How to Deal With Your Period, Comfortably, on Vacation

Published July 29, 2019

Edited by:

Jenn Sutherland-Miller

Jenn raised 4 children while traveling full-time for more than a decade– it’s called worldschooling and it’s awesome. Jenn has...

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Caring for yourself while you travel with your period requires an extra bit of self-graciousness and no small amount of improvisation. Here’s your reminder to prep ahead of time to take care of yourself while you have your period on vacation.

Everybody with a period knows the sinking feeling of being mere minutes away from a red blotch appearing on your butt. That cruel stain timer had, on the last day of a trip I’d planned for months, started ticking for me amid priceless cultural artifacts in arguably the classiest city in the world where my aforementioned butt would be visible to millions of people. And, I was plumb out of panty liners.

Even on a weekday in January, the Louvre was packed. My mom and I were tucked in a gift shop strategizing how to possibly see the Islamic Art wing and the Winged Victory of Samothrace without walking in too many circles — our last action-packed day after a week snacking and shivering through Germany and France before heading home.

Suddenly, I realized my day had taken a physical turn. The stain timer sped up.

Immediately, I got desperate and flagged down a shop associate who looked sympathetic to my desperation. Summoning my best college French, I alerted them to my plight, and for the next few minutes, I experienced the kindness of strangers as they coordinated a stealth period product brigade via walkie-talkie sourced from staffers in the basement. Never in my life have I ever been so happy to have a diaper-sized, floral-scented overnight pad with Dumbo wings placed in my hand. A Winged Victory indeed.

Waddling around the Louvre with my mom that day, I had to laugh. Dealing with my period on vacation had been both physically and socially uncomfortable, but I also had the ability to navigate the situation as best I could. For that, and the generosity of strangers, I was profoundly grateful.

Travel, like your body, is imperfect and a gift, with variables that are constantly changing. Caring for yourself while you travel with your period requires an extra bit of self-graciousness and no small amount of improvisation. Here’s your reminder to prep ahead of time to take care of yourself while you have your period on vacation.

Prepare for Your Period Before Vacation

Adapt the period products you pack to fit your itinerary and the culture within which you’ll be traveling.

Before you reach for your tampons or your menstrual cup, do some research on bathroom and clean water access throughout your trip.

  • Will you have the privacy you want to be able to care for your period the way you need to?
  • Can you rinse out your cup hygienically at least once a day?
  • Can you buy more tampons or pads mid-trip if you run out?

If you’re using disposable menstrual products, I recommend overpacking so you don’t cause innocent museum staff any trouble. In many countries you won’t be able to find the products, or the quality that you’re used to at home. Vacation is no time to experiment.

If you’re using non-disposable methods, like period underwear, cloth panty liners, or a cup, ensuring daily access to clean hot water and pH-friendly soap is key. Make sure to bring vaginal wipes, hand sanitizer, and a water bottle for sinkless cleaning emergencies.

Keep in mind that some global religious practices may have varied views of menstruation, especially for menstruating people participating in ceremonies or entering houses of worship. It never hurts to err on the side of respect and understanding instead of causing offense – you are the visitor.

(Something else cool to remember: People with periods in many cultures couldn’t even travel safely even 50 to 100 years ago! We’re already experiencing a giant step forward for humankind. This brought me comfort while I was bloated in front of the Mona Lisa.)

Pack, Preparing for the Worst

Having the right kind of clothes and underwear that can handle blood stains and be resurrected overnight through my favorite of all travel hacks, a brisk wash in the sink is an absolute must. Fast-drying fabrics like merino wool and polyester blends that will be dry by morning are great options.

Your period wardrobe should include:

  • Quick-dry shorts or pants in dark colors
  • In colder weather, dark liner leggings for wearing under pants
  • Plenty of backup underwear (perhaps even a few of your ugliest undies, the ones you wouldn’t mind ditching in a hostel trash can before heading home)
  • Mild laundry soap for sink washing, like Dr. Bronner’s or liquid detergent

Stuck without soap with a stain on your favorite jeans? Here’s a fantastically gross science tip in case of total emergency: Your own spit breaks down your own blood. Spit directly on the stain (the sooner the better) and rub into the fabric gently. Wait a minute or two, then rinse with cold water to reduce the stain. Talk about a minimalist packing hack!

Pack a Mini Medicine Cabinet

Used in moderation, according to your doctor’s recommendations (always!), you may choose some extra help from the pharmacy to power through your period comfortably.

Here are some ideas for packing ahead:

  • Antacids for bloating discomfort
  • Painkiller of choice for cramps, depending on what works for you and what your doctor recommends.
    • Note that if you buy internationally, common active ingredients may go by different names.
    • You may choose to use a painkiller with caffeine in it, which can be handy for powering through a big day
  • Washcloth, to soak in cool water and press on your forehead or pelvis
  • Skin-clearing masks and acne patches for hormonal breakouts
  • Sleep aids can be helpful for ensuring you get deep rest that helps you recharge

When you arrive, depending on the country and region, if CBD or THC products are legal, you can try a vaginal cannabinoid suppository! This is not a traditional solution by any means, but some folks swear by it for pain relief. If you’re somewhere you can purchase and use it legally, this may be a helpful option.

Dealing With Your Period on Vacation

Prioritize Bathrooms & Drinkable Water

Depending on the country and your schedule, bathroom access and norms may differ. Know where the next bathroom and water source will be whenever you can. A squat toilet, a bush off the Appalachian Trail, a busy hostel or conference center restroom — be prepared for wherever you’ll have to go.

Give yourself a home base by packing a menstrual kit in your daypack, including all of the essentials you packed above. Throw in a repurposed plastic grocery bag in case a trash can isn’t readily available.

Stay hydrated and make sure you don’t wear pads or panty liners too long to make sure you can ride out your flow without experiencing dehydration or an infection. Especially when using pads or panty liners, refreshing what you’re using regularly will keep you more comfortable, and your clothes will stay fresh longer. Periods are draining on your body, so hydrating regularly is crucial. Electrolyte drinks can also help, or drinking natural electrolytes such as coconut water, if it’s available.

Leave Wiggle Room in Your Itinerary

Packing your trip as full as possible and get your plane ticket’s worth is tempting, but that’s a lot of pressure to put on your body, which is already experiencing being in a new place, time zone or culture. No matter your vacation personality, leave room in your day for sipping cool drinks in the shade or snuggling up in your hotel room with a hot water bottle and take it easy every few hours. Your body will thank you.

If you can’t bear to miss the experience of being in a new place, try to enjoy your adventure in a more stationary way. Instead of being on your feet, go check out the local films playing at a nearby movie theater, try a boat or bus tour instead of walking, people-watch from a cafe, or luxuriate over a long dinner. Again, anywhere climate-controlled with a bathroom nearby is a win. Who says you have to tick off the top sights to truly experience the place you’re visiting?

Strategies for Dealing With Your Period on Vacation

Do Vacation and Your Period Your Way

Give yourself permission to be as uncomfortable, or as comfortable, as you need to be.

This one’s tough, especially for budget-minded, minimalism-obsessed travelers. Going on vacation is already such a splurge. You may have been saving up for months, used future PTO days, spent on doggy day care, or have a friend house-sitting.

Your Pinterest board turned into a perfect app itinerary. You packed your cutest swimsuit for cabana cocktail sipping, or had the most ambitious hike of your life planned, memorized phrases in other languages. Then you got your period the night before your red-eye flight. When you’ve invested so much, getting your period on vacation can sometimes feel like a cruel joke there to ruin all your fun.

The way I see it, it’s up to you to respond in one of two ways: Relax and let go of your itinerary, or double down and treat the discomfort so you can achieve your #vacaygoals. It might be more empowering to you to be stubborn with what you want to see and do, even if that means a little discomfort. Go for it and use what you packed above to be more comfortable! It also might be more empowering to you to drink hot tea and watch Netflix from a hostel bunk and save scuba diving or walking tours for next time. That is also okay!

Make Space for Emotions

By the way, if you tend to experience heightened emotions around or during your period, allow yourself to feel those feelings! It is totally okay to cry or get frustrated. Traveling is already uncomfortable, so you’re double allowed to feel frustrated. You don’t have to smile your entire trip. You get to decide what each day looks like, and none of it has to be Instagrammable.

Your vacation is yours.

Choose Your Focus

While riding the physical roller coaster of having your period on vacation, it may help to keep one foot grounded in reality. You may find that keeping a gratitude journal with bullet points of the great vacation memories you make helps put the cramps or the stains on your brand-new Patagonia pants in perspective. You probably won’t remember how bloated you were, or you can laugh about it later, but you will remember how you watched a beautiful sunset with your partner or had a great conversation with a new friend in the hotel lobby.

Ultimately, nobody gets to tell you how to travel but you and the social norms of the place you’re visiting. Check in with yourself regularly and be honest about what kind of vacation you want, then follow through. You deserve it.

Joanna Rutter

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