My love for the Diva Cup means it’s time to share how I handle my period on the road, and why you should just about any female should consider using a menstrual cup, too. In fact, every traveling lady should read this post, even if they eventually decide not to try a cup right now (so why not forward it your travel-loving female friends when you’re done reading).
I first discovered the universe of alternative menstrual products in the throes of planning my yearlong round the world trip. My cousin implored me to buy a Diva Cup and never look back. I was skeptical. I had assumed that I would just use tampons on the road, since that’s what I had used for years. But her endorsement was enthusiastic and her reasoning sound. She said it is the best way to handle your period while you travel. She also warned I needed to start using it months before my first trip—she was right on both accounts.
The Initial Verdict?
The Diva Cup is the most useful thing I pack when I travel. It gives me the confidence to go straight from a long bus ride to an epic hiking adventures. It never leaks. I’m never forced to schlep bags of tampons. It just works.
I bought one from my local health food store. Then, I had a rough start to using the menstrual cup and almost gave up entirely. Within just one period, I had figured it out. It started working after I spent a couple of days practicing. Since then, nearly a decade later, I’ve never looked back to the days of schlepping around pads and tampons.
What is a Menstrual Cup?
A menstrual cup is an eco-friendly “natural feminine hygiene alternative” that sits inside (like a tampon, but lower) and collects your menstrual fluid. Basically, these cups are medical-grade silicone, each about the size of a shot glass. When a menstrual cup is inserted correctly, the rim of the cup forms a seal against your vaginal canal. Once sealed, it takes care of business. The menstrual fluid flows into the cup, then you just pull it gently and dump the liquid into the toilet or sink. These cups fully replace tampons and pads. In fact, I have never bought a package of pads since I switched over. Well… except that one time when my best friend’s dog ate my Diva Cup. Keep ’em tucked somewhere safe!
The Diva Cup, specifically, falls under the larger umbrella of silicone menstrual cups (yup, there are several different brands of these things). Every menstrual cup brand represents a different aspect of sizing, shape, and color, but they all work the same way.
How Does a Menstrual Cup Work?
At its most basic, each menstrual cup is a small rounded cup made of pliable, foldable, and soft medical-grade silicon. The cup holds about an ounce of liquid—more or less depending on the brand and size that you select. It’s about the size of a shot glass. The premise of the entire thing is that you fold the cup in half and insert it much like you would a tampon. Once inserted, the cup opens into the full circle again and then forms a seal. With a tampon, the cotton absorbs the blood. In this case, the seal insures that your blood is collected in the cup (which again, is about the size of a shot glass, so you are simply collecting it in there like you would a small flexible cup).
Then you tug the base of the cup while you are over a toilet, then you tip the cup into the toilet and flush. You wipe or rinse it out and reinsert. In this way, you actually have only one thing that you need. You don’t need a new pad or tampon, and you don’t have something to dispose of afterwards. Your period is disposed of into the toilet.
So, lots of women are different shapes and sizes, but the nature of the silicon means that the various brands tend to work for most women. Some cups have a wider circular rim to ensure that you can form a strong seal if you’ve had birthed a child. Some cups are shorter for women with shorter vaginal canals. But generally, they all tend to be very similar in size, shape, and they all work on the same exact premise of creating a seal so that the blood flows into the cup and can then be dumped into a toilet or down a sink.
If you need more information, the buying instructions for the Diva Cup outline the nitty-gritty details on if you need the A or B size, it has pictures of the cup, and instructions too. And stick around to the the end of the post where I share the hilarious and helpful reviews women have posted, as well as outline the other brands that work well for women of differing statures.
Review: 5 Reasons I love the Diva Cup for Traveling
1. It can be worn for 10 to 12 hours at a time.
Traveling on a budget and in developing countries meant a lot of time on public transportation, with my Diva Cup I was safe for the never-ending 10+ hour bus rides. And when I was trekking, the last thing I wanted to do was deal with tampons during all-day treks—hooray for my Diva Cup! Unlike reports, you can actually get TSS from a menstrual cup, but it’s incredibly rare. Most menstrual cup brands are safe to have in for up to 12 hours (unless I am on very tail end of my period, however, I never leave it in for more than 10).
2. You can wear it before your period.
If I knew that I might start my period in the middle of a 10+ hour bus ride, I could use my Diva Cup before my period even started because it’s not drying like a tampon (and drying out can be a big issue with those, so menstrual cups are just nicer for your vagina). Bottom line, it saved me from potentially embarrassing situations on treks like bleeding through clothes or wild animals finding my bloody materials.
3. It’s designed for any activity.
The site touts that you can do any of the following: swimming, aerobics, cycling, traveling, dancing, hiking, biking, running, camping. You can. Each and everyone without a worry. It liberated me from trying to plan major outdoor activities on non-period days—I knew I could head out on a six-hour bike ride without searching for a bathroom or wondering all day if I was leaking.
4. You never have to buy other hygiene products.
I read horror stories about the availability of menstrual products before leaving on my round the world trip—some women even resort to bringing a full supply for their travels (hard to do when you’re on the road for a year!). This is the only thing I had to bring (well, soap too) and I knew I was never going to find myself hunting for sanitary products in a remote village in Nepal. (And note that you can find Kotex or Always in many/most major hub cities, so no need to pack a year’s supply either way!)
5. It’s green travel and oh-so good for the environment.
So many of the countries I visited don’t have effective waste management systems in place; it made me feel good to not contribute to that problem. One memorable time that sticks with me was a nine hour boat on the Mekong River in Laos—after diligently placing all trash in the marked bags all day, including tampons (since the toilets have you do your business directly into the river… #facepalm), locals dumped every trash bag over the side of the boat 30 minutes before we reached Luang Prabang. Or that time camping in a National Park in Asia when locals burned our trash each evening. In the west, we sometimes overlook that pads and tampons are hard to dispose of properly outside of our own infrastructure. For travelers, a menstrual cup allows you to lighten your eco-footprint just a tad—your period business won’t linger in faraway rivers and forests long after you leave. It’s reusable for a decade (unless your dog eats it) and there is nothing else you have to buy to use with it. Plus the non-BPA medical-grade silicone is far safer for your lady-parts than the surfactants, adhesives, and additives used in tampons and pads.
DOWNSIDES OF USING MENSTRUAL CUPS:
I love this product and I have no shame in touting the fabulous qualities of the product. But, be warned, there is a learning curve to using the Diva Cup. It took me until my third period of using it to have no leaking and messiness… and I cursed it the whole time during my first two months. This hilarious Hairpin article is a good read. Or you can check out the many, many thousands of often frank and sometimes wince-worthy reviews on Amazon. Though it was rough going at first, now I’m converted. I truly, wholly believe that menstrual cups are one of the best investments for female travelers.
How to Use Your Cup (Washing, Inserting, Etc)
- Try it out before your trip! You’ll be thankful that you’re in your own clean bathroom while you discover the learning curve.
- Bring a mild soap. I brought a small container plain, unscented liquid soap for use as a body wash and a cup wash. You can buy a mild wash from the company itself or handy sanitary wipes, too. Be sure to have a cleaning routine down pat before you leave. Generally, I only use a wipe at the end before storing it for the next few weeks (unless in a place with no potable water). And know that using anything but mild products and water might degrade the silicone, so it’s better to just wipe with toilet paper and use water until you get back to your mild soap if you’re out and about.
- It’s not for the squeamish. You do have to get a little more “invasive” than you do with tampons if you catch my drift. You will be all up in your own business, to be frank. But you’ll also learn to understand your cycle better and get pretty good at using the cup without much issue.
- That “twist” the instructions mention is the most important part of the process—that’s what ensures you have a good seal. That, and the holes at the top of your cup—you have to ensure they are clean between uses (just squeezing around the rim while under water cleans them out easily).
- When they tell you it sits lower than a tampon, it’s SO true. Really low, make sure it pops open, then twist — it’s like magic. But, you definitely have to practice before it becomes second nature.
- Buy at your local co-op or natural foods store instead, or online—at last check Diva Cups (and other brands) sell for less than $35, which is far less than the close to $200 annually women spend on feminine hygiene products.
- After using a menstrual cup for a decade now, I swear by it. It shortened my period from eight days to four, and lessened my cramping/PMS symptoms to a number of hours now, not days. It’s worth the awkward transition and it’s just plain healthier for your body. I’ll never go back to pads and tampons.
Best Menstrual Cup Brands:
Diva Cups are brilliant and anyone comfortable with their body should give it a try. But beyond anyone, I consider it essential for women travelers, truly :-)
And don’t take my word for it—look around online. There many women have gone on the record about their love (and learning curve) with menstrual cups. And very important is that once you get a Diva Cup, check out these links below for extra tips from women who have figured it out, they’re normally right on with their suggestions and the cup comes with some very explicit tips and pictorial instructions too! There are tricks to help it work better, and some brands are better for petite women.
Best Menstrual Cup Brands & Resources
- The major contenders you should consider are the Diva Cup or the Lunette. Consensus seems to say that the Lunette works well for petite women and/or those with a short vaginal canal or low cervix. I am tall with a long vaginal canal and have tried other brands, but I stick with the Diva Cup. (I do carry the Lily compact as a backup because it collapses down tiny. I have the larger size in both cups since I am over 30 and each brand respectively recommends the size 2/B ).
- The Best Menstrual Cups: Not sure about which one is right for you? Not all of us know if we have a long or short vaginal canal, so this post breaks down the options and which works for different women.
- Menstrual Cup Info: Heaps of additional information to help you decide which cup might be a good fit for your body type.
- How to Insert a Diva Cup: This video is no-nonsense and very helpful for someone just learning to use it. She demonstrates the different types of folds. I use the C-fold and have never needed lubricant (and note that oil-based lubricants are straight-up bad for the cup’s silicone), but if it’s water-based and safe for the silicone, it might ease the transition until you get the hang of inserting it.
- An Ode to the Diva Cup: A hilarious article on the Hairpin with some advice and tips in the article, as well as the comments. I cried tears of laughter at her recounting of her conversion to menstrual cups—I have had those convos too.
Shoot me an email if you have any other questions, or better yet, leave a comment. And if you’ve tried the Diva Cup, share your experience in the comments! If you haven’t tried it yet, just go poke around the Diva Cup page, read the reviews, see what it’s all about.