Traveling around the world as a menstruating woman with a preference for tampons can have its challenges.
First, some background information (and I can't believe I'm actually doing this).
Wikipedia's definition of tampon:
A tampon is a plug of cotton or other absorbent material inserted into a body cavity or wound to absorb fluid. The most common type in daily use is a usually disposable plug that is designed to be inserted into a woman's vagina during her menstrual period to absorb the flow of blood. The use of these devices has occasionally caused serious health related issues, such as infection and even death in rare cases (see Toxic shock syndrome). In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates tampons as medical devices.
I felt the need to do that as I have actually encountered adult males who do not know the difference between a tampon and a pad. How that is possible I do not know. Also, I would like to make mention of the fact that they come in different sizes, regular, super, super plus, which is indicative of their girth and absorbency power. A regular tampon is about as big around as my little finger, a super plus is slightly smaller than a tube of lipstick and a super is somewhere in between (can't think of anything that size that all can relate to). This will prove important later.
On a side note, once in my twenties, a man of comparable age asked me (and I quote verbatim), "What happens when you have your period? Is it like a faucet or something?". HUH? And, my girlfriend's ex-husband (who was in his thirties at the time) actually asked her once (again, verbatim), "Can't you just shut it off for a while, like at night?". GEEZ.
Seriously. How can men not know this stuff? Especially grown-up, married men?
So, now that we all know WHAT a tampon is, how it's used, etc., I will amuse you with "Tampons Around the World".
Actually, that's pretty much a misnomer, as there are still many parts of the world where tampons are not readily available. Or, in existence. Which leads us to our first tale.
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Our first trip after getting maried was to the Dominican Republic. We were scheduled to be there from September to December. I, having not traveled extensively for long periods of time, never thought about the tampon issue, thinking obviously that you just go to the store and buy them when you need them, right? Wrong.
Appears that the Catholic influence is so strong still in the Dominican Republic that you can't buy these innovative wads of cotton. Seems there is still some belief that by using a tampon, you will be wrecking your virginity, thus making you less valuable as a future wife.
In a panic, I searched relentlessly though grocery stores, convenience stores, and drugstores with no success. Finally, in desperation, I asked a helpful lady at the hotel, who told me to go to one specific drugstore in town. Where they promptly sold me a box of 5 (!!!) for $10. Now, I think tampons are overpriced regardless. At home I buy OB tampons, and they usually cost about $6 for 20. And I find that outrageous. I hate spending $6-9 a month on these stupid things, but what choice do we have. But, now, faced with the prospect of needing around 120 for the next three months, at about $2/pop. . . whew. Mind blown.
I quickly learned my lesson, and I learned it well. I bought a collapsible bathroom bag on my next trip home and jammed it full of six months worth of tampons in readiness for our next departure. Which was Bulgaria (3 months), Moldova (6 weeks), Egypt (7 weeks), and then Korea (4 months). Obviously, doing the math, I had miscalculated and not brought enough, which leads us to. . .
Here I could not find a tampon. . . anywhere. And, due to the language barrier, etc., I never did find out why they weren't there, only that they were most definitely not. However, after about 6 weeks, Mike and I were dining at a TGI Friday's and I went to the bathroom, and lo and behold, they were passing them out! I grabbed as many as I could. Only to be sorely disappointed when I opened the first one and realized they were about as big around as a mechanical pencil. What was I supposed to do with that? Tie three of them together? Worthless waste of cotton. Fortunately, we went to Guam for a short visit while in Korea, and the K-Mart there was able to hook me up.
Uneventful eight months or so in the tampon department until we were leaving Jordon. Fantastic Man and I were the only two people at the airport at the time we were going through security, and for whatever reason the customs official there decided I needed to open my bags. Okay, I typically don't argue with these people. . .
So, he unzips my travel bag of tampons, pulls one out and holds it up. He is examining it from all angles (NOTE: OB tampons do not come with applicators, they are just shrink-wrapped in plastic, so they resemble a cotton bullet or something), obviously not knowing what this strange item was. The following conversation takes place:
Him: What ez dis?
Me: A tampon, sir.
Him: (Puzzled look on his face) E what?
Me: Still a tampon, sir.
FM: Dying of laughter about 20 feet away behind the customs official's back.
Him: What for?
Me: (Uh OH, I really do not want to have this conversation about unclean menstrual blood with a Middle Eastern stranger) Ummmm
Him: (Slightly angry) What use for?
Me: (thinking quickly on my feet, pointing to my face) It's for make-up, sir.
Him: Ohhh, okay. (zips bag back up, puts back in my suitcase.
Of course, FM almost wet his pants, telling me I should have pantomimed it for him. Yea. And spend years in a Jordanian jail for propositioning a customs official. Whatever, get on the plane.
All is well again with the world, breeze through easily until . . .
Now, understand, we were spending six months in Rome, with no idea if we would be going home afterwards or continuing on with our journeys, so I was thrilled to see that they widely sold OB tampons everywhere. As our time was running down and we still didn't know where we were going next, and my supply was dwindling, I ducked into the neighborhood pharmacy and bought a couple of boxes of Super Plus.
When I got back to the apartment, I opened the boxes to put them in my "tampon bag", and oh. my. God, these were the biggest tampons I've ever seen. Bigger than a wine cork! They were huge. I was laughing uncontrollably, had to show FM immediately. I was worried about how I would ever get them back out.
Guess Italian women are a little "loose", heeheehee. Seriously, these were some whomping big tampons.
Other places where even though I didn't need to buy any I couldn't find any:
Chad (although to be fair, I only went in one actual store there)
Okay, enough for now. Just thought I'd share. And, if you are a woman with a preference for tampons and you are still of a menstruating age and are leaving the country for an extended period of time to someplace a little off the beaten track - bring them. Even Lonely Planet Travel Guidebooks address this issue now.