This post is all about must-have items for long-term female travelers, which means I’ll be talking about female issues and lady parts. Gents, if this makes you squeamish, I suggest you skip this post.
I’ve been on the road for four months of a yearlong trip around the world and can tell you that travel is just different for women than it is for men. We need more stuff, different stuff, lady stuff.
Here are the specific items in my pack I wouldn’t be able to do without:
1. Diva Cup
Also called a “Keeper” or other clever brand names, this little baby replaces tampons and pads for that time of the month. Made of small, bendable rubber, it slips right in you when you’re starting your period and collects period blood, much like a tampon, only you don’t discard it. Instead after 10-12 hours, you empty it into a toilet, rinse it out and slip it back in.
I’ve owned mine for about a year, wanting to get comfortable with the switch before we left for Colombia in January, and I can’t imagine going back. Not only does it cut down on the amount of waste your produce each month, it saves you from searching for a pharmacy to buy tampons if you’re in a rural place.
I also like that you don’t have to change it as often, just once in the morning and once at night. A fellow Inca Trail trekker lamented to me on the trail that she was on her period and hated having to deal with the almost non existent bathrooms there. I was glad to have my little packable Diva Cup!
Also in the vagina-related lady products category, this little tool allows you to stand up while you pee and basically go anywhere. So if you’re camping or traveling through areas where the bathrooms are particularly gross and you’d rather not sit, just pull your pants down a bit, hold your Go Girl up to you, and let it fly.
I’ve even packed this on really long bus rides through Ecuador when I knew I wouldn’t have access to a bathroom. I figured that- worst case scenario- I could cover myself and pee into a bottle like dudes do in the movies. Luckily it never came to that, but the peace of mind of having it was worth the $12 I spent on the thing.
Downsides: Apparently after sitting to pee for 29 years of life, I’m not really good and standing to do it. You need to practice with it or it could leak and you could pee on yourself while hiding behind a bush frantically searching for lions because you’re in Kruger National Park and have stopped your car at a lookout point and really aren’t supposed to be peeing anyway. Not that that happened to me…
Not specific to just women, but this small towel comes in handy. Used as a towel, pillow, blanket, beach wrap and scarf, I always pack mine in my day bag in countries where I may need to cover up. You never know when you may be denied access to a temple in Bangkok because too much of your skin is showing.
4. Collapsable Travel Brush
I used to pack a full sized brush before realizing just how much extra space this takes up in my pack. They’re not as durable, but a collapsable brush is perfect for tossing in your toiletry bag.
I almost never have access to a hair dryer on the road, so the round drying brush is pretty useless anyway. When I was camping my way through South Africa, I was glad to have something small but useful.
I know this may sound like an unnecessary item, but I picked up a pair of small scissors (like the colorful kind you buy for school children) and have used them quite a bit.
After a particularly bad haircut at a hole-in-the-wall barber shop in Cusco (which looking back on it, really was a men’s barber shop and I don’t know why I thought it’d be fine to get a quick cut there), I decided to start cutting my own bangs. Pro tip: watch some Youtube videos before you attempt to do this. I made a go of it in a campsite with poor lighting and looked pretty terrible for a stint. I also cut part of my eye lashes off on another attempt (can’t you tell how coordinated I am?). But still, if you have bangs, you know the frustration of desperately needing them cut, and when you’re hundreds of miles from a real salon, scissors may have to do.
I’ve also used our scissors to cut stitches out of my husband’s face after an unfortunate surfing accident. So, you know, they’re a versatile thing to pack.
6. Toilet Paper
If you’re traveling through developing countries, always ALWAYS always have toilet paper on you. Stash it in jacket pockets, your day bag, all of the purses you intend to bring. Most public restrooms in South America won’t have toilet paper at all. You may be able to pay a few coins at the entrance for a pre-made pad, but it’s never guaranteed. In Africa I bought a four pack of rolls and just kept them in the car. That came in handy when I inevitably had to pull over and pee behind a tree.
7. Colored sports bra
I stupidly brought a white one, but if you’re traveling long term, this is a must. There are plenty of instances where you’ll want to strip down and may even need to swim or get wet in your sports bra, so having something colored is helpful. On the Inca Trail, after 10 hours of hiking each day, our porters would supply us with bowls of hot water outside our tents. Everyone basically stripped down to their underwear and used small towels to wash themselves off. Also on that trek there’s an opportunity to hike to a waterfall and “shower” there. Trust me, the Inca Trail is difficult enough without hauling your bikini in your pack. Colored sports bras do a good job of doubling as bathing suits in a pinch.
Ladies, what else am I missing? Do you have something you always pack that you couldn’t do without?