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Women on the Road

Travel Personal Hygiene Tips You Ignore at Your Peril
How to stay clean and healthy when you travel

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Keeping clean and healthy on the road isn't always easy so these travel personal hygiene tips are simply reminders of what we usually know how to do - and sometimes forget to at our peril.

The most obvious tip of all is - stay clean! It's obvious, it's simple, but it isn't always easy. Clean water isn't available everywhere, nor is a clean room or environment. Those of us from wealthier countries are more accustomed to these amenities than many of our friends in poorer countries.

Good feminine hygiene is important everywhere, but even more so in the tropics, where bacteria thrive, infections take hold with a vengeance, and English-speaking doctors may be rare.

Basic hygiene - and common sense - tips

In most cases, these travel personal hygiene tips aren't exceptionally sophisticated and are basically a question of common sense:

  • Wash your hands: most infections are caught by touching dirty objects. Always wash after using the toilet, before and after handling a tampon or pad, and after touching an animal. Wash before eating, and where possible after touching anything everyone else touches (public phone, ATM, public computer keyboard).
personal hygiene nail brushKeeping nails clean is key to personal hygiene
  • Clean your nails whenever they're dirty, and keep them short.
  • Be especially cautious before eating. The only thing worse than infection by touching is infection by swallowing.
  • Don't share a towel with anyone.
  • Drink lots of water to keep your urinary tract healthy. Don't avoid water just because you're scared you might not find a loo!
  • Keep from overheating and chafing by wearing light, airy clothes or layers.
  • Always use sandals or thongs when taking a shower.
  • Use cotton underwear if fear of infection is a reality.
  • Keep your feet, underarms and areas under your breasts fresh with talcum powder.

Keeping clean will help avoid cystitis or urinary tract infection.

To avoid this painful condition, drink plenty of water, urinate whenever you need to, always wipe from front to back to avoid bacteria entering the urinary tract from the rectum into the vagina, and drink plenty of cranberry juice (if you're in a country where it exists). To be on the safe side, carry some cranberry capsules.

Yeast likes heat and dampness, and women on the pill are particularly susceptible to yeast infections.

To prevent them make sure you dry your vaginal area thoroughly after washing, stick to loose, cotton underwear that breathes easily, and eat yoghurt when you can. Avoid scented products, including pads and sprays, as these can irritate you. If you're prone to yeast infections, pack along the ingredients for a natural or herbal douche.

Among the most important travel personal hygiene tips are those related to relieving yourself. If you need to pee in the middle of the night, you might consider one of those made-for-women peeing funnels, which are used by female racers on the grueling Iditarod dogsled race. It has a short tube that allows you to pee standing up or into a small bottle (also useful). 

This is particularly important if you're the 'getting up often at night' type and you're somewhere with poor or no sanitation. Just try it at home first - this isn't the kind of experimenting you want to do surrounded by interested parties.

I have several friends who have one of these and they seem happy with them. I've never used one, preferring instead to wear a loose sarong and follow other women into the fields. I wouldn't recommend my approach for beginners though - it does take some time to learn to squat elegantly and practically.

On a long bus trip from Maputo to Beira in Mozambique, our bus stopped halfway for a loo break. I had never seen a toilet quite this disgusting: feces all over the floor and on the walls, with maggots and worms squirming throughout. Unfortunately we were in the middle of a village with no field in which to squat. At least the sarong allowed me some freedom. But one of those peeing funnels might have been handy too.

travel personal hygiene tips - sarongsSarongs - oh so useful! via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Menstruation hygiene tips when you travel

If you're traveling for an extended period, you may have your period on move. This isn't much fun but until menopause, it's a fact of life, so...

  • Carry two months' supply of feminine pads or your favorite tampon brands, particularly if you are going to a rural area where they might not be available easily. And make sure you keep them dry! Or you might end up with a bagful of cottony balloons...
  • When menstruating, change your pad or tampon every six hours.
  • Bring along your painkillers if you suffer from cramps. If they're prescription drugs, bring your prescription as well. And don't forget your PMS medication if you take it!
  • Always have something to clean yourself: a roll of toilet paper, some paper towels, a small packet of wet hygienic towelettes. If you've run out and you're stuck in nature, use twigs, moss, smooth stones or leaves - just make sure they're not prickly.
  • Carry a small bottle (plastic) of antibacterial liquid. If there's really no clean water anywhere, at least you'll be able to use it to wash your hands.

Check out reusable menstrual cups - like the Diva Cup, which many women rave about. But beware that if you have a heavy flow, they may be too small. They also come in a several sizes so investigate beforehand and get the right one. Make sure you can keep them scrupulously clean which you can't if you don't have a supply of clean water.

If you'll only have your period once while you're away, ask your doctor about using the contraceptive pill and skipping a period while you're away.

Don't worry about douches while you're on the road - just keep your external labia clean by either bathing or using towelettes.

travel personal hygiene tips - shaving your legsShave your legs on special occasions only?

General travel hygiene

When it comes to travel, personal hygiene tips can help you sort out some pesky challenges.

To shave or not to shave? This question has fueled many a discussion on travel forums. If you're in relatively unhygienic situations, shaving regularly makes little sense. Take a razor if you feel strongly about it and shave for special occasions. In many countries leg and underarm hair is taken care of by waxing. Try it if your hair isn't too thick - you won't need to do it often because less of it grows back each time. And in many countries, body hair on women isn't as repulsive as it seems to be in some Western countries.

Another niggly issue on the road is body odor, what with sweating under all that sun and humidity in the tropics. If you're on a short journey, your regular stick or rollon deodorant will do but if you're far from a shop, use your talcum powder or wash as often as you can.

If you want even more travel personal hygiene tips, visit health sites such as MD Travel Health, which has links to relevant pages of the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control.

And while you're at it, don't forget to book your travel insurance before you travel.

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