A Backpacker’s Guide to Women’s Health

Word of warning – this article talks about subjects that might make some people feel uncomfortable.  But because of this very reason, there is a lack of information that discusses women’s health issues that you will likely face on the road.  So, in the words of the Boy Scouts Scouts BSA, “Always be prepared.”

Periods

No point in beating around the bush.  It comes and goes every month and if you’re heading out on an extended trip, your period is likely going to make an appearance.  While there are contraceptive options out there that will make your period disappear altogether, that’s a conversation for your gynecologist or women’s health professional. For the rest of you, your monthly cycle is something you need to think about before packing that 40L backpack. This is especially true if you plan to visit Latin America or South Asia, where women’s health products can be tricky to find.

Let’s go over your options:

  • Pads: The good news is, these are available basically everywhere. But be aware that you need to plan ahead for your disposal strategy!
  • Tampons: If you’re traveling through Europe or Australia, you can pop into most drug stores and pick these bad boys up. However, in many places across Latin America, Asia, and Africa, they simply don’t exist — anywhere. So, think twice about your itinerary and whether it makes sense to pack 100+ tampons into your backpack.
  • Menstrual Cup: For those that don’t know, a menstrual cup is a small, reusable cup made from healthcare-grade silicone that can be worn for up to 12 hours. Yes, there is an initial ick-factor but when you’re on an overnight bus ride with questionable toilets, you get over it pretty quickly. Plus, it’s much more environmentally friendly than your run-of-the-mill pad. Two of the most common brands are Diva Cup and Lily Cup.

 

UTIs

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) might be my three least favorite words. Unfortunately, it’s a pretty common issue faced by female travelers. Long bus journeys or frightening bathrooms may mean that you don’t use the toilet when nature calls. “Holding it in” is a leading cause of UTIs, along with poor hygiene, a lowered immune system, and not peeing before and after sex.

Here are a few quick tips:

  1. Drink LOTS of water! This is both a prevention technique and will help significantly if you do catch a UTI.  Mild cases of UTIs may clear up on their own, but water is key to making that happen.
  2. Pee when you need to.  If the toilets are nasty, I often found that mother nature was a wonderful choice. Just bring some wet wipes with you and dispose of them when you can.
  3. Cranberry pills. Think about stocking your first aid kit with some of these. Cranberry juice works as well, but it is often loaded with sugar. Plus, it’s not as easy to carry around as the pills!
  4. Antibiotics. Pay attention to your symptoms!  If you develop a fever, pain in your back, or notice blood in your urine, you’ll need to get some antibiotics.  The last thing you want is a kidney infection. While some countries have antibiotics available over-the-counter, you may want to consider consulting a doctor before your trip so you have some readily available.

Yeast Infections

 

Tuk Tuk ride to Mirissa Beach

At this point, you’re probably thinking, damn it sucks to be a chick.  Just be thankful that we live in a day and age where so much of these women’s health issues are addressable.  Which leads me to yeast infections.  Symptoms include an itchy vagina and thick white discharge (how pleasant!).  While it is super common to get at least one in your life, there are lots of travel-related factors that can increase your chances of getting one:

  • Antibiotics & Anti-Malaria Meds: These meds will kill the healthy bacteria in your body
  • Weak immune system: This happens a lot when traveling due to irregular sleep patterns and too much partying
  • Hot & humid climates: Wearing a wet bathing suit, not drying off properly after swimming, and not wearing breathable cotton underwear can lead to a prime breeding ground for yeast

 

If you happen to take one of the above-mentioned medications, then an easy way to prevent an oncoming yeast infection is to eat or drink something with active cultures, such as yogurt.  That said, if you do get one, there are over-the-counter treatments available, usually in the form of a pill or cream.

Sex

If you’ve chosen to live a life of abstinence while traveling, then read no more.  For the rest of you, let’s talk about sex.  Whether you’re traveling with your partner or heading out on the road solo, we all want to feel safe and prepared for those intimate moments.

  • Get Tested: Before you embark on your journey, just go get it done. Period.
  • Use Protection: Ladies, if you’re on the pill or have an IUD then you know these only protect against pregnancy. Pack some condoms in your luggage because you shouldn’t rely on someone else to bring them. And if you decide to buy them on your travels, make sure they are a trustworthy brand that you’re familiar with because not all are created equal.
  • Accidents Happen: If you suspect you’ve exposed yourself through unprotected sex, be sure to get tested at the earliest possible opportunity – and don’t have unprotected sex with anybody else!

 

 

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. This post only shares my personal experiences and opinions with regards to women’s health issues that may arise when traveling. The information provided (or through links to other sites) is not a substitute for medical or professional care. You should not use this article in place of a visit to, or advice from, your doctor or other healthcare providers. Passport Therapy is not liable or responsible for any advice, course of treatment, diagnosis or any other information, services or product you obtain through this article.

 

For other helpful tips on long-term travel, check out our post on which apps to use!

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