When we first started writing guidebooks for female travelers, people would ask us all the time what the differences are between how men and women travel.
Well, this post is for you. Unfortunately, it’s just a fact: there are things female travelers have to think about that men don’t.
I’m not going to go on a rant here about gender equality, I’m just going to point out 5 things female travelers have to deal with that men don’t have to worry about, and how to deal with them.
1) Finding Feminine Products
Tampons are not commonplace in South America.
For most of us, this is a serious issue. I personally don’t like worrying about leakage or something akin to diaper rash when I’m on a hike or exploring the city.
It is best to pack an abundance of your favorite brand before you embark on your South American journey. However, tampons can be found in pharmacies throughout the continent. They will be pricey and they often only have the OB tampons without the applicator.
They also tend to be behind the counter as if they are some sort of dangerous drug, so you’ll have to ask for them.
Sorry, dudes, but this is something only female travelers will ever have to deal with.
2) Finding or Traveling with Birth Control
For what ever reason you use birth control, you know how important it is to have, especially while traveling.
If you are lucky enough to have a doctor that is willing to help you stock up for the duration of your trip, you’ll be set. If you’re not so lucky, there is still hope!
Birth control does not require a prescription in South America.
If you bring along the piece of paper that describes what your pills are made of most pharmacies can provide you with a close match.
As much as men would probably enjoy it, they simply do not have to deal with being verbally accosted every time they walk outside.
Women, on the other hand, can hardly walk 2 blocks without hearing a few comments. Catcalling, a form of street harassment that might include commenting or yelling things at women, is an exclusive problem for female travelers.
Catcalling happens all over the world, from New York to Buenos Aires.
Honestly, the best thing you can do is ignore it. Walk with your head high, don’t look scared and never look the prowlers in the eye. A lot of guys will mess with you more if you look prude, so just try to look as natural as possible.
(Read my February post on How to Deal with Catcalls for more tips!)
4) Constant questions about boyfriends or lack there of
South American men and women are constantly curious about your marital status.
The men want to see if you’re available, the women want to know why you haven’t locked one down. It’s annoying, but inevitable.
You will have to decide on your argument, memorize it and be ready to repeat it several times. There is also the option of making up a boyfriend all together, but that’s a judgment call.
5) Finding clothes that fit
In some parts of the world, it can be difficult for women to find clothes that fit. For example, if you are traveling through South Korea and are above a size 8, good luck.
While this might not always fall exclusively on female travelers, I’ve yet to meet a man worn out from a day of trying to find a bra that would fit him in Thailand.
If this is you, you’ll want to hunt out small shops and avoid shopping malls. Also, look for and befriend a good tailor in your area.
I had similar experiences with all of these while studying in Australia. None of the girls on our trip realized their tampons wouldn’t be the same, so we all had our moms rush us some in [very expensive] care packages. I also hated how I couldn’t find clothes in my size. I was a 14 at the time, and most of the girls who were 8s back home ended up having to buy 14s in most clothes. It was rare for me to find anything that would fit me, but I did eventually find an item or two that I love AND that fit.
I’m not a super thin girl but I’m not a big one either. I wear a size 9, sometimes 11 in pants (That’s right, I put it on the internet!) and most pants here won’t go over my thighs.
One girl had a theory about the super tiny frames of most Argentines- she said that perhaps it has something to do with the lack of physical education in schools. In the US we are forced to take physical education most of our lives so our legs and arms just tend to be thicker.
Haha, I put mine on the Internet too! I definitely couldn’t do any pants when I was in Australia. I wonder if I’d be able to now since I’ve lost a significant amount of weight since then.
That’s an interesting theory with the physical education. I’m not sure if that’s true in Australia, but there might be something to that. Regardless, it was such a frustrating experience trying to find clothing.
I lived in Spain for 4 months and the catcalls were practically unbearable – especially because I was a rare blonde. I didn’t have any trouble finding tampons and I did take a 4 month supply of birth control with me, so I didn’t experience those issues. However, I did find that the majority of Spanish women were TINY and wore high heels ALL DAY EVERY DAY. Not for me.
None of this was particularly helpful, but there it is :p.
Finding tampons can be a doozy in Asia where I am. Also, shopping for clothes here can be a nightmare- Chinese girls are soooo tiny and I have trouble finding pants for my ample booty and hips!
This applies to Central America as well 🙂
I don’t understand why tampons haven’t caught on yet. oh well.
Man, so true! Especially the catcalls and fitting clothes. Indian women are tiny, so a large fits me. How humiliating is that? Frack.
I found the perfect solution for #1 and #2. Depo Provera. It is a MUST for long-term travel in areas like South America. At least in the US, you can get prescription for a year’s supply, and you just give yourself an injection every few months.
And to add #6 to the list. Finding a public bathroom that doesn’t make you want to vomit. At least a guy can just pee on the side of a building.
But the depo puts you at absurdly high risk for cavities (and depletes other bone sources.) Your best bet is just buy in bulk once you get to a country that allows you to buy without a prescription.
Then again, you wrote this in 2011 and maybe you’ve changed your opinion in the last 2 years haha.
The fight to find tampons is never-ending in South America and Asia. I’ve considered depo provera, but aren’t some of the side effects pretty scary?
Sigh, it’s tough being a woman traveler sometimes. When I lived in Thailand I would sometimes get shooed out of stores for being “too fat”, and while I’m tall, I’m in the middle as well, but let me tell you that was not so good for my confidence. Buying shoes was also a problem since I have size 9 feet.
This is such a coincidence…I just wrote an article about a couple of female topics I’m struggling with as we get ready for our round the world trip. Great advice in here!
One thing I’m considering for the period issue is a Diva Cup because I don’t think I’ll be able to keep a stock of tampons.
If you have any advice for me, check out the three questions I posted for my fellow female travelers this morning: http://www.getupandglobe.com/ladies-only/
Also, a quick funny story on the catcall issue. This happened a lot in Africa too and I did my best to ignore it. One time, someone was persistently trying to get my attention and just when I almost lost it, I realized that my skirt was tucked into my underwear and he was simply trying to save me from a world of embarrassment.
Such a good post, completely relate to this! Tampons can be a complete pain to get hold of, so stock up as much as possible in the big cities… and going down the ‘more serious contraceptive’ route, like the pill or coil can actually be a great idea (to help control pesky periods: obviously you still need to practice safe sex with condoms!).
I think travelling as a girl in general you tend to be more aware of things and your safety. Just the way the world is.
I would have to agree with your list. Except here in South Korea, you can find tampoons, just that they have a limit of the American brands. They have Tampax Pearl and Playtex and they don’t have American brand pads. However they have brand called “Whisper” which is similar to “Always” brand.
I would also add on the list face products such as Neutrogena, etc. Here in S.Korea they have Neutrogena, but they don’t have the entire collection where I can pick and choose. They also have Clean and Clear, but that product makes me breakout.
But from the men that I work with, they say they too have trouble finding clothes here in Asia. American men are typically taller and have more muscle on the arms and thighs. Korean men are very skinny/slim and short. Often, American men have to get their clothes tailored as well.
How could I forget face products? You’re so right. My mom mails me my face moisturizer because I am so attached to it. Luckily I can use Clean and Clear, though I miss my Clearasil. They have some of the American brands here but just like you said, the options are limited and usually crazy expensive. I was lucky enough to have a friend leave behind an industrial sized bottle of Cetaphil, I use that or Clean and Clear and then my moisturizer from the US. It makes me feel so high maintenance but who the hell wants to have a zit covered and/or dry face all the time?
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Nice list and it’s totally true! I’ve had some of the same issues in Korea with tampons, the eternal “do you have a boyfriend?” question and tiny clothing sizes. I’ve just accepted my fate as a diaper wearing, grandmother clothes buying expat hahaha.
I live in China and I’ve experienced all of these things (except catcalls, guys don’t do that here- but they do in America where I’m from!). One thing I always have to worry about in China is the “overprotectiveness” over young women. People freak out about me traveling by myself, and wonder how I could possibly come to China without my parents or a husband. The school doesn’t like me to stay out late, and constantly babies me. People are also always trying to set me up with a “nice Chinese boy” so I’ll “stay in China forever and have beautiful mixed-race babies”.