The Unexpected Upsides of Traveling On Your Period
If there’s one thing for certain, it’s that our period will, at some point, come when we’re away from home. It may be a memorable arrival in a middle-school bathroom, or it may happen halfway across the world on the trip of a lifetime.
There is an inevitability to getting your period while traveling for most people; it is, after all, impossible to always schedule around a monthly occurrence that lasts for decades of your life. In many cases, experiencing your period on a trip can be a nuisance or a forgettable inconvenience—for others who suffer from endometriosis or painful periods, it can be more of a headache to prepare for and manage. But some travelers are reframing their perspectives on menstruating and travel into something positive, too.
“Traveling is one of my great loves, and traveling with my period is just traveling,” Katy Huie Harrison, founder of Undefining Motherhood, says. “I think what's been important for me is realizing that a period is not an interruption to my life; it's simply part of life."
Because of the universality of the experience, getting your period on a trip can create a chance for bonding with your traveling companions. Jasmin Kaur, a writer and artist, recently traveled to London where she met another local poet. “Our dinner was not-so-politely interrupted by the unexpected arrival of my period. It quickly evolved into her and I searching for pads," she says. "There is something profound about our shared understanding and the way we are willing to drop everything to look out for each other in situations like these.”
“I’ve found that having the experience of my period while exploring [the globe] breeds a special kind of gentleness. It’s a familiar experience and in that way serves as an equalizer.”
Bri Byrne, a program coordinator and frequent traveler, agrees. “I’ve found that having the experience of my period while exploring [the globe] breeds a special kind of gentleness. It’s a familiar experience and in that way serves as an equalizer. I’ve been on trips with friends of friends, and ‘does anyone have a pad or tampon?’ really cuts the tension,” says Byrne. “And there is nothing like asking your best friend to check your butt when you get up. Really brings out your inner middle schooler!” It can actually make travel feel like a wonderful meeting of old and new experiences. Or as Byrne puts it: “Traveling with my period feels like an adventure with a hint of nostalgia.”
This deepened connection takes another form for Melinda Strauss, a food blogger and Orthodox Jewish woman who observes a custom known as niddah, in which a married woman and her spouse refrain from physical touch during menstruation, including sleeping in separate beds. Strauss says she always ensures her hotel rooms have two beds or swing kings, to be prepared. “It's definitely annoying to go on a vacation where it can be very romantic, especially physically, and have those plans changed because of a period,” says Strauss. “But romance is so much more than just touch. What I think is great during the time of niddah is that it's a time to connect without touch. A time to just hang out, talk, and get to know each other better. We make it work without ruining the vacation.”
Of course, it’s not always easy to have to plan for restroom access and pack feminine hygiene products on your travels, or cope with cramps and discomfort when you’d rather be sightseeing pain-free. Staying at a luxury hotel with the conveniences of home is one thing, but period management becomes more complicated if you’re an adventure traveler planning, say, a physically exerting camping or hiking trip that involves pitching tents in remote locales. Not only is there no option to pick up Midol or just spend the day in bed, but there’s also potentially a whole new world of logistics to worry about, like finding a way to clean your menstrual cup, or packing out every tampon and pad used in a special bag.
Kaur shares that in these moments, she tries to focus on the fact that her body is “working” as it should. “It’s anxiety-reducing to feel that my body is cycling in a natural manner, even if it comes with logistical inconveniences,” she says. Byrne similarly works to reframe the challenges of her period if she gets it while traveling. “Pushing through the discomfort and pain of a period kind of makes me feel invincible, like I can do anything,” she says. “And that’s a great energy to have behind me when I’m out seeing the world.”
"Despite the physical challenges of menopause, and our culture's refusal to openly discuss it, this life stage shouldn’t hold us back from doing things we love."
Every person’s experience of traveling while menstruating is different, though, and “pushing through” may not be as easy for those who suffer from severe cramps and pain during their period (also known as dysmenorrhea) which can be caused by conditions like endometriosis or uterine fibroids.
For project manager Eliza McMurray, 26, traveling with endometriosis can be “anxiety provoking,” especially the first few heavy days of her period. “Traveling while wearing [pads] is quite uncomfortable. Getting hot and clammy ‘down there’ whilst bleeding is super irritating and can really impact my mood,” she says.
If you’re dealing with severe pain, PMS, or heavy bleeding, talking to your ob-gyn can help you pinpoint the root cause and how to manage it. “If we have enough advance notice, we can often help decrease the amount of bleeding or pain you experience during your period,” says Jennifer Conti, M.D., an adjunct clinical assistant professor at Stanford University School of Medicine and co-host of the V Word Podcast. If someone has endometriosis, “one approach is to use hormonal contraception, such as the birth control pill, ring, or hormonal IUD, continuously to eliminate your period altogether” adds ob-gyn Lauren Streicher, M.D., clinical professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
McMurray used this method, recommended by her doctor when she was first diagnosed with endometriosis, until she “stupidly forgot to pack enough birth control pills” on a trip to South East Asia and Australia, forcing her to deal with more intense, painful periods. She says using a period tracking app is crucial for not only coming prepared with enough supplies and pain management tools like heat pads but for staying mindful of the stage of her cycle when mapping out her trips. “I try to plan excursions around what I will feel comfortable and able to do, and take breaks where I need to,” she says.
However, McMurray says traveling has also created “really positive experiences” that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. “For no good reason, periods are such a taboo subject and with my partner being my traveling buddy, he soon had to hear all the gory details that I’d usually bother my mom and sister with,” she says. She’s also found a community of female travelers with endometriosis to offer support when questions come up.
“I try not to let endometriosis govern my life, travel being no exception,” McMurray says. “You have to accept that a period while traveling is not usually like a period at home. You don’t tend to be able to spend the evenings curled up on the couch watching Friends, eating ice cream, and cuddling your hot water bottle. You may spend it however, curled up on the beach somewhere beautiful, which I think we can all agree beats a sofa in many respects!”
There’s a cliche about the time before and during our periods being emotional roller-coasters, but that doesn’t mean we can’t also embrace the changes that come with the hormonal fluctuations of our cycles on the road. On Kaur’s trip to London, she recalls a moment “sitting alone at the Tate Modern Museum, sketching a vision for a new performance piece, PMS-tears in full swing.” Far from an inconvenience, it’s a happy–even a profound–memory that has actually motivated her to travel even more. “It is the reason why I have new travel plans for this summer in cities I love,” she says. The vulnerability that comes with our cycles can breed creativity and insight, especially when paired with new surroundings. Or, it can inspire us to engage with our vacation spot in a different way.
The thousand-year-old practice of *batok* will live on, in Buscalan and around the world, thanks to the descendants Apo Whang-Od has been training and inspiring.
“Having my period provides such a relief in my mood. It brings me peace and a drive to get cozy,” says Byrne. “And so a refreshing element to having your period while traveling is that I see it as a built-in rest button, which people can forget to do while on a trip. Traveling is a golden opportunity to give yourself permission. Suddenly you have an excuse to take a bubble bath instead of that hike, or a nap instead of that show.”
Kaur agrees: “If you’re someone who likes to craft a thorough itinerary and stick with it, it can feel disappointing to have to pause and rest,” she admits. “But there’s so much life to be experienced in stillness and following the unexpected, so go with it."
These may not be the memories you expected to make, but they can be fulfilling nonetheless. As Strauss explains, another element of the niddah timeframe is finding a mikvah, a ritual bath which can be done in a natural body of water. “I've personally never been in a situation where I needed to dip in a lake or ocean but I do know others who have,” says Strauss.
Harrison, meanwhile, once found herself in Munich with little spoken German and an unexpected need for a feminine product. “I was far from equipped to explain to the German-speaking pharmacist that I needed tampons,” she says. “So I quickly shifted into the universal language of mime. I found myself standing in front of a pharmacy counter, contorting my face and body to physically act out the motion of inserting a tampon. I felt so thankful that the darling person behind the counter was a woman who understood my predicament.”
Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler