What is the best way to deal with your period abroad?
Dealing with your period abroad can be a bit tricky. And as a student, I’ve found that most study abroad programs don’t properly prepare you for the challenges involved.
Not all countries have the same sanitary or birth control products. Plus, the stress of travel can cause your period to be extremely late or not occur whatsoever.
Feminine Sanitary Products – And Their Availability – During Travel
Do you use sanitary pads for your period? Then you’ll be pleased to know that they are the reigning international feminine product.
They can usually be found in either grocery stores or pharmacies.
If you use tampons, you will have to know where to look to find them. In many countries, tampons are not very popular because using them is associated with a loss of virginity. Many women plan to remain virgins until marriage (or at least keep up such an appearance). Therefore, they never use tampons.
So far, I have never been to a country where I couldn’t find them in a pharmacy in a city. However, they are almost never found in grocery stores and they may be impossible to find in rural areas.
Keep in mind that you might not want to publicize the fact that you are using them. Even as a foreigner, you may be subject to social stigma if people assume you are not a virgin — especially if you aren’t married.
In many places, the only tampons available are those which are inserted with the finger. If you are not familiar with these tampons, you might consider experimenting with them before a long trip abroad. They’re easy to use, but take some getting used to. They may also be cause for concern if there is no way to wash your hands directly after using them – this is an even bigger sanitary concern when using a moon cup.
The moon cup is a lesser-known menstruation solution.
It is a reusable cup that it inserted into the vagina in order to catch the blood. The likelihood of finding these in a store anywhere is slim (though they are becoming more popular), and most likely you will have to order one offline. That said, since it is reusable you can take it with you when you go abroad.
There are many travelers that swear by this method since it creates less waste and removes of the necessity of searching for sanitary products while in a foreign country. The problem, though, is that you are likely to come across restrooms where it will be impossible to effectively clean the cup. This is especially true if you are traveling to rural Africa or any area with pit toilets (that do not flush).
Also, sinks may be in a public area. So ask yourself if you’re comfortable washing out your menstrual blood where other women can watch.
In many countries birth control can be obtained cheaply and without a prescription.
However, you may not be able to find a specific brand. Ask yourself if you are comfortable changing the amounts and types of hormones in your body by switching to a readily-available brand in your host country. Depending on how long you are going to be abroad, you might just decide to bring a few extra packs from home for your trip.
In other countries, a doctor’s prescription is required for birth control.
This is, for example, generally the case in Europe. If you’re still adamant about using birth control to deal with your period abroad, your best option is probably to stock up on birth control before heading out. However, it you plan to be abroad for over a year, you might look into using the medical system in your host country.
In France, for example, medical insurance is required for all foreign students, even if you are only there for a year. Moreover, women’s health services are free and really good quality. Plus, heading to the doctor’s office can be a good test for your language skills… if you’re up for the challenge!
I was once appalled to read a study abroad preparation guide that suggested the use of injectable contraceptives, like Depo-Provera®, to stop periods during travel (for 3 months at a time) in order to avoid “dealing with them.”
This could be a great option if you are already using injectables. That said, if you’ve already got a great regimen going, don’t feel obligated to switch things up just because your period might be “annoying.”
After all, travel already puts your body through incredible stress. If you are thinking about changing birth control method, you should probably do it long before you start traveling so you can make sure the new method works well with your body.
A lot of girls who already take birth control experiment with skipping the sugar pills (or placebos) in order to avoid having a period at what might be an “awkward moment.”
I understand that some birth control prescriptions are made so that this is possible. However, you should double-check with your doctor before trying it.
It is true that the stress of being abroad may cause your period to be early, late, or more or less frequent.
In some cases you might stop having your period altogether.
I know women who simply did not have their periods during most of a full year while abroad! It’s not because they were pregnant, but because of the stress on their bodies. And it wasn’t necessarily stress that they felt mentally.
If you think about it, it’s actually a good thing. Your body is protecting itself by refusing to allow you to reproduce if you’re too stressed out!
In order to prevent the scare of a late, early, or non-existant periods, it is sometimes suggested to start taking birth control. Plus, birth control can help with cramps and acne. After all, these are issues that nobody wants to deal with while hiking up mountains or crossing countries with only a backpack.
I have personally always used birth control during my travels. Because of this, I have always had easy to deal with, regular menstruations. That said, it bears repeating that you shouldn’t feel obligated to take birth control just because you are traveling. Plenty of women (ahem — most women) have periods every month, in every country of the world. There are options.
If you do decide to start taking birth control, you should probably start long before you leave to make sure it works well with your body.
[Cover photo: Orchid from the Orchid Festival in Concepción, Bolivia.]