For all the rhetoric about fearless female travel, there are certain problems that still endure. We tackle some below.
It’s been almost five years since Peter and I packed up and left the UK for a year-long trip around the world. Many things have changed since then – some for the better and some for the worse, both at home and abroad.
Throughout it all, travel has continued to surprise, delight and educate us. Our travel style has evolved and continues to do so. On some trips we still get it wrong but more often that not we manage to get it right.
I’ve continued to tweak my solutions to five travel problems that affect me and plenty of other women on the road. Here’s what they are and how I cope.
Getting your period on the road
Most female travellers have to go through the ordeal of having their period on the road, whether that involves changing tampons without running water or forgoing a leisurely swim. Let’s face it: periods aren’t very fun.
Even Bodyform – who peddled the idea of the miniskirted, roller-skating, skydiving girl for years – admitted in 2012 that they were lying.
In truth, periods are a pain especially if you’re planning an active trip. There might be volcanoes and mountains, diving, trekking and wild camping on your list – not great for having your period.
On our first big trip, I took the contraceptive pill as a way to control my period but it frequently made me nauseous. I switched back to tampons but couldn’t keep using them in good conscience knowing how much single-use plastic they produce (all of which still exists today).
I recently switched to a Lunette menstrual cup, which came highly recommended by a friend. I found it fiddly at first, but persevered. It took about three cycles to get used to it and I now pack it on every long-term trip.
If you’re daunted by the idea of a menstrual cup, I urge you to give it a try. It’s convenient, eco-friendly and cheaper in the long run.
Public toilet seats
Ah, to escape the drudgery of arranging tissue across a toilet seat with the painstaking care of a bomb disposal expert every time you need to pee. And then the delicate hovering and silent prayer that your upper body strength will last the course. Oh, to answer nature’s call standing like a man.
One thing I can be almost sure of is that I’ve already used the worst commode I ever will (a cesspit in a Bangladeshi village crawling with maggots). This offers some comfort but I’d still rather be standing.
One thing I’ve learned is that it’s often cleaner to answer nature’s call in a bush than a dark and rickety shack that’s crawling with flies. (Of course, you should always follow local regulations and leave no trace.)
One option I am yet to try is Peebol, an absorbent patch that turns liquid to gel. I can’t yet recommend it personally but it’s certainly well reviewed.
One of my life’s greatest regrets is not being born with the type of hair that can be coaxed into the flowing, voluptuous tresses you see in adverts and on runways. Alas, it is just too fine.
The only benefit is that it’s fine everywhere else too, which thankfully means I can go a couple of weeks without shaving my legs. On a long-term trip, however, I have no such luxury.
There are several available options but all have their pros and cons: professional waxing lasts longer but is an expensive habit for a long-term traveller; home waxing is cheaper but less reliable especially when it comes to untested products; shaving offers a great finish but doesn’t last long, isn’t great for the environment and can become expensive.
I pack a Braun Silk-épil 9, which offers a long-lasting solution at no recurring cost. Some women complain that epilators are painful. I’ve never found it so on my legs but it did hurt like hell on my underarms at first. For me, it was a matter of desensitising my skin. The more I used it, the less it hurt, so grit your teeth and give it a go.
Travelling in a mixed-gender pair or group is great because it allows you to integrate with people of both sexes. For example, a male motorist may be wary of offering a ride to two female travellers for fear of what he might be accused of. Equally, he may be wary of two male travellers.
A mixed-gender couple is more neutral and offers women a safety net. I encourage solo female travel but I have to say that, in my experience, travelling solo draws the type of unwanted attention I just don’t get when I’m travelling with Peter.
I hold my head high and walk with confidence to show that I’m not easily daunted. Naturally, I will have researched the country to make sure I am aware of appropriate conduct.
In some countries, it’s acceptable to engage with the instigator and politely say no; in others, you shouldn’t make eye contact at all. In others still, it’s advised that you shout the local word for honour or shame to embarrass the man into skulking away. Research is key.
Finally, many female travellers swear by a fake wedding ring as a deterrent. I haven’t tried this and hopefully won’t need to.
Keeping up appearances
Research shows that the majority of women spend about an hour on their appearance every day. In a self-inflicted ‘tax’ of sorts, we check our reflections more often than men, spend more time adjusting our composure and body language, and fret more about the shape of our bodies.
Despite the idea of the carefree female traveller who’s more concerned with experience than appearance, the truth is that many of us do worry about the way we look. A one-hour beauty routine just isn’t a good use of time on the road so how to work around it?
It’s important to focus on getting healthy rather than getting pretty: healthy hair, healthy skin, healthy body.
Before a long trip, I try to focus on long-term solutions that will negate the need for a makeup haul: vitamins, exercise and nourishing oils for my hair and skin.
More importantly, I continue to train myself to worry less about how I look. I’m not always going to look Insta-perfect while diving, hiking or camping and I need to accept that that’s okay.