Periods are normal. Painful, uncomfortable and gross, but normal. Not talking about them just makes it worse for everyone, and for those of us living in a society that has easy access to toilets, clean water, new underwear, pain killers and sanitary products, we tend to forget about what lies ahead when we embark on a new adventure. The UK is one of the most advanced nations when it comes to women’s sanitary access and health, and we can find everything we need in a single supermarket (even if sanitary products are taxed as ‘luxury items’). Even in our neighbouring countries, you’d be surprised how difficult it can be to find an applicator tampon!
In the past few years, there has been a rise in product options and for us travellers, that is an absolute blessing. Many women are now trying out different options which is hardly surprising since an average woman spends up to £18,000 on her period in a lifetime! Out with the old and in with the new, let’s take a look at the options you should consider whilst planning a trip away.
Do you remember how uncomfortable it was trying to use a tampon for the first time? Not quite knowing where it was supposed to go, what direction it should face or whether it would just fall straight out, are genuine concerns that many of us can relate to, and some of us were never able to answer.
That’s why when I first heard about a menstrual cup, I absolutely rejected the idea of having to learn all over again. For those of you that are still new to this product, it is a silicone cup that is inserted into the vagina much like the tampon, and stops any menstrual fluids from leaving the body and flooding our poor underwear. My first time using it was… interesting, and resulted in me sticking to my trusted tampons, but after a second attempt I managed to get a grip (literally, they aren’t easy to hold!) and give it a try.
This is an ideal solution to the lack of, and cost of, sanitary products available to you when travelling;
They live in a small material pouch that can be carried anywhere, so no more using toilet tissue when you get an unexpected arrival from Mother Nature.
They last up to 12 hours, so even if you prefer using other products, you have plenty of time to search.
Once you own a menstrual cup, there are no more costs involved.
No need to panic when public toilets don’t have a sanitary bin to dispose of your used products, as menstrual cups are reusable.
And its in that moment that we suddenly realise we’re going to have to clean them after each use. Not to worry! It’s much easier than you think, even in public toilets. The cups do not require a deep clean after each use, therefore if you do not have direct access to a sink in the cubicle, you can rinse it with a bottle of water and/or toilet tissue as silicone isn’t a material that harbours bacteria. Most toilet tissue is not bleached with chemicals and chlorine like tampons, so it is absolutely fine to use. When possible, wash the cup with warm water. You can also use mild, unscented, water-based (oil-free) soap, although this is probably harder to find than tampons whilst travelling! When your cycle has ended, boil the cup for a few minutes and use a soft toothbrush to gently wash the cup, including the airholes. I always use a travel size toothbrush that fits in the cup’s pouch. Most accommodation will have a toilet with its own sink, so this isn’t hard to do – just go in with a mug of boiling water. For more information on using a menstrual cup on the go, RubyCup has some great advice and suggestions here.
The only downside that I have experienced with the menstrual cup is the occasional leaking when I’m in my first few days, especially when I’m moving around a lot. Using a pad defeats the object of spending less and worrying about the disposal, and so I found a new alternative that works perfectly alongside the cup.
Introducing Thinx. Thinx are a brand of underwear that are completely period-proof. They essentially act like a pad, but without any leaking, discomfort or even signs of liquid for up to 12 hours and they can hold as much as 2 tampons worth of fluids! They can be used on their own for those ladies who can’t stomach the idea of the menstrual cup, but I prefer to have the option of both, as the menstrual cup can become uncomfortable towards the end of my cycle. There are also options to have reusable pads instead but that requires more washing – pants and pads in one is much more effective.
Thinx are very easy to wash and store. I use opaque reusable ziplock bags to store any used underwear in until I am able to hand wash in cold water. Similarly to the cup, you can always use bottled water to hand wash in the cubicle until you have access to a sink or washing machine. Be aware that this underwear takes longer to dry due to its protective layers, and you cannot put them in a tumble dryer, but if you’re in a hurry, you could use the cool setting on a hairdryer.
One thing to note – everyone’s cycle is different, and so there’s no point saying how many pants you will need per period. If you read reviews online, the only downfall that keeps popping up is getting used to how long it takes for the underwear to need changing. Some people were able to use just the underwear for their whole cycle, and some needed to change every few hours during their heaviest days, causing some leaks. This is why I suggest using both the cup and the underwear. Double protection means less worry, and both are easy to change and store. The only problem that will hold many people back is the upfront cost of these items.
Most menstrual cups are between £15-£25, and I would suggest the known branded ones purely for safety and comfort; Ruby Cup, DivaCup and Mooncup are the most popular, but other brands such as OrganiCup and The Tulip Cup are just as good. Each pair of Thinx cost between $24 - $39, which is a lot of money to pay all in one go, especially considering you’ll need several pairs, plus custom costs and postage and packaging. Many people struggle to travel as it is, even on a small budget, so my suggestion to you is to ease into it. Buy the menstrual cup first as that’s going to take a while to get used to. You can use pads until you’ve saved enough to buy a couple of pairs of Thinx.
Overall, it will save a lot of money in your lifetime, but let’s not ignore the fact that many people can’t afford to fork out that much money in one go. It may not be the most glamorous gift of all, but you can ask for them for birthdays and any other gift-exchange celebrations. If you join groups such as GirlsLOVEtravel, ask if anyone has any codes or discounts you can use. They often have a $10 off code if you introduce a friend so lots of people will offer to help you out! You can also save money buy buying in bulk – Thinx offer 10% off if you order 3 pairs or more, 15% off if you order 5 pairs or more, and 20% off if you order 7 pairs or more. Another way to save is to use sites such as Latest Free Stuff, WOW Free Stuff and Magic Freebies UK to get samples of sanitary products. There are also companies who offer free testers such as Afresh, Always and Kotex. Ask your friends and family to order them too and you’ll have a whole collection for free! Each time you would have bought some, you can put the money aside. This way, you’re still spending the same as if you were using your ordinary products. This also works with other products such as toothpaste, razors and soaps. Please note that applying to charities is not recommended as they are specifically for girls and women who are unable to pay for sanitary products at all.
So we’re doing well so far, and despite the steep upfront cost, we’ve saved ourselves a lot of money already and we can do so whilst travelling. But we can do more. Sanitary products are not the only thing we need to think about when our period strikes. It may be the more disastrous and messy part, but let’s talk about the worst part of our cycle – the pain.
There’s no denying that period pain is the most frustrating part and can lead to us missing a chunk of our sightseeing time! There’s no point wearing our menstrual cup and Thinx underwear whilst lying in bed curled up in pain, so what can we do about it?
First of all, it can be hard to find pain killers where you’re going, and they are so much more expensive that the UK, even in the cheaper parts of the world. You would also need to visit a Pharmacy as medicines are not sold in supermarkets or corner shops. My advice to you is to take as much Tesco own paracetomol as you can fit in your case. There are no official rules about how much over-the-counter medication you can take on a plane, so use that to your advantage. Each tablet costs approximately 2p, and so long as they remain in their packet, you’re good to go. Please note these rules do not necessarily apply for prescribed medication – please check with your airline before travelling, we don’t want to end up being arrested in Thailand for bringing Co-codomol.
For those of you less inclined to fill yourself with medication, there are other options available. It is a well known fact that heat and/or cold can help with pain relief and so investing in heat pads is a great idea for travel. There are different options available, but I recommend getting 2 or 3 instant heat packs which don’t require any electricity, microwaves or batteries, and instead only require boiling water to reset them. They don’t last particularly long though, hence investing in a few. Please remember the 100ml rule when carrying them in your hand luggage as they still count as a liquid. Another option is to bring a smaller empty hot water bottle onboard, which the cabin crew will more than likely fill up for you. You can then attach it to your back or stomach and walk around with it as normal. Most coffee shops will give you boiling water for free so use that to fill it back up again when it cools down. Lastly, there is the option of a USB powered heat pad. Most of us carry around a portable charger or two, so this is a great option for travelling. They are more expensive to obtain but last longer than other options and don’t require any help from coffee shops or flight attendants and are much more comfortable to wear. I advise you not to bring the wheat packs as these require microwaving, which is rarely available in your accommodation.
It's worth mentioning that despite all this preparation, there’s still a good chance that your period will be inconsistent whilst travelling. Jetlag is a major disruptor of regular periods and can send your cycle all over the place. My Pregnancy Baby goes into more detail here. Because of this, you may choose to skip your period altogether. Many women worry about skipping one period, let alone 4 or 5, so if it makes you feel better, visit a walk in sexual health clinic and ask the wonderful ladies about the different options. Using contraception to skip a period is neither controversial or bad for your body, but can sometimes cause spotting which, in the grand scheme of things, is really not a concern. I don’t claim to be a doctor or a physician, but if you visit the NHS page, they will tell you which contraception you can use to delay your period! If they’re not worried, nor am I. If you’d like to keep track of your period, you can download the Period Tracker app which will help you prepare for when your period should be. This is especially useful for those who are staying in a country for a while, allowing their cycle to regain its regularity.
We’re coming to the end of this very long but essential blog, so let’s just recap our options:
Lasts up to 12 hours
Costs between £15 and £25 one time purchase
Lasts approximately 10 years if looked after
Uncomfortable at first
Can have slight leaks
Lasts up to 10-12 hours
Costs between $24 - $39 per pair
Lasts the same length of an ordinary pair of underwear
Great for lighter periods
Requires regular changing if heavy
2 every 4 hours
Cheapest cost around 2p per tablet
No airline restrictions
Harder to find abroad
Instant Heat Pads:
Cost around £5-£8 for a pair
Last up to 1 hour
100ml maximum for airline restrictions
Heats up in seconds
Hot Water Bottle:
Most people already own one
Mini one costs between £2-£5
Lasts approximately 1 hour
No airline restriction when empty
Free to use at all times
Requires hot water
Hard to carry around
USB Heat Pad:
Cost between £10-£50 depending on brand
Lasts until you switch it off
No airline restrictions
Requires Portable charger
Easy to carry round
Different heats and functions available
Skipping your period:
Seek medical advice
Prepare months in advance
Restrictions on tablets may be in place
My personal preference whilst travelling is to use a menstrual cup supported by 3 pairs of Thinx underwear for my 3 heaviest days, a backpack full of paracetamol and a USB Heat pad. This is an upfront cost of approximately £130 which I included in my travel budget. This is the most expensive option, but what’s £130 compared to £18,000?
Thank-you for reading this bloody blog (sorry), and if anyone has any questions or needs help working out how to save money to do this, please feel free to contact me on our contact us page!