CHENNAI: Recent years have seen the rise of sustainable travelling. With the use of reusable bottles, canvas bags, metal cutlery and more, several globetrotters are taking the green route. This trend has translated to several industries, encouraging women travellers to consider eco-friendly options even during their menstruation. But this can bring its own sets of challenges and opportunities, as writer Shikha Tripathi found.
“I switched to a menstrual cup a few years back and currently am living a nomadic life. I have a lot of lessons on the road while using the cup. I tend to use it with a liner (bio-degradable pads) since there is a possibility of leakage when it comes to long hours. It is very tough for me to find clean bathrooms since I travel a lot in remote areas and I do think that if you are travelling to areas with little to no access to sanitary restrooms, it may be safer to use pads at the time,” she advises.
Options, pros and cons
While so, she has found her own methods of dealing with sanitisation by using a collapsible cup/glass (so that it is easy to carry) and hot water from the hotels/accommodation at which she stays. “Menstrual cups are good for at least 8-10 hours and you don’t even need to change or wash it for very long. I use a hygiene wash and a little water to clean them between uses and then sterilise them when I reach (the accomodation) at the end of my cycle,” she adds. Dr Abarajda V, consultant - obstetrics, gynaecology, fertility specialist and laparoscopic surgeon at Prashanth Hospital, also counts the benefits of switching to a cup, even while travelling.
“The most easy to use while travelling is a menstrual cup. It is easy to maintain, has health benefits (as it is made of medical grade silicone), is soft and has no chemicals. Plus, you do not have to carry any other extra products as in the case of pads. Menstrual cups collect the menstrual flow, they are not absorbing anything so there are no chemicals. Since it creates a seal with your vaginal wall, you can also enjoy travel on the beach or play a sport. Furthermore, we think that disposable pads are convenient but they are a burden to the environment and our health. They can cause infections and rashes, can’t be reused or recycled, and are made with plastic and hard chemicals that affect our skin,” she explains.
Apart from menstrual cups, there is also the option of cloth pads that many like Madhavi Rane prefer. As a frequent traveller, especially between Karnataka and Maharashtra, she has found herself on a train, at times while on her periods. “I try to not travel when I am on my period but you can’t always plan accordingly. I use cloth pads. I am trying to slowly switch to a cup but I’m still a little scared to do it. I mostly travel by trains and in there, I only use the Indian bathrooms (avoiding contact with the commode). When I’m using cloth pads, you can’t always wash them so I have a separate cloth bag with a lining where I keep the pads until I can get home and wash them. This I do for no more than two days and wash them as soon as I get a chance,” she says. While one can keep the pads for later wash with soap, Dr Abarajda recommends that they are at least rinsed under cold running water before storage.
Kavya Ecofeminist, another avid traveller who uses cups and cloth pads, recommends practising with the products before you set out for your trip. “Get comfortable with these products at home or in predictable settings like your workplace. Once comfortable to use a cloth pad or cup in these situations, you will mostly not have any trouble (during travelling),” she informs, adding to Dr Abarajda’s argument against disposable pads. “A lot of menstruators tend to drink less water (during travels) since it (using public bathrooms) can trigger an infection.
So, when you combine that with using disposable pads which contain a lot of chemicals and can cause rashes and itching, the whole experience will be more disgusting. And if you don’t have a place to dispose your pads, you end up either trashing the toilet or trashing the surrounding place. This is also not a very comfortable thing for you or your environment. While a lot of us have done that, it is not something that we can admit (happily). Getting rashes is common during periods and since not drinking water can also increase the chances of infections and rashes, it is better to just switch to reusable products; if not for the environment, then for your body,” she says.
Worth the trouble
While there is a certain amount of effort that goes into the shift to sustainable products, these women are not turning their back on them. For some, it is a matter of environmental responsibilities. “Yes, it is difficult but it is a personal choice. This is something (disposable pads and tampons) that creates immense waste and one step in the right direction can make a difference. It also helps mentally to know that your body is functioning normally while it makes you feel like a lot more things are accessible than when you wear a pad — like swimming, hikes and treks,” says Shikha.
For others, it is about their relationship with their own body and the harms of disposable products. “A friend of mine got a fever because of the use of conventional pads. I started reading up more about this but I was still sceptical about washing my own cloth pad. At the time, I considered my blood ‘not pure’. So, I switched to bio-degradable pads that had to be incinerated. In college, the boys would know what was happening when the women went to the incinerator and I wasn’t very comfortable with that so I moved on to cloth pads. Because of the cloth pads, I was able to connect to my body better. It helped me know more about my body and blood, something I was once not okay with. It empowered me in a different way. I have to put in the effort, but I choose to live this way,” she admits. As environmental awareness and need for sustainability increase, perhaps other menstruators will quickly follow suit.