Turned on your out-of-office message? Waved goodbye to your colleagues? Before you leave, make sure to read this advice for a cramp- and leak free holiday. Because of course you always get your period on holiday. It might seem like bullying from above, or something that only happens to you, but actually it’s simple menstrual statistics.
Let’s assume you have a cycle of exactly 28 days (this actually happens to very few women) and you menstruate for 7 days. In that case, when you go away for three weeks, there’s a 96,4% chance of being on your period at least one day of this holiday. The chance of having your entire menstruation in this three week vacation, is 50% (see below for the calculation).
That’s why smart girls make sure they’re prepared. Especially for unexpected periods. Because even though you might normally menstruate like clockwork, crossing multiple time zones (hello jet lag!) mixed with some last-minute holiday stress could very well result in a disrupted cycle. You can menstruate earlier or heavier than you normally would, or your period can suddenly be a few days late.
A disrupted body clock, different food, less or a lot more exercise, a warmer climate. All these things can make the usual menstrual complaints (think: cramps and feeling bloated) a lot worse. To relieve these symptoms, try making healthier choices when it comes to eating (lots of vegetables, not too much salt), drinking (not too much cafeine and alcohol, plenty of water) and exercising (don’t just lie on that beach bed all day long, do go for a walk or a swim).
There’s also the possibility to make sure you’re not on your period during the holidays. Postponing or skipping your menstruation can be done by taking hormones. If you prefer a more natural way: track your cycle for a few months and book your vacation for when you’re least likely to be on your period. That said, if you’re suffering so much that it’s necessary to plan your agenda around your menstruation, it’s time to visit a doctor.
It’s stating the obvious, but make sure to take enough menstrual products. Your favourite brand might be harder to find, or not available abroad. As going on holidays can deregulate your body, it can also influence your cycle, which could lead to your period being earlier, longer or heavier. That’s why it’s smart to pack some extra underpants in your bag/backpack/suitcase. Your hand baggage should contain enough pads and tampons to last you at least 24 hours. Just in case your suitcase is delayed or lost. Also in your hand luggage of course: any medication and important papers.
A higher absorbency level, for example an XXL pad or a super plus tampon, doesn’t mean you have to change the product less often. To prevent infections, change pads every 4 hours and never leave tampons in longer than 8 hours, even if they aren’t saturated yet. Sponges, also called soft tampons, can stay in for up to 8 hours. These sponge tampons have no string, which is comfortable when exercising and swimming. You can even have sex with it in without your partner noticing. A menstrual cup can be left in for up to 12 hours. Another advantage of the cup: you only need one, no matter how long you’re away for. Which, if you’re planning on backpacking around the world for a year, means a lot more room for other luggage.
Even if you’re not a big fan of intimate wipes and hand sanitisers: maybe this is the time to embrace them. Whatever you decide, at least take a water bottle. Because washing your hands is a must, both before and after changing a tampon or emptying a menstrual cup. Also if you have to do this in the middle of the jungle or while balancing over a squat toilet in a motorway service station. One more item on the packing list: some small (plastic) bags to transport your rubbish to the nearest bin, whether it’s a few metres or a few kilometres away.
First things first: no, your menstruation doesn’t stop the moment you dive into the water. That’s total fiction. There is a small chance the bleeding stops for a while if the water is cold. However, no guarantee whatsoever what happens when you reach the pool ladder. Chances are that the bleeding will start again when you exit the water. Squeezing your pelvic floor muscles to keep the blood in? Nope, only works in fairytales.
The best menstrual products for swimming are internal products: a tampon, sponge tampon or menstrual cup. Tampons and sponge tampons absorb the blood, which means they also absorb the sea or pool water. Tampons should be changed after every swim to avoid infections. Sponge tampons don’t have a string, which means it’s not absolutely necessary to change them after every dip, provided they’re inserted deep enough. You don’t need to empty and wash your menstrual cup every time after swimming. However, there’s a small chance that moving around in the water disturbs the vacuum created by the cup. Check afterwards to prevent any leaking.
A pad usually isn’t such a good idea when swimming; it soaks up loads of water and the adhesive strip won’t stay sticky for long. If you definitely don’t want to use an internal menstrual product, choose the smallest and thinnest pad you can find, and change directly before and after your swim. There are also special bikini bottoms or bathing suits with absorbent lining and a special place to secure your pad. The crotch area compartment of this swimwear encloses your pad. That way, when you jump in the sea it won’t end up hanging half outside your pants, or worse, floating next to you.
Does menstruating in the ocean make you shark bait? No, that’s an old menstrual myth. However, sharks will be able to smell your menstrual blood. Just like they can smell normal blood, sweat and urine. So even if you’re not on your period, they’ll smell you anyway. No need to worry about (menstrual) odours – sharks can also detect humans by seeing them, hearing them and by sensing pressure changes in the water.
Bears then? There are lots of stories about how bears love the smell of menstruating women. However, this has never been scientifically proven. On the other hand: bears are attracted by all kinds of smells they associate with humans and thus free food. That’s why extra precautions should be taken when hiking in bear territory. For example by using unscented internal menstrual products and storing any used products in bear-proof packaging, just like you’d store any food items.
One thing you should never do: dumping used tampons and pads in the wild. It takes hundreds of years for nature to break down these products, even if the packaging text claims they’re easy to decompose. Standard disposable menstrual pads can contain up to 90% plastics. Store any rubbish in airtight sealable bags until you find a bin. If for some reason you can’t take your trash with you, it’s better to burn it in a campfire than to bury it.
Lost in the wilderness? Use your tampon applicator to make fantastic survival products: from crude water filters to tinder for a fire. How? Check bushcraft and outdoor survival expert Creek Stewart’s site.
Why oh why do I always get my period on holiday? Well, let’s assume you have a cycle of exactly 28 days (this only happens to 1% of women) and you menstruate for 7 days. If you don’t want to be on your period at all during your three weeks holiday, your period has to start exactly one week before you leave. (If it starts any later, you’re still menstruating for the first few days of your vacation).
In a 28 days cycle, there’s only one start day that ensures you don’t menstruate on holidays. Therefore the chance that you do spend at least one of the days bleeding, is 27/28 = 96,4%. The chance of having your entire menstruation, is even 50%. See the image on the left: V are holidays, N are non-holidays. The red squares speak for themselves… The good news: if you menstruate less than 7 days or if your cycle is longer than 28 days, chances of not getting your period on your vacation increase. Happy holidays!