Travel like a Diva … with a cup … Part 3

This truly is part 3 of a series, so if you haven’t read part 1 and part 2, hunker down in a private place where you can laugh out loud and you don’t have to explain yourself! I’m suggesting that your office cubicle is not sufficient for this! Trust me …. I’m telling you!

Oh yes, and men, well, you should just skip to another post now. This one talks about having your period while traveling. I’m guessing you aren’t interested …

Here we go! Part 3 …

I was both lucky and unlucky enough to have my period the week before I left on my South American Adventure. I was lucky of course because I wasn’t having my period while flying and during my first week of travels. I was UNLUCKY because this moved my schedule so that I would be having my period … dun da da dahhhhhhh … during my homestay in Ccaccaccollo! Not impressed!

On my first day at our homestay, we went back to our houses with our mommies and got dressed up in traditional attire before heading out for a walk around the community. Traditional attire means large colorful skirts, a white blouse, a short black jacket and a hat. All of which we put on over our regular clothes.

When my mommy put my skirt on me and went to tie it up, she put her hand on my belly and asked ‘Bambino?’. I wanted to cry (but I didn’t). I told her ‘No, Bambino.’

Hmmmm … really? Did I look pregnant? Maybe not a good day to ask me that seeing as my period should be arriving at any time!

I was kind of offended, but I tried to keep in mind that in their culture, being pregnant is a huge blessing and it wasn’t meant to be offensive at all. Unfortunately this only changed the pain from a sting to a dull ache.

After our walk around town we removed the layers of traditional clothing and got back to wearing our stretch pants, sweaters and my trusty rain jacket.

One of the things I loved most about my rain jacket was the endless pockets. They weren’t necessarily placed in the best positions for easy access, but wow, could you ever fit a lot in them!

At ALL times, my jacket pockets were stuffed with at least two travel packs of kleenex (or toilet paper), hand sanitizer, often a snack, a bottle of water, some odds and ends of camera gear and my hat and mittens when it got too hot.

This first night in Ccaccaccollo I added to the pocket stuffing list:
two tampons, a pad and my diva cup

Yup, everywhere I went for the next few days my diva cup was with me.

Now, although I was ‘packing’ my diva cup, I really had no idea how I was going to be able to use it. Have you read “It’s a squatter Part 2”?

I really thought that the diva cup was going to be my best friend while I was having my period during this trip in Peru.

My first trip to the outhouse that day was in the dark, flashlight in hand. I didn’t talk about this in my ‘squatter’ blog, but when I went to the bathroom, I was also checking to see if I had started my period. Yup, that means shining the flashlight on my undies and checking the toilet paper. Nothing there. The waiting game continues.

Isn’t it awful that there isn’t a clear sign to tell us to run to the bathroom and put a cork in it before it is too late? You know, before we ruin a pair of underwear or have an embarrassing situation at work, before you decide to have sex with someone and ‘surprise’… there it is! What? No, none of those things have ever happened to me or any of my girl friends!

I mean really, since our bodies are created with all of these intricacies, couldn’t one have been implemented to set an internal alarm off saying ‘Period commencing in 3 … 2 … 1 …’

Men, are you still reading? It really only gets worse from here ….

So, no period on my first night at Ccaccaccollo, but it is due to arrive at any time!

Day 2 at the homestay, I head to the bathroom with all of my personal products to check for my Aunt Flow. Am I hoping she’s come to visit? Well, kind of … just to have it over with. The sooner she arrives, the sooner she leaves, right? No luck. Still no period.

By the afternoon, I’m starting to worry a little and my mind is wandering …

hmmm … Mami in an ancient village asks me if I’m carrying a child …
hmmm … haven’t had any of my regular PMS symptoms and I’m officially late.
I’m Late.
OMG I’m LATE!
Holy crap I’m LATE!
OMG could I be pregnant?
OMG is this woman telling me something instead of asking me something?
Holy crap, could I be pregnant?

SHARI! Earth to Shari!
BREATHE!

Ok. I really can’t be pregnant. Being pregnant requires the act of having sex. Phew! What a relief that is! (ha ha ha I just cracked myself up)

PANIC …. Wait, when did I have sex last?
Think …. think ….
Ok, PHEW! It was before my last period, before I left Canada. (yes, I just published this … WEIRD!)
Phew! I really can’t be pregnant, I must just be late.
It must be the food, the exercise, the change in schedule.
Did I say PHEW! yet?

After this 30 seconds of panic, my heart rate returned to normal and I realized that I could not possibly be pregnant, so I’d just have to wait for it.

Then the conversation in my head continued in a different direction …

So, ‘self’ … how is it that you are going to actually deal with this when it does arrive. Let’s make a plan so we aren’t totally caught off guard.

(do you like how there are two of us in this conversation? Me … and my other self, Me.)

Picture an outhouse … the basic kind, not the porta-potty kind … Tin roof and sides, cement floor, hole in ground. Now, picture yourself squatting over that hole to do your bathroom business. Fine, that’s not so bad .. just like going in the woods, right?

Outhouse in Ccaccaccollo, Peru
Outhouse in Ccaccaccollo, Peru
Outhouse in Ccaccaccollo, Peru
Outhouse in Ccaccaccollo, Peru

Now, picture yourself squatting over the hole trying to get the diva cup out of your jacket pocket and out of it’s pretty little cotton bag. Ok, a bit of a struggle, but doable. But you can’t set anything down. Tuck the pretty little cotton bag back into your jacket pocket and prepare for the challenge. Don’t forget, you are still in full squat-to-the-ground position with your pants around your ankles and a rain jacket on. Not to mention the fact that you are squatting over an open hole with no seat to catch you if you lose your balance! (EWWWW!) Not that you could actually fall in, the hole isn’t that big, but still … EWWWW!

Diva cup in hand, you push the centre of it in and get ready. Now you have to use both hands to actually insert it.

Ok. Here’s where I lose it. Squatting over an open hole … trying not to breathe in too many fumes … holding a little cup in my hand, trying to balance and not fall over while pants are at my ankles. Then needing to use both of my hands to insert the cup?

I can’t do it!

All of this conversation in my head to plan for the moment my period arrives and I’m in the outhouse and I’ve already decided I can’t do it!

Flashback to Part 2:

“POP!

The cup slips out of my grasp, hits the door with a dull little thud and bounces to the floor. “OMG I’m glad I’m at home, not in a public bathroom right now!” What if I had lost my grip, the cup hit the door, then the floor and rolled right out of the stall? I might just die!

Instead of the Seinfeld episode ‘Can you spare a square?’ it would be ‘Can you roll my alternative menstrual product back under the stall for me please? And then, can you leave the bathroom before I do, so you never see my face?’”

Yup, the flashback pretty much ruined it for me. What if I lost my grip on the Diva cup and it popped right out of my hand? What if it landed on the floor in the outhouse? Worse, what if it fell in the hole? Not only is there no retrieving it, but one of the men who cleans out the outhouse would eventually find it and probably wonder what it was!

Not only are both of these thoughts disgusting, but unfortunately, both are realities of things that could happen. That little cup is springy and you have to have a good grip on it to make sure you don’t lose it.

So, on day 2, it has been decided that if my period arrives while I’m at my homestay, I will be using pads and tampons.

Day 3 we head out to the carnival celebrations in the community of Toray. I’m still carrying feminine products, including my diva cup everywhere I go! Maybe this community will have washrooms with toilets!

The community did indeed have public washrooms with toilets. However, I think I preferred my hole in the ground in the outhouse. Seems crazy, I know, but the public washrooms are not well taken care of. In fact, they aren’t taken care of at all. You fend for yourself.

You would never ever ever dream of sitting on the toilet … there’s no seat on it, but it doesn’t really matter. Seat or no seat, everyone else has already squatted, done their business and can’t be bothered to wipe off the seat. Not a chance in hell that I would ever let any part of me touch that toilet!

And for those of you who have fears of sitting on public toilets in Canada and the US. For those of you who avoid public washrooms all together … Well, simply, you should just never, ever leave those two countries or you will not survive. We are pampered. Our bathrooms are luxurious. If there is a toilet seat you can sit on, you are a Queen!

If you think that washrooms in Canada at a gas station in the middle of nowhere is bad, think again. Public washrooms in developing countries don’t even come close to the cleanliness of a bad washroom in Canada.

So, despite the fact that there were actually toilets in this community, not a chance that if my period had started I was going to try to squat and insert the diva cup over the disgustingness of the public toilets.

By the end of day 3 at our homestays, I was nearly 5 days late. No PMS symptoms, no period and a lovely woman who had asked (more than once now) if I was carrying a ‘Bambino’.

Hmmmm … really … is she trying to tell me something? Is immaculate conception in the Andes Mountains a normal occurrence? Is she predicting my future?

Nah … she just thinks my ‘fat’ is a baby. It sucks, but that’s all it is. More than a little discouraging, especially after already having lost weight on the trip, but what can you do!

We leave the lovely Ccaccaccollo community the next morning, off on our next adventure which is heading to Machu Picchu! Still no period.

Advance a few days … still no period.

Lima, Feb 28 – We have a great final night out with our G Adventures leader, Andres. We head out to a local bar (blog post on all of this coming soon), but I’m not feeling my best. I had come down with traveller’s diarrhea in Aguas Calientes and despite having started on Cipro, it wasn’t in check yet. The local bar was pretty sketchy though and decided to avoid the bathrooms if at all possible.

At around 11pm we got cabs and headed back to the hotel.

11:30pm back in my hotel room … SURPRISE! My period had started.
Someone was watching over me and allowed me to make it all the way back to my hotel room that night without any embarrassing accidents in my khaki colored shorts. Here I was, the last day of my trip, more than fives days late and my period was starting when I could actually sit on a toilet, use both hands and insert my diva cup properly.

For awhile there, I thought that the diva cup was a lost cause … in the end, I enjoyed having it just as much as I thought I would, but only when there are good washrooms!

Best part about it was that somehow my period magically avoided my entire trip except for the last day. And, I got to use the Diva cup while traveling home which is really wonderful when you have to use airplane bathrooms.

This is a whole other story, but trying to spread your knees and insert a tampon while in an airplane bathroom is nearly impossible … right ladies??? I know you feel my pain!

Use a diva cup – you can keep it in for 12 hours. No need to reinsert on the plane.

I {heart} my diva cup!

Travel like a diva … with a cup … Part 2

If you haven’t read Part 1 of this series, check it out here before you read part 2.

This post is all about women’s issues when traveling. That’s right vacation menstruation. The topic of periods, menstruation, that monthly visitor, being ‘on the rag’ …

NOTE: Some women may find this post too detailed. If you don’t want to read it, don’t read it. If you are curious, then read. If you read all the way to the end, despite it’s brutal honesty, please don’t complain to me about being too honest … after all, you decided to continue reading!

I’m going to travel like a diva … with a cup. What the hell does that mean, you ask?

Back in 2012 when I ran my very first photo tour, as soon as I had the minimum number of participants I was so excited that I started counting down the days! That also meant I started counting the weeks between periods to see if I’d be ‘on the rag’ during my adventure of a lifetime. To my dismay, I would be. So, what was I going to do about that?

Picture this …

I’m sitting at a travel agency picking my agent’s brain about all things Peru. I’m asking about the weather, about flight schedules, about adding on a trip to The Galapagos Islands … the questions are just pouring out in excitement and she’s answering each one of them with as much information as she can to help me out.

There are three agents in the office. It’s fairly small and both of the other agents were busy at the time … one with a client in person, the other on the phone.

I leaned across my agent’s desk and whispered something like ‘I can’t believe I’m asking this … I don’t want anyone to hear … but what is the bathroom situation like on the Peru trip? I mean, I’m going to be on my period. Will I have regular access to washrooms? Will our accommodations have washrooms or will I be going in the woods?’.

After all, this was an adventure travel trip, not a Caribbean resort! And we would be doing homestays for several nights and hotels for the others.

I felt a little silly, but thankfully I’m not easily embarrassed. We tried to quietly and discreetly have a conversation about ‘women’ issues while in the company of a man and a client!

I’m pretty sure our conversation went something like this …
Rose: Well, Shari, do I have the perfect thing for you! Have you ever heard of The Diva Cup?
Shari: The Diva Cup? Um, no. Not sure I want to know what that is … but ok.
Rose (goes to The Diva Cup website): It’s an alternative menstruation product, reusable and environmentally friendly. It will change your periods forever!

OK, from here on, this post gets detailed. Read at your own discretion! Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Of course at this point, I was intrigued and disgusted all at the same time. After all, it is a sort of cup that you insert instead of a tampon that catches your blood and then you empty it out. I didn’t even know there were such things as ‘alternative menstruation products’! I thought we had pads and tampons and that’s all there was to it.

We went on to have a detailed discussion and read information on the website about how it was going to change my periods forever! The lovely ladies at the agency spoke so highly about it for traveling women that I decided I’d give it a try for my next period. I wanted a test run with it before taking it to Peru!

So, when my next period came around, I decided to take the plunge (or plug)! At that time, The Diva Cup wasn’t sold at drug stores and pharmacies though. You couldn’t just go in and buy it instead of a box of tampons. You had to buy it at a health or sex store.

On the second day of my period, I went in to Super Natural Foods, found a nice female staff member and asked if they sold the Diva Cup. She pointed me in the right direction and then the adventure began!

First thought … It’s kind of like buying your first box of condoms! You really have no idea what you are doing, but know that you should be getting them, so you are going to do it, but it’s a little uncomfortable!

Second thought … ok, there are two sizes. How do you know what ‘size’ is right for your vagina? HA HA HA Ok, so who am I kidding? I just said vagina in a blog post and I was a little uncomfortable about buying the Diva Cup? Ok, I think I just got more uncomfortable … as did you, but remember, I’m the one writing this for all to see … no one knows you are reading it! And really, we should be de-stigmatizing all of this anyway! Women should not be embarrassed to talk about their periods which are a perfectly natural part of life!

The Diva cup makes the size choice fairly straight forward for you. Either you are over 30 and may or may not have delivered a child vaginally or by c-section. Or you are under 30 and have never had a child.

Simple enough right?

Unless you let your mind wander … In my mind I thought “Well, I’m over 30, but I’ve never given birth … doesn’t that make my vagina smaller?” Ok, in reality I know this isn’t really true, but I’ll admit that this thought went through my head! I bought the recommended size for those of us over 30, got in the car and said to my friend who was waiting for me, ‘but what if I have a small vagina?!’ … fits of laughter ensued.

Later that evening, I came home and decided I was ready to tackle using the cup for the first time. Obviously best to try it at home first where you are most comfortable. I was a good girl and read all of the instructions before doing anything. Mind you, I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do with this malleable silicone cup thing with an opening that looked way to large to ‘fit up there’. So, I guess I had to read the instructions.

As suggested, I washed the cup with warm, non-scented, soapy water.
And then, I gave myself another little pep talk that consisted of ‘Ok, so you’re going to have to touch yourself a little bit to get this to work, but all the ladies who use it say that it is worth it. So, get ready …. go for it!’

The instructions give you two ways of inserting the cup properly. I chose the second way, which is to push down on one side of the cup in to the middle, until it forms a bit of a V. This makes it much smaller to insert. Seems simple enough, right?

Well, maybe … or maybe not! I pushed my thumb down to the middle of the soft cup, held the sides and started to walk myself through the part where I was going to have to (paraphrased) ‘use your other hand to separate your labia’ and then …

POP!

The cup slips out of my grasp, hits the door with a dull little thud and bounces to the floor. “OMG I’m glad I’m at home, not in a public bathroom right now!” What if I had lost my grip, the cup hit the door, then the floor and rolled right out of the stall? I might just die!

Instead of the Seinfeld episode ‘Can you spare a square?’ it would be ‘Can you roll my alternative menstrual product back under the stall for me please? And then, can you leave the bathroom before I do, so you never see my face?’

Ok, I’ve recovered from my embarrassment with myself, I’ve rewashed the cup and I’m ready to try again … Concentrate this time!

I’ve made the cup smaller for insertion, I’m holding things ‘apart’ down there and using my other hand to gently insert the cup … and then …

It works! Phew. Wow was I glad when it was in and couldn’t go flying out of my grasp again.

(and I’ve just realized that this should be part of The Vagina Monologues that tours every year!)

Once the cup is inserted, you reach up and gently turn it 360 degrees to make sure that it fully opens rather than being smaller like the way you inserted it. Yup, you actually reach in there, grab on to the bottom of it and start turning. For me, this was the most awkward part. I originally tried to hold on to the little nubby end (so that it doesn’t go missing in there), but really, what you need to do is grab the bottom of the cup with your fingers, squeeze and turn. If it hasn’t already opened up fully, you’ll feel it when it does, but don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt! When it is open fully it lightly suctions, forming a seal so that it doesn’t leak or move.

So there, the cup is in and I’m good to go … for how long?

Well, you see, two of the really fantastic benefits of using the Diva Cup are:
1. You can leave it in for up to 12 hours
2. because it is made of sillicone, there’s no risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome, such as with tampons.

Just for ‘fun’, that first night, I left it in for a couple of hours, then tried my first attempt at removing it. The instructions tell you all kinds of tid bits such as (paraphrased), ‘don’t panic if you can’t reach it! This means you may have inserted it a little too far, but eventually the weight of the liquid and gravity will pull it back down.’ What you actually do is squeeze your vaginal muscles which pushes the cup closer to your fingers, then you reach up there … (yup, you have to be comfortable with yourself) … pinch the bottom of the cup and pull. Weird? Yes, it is weird, but it’s not all that bad.

It is a little bit like having a pap test when your doctor sticks his or her fingers inside to make sure everything is ok. It is an odd, uncomfortable sensation, as far from sexy or arousing as possible, but it only lasts for a few seconds, then it’s done. Once the cup is inserted, you really, honestly can’t feel it at all! You notice it even less than a tampon!

I can hear you all saying ‘ewwwwww! Gross! That’s gotta be messy.’

Actually, it isn’t messy. All of your menstrual fluid is captured inside the little cup and you just dump it out in the toilet (or on the ground if you are peeing in the woods!). There is very little blood on the outside of the cup because it has been pressed against your vaginal walls, directing everything inside. So, as gross as you may think it is, you don’t actually get much on your fingers (usually).

Something else I learned is that the average woman, during her entire one week period produces about an ounce of menstrual fluid. An ounce? That’s it? Well, apparently it is! The cup itself is made to hold an ounce. So, technically, that would be a week’s worth of fluid from your period. They recommend that you take it out and wash it 2-3 times per day (which is every 10-12 hours). Isn’t it cool that as long as it is inserted properly, you don’t have to worry about it for 10-12 hours?

I’m so excited! That means not only when I’m traveling and don’t have access to a suitable washroom, but overnight, when I’m on location working and don’t have access to a washroom, I don’t have to worry about overflow! That’s right. Unless something is horribly wrong, I’m not going to ‘overflow’ the cup in those 12 hours.

And I don’t think I mentioned that you can pee, or have a bowel movement with it still in place. You don’t have to take it out every time. Well, I don’t think you have to take a tampon out either, but I always do because it just doesn’t seem right. I always feel like a tampon gets shifted, moved and is uncomfortable if I leave it in while using the washroom. Ok, not to mention the fact that you then have a wet string hanging around with pee on it. EEEEEWWWW! See, THAT is disgusting!

I’ll admit to the world, I am converted. I used the Diva Cup for the last few days of that period and was thrilled with it’s efficiency. When I go to my boyfriend’s house (someday that’ll happen again) I don’t have to pack a bunch of bulky, embarrassing pads and tampons. When I go to a photo shoot, I don’t have to worry about running to the bathroom every couple of hours to remove my tampon, or trying to find a delicate way to get a tampon from my bag to my hand and carry it to the washroom without anyone seeing. I don’t always have to carry my purse everywhere with me with a stash of feminine products because I now have a reusable one!

So, I guess I’d better answer the last few questions that I know most of you have. How’s it going to work when you are in a public washroom or traveling?

Well, here’s the deal … you are supposed to wash the cup off with drinkable water (and non-scented soap) whenever you can. If you are in a one stall public bathroom in Canada or US, that’s no problem. If you are in a bigger washroom, you can’t just take your cup and wash it out in the sink in front of everyone, then run back to the bathroom and insert it. So, you can either wash it off in the stall with bottled water that you are carrying, or you can wipe it off with toilet paper and re-insert it, washing it the next time you have a chance.

They really stress how important it is to wash your hands before using it as well, as you don’t want any unknown bacteria causing problems!

When you are traveling, you aren’t always in suitable bathrooms or don’t always have drinkable water. So, it is just a matter of planning ahead to take good, drinkable bottled water with you, or you can wait until you are at your hotel to wash it off. Remember, you don’t have to remove it every time you go to the washroom, so you don’t have to worry about this all of the time!

Wash it before you insert it in the morning and then you will be good until you get to your hotel or a private washroom later in the day.

Doesn’t this make life so much easier when you travel?

I can’t imagine having to pack my rucksack with enough pads and tampons for a week. Not to mention trying to not squish them, have them become wet from rain or squished from being thrown around in the cargo area on the plane. Nor do I want the hassle of trying to find new pads and tampons in another country where I can’t speak the language! Instead, I just pack my little Diva Cup in a pretty little cotton bag, and I’m on my way!

Oh yeah, and it only costs around $40! With the money you’ll save on pads and tampons, in a few years you’ll have saved enough money for a trip! And you are making a huge impact on saving the environment! What’s not to like about all of this!

So, if you can’t control when you are going to have your period and it just happens to end up in the midst of your travel plans, you should consider the alternative .. Travel like a diva … with a cup!

‘Self, suck it up. Get over it. Be a woman. Get comfortable with yourself and enjoy your travels!’