How to be a Biologically Female Traveler: The Quick-and-Dirty Guide

Posted by   Annette on    May 31, 2013

woman-statue.jpgOK, fellas—click away. This one’s for women only. Shoo.

There are aspects of travel that men will only experience by proxy. He’ll never be compelled to search for a tampon in the Mongolian wilderness. He’ll never run out of birth control pills in a corner of the world where birth control is extremely hard to come by (or, y'know, illegal). He will never suffer existential conflict if he needs to pee on a boat with no restroom.

Want to opt out of those frustrations? Hell yes you do. Luckily, there are at least four changes-of-habit that you can make to minimize the friction that your biological gender is likely to inflict on you on the road*. Here's what I've learned so far.

1. You should consider more permanent birth control.

If you’re intercoursin’ with multiple partners, it goes without saying that you’re using a condom every time. Right? Right. So we'll just leave that there.

If you’re traveling with your main squeeze, it’s likely you’re using some form of hormonal birth control—and if you’re traveling as a location-independent couple, perhaps it’s time to think about more permanent options.

In my extensive travels, I’ve seen it all. My birth control prescription has run out in the hinterlands of Peru. My pills have evaporated with lost luggage. I’ve left contraceptive rings in a refrigerator two continents away. In each of these cases, it became necessary to high-tail it to the pharmacy and pick up a local BCP scrip—which was never a match to the one I was on, of course—then double up on contraceptive measures for the required time period. Each time, I’d resign myself to the world of girly hurt that is hormonal imbalance, because the female body detests being thrown the curveball of a whole new set of lab-grown hormones once it has become used to a certain status quo.


Also of important note: hormonal birth control could be hurting you much more than it’s helping.  If you’ve been on them for many years, you may not even know how bad you have itCancer is one potential side effect.

There’s only one way to make sure your birth control sticks around: carry it internally.

Intrauterine devices (IUDs) have made leaps and bounds in technology and safety since their dangerous younger days, and offer the opportunity for almost-immediate reversal if you ever get excited about spawning. For couples such as myself and my stalwart companion—couples for whom children are the stuff of nightmares—some form of permanent sterilization is the golden ticket.

Of course, no birth control method is right for every woman. That said, if you’re a woman whose travel precludes taking BCPs at the same time every day (and puts them at significant risk of loss), the Pill is almost certainly not for you. You owe it to yourself to examine your current methods in the context of your unique and roving life.

2. You can pee standing up.

Yes, girls: This superpower can also be yours.

It’s not the first thing that comes to mind when you’re planning an adventure, but it’s part of any day you’ll spend out there: Goin’ to the loo. Smart girls with functioning bladders pack a Female Urination Device (“FUD,” for short). There are a few variations on the theme, but I’ve only tested one version: the GoGirl. It’s a silicone funnel, the details of which you’ll have to check out for yourself.

Take it from me, the FUD is your best bet:

  • If you’re face-to-face with a bathroom you’d rather walk through fire than touch your flesh to any part of
  • If you’re knee-deep in powder and hating the idea of removing any more clothing than absolutely necessary
  • If you’re on a boat, floating down a river in the back of beyond, hours from the nearest dock and at at the very end of your wits
  • If a port-a-potty is your only—omigodhorrible—option

With a tiny bit of practice, the FUD easy as pie to use. When you’re done, you shake it a couple of times, stick it into its own hygienic ziploc bag, roll it up into its accompanying purse-packable tube and get on with your day. (I keep one or two baby wipes in the tube, as well.)


3. You really oughta rethink your feminine hygiene products.

Pads are such a serious annoyance, especially when traveling in challenging (read: interesting) conditions, that they're not even really an option. Tampons are a bit less so, but it is a scientific fact that all types of tampons provoke an inflammatory response in the vagina. Chemicals, irradiated materials, loose fibers, pesticides...if they cause a problem for you when you're very, very far from a doctor you trust, you'll be in a very uncomfortable position.

Chuck 'em. Start using a menstrual cup, which eliminates the need to find a far-flung drugstore (or wad up an unsuspecting bandana) if you’re caught off guard. They’re cleaner and easier to get used to than you’d think.

The two versions I’ve tried are the Keeper and the Diva Cup. The Keeper is more secure; the Diva Cup is more comfortable and flexible.

4. You should know exactly where your healthcare is.

When you land in a new place, make it a priority to check in with the expat community and ask where they get their healthcare. With just a few minutes' research, you'll know: 

  1. How far it is from where you'll be based
  2. Whether or not they accept your health/travel insurance
  3. How reliable it is
  4. What womens' services they are willing and legally able to provide

That foreknowledge may well save you a world of hurt if you run into trouble with your plumbing.

That said: I'm curious, ladies! What's the craziest womens'-health issue you've run into on the road? Drop me a note if you want to share a story or two. xx

* I plan to talk about safety for women travelers in a separate missive. It's too big a subject to crack here. 

Photo credit, "couple": Bourguiboeuf lying on art via photopin (license)
Photo credit, "bathroom sign": photo credit: killkudzu Abandonded Factory: Women via photopin (license)