Diary of a menstruating traveler: #2 Reduce
Many parts of the world suffer from extreme overpopulation that results in very poor sanitation and garbage disposal efforts.
As women, it can sometimes feel like we are required to add to this problem simply for being a woman.
In our home country, we probably have feminine hygiene down to a science.
However when you’re on the road, things are a bit different, and you need to have a disposal plan that aligns with your values.
As they say, if you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
Sanitation is Not Always Great
While traveling through Southeast Asia earlier this year, I noticed that sanitation in some areas is just not seen as quite as ‘important’ like in less populated regions of the world.
There were a few places that I especially noticed this because of overpopulation; Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Bali.
It’s not for lack of trying— these places often have huge sanitation processes and ordinances on recycling, burning trash and littering, but the implementation of it is difficult when you’re rocking with millions of people in one city (see New York City, an urban American city that can get trashed very quickly).
People from some regions burn their trash, while others send it off to waste facilities. Singapore has even banned littering, and considers it a very serious offense to litter on the road— they burn the city’s trash in an eco-friendly way and send the ashes to their very own, well-groomed ’trash island’.
When the problem involves feminine hygiene, sanitation gets a bit trickier.
In last month’s edition of Diary of a Menstruating Traveler, I talked about the lack of trash bins and signs on toilets saying ‘do not flush paper down toilet’.
If you are using toilet paper instead of the bum-gun, not only do you need to find a place to put your used toilet paper, but you also need to find a place to put your used feminine hygiene products.
This is all very inconvenient for some women.
You can’t just throw it on the ground as you walk out of the bathroom because you certainly don’t want to add to the trash problem.
I met a girl in Vietnam who told me that she carries a ‘female bag’ that gets attached to her hiking backpack, and the bag is thrown away whenever she sees a trash bin that won’t attract wildlife.
I had a difficult time with this thought going to Asia; this is a place that is seen as dirty, without much insight into what the source of the sanitation issues are.
Asia isn’t dirty for the sake of being dirty, so why would I carry a plastic bag of my used period products attached to my bag?
Not only is this unnecessary in a place where you really only need to be conscious of how much disposable stuff you are using, it also loudly proclaims to those around that you think their country is dirty enough to dangle your biohazardous fluids from your backpack.
That’s not a great impression for locals to have about a foreigner’s culture— it only widens the culture gaps further by cementing bad stereotypes into people’s heads.
You think their country is dirty, and they think your people are filthy and disrespectful— both of which are stereotypes neither wants for their own culture.
Options for the Menstruating Traveler
So what are good options for menstruation on the road?
I met a few girls from Sweden while in Bali that said they had no problem using organic cotton tampons and pads.
They were able to put the products in toilet trash bins, and they didn’t have to worry about how bad burning the products is for the environment since it’s organic cotton with no added bleach or other harmful reactants that can exacerbate pollution.
Even with this solution, I can’t help but come back to the idea of ‘what do I do with the used products when I’m finished?’
I can’t save these products throughout an entire period, because that would be really disgusting.
If there is a toilet trash, do I really want a stranger sitting at the trash fire pit, looking at my used period product as it burns?
I also can’t go throw my bloody tampon in the hostel kitchen trash because this is Asia, not a trash pit— I cannot voluntarily subject people to being near my bodily fluids when they are just trying to cook eggs.
These thoughts during and after my first Vietnam trip of 2018, plus the bloodbath bathroom story, are why I needed to find a solution that would actually work.
Not only does having a menstrual cup prevent you from being stranded without a tampon or pad in the middle of nowhere, but it also prevents you from adding to a very serious issue that will likely not be solved in Southeast Asia for a very long time.
Something that will help these places fix their sanitation problems is educating locals and foreigners on the options that actually exist, rather than repeating the old adage of ‘you can use a tampon or pad’.
Imagine all the good that could come if every expat, backpacker, traveler and digital nomad in Asia, South America, Africa switched to a menstrual cup, period panties or to a pad or tampon that biodegrades in days or weeks, rather than months or years.
Imagine if those same people showed locals these options, empowered women to take control of their bleeding, and showed them that they could help save their community in the process.
One thing I know is that every civilization on this planet has the same critical thinking abilities— there are no communities that just don’t think about sanitation.
Cleanliness is usually based on availability of products; if there are no window cleaning products, how do you clean a window?
Likewise, if there are no reusable or biodegradable female products, how can I have my period without negatively affecting the world?
If we eliminate single use and slow decomposing feminine products from the equation in these regions, we could see a drastic change in how sanitation is handled, which means a healthier humanity overall.
This is just one reason that I have chosen, and I am committed to spreading the word about, the menstrual cup.
There you have it those are my top travel period hacks! Would love to know yours in the comments.
About the Author: Steph Carlson
Explorer, entrepreneur, animal whisperer and fitness enthusiast.