Travelin' Hygiene - The Cycle of The Cycles (Revised in 2021)

Disclamer & UPDATE - So much has changed since this post was originally written in July of 2014. First off, allow me to tell you a new fun fact. People have periods. I wish I knew to factor this in when writing about having a shared cycle on a EuroTrip. Please consider anyone traveling can and will experience a period. And with inclusivity comes sensitivity. Consider this your trigger warning as this post includes frank yet discreet terms around dum die dum ... menstruation! Having moved permanently to Europe and living in a city were we just lobbied (and won) to have free period products in public restrooms ... I have embraced the concept of a "period product". A not pink, not plastic filled, practical product to keep you clean and dry during your 5 to 7 (or 12 or 18 day cycle). I now use whatever including OB applicator free tampons and free bleeding. I have literally gave up on the reliable or convenient way to manage ones period. Most of the world is beginning to see how important human dignity is over societal vanity. If the only choice is a pad that will double as a twin sized mattress, we will take what we can get. As of today there are options - infused pads, more ecologically sourced cotton hygiene companies, a variety of reusable cups as well as absorbent panties, Pinky disposable kits etc. which make it far easier to travel when having ones period. In regards to what happened to me while in France I'll never quite know. But the body does change with changes and later on I found out my birth control was causing a slew of trouble down there. Pretty much everything I experienced was due to my being on the pill. Consider this post entertainment and me making light of a horrible situation. Hopefully, a situation no one else will have to endure in present future! 

I'd almost gotten through this story of two of girls traveling Europe and spared you the intimate details of the dreaded shared menstrual cycle. Run-on sentence indeed but it says a lot. It's not a mystery that when women are housed together their cycles tend to align. Really it can be quite cosmic like traveling pants. I've shared mine with co-workers, camp counselors, best friends, dorm mates etc. At first, it can be profoundly annoying especially when you are used to your start day and full week of misery. Then you become blood sisters about it relying on their timing. If they don't get their period, they question you and then you can embrace having yours on schedule and vice versa. You can see it all as healthy competition or a physical reminder. 

Frankly, there was no sisterhood involved in our shared cycles. It was solely based on the timing of our birth control pills. We started packs at the same time so we had the same start day. She had convinced me that placebo holding pills were the devil. So when we were not taking them we shared a consistent cycle bond. I don't know why she took birth control. I never asked. However, everyone knows how vital mines is because I have horrific reproductive issues. If I fail to take those pills I have and will turn into a very angry pumpkin and not after dark but in broad daylight.  The scary part is I actually take the pill to stop my cycle. If I didn't take it I would have a period all the time. Thankfully, I was diagnosed with this erratic hormonal problem years ago and my birth control was the final solution. Yet I still have strange incidents where stress and diet can trigger uncontrollable effects. Seriously if someone yells at me or nearby my nerves send a direct signal to my reproductive system to react. So I could be home free for the month but a managerial rant at work could cause me an additional 5 to 7 days. Now I didn't plan to be stressed, underfed or yelled at abroad but of course everything mentioned occurred. Sadly, upon my arrival in Europe my cycle came and decided to stay an unprecedented 15 fucking days. 

I really thought she understood my issues considering she was there for the first mishap years back. We'd been invited to a wedding and I was faced with going in my dilemma. When you can't predict your cycle or it is continuous you don't know how to manage it. You don't know what to carry with you. You never know if you'll be stuck in a public restroom. You can't stuff backup panties, tampons, pantyliners and a few unforgiving maxi pads in a clutch. You also can't ruin a ceremony or a toast trying to hobble away. Now in Europe it was a whole notha ballgame and I was no longer with compassionate company. She was on her cycle but it was carefree, loving and brief. She was truly enjoying her woman days and I clearly was not. Imagine having low iron and being in cold, rainy France with a never-ending period. You can't go into your doctor or call your mom. You can't recall how many applicators you've destroyed European toilets with. There is no Midol on the shelf or you can't read it. French women have glitter cycles. That is why their feminine care is fascinatingly gorgeous. I was only prepared with my inefficient American shit. We eventually found the good stuff but way too late.

I guess things could have been strategized a bit better. I should have prepared for the worst. In hindsight, I really should have done more research on extended wear under garments and the Diva Cup. I immediately wrote that stuff off. I just wasn't thinking about us being in a beach town for nine days for 5 to 7 on our periods. At that point it was the opposite. Now I was having a lovely period and she was having whatever bitchy girls get. We handled it with such grace. We never had accidents. We looked out for each other. I never saw any sharks. We didn't necessarily agree on what tools to use but to each their own. She revealed a hatred for women who wore tampons regularly. I discovered I was one of those women. I wasn't about to argue with her about my personal hygiene and left her to her old maids tales. But that is what friends and sisterhood is for - to learn about the crazy shit we do behind closed doors and pass it on to another frightened generation entering womanhood.

I got my first period on July 4th 1992. It was the summer before entering middle school. I was wearing all white. I was at a family friends house having the time of my life. I didn't feel anything. All the preparation and discussion I had about my pending doom went out the window. My mother was trying to figure out what I could have possibly sat in. I was trying to see it for myself. Then I was dragged to the bathroom and reminded about why I should always carry a purse. Thank goodness that very same summer Always with Wings came out and everyone followed suit. For a while it was a sanctimonious happening that signified a lot to me especially having just graduated 5th grade. By high school it was just a predecessor to morning sickness and a reason to avoid gym. No one told me anything bad - just to change my parachutes regularly and not wash my hair. I don't know her how celebration of womanhood began but someone told her there was a group of nasty women that wore tampons. That image was embedded in her mind and now she was nearly 30 with the same mentality. I weep for her future daughter and praise the people who encouraged me to try Tampax for a change. 

At least for beach week she didn't deny a few regular absorbencies for a good time. However, she never ceased to talk about the nasty women with cotton stuck "up there". All I could think about was her roaming France and Spain in a diaper. Then she had the audacity to be very prideful about it and exclaim how easy it was for her to wear the same diaper for hours on end. It wasn't the first revelation from a proud pad wearer and certainly not the last. I just couldn't understand the lack of imagination, thought and theory for the trip of a lifetime. A trip where we we're already quite challenged by European shower heads, unbearable heat, consequential b.o. and so on. Why couldn't she see how important it was to bring the right tools to the big show? What if we hadn't found the French stash? What if she was forced to tear rags out of clothes? Would she make that choice over wearing one of my sticks? Or was she one of those earth friendly closeted freaks who preferred the non-applicators? Mom had told me about them. I only encountered one of those when I worked at Victoria's Secret. That red headed girl with the long rounded acrylic nails offered me one. It was teetering on her nail. She was offering it to me and I chose to abandon my shift and go home instead.

So I guess we both were stuck with our generalizations and principles. We also thought of each other as nasty for countless, multiple reasons. Looking back the sensations and sentiments were heightened during our womanly days. I guess the only word of advice I could give is have a very frank discussion about your stuff when traveling. It's one thing to share a cycle and go to the movies. It is entirely different to share a cycle, cramps and attitude in very unpredictable space. I've already mentioned that overseas products were generally nicer and more efficient. They equate to around the same costs as American ones as well. So I regret packing so many feminine products I could have brought a decent pair of flats or two. So bring a smaller selection of your regulars and hit the local store wherever you wind up. As for carrying around things and being discreet - do as mama said and never leave your purse. My cross body had a wonderful outer pocket that eliminated the need for other small pouches and makeup bags I'd normally carry. 

Oh and finally when faced with joy of checking your situation be stealth. European public restrooms are small and sometimes sketch. They seem built for nose powdering and hand washing only.There may not be a purse shelf or that dandy ridge above the t.p. to lay your Sephora baguette you use just for tampons. At some restaurants there would be a community sink with an adjoined toilet room. So you could totally be in there fooling around and some grown man is washing his hands outside the door. I had become a pro at wearing my bag, straddling foreign seats and whipping out the proper equipment. I assure you this is way better than straddling, fishing and ultimately dropping your supply for a local to see. Besides there is no real universal translation for "hand me my rolling stick please". Most of the stalls are fully enclosed so you may have to resort to acrobatics. Keep the traditional baguette well stocked and leave it in the hotel bathroom of course - for your sake and the sake of others. That is if you both share the same value in the same thingamajigs for "down there". Hmphf. 

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