Backpacking as a Woman

Female backpacker staring out over lake

I’m a firm believer in encouraging other women to travel, but there are often so many things involved that us girls need to think about before rolling our clothes into a backpack that it can be a thoroughly overwhelming experience if not planned properly. The reality of traveling as a woman is quite a far cry from what the photos on Instagram will lead you to believe.

Even short trips can mean a complete change of lifestyle. Add to that the joys of being a woman (periods! shaving! birth control!) and your travels can quickly become downright frustrating.

In an effort to help you plan for the expected and unexpected things we women have to face, not only at home but also on the road, here are some points to ensure your health and safety remain uncompromised while backpacking the world.

Periods

Unless you’re on a birth control method that eliminates your periods entirely, you’re eventually going to have to deal with your period on the road. But adding a month’s worth (or more) supply of feminine hygiene products to your 40L backpack probably isn’t the most economical travel option.

Being properly prepared seems like a no-brainer, but it’s all too easy to lose track of your schedule when your days are filled with sightseeing ancient ruins and your nights are filled with new friends and parties on the beach.

One of the best alternatives is a menstrual cup like the Diva Cup or the Lily Cup. Small and lightweight, a menstrual cup takes up hardly any space in your luggage and with proper care you can reuse it month after month. Not only is it super practical for female travelers, it’s also kind on the environment with minimal waste.

Using a menstrual cup requires a bit of a learning curve, so I would recommend you pick one up to try at home a few months before your departure – don’t give up if you can’t get it right the first time. It took me a few months before I could use it comfortably, but the benefits of the cup have been well worth my time and effort.

Female traveler holding hands

Relationships

Even if you have no intention of hooking up with (or falling in love with) someone on the road, life often has other plans.

More often than not it’s up to us women to protect ourselves (no offence to the responsible men out there) so it’s always a good idea to stash some condoms in your wallet or purse or backpack. Not only are condoms a reliable form of birth control, if used correctly, they are also one of the best ways to protect yourself against STIs and other diseases.

If you happen to have an accidental unprotected encounter - because let’s face it, these things can and do happen – get yourself to a clinic to get tested as soon as you’re home, or, if you have the proper medical coverage, you can do so in many places abroad as well.

Unfortunately, accidents happen. A very real concern for us female travelers is pregnancy – something we need to be prepared for. Luckily for us, there are so many forms of long-term birth control on the market (both with and without synthetic hormones) – from the pill to IUDs to the implant to the injection – that there’s sure to be one that’s right for you.

If you're a woman younger than 26, you might also want to consider getting the HPV vaccine which is administered three times over the course of six months by your doctor and can protect you from numerous unwanted diseases: genital warts, cervical and vaginal cancers. 

Of course, with all of the above, it's important you speak with your doctor first.

Holding sand

Beauty

At the outset of a trip, I start off with the best of intentions to at least try to shape my impossibly curly head of hair to make it somewhat presentable and apply at least a bit of makeup every day. But not long after departure, with sightseeing schedules to uphold, early morning wake up calls and humidity far beyond my comfort zone, my well-meant plans usually get thrown out of whack and after only a few days in I find myself exploring new places with a bare face and frizzy waves.

Sure, walking around with crazy hair might seem trivial in comparison to unwanted pregnancies and STIs, but it's these little things that have the ability to truly boost a woman's confidence, an important factor of spending time in a foreign place, especially for solo female travelers. Sometimes it just feels good to put on two coats of mascara and a swish of blush. Perhaps you can relate.

Just like my packing ethos (the less, the better), I’ve slimmed down what I carry along in my makeup bag to be as minimal as possible. Here are the essential products I bring with me everywhere:

NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer For those early morning starts after a late night spent on the beach with new travel friends, this concealer is perfect for covering up dark circles and blemishes. Works like a charm for any redness around the nose and mouth as well.

Bare Minerals Blush Easy to apply, not too much sparkle, and lasts all day.

Bare Minerals Brow Powder If you were a little too trigger happy with the tweezers during your teenage years like I was, then you will definitely appreciate this brow powder. This might just be the one item I undeniably can’t leave home without. I apply it with this angled brow brush.

Bare Minerals Flawless Definition Mascara This mascara does three things which I really love – 1) it separates lashes beautifully and evenly, 2) it’s super easy to wash off after a long day, and 3) the unique wand applicator makes it simple to apply several coats without clumping.

Bite Beauty Multistick Cruelty free and all natural ingredients, this chubby lip stain in a neutral tone works from day to night. It also works as a blush and eye shadow.

Planning a trip with a map

Safety

I’ve made two realizations throughout my travels: 1) the majority of people in the world are inherently good, and 2) common sense keeps you safe in most situations. That being said, if you’re traveling on your own or want extra peace of mind it’s never a bad idea to take a few additional precautions.

Check in with someone Entrust a close friend or family member as your “check in” person. Regularly call, email, or text them to keep them updated on your whereabouts. If they don’t hear from you after the agreed upon time, they can alert local authorities.

Doorstop Alarms Although I haven’t used them personally, other travelers I know swear by using a doorstop alarm to alert them of possible intruders in their hotel/hostel rooms.

Travel Insurance The one thing you hope you’ll never need, but you’ll be thankful to have it in case you do. Check in with your local banks and insurance dealers for the best rates and packages to suit your needs. World Nomads also provides some great insurance options to cover a wide range of countries.


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Disclaimer:  I am by no means a medical professional or doctor. This article is meant to be informational, but in no way intended to replace the advice of a doctor or healthcare worker. For anything listed above, talk to your doctor.