Aunt Flo on the Go: Feminine Hygiene for Travelers

Laura Lopuch

Ladies, this post is for you. Guys, feel free to skip this one, or better yet, pass it on to the women in your life.

Alright, now that it’s just we women, let’s talk about when your period (or Aunt Flo) comes to town. Wherever you are in the world, it’s a blessed day when she shows up. She is the giver of life and a mark of your womanhood.

All that’s true. But she brings a whole lot of baggage when she comes into town that’s not such a blessing: Cramps, bloating, crabbiness, and blood. Oh the blood.

When you’re traveling the world, last thing you want to pack is a suitcase full of pads and tampons.

Good news: There are plenty of options to choose from.

Better news: All the items on our list are environmentally friendly, because when you’re on the road, washable is your best friend.

Beware — we’re going to get a little graphic. But it’s not anything that you don’t already deal with on a monthly basis.

Reusable Panties

These washable panties are made just for your period. Some panties (like Lunapads) feature a removable insert, like a pad, so you can swap it out for a clean one.

In other panties (like Thinx), the crotch has 4 layers of thick, absorbent material for your lightest (or heavier) flows. You can wear this underwear with or without a tampon. And they’re leak-proof.

Available in a variety of styles ranging from thong to boy shorts, they don’t even look like granny panties.

Check out: Thinx, Lunapads

Featuring Crotch lining: To protect against leaks (use with pad or tampon): Knixwear, Dear Kate (also makes yoga pants with leak-proof crotch).

Downside

These are an upfront investment. You’ll need to buy more than one, you’ll have a pair to wear while the other pair is drying.

Have a backup plan for heavy flow days, like Megan Kennedy found out the hard way with Thinx:

“Pads must have been doing me a solid all these years, masking odor and sparing me the humiliation. I had no idea what unfiltered period stench actually smelled like. In the end, yes, wearing Thinx underwear on a heavy day made me feel a lot like a 19th century woman on the rag. But I can definitely recommend sporting a pair on lighter days.”

Upside

Menstrual panties are washable, reusable and environmentally friendly. After the initial upfront investment they are economical too. They’ll pay for themselves in just a couple of months of use. Plus, they’re cute and comfortable.

Menstrual sponges

Insert a sea sponge into your vagina (and you thought we’d get through the entire article without mentioning your va-jay-jay…. guess again). A sea sponge (also called a sea sponge tampon) is a natural alternative to synthetic, single use tampons.

The sponges are available in different sizes — like tampons — to absorb varying levels of flows. If you have a heavy flow, Bustle recommends using a sea sponge. They’re “more absorbent and less leaky than tampons — and if the one you get isn’t enough, you can rock two at a time.”

And yes, it is a piece of dead sea sponge. And yes, it’s totally safe to use.

Lanae St. John tried out a Jade & Pearl sponge and says, “Once the sponge was inside it was undetectable to me.”

She warns that using a sea sponge will require a lot of comfort with your vagina when you take the sponge out.

“Bottom line, I LOVED THESE “Sea Pearls” Sea Sponge Tampons and highly recommend them! Eco-friendly, sex affirming, and easy to use. There is really no mess or fuss during intercourse, the biggest challenge for some women might be getting comfortable enough with their own bodies to get the sea sponges in and out of the vagina (but this is a valuable piece to learn for yourself anyway).”

Check out: Jade & PearlJam Sponge, Poseidon Sponge, The Sea Sponge Company

Downside

Sea sponges need to be washed out every 3 hours. Also, they can be delicate and rip accidentally, so extract it carefully. Over time, it deteriorates, so you may have super tiny sponge parts in your vagina.

If you’re traveling in a country with uncertain water sources, use water that you’d drink for washing out your sea sponge. You don’t want weird little germs sneaking up into your body. Also, travel with tea tree oil to disinfect your sea sponge after use.

Upside

In addition to being completely natural, these are also washable and reusable. Inserting them wet is no problem, so no need to let it dry after washing it out.

Plan to replace them every 6-12 months. Definitely feel free to have sex while wearing one. Women report their period is lighter after a few months of using it.

Synthetic Sponges

Weirded out by putting a once-alive sea sponge up inside your body? I hear you. Thank goodness for single-use sponges made in a factory (not in the sea). Some are pre-lubricated. They perform the same way a normal tampon does. You can wear them up to 8 hours and then you throw it away.

One Amazon reviewer reported:

“I found them to be as absorbent as a regular absorbency tampon so I needed to change every two hours on a heavy flow day. There is no irritation if I take it out before it is saturated like with traditional tampons. It will leak especially if you move around so I still need a pantry liner.”

Check out: Beppy sponges, Joy Division soft tampons

Downside

Synthetic sponges are not reusable, washable or environmentally-friendly. You’ll still need access to a bathroom every 8 (or less) hours. And you’ll still need to pack a supply or find more on the road.

Upside

These can be a good intro to using a sea sponge. For women who are allergic to cotton (that tampons are made of) these can be a great alternative if pads aren’t your thing.

Menstrual Cup

These are genius, but not for the faint of heart. If putting a tampon in makes you queasy, skip a menstrual cup.

A menstrual cup collects blood from your period. Every 10-12 hours, you dump out the blood. The cup suctions up in your vagina, so you don’t have any leakage. Wondering how to insert? Here’s a guide.

Perfect if you have a heavy flow — it holds way more than the most absorbent tampon. Also, perfect for long journeys with limited access to bathrooms.

Shannon O’Donnell used a Divacup on her round-the-world trip:

“The Diva Cup is the most useful thing I pack when I travel. It gives me the confidence to go straight from a long bus ride to an epic hiking adventures. It never leaks. I’m never forced to schelp tampons nor dig holes to bury my pads. It just works.”

Check out: DivaCup, Lunette, Keeper

Downside

What to do with the blood you’re collecting? Hmm. Also, there’s a learning curve in inserting for no-leak suction. And… you can’t be squeamish. Using one involves getting very intimate with your body. Bring a mild soap to clean it out.

If you’re traveling a country with questionable water, use only boiled or sanitized water to wash out your cup. You really don’t want to introduce any little nasty germs into your innermost parts on the other side of the world.

Upside

At only $30, these are really affordable over the long haul. Replace the cup 1x/year and save your share of the 20 billion pads and tampons per year from ending up in a landfill. You can have sex if you’re wearing certain brands.

Reusable Pads & Tampons

We’re not going back to medieval times with reusable pads and tampons made from fabric. Ahh, yeah! Just like pads, absorption and comfort levels depends on the material they’re made out of. Some have a waterproof backing so you’re definitely not going to leak.

Wondering about those tampons made from fabric? They’re knitted. And you can make your own or buy one from the pros on Etsy. Just, please, don’t forget to take it out in a timely fashion.

Check out: GladRags, Lunapads, Etsy pads, Etsy tampons

Downside

Because they are washable, pack 2-3 so you can wear one while the others are drying. Bring a mild soap to wash them. Also, use water that you’d drink to wash them. And of course, you’re not escaping the uncomfortable “soaked pad in my undies” or bloated “tampon is full” feeling.

Upside

These babies are washable, reusable, and wallet-friendly. Cute designs (so you can smile occasionally when Aunt Flo is here).

TL;DR

Take the world by storm even when Aunt Flo is in town.

Ditch the traditional single-use, discard-when-used pads and tampons — and save tons of space in carry on and on-the-road hassle for replenishing your supplies by using alternative, reusable methods, like:

Image credits: Thinx, The Sea Sponge Company, Boppy, Diva Cup, Etsy