by Kristin Noreen
Author of “On Silver Wings”
Using non-disposable menstrual products while traveling can be difficult until you get used to it. With a bit of thinking ahead, you can make it work, and wonder why you ever settled for disposables on the road. I have done bicycle tours, with all my supplies packed in my pannier bags (with space at a premium), staying in hostel dormitories, and even in campgrounds without laundry facilities. Most travelers and women simply about town have a less restrictive set of options, so everything I learned will be easier for you.
Making it work on the road depends on several factors:
• Carrying supplies
• Coping with changing
• Washing your used items
I will list your choices for reusables, then run down the feasibility of each, considering the factors above. Your choice will depend on your anticipated circumstances, your comfort level with reusables, your personal “ick” factor, and your willingness to expose your use of these products to others. Remember, the more people caught out using these things in public, the more acceptable it’s going to become. If you have the moxie to be a pioneer, go for it! If, like me, you prefer to keep these things rigidly private, you have options too.
OPTIONS FOR REUSABLES
• Washable pads
• Menstrual cups
• Sea sponge tampons (referred to simply as "sponges" for the rest of this article)
Always carry at least one more change than you think you will need. No matter which option you choose, carry a wet bag (leak-resistant fleece or oilcloth). Essential for pads, it will be a lifesaver if you encounter an Institutional (see below) washroom and lose your nerve about striding to the sink to rinse your menstrual cup or sponge. A small drawstring bag for spare pads or other items is also handy. If I’m just going shopping and I’m only carrying one spare pad, I put it in a wet bag and swap it out with the used one at changing time.
Underwear specially designed for travel can be less convenient during your moon time. You may have already discovered that the adhesive from disposable pads doesn’t stick to quick-dry travel underpants. Your cloth pads may not have the same traction they have on cotton-crotch underpants and the pads may shift or bunch up. Try wearing your travel underpants at home for one cycle before taking them on the road. You may decide that your slow-drying cotton ones are worth the trouble.
COPING WITH CHANGING
There are several types of washrooms you are likely to encounter while out and about. If you know the type you’re in for, that helps you to plan. Alas, most of us get surprised.
This type is a single washroom with a door, where you have the toilet and sink all to yourself. You get a Private washroom at Starbucks and most local coffee houses, and some restaurants (especially those in converted houses). Any reusable product is easy to use in a Private washroom.
This type has 1 to 3 stalls with a common sink. Semi-private washrooms are typically found at McDonald’s and other fast food chains, and are common in offices. You have a fair chance of not having anyone walk in on you, but there’s no guarantee. Pads are easy to use in a SP washroom; you just put the used one in your wet bag and put on a fresh one. Cups and sponges are more challenging. Ideally, you want to wash it out and put it right back in. This will not always be possible if you’re not willing to carry your used one to the communal sink, and sometimes you might not be able to pop right back into the stall for reinsertion. Also think about having to re-dress for this process; the toilet-paper stuff job required for this temporary lack of protection is a deal breaker for some. You may want to pack along a spare clean cup or sponge and stow the used one in a wet bag. That way you can complete the process right in the same stall and even wash the used one in the sink right then if you want to.
Think back to elementary school with the long row of stalls and one big communal sink. You will probably have individual sinks along the opposite wall, like in movie theaters and on the ferry, but you will have no privacy at the sink and you will almost certainly cross paths with more than one person.
Again, pads are the ideal product for these washrooms. If you are using a cup or sponge, you will have to redress in order to go out and rinse it if you want to reuse the same one right away. You may think you’re willing to publicly rinse it at a long row of sinks, but be prepared to lose your nerve when the time comes. I strongly recommend packing along a clean cup or sponge and a wet bag to stow the used one.
A NOTE ABOUT HOSTELS
Hostels are more common in countries other than the US, but Hosteling International struggles to maintain a small network there too. Most hostels are in buildings converted from some previous use. They usually provide Institutional washrooms and semiprivate shower facilities. However, because they are often converted buildings, you can usually find a Private option somewhere in the building. For example, the hostel in Victoria, BC offers an Institutional washroom and shower on the upper floor, but the majority of the dorm beds are on the lower floor. They provide a single Private washroom in the dorm for use at night. There is also a Private washroom off the kitchen with wheelchair access, and there’s a Private one behind the front desk. Scout out the full washroom scenario where you are and use the Private washrooms when you need one.
LAUNDERING PADS ON THE ROAD
Washing pads on the road is easier than it sounds. Most hostels and campgrounds offer a Laundromat-style setup with coin-operated machines. B&Bs and more private accommodations, ironically, offer less hands-on access to laundry facilities. Often you have to turn over your laundry to another person to do. Some of these people will not welcome menstrual pads in their washing machines. If you are forced to turn over your pads, rinse them well first to reduce your host’s “ick” factor, and mix them in with other things so they won’t be noticed until they’re clean.
Coin-op dryers are typically hotter than the surface of the sun, even on the mild setting. If you must use the dryer, run it for less time than you need and line dry your items for the final finish. This will prevent damage to the fleece moisture barrier used in many washable pads (including New Moon Pads). A too-hot dryer will melt the fibers and destroy the network of air pockets that makes it effective.
Travel clotheslines are available in stores all over. I recommend the Rick Steves braided rubber one; you don’t need any clothespins and you can mount it just about anywhere. I often string my line between the bed posts in hostels and hang my tops near my head to provide a privacy curtain while sleeping.
If you are used to using a pad pot at home and you’re traveling with a suitcase, bring a rubberized container with a tight seal to use as a pad pot on the road. You can use a wet bag for forays away from your hotel or your host’s home, and stow them in the improvised pad pot when you return.
IT CAN BE DONE!
It will be awkward at first, and there will be a fail or two, but you’ll get it down eventually, and you’ll wonder why you ever thought you had to use disposables outside the house.