Getting your period when you have a holiday planned can be a bummer, especially for those of us who have periods that last longer and especially when that means beach time will be interrupted. When I was younger, I was told for some reason that I can't swim in the water when I’m on my period because the cold water from the sea was going to mess with my fertility. When I grew up, I realized that this was yet another one of those myths created to make women feel ashamed of their periods and bodies. On a personal level, getting my period always took up too much of my attention than it ever should. My cycles are relatively short and my periods last long and my cramps are on another level, so it's only natural that when I plan any sort of holiday the potential of getting my period while on a trip occupies a lot of my thinking. But I can imagine that it’s even more of a struggle for women who are planning a hike or a climb and expect their periods to show up like an uninvited guest to a dinner party that you planned down to the last tomato. Unfortunately, talking about this openly is not the norm – especially in our culture, but you know what it’s almost 2020, dammit, so it’s time to buckle up and talk about it because periods are just another normal and natural part of life. And, you know, knowledge is power, no matter what Cersei says.
TRACKING YOUR PERIOD IS ESSENTIAL
Again, knowledge is power, and I think most of us probably use an app to track our periods because knowing in advance when your period is coming is the first tool in your toolbox. I personally use the app Clue. What's great about Clue is that it also comes with a lot of information about your cycle and periods in general that you may not have known before – information that's not always readily available to us (even though it should be) just because it’s a topic that doesn't get talked about enough. Don't even get me started on the notion that being on your period means you’re unclean. Knowing in advance will also help you prep and pack the essentials that you might need, like hand sanitizer, wipes, and whatever period management products you feel are right for you. Which brings us to...
PERIOD MANAGEMENT OPTIONS
If you ask me, science is moving way too slowly when it comes to period management products, but I digress. Xena, who hiked parts of the Pacific Crest Trail – the one from the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed, tried several options while on the trail for three months. During her prep, Xena was worried about how she was going to manage her period on the trail in terms of pain, but also waste, since she’d have to carry everything with her for days on end (leave no trace, remember). “I used tampons because they're cleaner than pads, especially if you go days without showering or access to a bathroom," Xena explains. "The weight aspect was attractive as well because I only carried the tampons I predicted I would need and only had to carry my used tampons instead of used pads.” Later on in the trail, she also used the menstrual cup, which she found even more practical “because it meant zero waste, so I didn't have to carry any trash with me and it was only one extra thing I had to carry instead of several pads or tampons,” she said. The only issue with the cup was that it needs more water to clean and be sanitized, so if there are long stretches where you don't have as much access to water, that water gets prioritized for other things. It’s all about planning and knowing what you need and when you’ll need it, then you figuring out what works best for you. The Pacific Crest Trail in the USA (via PCTA)
Menna, another female hiker, shared her trepidation about dealing with her period when she first got into outdoor adventuring, but she quickly realized that it really isn’t the big deal she made it out to be. She recalled getting ultra-prepared for her period when she went on her first few hikes, taking wipes and literally everything she thought she needed, but the first time she got her period while on a hike – The Sinai Trail, in this case – she used pads. “The thing I was most concerned about was that I didn't want to leave any waste behind,” she recalls, so she always made sure that she had extra ziplock bags with her, which she then emptied out as soon as she got the chance. However, it was making the switch to the cup that “completely changed my experience when I’m outdoors. It’s way easier, I don't have to worry about it as much, and I can spend the whole day without having to think about changing a pad,” she shares. And while some people might get grossed out by it, Menna actually found the cup much easier to deal with when in the wild. “To clean it," Menna explains, "you just need a little bit of water and you’re done. But it’s also allowed me to do way more things than I ever used to do, whether climbing or getting in the water.” For Menna, the cup was the gamechanger in the outdoors, where she's now used it on many occasions while hiking in California and Nepal, as well as while climbing in Sinai.
Annapurna Circuit in Nepal (via G Adventures)
On the other end, there are people who prefer to delay their periods altogether – using the pill or a number of other medications – so they don’t even have to deal with it. This is definitely an attractive option because, let's face it, no matter how prepared you are your period will still be an annoying hassle. There are many questions and indications that go into talking about an option like this that you should probably discuss with your doctor, but there are also some natural things that might help delay your period.
Let me preface this by saying that no medical research was conducted on this and only one person participated in this hands-on trial and that person was my sister. This past summer, my sister was adamant about delaying her period because she was expecting it during our family trip to an island in Greece and, as a 17-year-old, that's just not what you want. So she did some research online and found the old wives tale that says that drinking apple cider vinegar before your period and on every day you want to delay will actually delay your period. And, folks, it actually worked. She successfully delayed her period for a full 10 days, believe it or not. But, be warned, this isn't foolproof and it might have been beginners' luck. And also that vinegar was disgusting.
THE REAL MONSTER: PAIN MANAGEMENT
What we all probably dread as we await our lovely periods to come: the fear of experiencing severe pain while on the road. For both Xena and Menna, this was their one major concern when they first decided to go on adventures. Xena would cope by resting longer on days when her pain was too intense, while Menna would either get on ride a camel for a stretch of the trail or rest longer than usual when she felt she couldn't go on. On the flip side, Menna felt that being on the move helped her deal with the pain better and that she would bounce back faster when she was active rather than when she was inactive and resting back home. Listening to your body and doing what feels right for you in the moment are essential parts of managing your pain, and, of course, make sure you have the painkillers that you will need with you.
At the end of the day, don’t let your period stop you from going on that hike or going on that camping trip or enjoying that festival or swimming at the beach. Go on your adventures no matter what. With a little bit of prep, trial and error, and planning, you’re all set. According to Menna, “Ever since I became interested in hiking or being outdoors in general, I never skip out on these adventures because of my period. I just tough it out and deal with it at the time and just make sure that now I know and have my system to navigate it. I know I’m going to be in pain no matter where I am, so might as well be somewhere beautiful.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.