Women who travel a lot know it’s never fun to change a pad or tampon in an airplane restroom. A train is probably even worse. Whether you’re off to an exciting family holiday or going to Tokyo for business, you would surely rather not be traveling during a difficult PMS or while on your period. The problem is, we don’t always choose when it starts. Sometimes we’re even unable to foresee the first day of our cycle.
For some women, it’s no big deal. But if you suffer from endometriosis or difficult periods, you definitely want to be prepared.
I have personally suffered endometriosis for over 15 years and have had to go through several surgeries. I am very familiar with extreme pain but fortunately, I’ve had the chance to attend pain management classes to help me through it all. These classes have been instrumental in my understanding of my physical symptoms as well as the anxiety that is directly related to them.
In stressful situations, such as traveling alone, pain management is absolutely crucial. Here are a few tips that helped me make it through long flights, bumpy train rides, and cross country rides.
Read next: Travel bloggers with Endometriosis
Wear a Heating Pad on Your Pelvis or Lower Back
Or both. You know where it hurts. Heat is still the best and most efficient way to fight menstrual cramps. It’s easily worth more than ten ibuprofen pills.
We cannot always walk around holding a hot bottle to our pelvis but thermo-pads are now easy to find in any drugstore. They’re not the cheapest buy but they are efficient and last a long time.
*Pro-tip: Buy them in bulk online you’ll be sure to save some money too!
Identical to heated patches used to relieve back and shoulder pain, these are now designed to fit the size and shape of an average woman’s pelvis.
You either stick them to the inside of your panties or the piece of clothing that is in contact with the most painful area. Immediate and long term relief is guaranteed!
If you do wear those during a long flight, make sure to take breaks from sitting down – even if you are in pain. Stretch your legs and arms to prevent any blood circulation issues.
Avoid Coffee and Caffeine
It’s endometriosis 101 and you may already know this. But I have investigated the matter and it turns out that many women and doctors still don’t know or don’t talk about this simple fact.
Caffeine will make your cramps more intense and increase the risk of diarrhea and upset stomach, which often occurs during difficult periods.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend women who suffer from PMS and painful periods to avoid coffee during this time.
While several studies have been conducted on the topic, there is still no absolute proof of how, why, and if caffeine really is an enemy of your period. But the number of women backing up this correlation should count for something.
I know it changes everything in my case of severe endometriosis and intense PMS.
It can be quite tricky to avoid coffee when you have to travel for longer periods of time, especially with layovers and fatigue building up. I had to find ways to trick myself more than once while waiting for a connecting flight next to a Starbucks. But it is worth the effort. If you do love the taste, trick yourself with a decaf.
Most places will accommodate you and make your favorite latte caffeine-free. If staying awake is your main concern, try natural sources of sugar and vitamin C such as fresh orange juice or a smoothie.
Learn One Breathing Exercise
Learning how to breathe right can change your life. This is especially true when it comes to pain and stress management. But the truth is, learning and practicing breathing exercises can sound boring and tedious.
But let’s learn just one simple exercise that you could master by the end of the next paragraph: Are you with me?
First, breathe out until your lungs are completely empty. Then breathe in through your nose while slowly counting to four. Keep your mouth closed. Stop and keep it all in while counting to 6. Now slowly breathe out through your mouth slightly open while counting to 8.
Make sure your stomach expands and your mouth stays shut when you breathe in. Do it three to five times in a row. That’s all.
I have found a lot of amazing little exercises in a book by Molly Larkin called “The Fountain of Youth is Just a Breath Away”. It is quite the title, but the tips and exercise descriptions are simple and to the point.
Do this on the plane, at the airport, or anywhere and anytime the pain hits you and you need to manage your stress without being able to escape the situation. Focusing on your breathing will help you take your mind off the pain.
It will also help your body relax, especially the area around your guts and uterus, which tend to be extra tensed from the pain.
Wear Something Comfortable
This may be obvious but there’s more to this tip than “sweatpants”. If you’re going to be sitting on a plane for hours, you want to be comfortable. But if you’re going to deal with painful cramps too, you want to be extra comfortable.
Make sure you’re wearing pants that do not add any pressure to your stomach or guts. No matter what you’re wearing, you should be able to breathe in fully without any obstruction (so you can easily practice the breathing exercise above.)
Wear your best sneakers, especially if you have a layover.
Walking can be hard and endometriosis often comes with pain that radiates through your thighs and legs. Good walking shoes will help keep it all under control.
If you’re wearing a bra, make sure to pick your most comfortable one. The same is true if you’re wearing a bralette. Avoid wires that press on your chest and get in the way of breathing and comfort.
Eat Plain Foods
When you have endometriosis, your PMS and periods can be so bad that they can easily make you lose your appetite. It’s not just a painful experience, it’s often one that is accompanied by nausea, stomach cramps, and/or diarrhea. This can be overwhelming when you are traveling.
You might be tempted to simply skip the food and avoid any risk of feeling uncomfortable or even sick during a flight or layover, but an empty stomach is never a good idea, especially if you are taking pain killers!
Some women with endometriosis develop unhealthy eating habits all through their cycles or starve themselves during their period.
But while your body and mind deal with pain and stress, you need to keep them fuelled. Even when you’re nauseous and even when you are on the move.
Hormonal and pain-induced nausea is a lot like seasickness: you’re most likely to suffer from it on an empty stomach. That’s why motion sickness medicine can also help a lot, even if motion is not the root of the problem in this case.
Now, of course, you’ll have to use your best judgment but generally, it’s important to avoid greasy, sugary, and heavy foods.
Favor plain, bland, and highly digestible snacks and meals such as rice, pasta, boiled, or mashed potatoes.
Tofu – grilled or scrambled – is also a very neutral food that will likely do the trick. And of course, bread. Always bread!
You will need a little sugar to keep your energy level up. Stick to natural sources of sweetness such as bananas or applesauce. Even at airport kiosks, those are quite easy to find. If nausea is an issue, make sure to keep some ginger gums or ginger candy in your pocket.
Just remember to stay away from milk chocolate, dairy, and alcohol!
Keep Your Medicine Within Reach
For most of us suffering from endometriosis, there is no leaving the house without taking some sort of medication including painkillers and tummy pills. Make sure you plan ahead and have enough medication for the duration of your flight and even then, bring more than you need.
You could always be stuck at the airport longer than expected.
Be sure to have enough tampons or pads and keep your pills in your handbag.
Do not wait for the pain to be excruciating to take them. Painkillers work best if they can address your pain and cramps when they start, not when they peak.
Being prepared will not only help you deal with the actual pain during your trip, but it will also lower your stress levels before you even leave your house.
I try to plan my travels around my periods but it is not always possible.
The first few times I have had to fly alone internationally while in excruciating pain were absolutely daunting and exhausting. But as I learned to plan ahead and make sure I had everything I needed within reach, I also learned my most valuable lesson as an endo-warrior:
I can not always control the timing of my period and the pain is a reality of my life. But there is still a lot that I can control to have the upper hand: my diet, my breathing, and most importantly, my mindset.
Knowing you have everything you need will give you the strength and confidence to make it through.
Just breathe and pop a ginger candy under your tongue. You got this.