be embarrassed. It happens to almost all women at some point.
"Later on in my camping trip I got to dispose of the used tampons by incinerating them. This was fairly unpleasant and luckily we were provided with gloves, which was an important consideration to take as we were dealing with biological waste that can, potentially, be a vector for disease and infection.
"Last summer I went hostelling with some friends in Europe, so we had loos and bins, so everything was fine from that aspect. However I found that I suffered from really bad PMT while we were away (I don't usually) and consequently I was not a nice person to be with. Next time, I shall try and be a little more chilled out, because I don't think I did myself (or my friends) any favours!"