Periods, Pills & Paps – How To Handle Female Health When Travelling
I’ve been travelling and living abroad now for eight years. I’ve visited overseas doctors, purchased numerous packs of birth control pills and have had more than 100 periods while travelling! And most of the time I had to handle these tasks in non-English speaking countries. Because of this, I have some wisdom to pass on to you, my fellow female travellers.
In this post, I’ll be sharing my best tips and advice for dealing with your period, finding birth control pills, handling visits to a gynecologist, and what to do when you have a UTI and yeast infection. Plus, I’ll list my must-have prevention products and cures.
How to Mange Your Period When Travelling
Let’s be honest, having your period can really put a damper on your trip. But, it’s a monthly event that we as women have to deal with.
When you’re travelling, you may want to reconsider your choice of feminine products and be more aware of your monthly cycle, as it can be affected by timezone changes, lack of exercise, diet and altitude.
Depending on where in the world you’re visiting, you may or may not be able to purchase tampons – or at least they’re not readily available everywhere. In my experience, travelling outside of cities in much of the Middle East, Africa and SE Asia, finding tampons isn’t all that easy. Pads are the common product used. If you’re a tampons or nothing kinda gal, you might want to pack your own (unless going on a long trip).
If you do come across tampons, you’ll have to think about where you’re going to dispose of them. Obviously, when you’re home in your western country you would just flush the used one in the toilet, and dispose of the garbage in the bin.
Well, in many parts of the world, you can’t flush toilet paper let alone a tampon, and oftentimes you’ll need to bring your own toilet paper as well. If you plan to ditch your tampon in the garbage bin, make sure to bring your own tissue to properly dispose of the used one!
These are available around the world. If this is your method of choice, you’ll be fine when travelling, but you’ll still need to consider disposal methods.
Also, for both pads and tampons, you’ll need to change them often and if you’re on a 12 – 20 hour train or bus ride, that’s not an ideal situation.
Which brings me to my favourite product for periods…
During our first trip in 2008, I was so naive and assumed that I would never be able to find tampons abroad and couldn’t fathom the thought of using pads. So, I packed a year’s worth of tampons – you do the math!
For our second trip, which ultimately led to this full-time travelling lifestyle, I learned about menstrual cups. There are numerous brands out there, but I’ve used the Diva Cup since 2010 and highly recommend it. This little cup is my must-pack item.
The silicone cup (which comes in two different sizes) allows you to have a worry free period. I’ve used it camping, trekking, swimming and on long train / bus journeys. You can’t even feel it.
When you’re camping or trekking in the middle of nowhere, what would you do with your used pad or tampon? With the cup, you have no garbage. You simply empty the contents of the cup (of course, you will want to dig a hole first and properly bury it) and you’re done!
The cup is especially great for long travel days. The Diva Cup can be used for 12 hours (I’ve worn it longer), and offers a leak-free experience.
Finally, the cup is inexpensive and can be used for a whole year, meaning you’ll be saving money. Plus, you’ll also be helping the environment. Bonus!
☞ Click here to learn more about the Diva Cup and get the latest price on Amazon
Visiting a Gynecologist Abroad
If you’re on a long trip or if you live abroad, you’ll need to see a gynecologist for your annual check-up. Or, if you’re just travelling around for a while, you may end up having some health concerns and need to visit a doctor. It can be worrisome to see a doctor abroad, especially in a country where they might not speak your language.
There are a few ways that you can find a gynecologist overseas:
- Do a Google search of “Best Gynecologist in___” and see which doctors come up. Check for ones that are associated with a reputable hospital.
- Search for “Expat Forum in ____” with Google and ask for advice from women who live where you’re travelling.
- Check on Facebook for “Expats in ___” and ask the community for any recommendations.
- Contact your travel insurance provider and have them send you a list of reputable doctors.
- Ask the locals. Maybe you’re staying at a hostel, you could ask the receptionist there. If you always go to a certain cafe, consider asking your favourite server who she recommends.
Once you’ve decided on a doctor, you’ll want to check reviews about that hospital and/or that doctor in particular. Do a Google search about the establishment that has been recommended to you and see if there are any negative reviews. Look for answers to do with the hygiene and cleanliness of the place as well.
Once you’ve made your appointment and have entered into the office/hospital, take a look around and get a feel for the place. If you have any reservations about the cleanliness, the attitude of the staff, or the overall vibe, then leave. Follow your intuition, it’s a woman’s best asset.
A few things to think about when visiting a gynecologist abroad:
- Make sure you ask to see the results for yourself and are provided with the proper report.
- The way they do things may be different to that in your home country. Depending on what is different, this is OK. In China, they don’t really have privacy when it comes to seeing a doctor and this is normal for them. For example, a friend of mine had a pap done next to another woman!
- Make sure the equipment is up to standard, the exam room is sterile and that the doctors are wearing proper protection.
- If your doctor doesn’t speak English, you may want to bring a friend to translate any concerns. Or, at least have a translation app on your phone that you can use.
- Because the doctor won’t know your medical history, make sure to tell them any problems you’ve had in the past – and be honest.
I’ve had a pap / check-up done in both Malta and Thailand, and while both exam rooms were sterile, the bedside manner in Thailand was awful. In hindsight, I should have gone somewhere else, but I was at a private, highly recommended hospital (aka expensive) so I didn’t think there could be anywhere better in terms of hygiene and quality of equipment.
On another note, I tried to have my pap done in England rather than Thailand, but because I’m not a resident (and it wasn’t an emergency), I wasn’t able to see a doctor…
Each situation is different. Each country is different. Just do your research and go with your gut.
Purchasing Birth Control Pills Abroad
If you’re on birth control pills and are planning to travel, you’ll be happy to know that pills are available over the counter in many countries around the world! Unlike where I’m from in Canada, where you have to get a prescription for practically everything, I’ve been able to easily purchase birth control pills abroad, without having to visit a doctor first.
If you are used to a certain brand and percentage of ingredients / hormones in the pills, then you probably want to stick with that type. If possible, bring enough pills from home for the duration of your trip. But, if you’re going on a long-term adventure, or if you live abroad like I do, then bringing enough pills from home isn’t an option.
Marvelon is the most common brand that I’ve seen abroad, and luckily for me, it’s the one I use. In my experience, prices range from $2 – $17 per packet. I’ve purchased Marvelon birth control (or another brand with the exact ingredients) in China, Thailand, Malta (with prescription), Malaysia, Barbados, Grenada, Argentina, Mexico and many others.
Typically, pills are available at any pharmacy that you would purchase Advil at. Again, a translation app may come in handy.
How to Prevent and Manage UTIs
Unfortunately, UTIs (urinary tract infections) are commonplace among female travellers.
Long bus journeys and unsightly bathrooms may mean that you can’t use the toilet (or don’t want to!) when you really need to “go”. Holding it in is a main cause of UTIs, as is poor hygiene, a lowered immune system due to travel stress, and not peeing before and after sex (romance on the road anyone?!).
A way to combat this health issue is to pack cranberry pills for your trip. Drinking cranberry juice as a preventative works as well, but the pills pack a stronger punch, are easier to carry and juice isn’t always available.
Of course, if the problem persists and the natural remedies haven’t worked, make sure you visit a pharmacy or doctor and ask for some antibiotics. You don’t want to leave a UTI too long as it can lead to a kidney infection.
The best plan is to visit your doctor before heading abroad and have a supply of antibiotics in your bag just in case the natural remedies don’t do the trick.
How to Prevent and Manage Yeast Infections When Travelling
As with UTIs, unfortunately yeast infections are also a common occurence among female travellers. Lucky us!
There are numerous factors that could be the cause of a vaginal yeast infections when travelling:
- Hot and humid climates. Wearing a wet bathing suit, not drying off properly after swimming and not wearing breathable cotton underwear = a prime breeding ground for yeast.
- If you’re taking antibiotics for an illness, this will kill the good bacteria (Lactobacillus) in your body, allowing the yeast to take over.
- A weak immune system. This happens a lot when travelling due to irregular sleep patterns and too much partying.
- Poor eating habits. In particular, eating too much sugar…stay away from the gelato! Ok, maybe that’s a bit crazy, just have 1 scoop rather than 2.
- Stress and lack of sleep. Simply put, travel days can be stressful and lack of sleep when bouncing around the world is a given.
Just like there are numerous things that can cause a yeast infection, there are lots of ways you can prevent one from occurring:
- Wear loose clothing in hot climates, and in particular, make sure to wear breathable cotton underwear.
- Don’t sit around in a wet bathing suit and make sure to towel off properly.
- Avoid eating too many carbs and foods with refined sugars.
- Don’t use soaps and laundry detergent that are overly fragrant. Stick to natural soap if possible and detergent that is unscented.
- Keep a healthy balance of good bacteria in your body by avoiding antibiotics (if possible). Eating yogurt and taking probiotic pills can help.
As with UTIs, having a stash of medicine available is a good idea. There are many natural ways you can try to cure your yeast infection, but if it doesn’t work, you’ll have to resort to antibiotics or over the counter medicine.
Here are some natural remedies:
- Yogurt. Apply liberally to the irritated area and leave overnight.
- Coconut oil. This is the go-to, cure-all natural product! Make sure you get 100% natural coconut oil. Apply liberally to the area, both inside and out. Click here to learn more.
- Garlic. Eat 4 cloves of garlic a day (cooked or raw), as it kills yeast. Some women swear by inserting a raw clove of garlic – just make sure you can get it out!
- Probiotics. Take these pills to prevent and cure vaginal yeast infections. As a bonus, it’ll help with any stomach issues you’re having.
- Tea tree oil. This is said to act as an anti-fungal against yeast.
My Recommended Products For Female Travellers
As you can see from the list above, there are a lot of health issues that us ladies might come across when travelling! Rather than having to rush out to the pharmacy or doctor when you’re not feeling well, I always recommend having remedies on hand.
Here is what I suggest you bring with you on your travels:
- Diva Menstrual Cup
- Coconut Oil
- Cranberry Pills
- UTI Balance and Cleanse
- Birth Control Pills (6 months worth if possible)
- Antibiotics (just in case)
Chances are you won’t have any health issues while you’re on the road. But it’s always best to be informed and prepared just in case! I hope this article eased any concerns you may have had regarding female health when travelling.
Of course, make sure you have travel insurance for the duration of your trip. It’s the one thing you should always pack. Check out the box below to get a quick and free quote from World Nomads.
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