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A young arriero leads a mule across fresh snow in the Peruvian Andes. Photo by Benjamin Swift (2016 Fall Semester Photo Contest Finalist), South America Semester.

Managing Menstruation While Traveling and General Hygiene

Hola todxs,

We recently received a question about how to manage a menstrual cycle while in S. America and while on expedition and I thought that it was such a good question that I thought I’d make my response public to each of you. It seems that there is often a stigma associated with discussing menstruation and general topics regarding hygiene openly, but I want each of you to know that you should never be concerned about asking questions or discussing the matter with any of your instructors. It’s biological.

Menstruation: There are a few different ways to handle periods while traveling internationally and in the backcountry. Tampons and pads are completely acceptable. What we often do is provide you with a ziplock bag to manage period waste. We generally wrap duct tape around the ziplock and add in a little bit of baking soda so that you can’t see inside and so that it doesn’t smell. It’s a good idea to bring wet wipes on our expedition, specifically, to help clean up a bit. All of the wet wipes and tampons/pads that you use will ultimately end up in the ziplock as to “Leave No Trace” while in the backcountry. There are stores down in Chile that will have menstruation products and wet wipes, though you may want to bring a small supply if you know you’ll have your period while traveling. Also note that the tampons in S. America are often applicator-less.

The other option is to use a DivaCup (reusable) of Flex Disc (disposable). If you’ve never used one before, they can ‘leak’ until you’ve figured out how to properly seat them. If you are going to use a DivaCup or Flex Disc for the first time in S. America, I recommend using them with pads until you’ve figured out how to properly insert it. DivaCups and Flex Discs are a little messier, but they don’t create as much, if any, waste which is nice. You do have to be pretty proactive about cleaning them every 10-12 hours with soap and water. I find that the Flex Disc leaks less than a DivaCup for myself and so I tend to use those more because I can leave them in longer than a tampon, which is only supposed to be left in for 8 hours max, without having to worry as much about Toxic Shock Syndrome.

When we are traveling on our expedition it shouldn’t be difficult to find time to ‘use the restroom.’ While we are in town, it can sometimes be challenging to find a restroom. Many S. American businesses don’t have restrooms in them or if they do, they are pay toilets. Try to change out all of your menstrual products right before we leave for town if possible in hopes that it will get you mostly through the day.

I know it can seem daunting to be managing your period while traveling in the field and in a foreign country, but don’t worry, it really isn’t too bad once you get your system dialed.

General Hygiene: As for general hygiene the biggest thing to keep in mind is maintaining good hygiene to prevent urinary tract infections and other infections. First and foremost, drink plenty of water. Water flushes bad bacteria from the urethra and helps keep the body in homeostasis. Other tips include wiping from front to back and wearing breathable underwear. And of course, always wash your hands after going to the bathroom to prevent e. coli, norovirus, c. diff, and a host of other diseases.

If you are experiencing any symptoms such as burning when peeing, cloudy urine, incontinence, and/or lower back pain, or any other symptoms please let us know.

Don’t hesistate to reach out if you have any questions.