The Essential Item to Pack for Backpacking SE Asia

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I’m baaaack! I know it’s been radio silence for a long time on this travel blog, but that’s because Lionel and I haven’t been traveling. We’ve been settled on Koh Tao now for a while, and this month was actually our 5 year anniversary of starting our PADI Open Water scuba diving course. In December this year, it’ll be our 5 years of actually living and working on Koh Tao as dive professionals! Crazy how fast the time has gone.

I’ve slithered back out of the water that is now my home to talk about something that has radically changed my life recently. The thing that I believe is an essential item to pack for any backpacking girl, especially around SE Asia.

The menstrual cup.

period cup JuJu brand

Odd item I know, especially for the men reading, but one of the things that I really wish I had packed when I first started backpacking around SE Asia. One day i swear i’ll make a packing list post, with things I wish I had brought, and things that I wish i hadn’t!

So the menstrual cup, this holy grail shaped object which has made my life easier the past few months. Most of you may know the concept of the menstrual cup already, and maybe even the benefits of using a menstrual cup. But basically it’s a little cup that is inserted like a tampon, which collects your menstrual blood before it leaves the body.

For me, I’ve been wanting to try one for about a year, especially when we watched a bunch of Netflix eco docos last year and Lionel and I tried to become vegans (for the environment and the poor animals), but we failed, so we became ‘Flexitarians’ where we occasionally eat meat and fish, but try to limit our consumption. We’ve actually been doing so well (in our minds) that we haven’t cooked meat or fish for about 6 months, and we try to go for the Tofu fried rice instead of pork or chicken, though once in a while, we’ll have a tasty proper Spag Bol when we’re out.

Anyway, so with all of these terrifying but really informative documentaries, we tried to be more conscious of our waste and our habits. Especially when you live on a small island in the Gulf of Thailand, and you dive in the ocean everyday, you see first hand the impact of plastic consumption and waste that end up at sea. In Thailand, and most of the SE Asian countries, we see locals and foreigners buying small objects from say, a 7-11, and they walk out with a can of coke, in a plastic bag, with a plastic straw, wrapped in plastic. When partiers are on the beach, and drinking ‘buckets’ (literally a bucket with alcohol and mixer), there’s usually eight straws so everyone can share, but after 20 minutes, those straws, and buckets usually end up on the floor, at the beach, washed out to the ocean. Major sadface. Won’t someone think of the turtles?

So, we tried to be a bit more proactive in our habits, taking a canvas bag when food shopping, filling up our metal drinking canister with water, using bar soap instead of liquid soap, making a small compost garden for waste etc. and that’s about when I discovered the menstrual cup. Now the menstrual cup is a great idea, and apparently it’s been around since like the 1930s before the wars started and production of these cups were halted, due to more important productions like guns i guess… But of course, it wasn’t a hugely successful concept until recently, when more people wanted to go eco-friendly, and were more aware of waste and trying to find ways of helping our planet. This is exactly me.

I wanted a menstrual cup, because I didn’t want to keep spending hundreds of baht on tampons and pads. I also wanted a menstrual cup because I’m on a diving boat everyday, and it’s a major hassle having to change your tampon on a boat, and disposing of it discreetly. I also wanted a menstrual cup, because it sounded cool, and was the new IT thing.

But unfortunately, getting a menstrual cup was quite difficult on this small island. Any of the girls who did use one (and the number of female divers using them that I know of is still quite low), got theirs when they traveled home. Also, with so many different brands and sizes, how would I know which one was best for me? I checked out the Lazada website (where you can buy super cheap products and have them sent to Koh Tao with cash on delivery), but most of the objects are made and shipped from China, and I really wanted a ‘proper’ one that’s been tested, and approved, and safe for my body.

Luckily, this year, my lovely parents came to visit me from Oz to see where I’ve disappeared to for 5 years! So as my Christmas present (cos, treat yo-self) I bought a bunch of stuff that I wanted/needed etc. and got it sent to Mum, so she could bring it over in February. I ordered a bunch of bikinis for work, a hoody (for the cold monsoon months), bio-degradable sunscreen (see, I am trying to be more eco-friendly!), and of course, the menstrual cup!

I did a bunch of research, and going with the fact that I was ‘just’ under 30, hadn’t gone through childbirth etc. I went with a smaller size. I also went with an Australian made menstrual cup, the JuJu cup. It was a little pricey, around $50 AUD but I expected that, and this will easily pay itself off considering I don’t have to buy tampons and pads each month now.

I was worried about getting my period on a diving liveaboard trip that we had booked to do in Myanmar (a liveaboard is where you live on the boat, you sleep, dive, eat, sleep, dive, eat, repeat for several days, with four dives a day!) as I didn’t want to have to be concerned with my period while on a shared boat with shared bathrooms. Luckily my period happened the week before so I could try the menstrual cup out for the first time.

What a Game Changer.

It took a little while to get the hang of using the menstrual cup, I won’t go into details, but there was about 40 minutes where I thought I had ‘lost’ it. Scariest 40 minutes of my life…. thank you google. But once I got it, and knew how to use it, clean it, etc. then it was amazing. It’s even better in Thailand, and SE Asia, because all of the toilets have a bum gun, which I can use to clean the menstrual cup each time.

I was lucky because so far, it hasn’t leaked, and it’s worked exactly how it should. I used it on the diving boat and there were no concerns at all. I just went to the marine toilet on the boat, removed it, tipped it out, reinsert, done. There was no ‘pressure squeeze’ or anything crazy, even when I went down to 40 metres, or swam upside down.

The best thing is that once I felt comfortable with it, I would leave it in for about 8 hours (a standard work day), and completely forget about it until I came home and had a shower. You can also sleep with it in (unlike a tampon), which makes life easier when you’re used to sleeping in the humidity in Thailand with very loose clothing!

All in all, I’m so glad I made the transition to using a menstrual cup, and I’m kicking myself for not having it earlier. I wish I had it when I was actually backpacking around, where feminine hygiene products were sometimes difficult to find (like in rural Laos), or when I went on three day hikes in the jungle (where do you safely dispose your used products…?), or when I was motorbiking around Vietnam (I definitely had to have more bathroom breaks).

If you haven’t already, then I highly highly highly recommend trying a menstrual cup out. It honestly makes your life easier, and of course, saves the environment! Win win!

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