Asia Narratives Travel Writing

Period problems: Travelling the tropics prepared

Having your garage painted, birthing a blood diamond, parting the Red Sea, massacre at the Y…

All of these are code words passed down by generations of women used to mask the fact they’re on their periods. A secret language of pads, tampons, cups, rings and all other manner of products used to stem Aunt Flo.

But there’s no need to use code language. It’s a period. And it can be a nuisance when it rears its bloody head – especially when you’re living out of a 50-litre backpack, sweating more than you ever thought possible in the tropical heat of Southeast Asia.

 It’s a problem that never crossed the minds of longhaired traveller boys when they wrote their travel novels and ‘On the Road’ guides.

 Except for the majority of us women, it’s a monthly knock on the door we can’t ignore. And it brings up a whole new set of challenges while travelling: The main hazard being how to prevent bloodstains from ruining your very limited amount of clothes.

There’s nothing worse than losing a pair of underwear to being dishonourably discharged from the Uterine Navy. Especially when you only have 12 pairs to start with.

Even if you’re prepared, even if you’re on the pill, your cycle could have other plans. Travelling – as fun as it is – comes with an increase in stress on your body which may cause you to be late or even miss a period. And no one wants to wake up to an unexpected blood bath in a 20-person dorm room in Cambodia.

So if you’re expecting a period on your next backpacking trip, think carefully about what products you’re going to pack.


They’re easily the hardest product to travel with solely because of size. With a limited mount of space to be had, it’s much easier to shove 50 self-application tampons in your bag than 20 bulky pads.

Plus, it’s the tropics. Do you really want to be riding the cotton pony in 40-degree heat? You’re already trying to take off as many layers as is socially acceptable. You don’t need a pad gathering all the moisture coming off your inner thighs. Leave them at home or only take    what you absolutely need.


Tampons are easily the travel product of choice. They’re lightweight, small and sometimes the boxes come in really cute designs so you don’t feel awkward about accidentally leaving a box of them lying on your hostel bed.

A major annoyance, however, is the strings. Like when you’re surfing the crimson tide while you’re out actually surfing the tide. After successfully managing to haul yourself into a standing position, you look down and, low and behold, your tampon string is hanging out. It’s happened before and it’ll probably happen again.

But overall, tampons are a standard affair in a women’s toiletry bag. Make sure you bring enough to cover the entirety of your expected periods, as they can be difficult to come across outside urban centres.

The real issue with both these products can be the disposal. Asian plumbing can’t handle toilet paper, let alone female sanitary products. Most toilets will have an adjacent bin, but there will always be a time when you’re on a trek or at a rest stop and you’ll be stuck with no bin and a sudden onslaught of anxiety. Always carry zip lock bags. Always.


Another option, which is gaining a lot of credit amongst female backpackers, is the Diva cup. One cup for all your period needs. It’s small, easily packed and, with 12-hour protection, will last longer than any tampon or pad.

As well as being a non-BPA medical-grade silicone and much healthier for your lady bits, the Diva cup website touts its consumers can do any sport leak free. On top of that, it is ten-hour-bus-ride-through-Thailand certified.

There is a bit of the learning curve when it comes to placement and proper care, but all in all it’s a lady-traveller’s best friend.

It saves you from having to go on panicked search for tampons in foreign country the next time it’s arts and crafts week at Panty Camp. There’s no universal hand signal for tampons and miming the motions can be downright awkward.

Do yourself and all the cashiers at Asian convenience stores a favour – be prepared.

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Originally published in Loose Lips

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