Travelling with the Flow
Before I owned a menstrual cup, having a period anywhere but at home was a huge inconvenience. Carrying tampons, hoping there’d be a place to dispose of them and wondering how long they’d last was annoying. Travelling brings a whole flood of potential period problems—but let me tell you, my cup was my hero. No rubbish bin for pads/tampons? No problem. No shop to buy pads/tampons? Cool. No toilet available? The earth works just fine. No toilet paper? Not needed.
I bought my first cup the year I went on my first overseas experience after a friend recommended it to me. Throughout my combined years away, my cup has saved me from terrible situations turning worse and made everyday cycle life almost convenient. Some places will forever be a big bloody pain to bleed in, but having my cup and knowing how to utilise it in such spaces made my experiences that much easier. Allow me to share an example.
The thrill of getting my period on the morning of a 5 day hike in the mountains of Peru is something I hope was a once off. I woke up at 3am to complete a final packing check and found that Auntie Flow didn’t want to miss the hike either. I located my Wā Cup in the messiest backpack ever kept and set out on my hike along with a group of 5 men. Nobody mentioned the ZERO facilities on the entirety of this hike— zero toilets, zero running water, zero rubbish bins and zero privacy. I imagined a tampon ad trying to make the situation look easy and decided it would have been impossible. I don’t think I would have been able to function without my cup. No amount of white pants and smiling faces would have covered the hassle of carrying around days old, used menstrual products in the pit of my backpack.
One of my favourite things about my Wā Cup is that it lasts. Ages. I have a light flow and my cup has it covered all day. I cannot describe how much that SAVED my life on this hiking trip. The logistics of trying to change a pad or tampon every 3 hours behind a bush is something I’d rather not think about and I’m so glad I didn’t have to. Instead, I waited until it got dark to simply empty my cup back to the earth and reinsert. No toilet paper, rubbish bin or tampon shoved up my sleeve was needed.
There’s something incredibly primal and connecting about bleeding onto earth. At the time, I had no idea about this being a practice Māori women held as sacred (as seen on The Spinoff) and now I understand why. While I didn’t bleed onto the earth, I did return it. Returning my blood to Mother Earth was a beautiful process of taking time to connect and reflect, and I can see why Māori also view it as a form of connecting with whakapapa. Unfortunately for me, the beauty of the experience abruptly ended when I realised I had positioned myself over some form of poisonous plant and had welts appearing all over my thighs. My cup was brilliant in this situation because the empty and insert process was so quick. This meant less time over said poisonous plant and less time outside in the cold.
Although washing/rinsing/cleaning your cup between uses is ideal, it’s not a must every time (for me, anyway) and it wasn’t possible in that context. That’s the other great thing about cups— adaptable is their middle name! I went back to my tent to hang out with my man crew with no waste, no awkward hiding (it shouldn’t be awkward, but sometimes it just is) of used/leaking/smelly tampons and the security of knowing I was sorted until the morning.
My hiking experience is only one tale of travelling with a period. I have used my cup in ALLLL kinds of unusual toilet situations. I’ve cupped in places where water isn’t accessible and toilet paper is non-existent, as well as places where hygiene is… questionable. I always carry hand sanitiser (preferably semi-natural!) when I’m travelling. Most places I’ve been don’t have soap available and we all know how we gotta keep those germs away from our insides! Having clean hands is a must and sanitiser is a great option. It also doubles as a way to clean your cup if you’re not sure about the water quality (more on this later).
But… how do you keep your cup clean on the go? A super important thing to be aware of when travelling with cups is rinsing it in potentially unclean water. Sometimes I’ll use bottled water to give it a quick clean if I have some on hand, but I mostly don’t bother if I’m in a difficult situation. I make sure to clean it properly when I get to a suitable place, or use sanitiser to keep the germs away on the go. Sometimes, I’ll brave the hostel kitchen and boil my cup for 5 minutes between cycles. This ensures the water is clean and resets your cup so it’s all ready for the next flow.
Yes, a cup makes periods so much easier, but we can’t forget about its environmental impacts. When I’ve travelled, I’ve been shocked and saddened to see the amount of rubbish polluting the streets, the oceans and the world. I’ve seen plenty of menstrual products contributing to this. When I think about how many tampons, liners and pads I used to go through during a cycle, I can’t help but feel sad. Waste is a huge issue in our world and using a menstrual cup significantly reduces our own footprint. It also makes it easier to live when travelling, benefiting us immediately. Places I’ve been around the world have frequently had the system of NOTHING going down the toilet, including toilet paper. This means that *usually* there’s a rubbish bin to dump said paper, but often this doesn’t exist either. The idea of having a used menstrual item and being unable to dispose of it is a stress I am so glad I can avoid.
Get a cup people. Just do it. Not only do you save the planet, but you save your body from undergoing monthly stress cycles when all you should be doing is having a bloody great time, especially when travelling! Get connected; get cupped; get carefree. It really will change your travel experience.