I don’t know how you other travelling ladies out there feel about your period, but travelling when on your period can be a pain both literally and figuratively. This is a slightly TMI (too much information) anecdote about me going scuba diving in Manado and having my period come earlier than expected, and more crucialy a day before I was going to be spending an entire day out on a tiny boat mostly filled with men and no toilets or privacy whatsoever.
The thing about diving when you’re on your period is not the bits where you are underwater – contrary to what you might think, you aren’t actually leaking blood like a jaws movie as the surrounding pressure underwater keeps the blood from flowing. No, the problems is what happens the moment you surface and that the blood is free to go gushing out. I’m perpetually in a bikini/boardshorts when I’m diving, and compounding the problem is the fact that the first few days of my cycle are pretty heavy flow, so even with a heavy duty tampon, I knew I definitely had to make at least one change during the day because of flow and just generally being soaked in water.
The question was how exactly? Here’s a look at what the dive boat was like. We had an hour+ long drive over from Manado to the Lembeh Straits, got onto this tiny boat directly for scuba diving before coming back, jumping on the truck and heading back to the dive resort. It’s not a fancy port facility, just a dock where all the boats are. Also, the boats are quite small and basic, and given that most of the fishermen and boat people are men, toilets are non-existent. You just jump in the water if you need to pee, and try your darnest not to have to poop.
My period is pretty regular usually, but it might have been the travelling/diving that threw my cycle off. Luckily, my period came the night before so I had a bit of time to figure out a solution.
Thankfully most of the dive sites we stopped at were quite remote so there were hardly any other boats around us. I picked a strategic time when everyone was busy eating when we stopped for lunch at mid day. I climbed up onto the roof of the small boat away from everyone, and armed with a plastic bag and a large beach towel to protect my modesty, did the fastest tampon change that I’ve ever done. TMI? Hey, you do what you gotta do!
That incident made me look for other alternative period solutions: Traditional sanitary pads are pretty useless in the water as they soak up so much that they can’t really absorb anything and it’s like wearing a full diaper. Tampons which are inside you do okay, but they still soak up some water great and need to be changed more quickly than usual if your flow is heavy.
A lot of my friends keep a close eye on their cycles and avoid swimming or taking part in any water activity during this period (heh, pun intended) to avoid this issue. Others I know regulate their cycle with the pill so they can control when it happens and make sure it doesn’t happen while travelling. I don’t think it’s the most practical to plan your life around your period and I don’t like the idea of messing with my body’s hormones with the pill if I can help it, so I just keep an eye on my cycle and roll with the punches.
In recent years, I’ve become a menstrual cup convert and I think it might be my best solution for diving. Menstrual cups don’t absorb water like tampons do, so you don’t have to change them as quickly as you need to with tampons. However, menstrual cups don’t work like a stopper – your body moves around the menstrual cup so blood still can leak out especially if your flow is heavy, but it does buy you a bit more time as compared to full tampons that just stop absorbing altogether.
Also, the menstrual cup isn’t something you can just pull out and pop in as you would with a tampon. You need to find somewhere to empty your cup, and ideally wash or at least wipe it first before putting it back in. Even then, it takes some practice and time to put in a menstrual cup, definitely hard to do under pressure.
I have a menstrual cup with a valve that doesn’t need to be removed to empty, so I guess one option would be to either have a plastic bag or a ton of towels on stand by to empty the flow into? It’s not an elegant solution though. It definitely is useful on dive boats when there is a toilet with a door though, but if I was back in that situation in Manado again, I think I’d stick with the tampons.
So that was one travel mishap that I’ll not forget in awhile. Anyone else have their own TMI stories? Feel free to share in the comments! In the meantime, enjoy more of my travel anecdotes: