The first time I ate McDonald’s abroad was in Rome during my semester there in the spring of 2014.

My “burner” Italian phone that I occasionally loaded with money was dead. My iPhone didn’t work in Europe. I had been sitting on the Spanish Steps for over an hour with an Eagle Eye out for my two girlfriends, who I was supposed to link up with to try a famous apple pasta.

They never came. There was a transportation strike I didn’t know about since I’d been in town all morning on foot.

I was hungry. I was irritated. I was lonely.

Then I saw them: the Golden Arches.

McDonald's in Italy

In that moment, I swear I saw a spotlight shine down from the heavens, or maybe it was just the glare from a passing Vespa, but I knew I was saved.

Since then, McDonald’s (and Burger King, Starbucks, etc.) has been an oasis for me on my travels. Especially as someone who experiences travel-induced anxiety, the ability to follow a routine, no matter where I am, is a lifesaver.

Here’s Why I Eat McDonald’s in Italy

McDonald's in Italy

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McDonald’s Isn’t Lonely.

McDonald's in Italy

You’re supposed to eat fast food alone. People do it all the time, even when they’re not traveling. At McDonald’s, I can walk in, order, sit down in a booth by myself, and no one gives it a second thought.

I’m not pitied and I’m not bothered. I’m just allowed to eat. While I sometimes challenge myself while traveling and eat at a local sit down restaurant alone, indulging in regional foods, I typically don’t feel like working through the social stigma attached to eating alone.

Grabbing a quick bite from a fast food place or grocery store is just easier. And that’s okay.

It Offers a Familiar Routine.

McDonald's in Italy

I know what’s expected of me at McDonald’s. I know how to order and how to find a table. I know to clear my place when I’m finished eating and place the tray above the trashcan to return it, because the routine is the same in each restaurant, no matter the country.

One of my pet peeves is restaurants whose structure and concept isn’t immediately clear; one’s that you walk into for the first time and are like, “Wait, how does this work? Do I wait to be seated or just sit down? Do I order at the counter or from the waiter? Where do I pay?”

So in foreign countries, where literally everything else is brand new and in need of decoding, I take solace in putting my brain on autopilot for a little while.

When my friend Smoky and I were in Budapest, we booked an 8PM dinner cruise, but at 6:30, as the sun dipped below the skyline, the temperature plummeted. Our teeth chattering, our bladders full, and our fingers growing stiff, we sought refuge in a nearby Starbucks — walking in immediately felt safe and familiar, so the time flew past.

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It Has a Familiar Menu.

McDonald's in Italy

The basis of fast food menus is the same in most countries. It’s also always combined with pictures of the food and numbers, so if I get stuck behind a language barrier, I can locate the picture of the food I’d like and hold up the corresponding number of fingers.

This method came through for me in France, Turkey, and Costa Rica. And I didn’t even have to mime my drink choice in the latter because the beverage station was on my side of the counter.

There Is Guaranteed Wifi.

McDonald's in Italy

I typically just put my phone on airplane mode when I travel and look for free wifi along the way. This is because I only recently got an iPhone that has a SIM, so the idea of purchasing a temporary SIM is a new concept for me, and I have Verizon, whose international coverage would cost me more than my soul. Because of this, I’ve gotten pretty good at winging it, but knowing that anytime I see the golden arches I can reload a map or call my mom is very reassuring.

It’s also nice to be able to catch up on social media or research destinations while I’m eating alone, instead of just staring out the window…which I do sometimes, or people watch, but I don’t always want to.

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I Can Always Charge My Phone.

McDonald's in Italy

I carry a portable charger in my purse, but I also carry a charging cord and adapter because my phone is my camera and my safety lifeline.

If it dies, I know I could finesse the situation, but I just prefer not to. At McDonald’s, I can sit down at a table and plug my phone in, no questions asked. You don’t even have to buy anything; it’s just a familiar place to sit for a moment and catch my breath.

Locals Eat There (Sometimes)

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That’s the wildest thing about fast food. For locals, every single day of your once in a lifetime vacation is just another day. So why not eat at McDonald’s?

When I was in Costa Rica, I had been eating at mom and pop places, but everything there is so tourist-oriented that locals never seemed to be eating with us. On our last day, my friend Smoky and I ate at a McDonald’s in San Jose because we had to drop off our rental car at 1:00PM, but our Airbnb wasn’t available until 4:00PM. We needed to kill time, so to McDonald’s we went…along with every other young professional in the city.

So this is where they’d been hiding.

Men in suits. Women with fancy purses who looked like they just ran a board meeting. Moms with kids. Couples who probably had been married for 50 years. All together. At McDonald’s.

So go ahead. Judge me while you eat your artisan cheese in “the cutest little place that you just stumbled upon where nobody speaks English.” I’ll just be over here enjoying my french fries and memes. Everyone needs a break sometimes.

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McDonald's in Italy

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Flying etiquette should be common sense, but unfortunately there’s nothing common about it these days.

If you are looking for ways to be polite on a plane, or just need a safe place to rant about others who are not, then this is the post for you.

7 Essential Tips for Flying Etiquette

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Prague, Czech Republic

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Cut Yourself Off

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Getting boozy at Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany.

Dierks Bentley may have made it sound like a blast (after all, the 737 was rockin’ like a G6), but getting drunk on a plane is one one of the trashiest things you can do and a huge violation of flying etiquette.

I’ve been stuck in a tube of metal hurling through the sky at 500mph with drunk girls too many times.

Two of the most memorable experiences:

  • My 8:30AM flight from Chicago to Houston.

I was going home to Houston for spring break, but the three girls behind me were just connecting  for a week of debauchery on South Padre Island.

One of them drank three Bloody Marys of her own before downing her friend’s when she got up to use the bathroom. Rows 17-20 were then treated to a graphic story of her exploits from spring break last year. Don’t be that girl.

  • My 10-hour flight to Paris from Houston next to the lady who inspired this post.

This girl drank like, six mini-bottles of Chardonnay in the first two hours of the flight and then got so belligerent with the flight attendant that she got cut off.

And I say “like six” because that’s how many I counted after she spilled over half of the last one onto my lap. Who knows. The discarded bottles were clustered around her feet. I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple had rolled back a few rows.

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Pack with the Plane in Mind

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With my trusty travel backpack (and an angry mountain goat) at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

Put your headphones, medication, and snacks in the small bag that will go under the seat in front of you. If you only bring a rolling suitcase, or would prefer to have all the leg room you can, get the things you think you’ll want from your bag out and place them in the seatback pocket.

Don’t be that girl; the one who needs to get into the overhead storage (STORAGE being the key word here, y’all) bin 50 times during a two hour flight and has so much junk with her that it spills over into her neighbor’s lap (side eye at you, Houston to Paris rowmate. I didn’t really want to read your Spanish homework, but you put it open on my tray table soo??) Please plan ahead.

Sit Up during Meals

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The Dining Room at the Royal Opera House in Vienna, Austria.

I’m of two minds on whether or not reclining your seat on an airplane is rude. I mean, I definitly hate it when my forward neighbor comes careening into my lap, but I also definitly like to lean back when I’m trying to take a nap.

  • So, my general rule for flying etiquette is this:

Only recline your airplane seat when you are 100% going to take a nap and always sit it up during the meal service. Nobody wants to eat out of their laps.

And, if the person behind you asks you to put your seat up, work with them. It doesn’t mean you are required to sit straight as a board for the entirety of your flight, but don’t be like my Houston to Paris rowmate who actually got out of her seat and almost tried to fight the gentleman behind her (who was well over six feet tall) when he asked her if she would put her seat up for a little while.

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Monitor Your Volume

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I can’t be quiet about my love for Selenas.

My lovely seatmate also played the entirety of Nicky Minaj’s Pink Friday on repeat while she took a snooze. I honestly love me some Nicki, but there’s only so many times you can listen to her jams blasting from your neighbor’s headphones before getting irritated.

Tbh “so many times” roughly translates to the first 30 seconds of the opening track. Seriously. There’s this amazing trick you can do where you take your earphones out, see if you can hear what you’re listening to when you hold them at your shoulders, and then adjust your volume accordingly.

This also goes for how loudly you speak. Please use your inside voice on airplanes. They are very small. We can all hear you.

Also (wow this post is getting a little bit ranty), flying etiquette 101: if you’re taking a flight before 8am, maybe don’t speak at volume level 10000000 to the person next to you, even if y’all are best pals, until we are AT LEAST all the way to 35,000 feet. Have some compassion on the sleepyheads who don’t want to hear about your next meeting.

Take the Lead of Your Rowmates

friends in Boston

My buds and frequent travel buddies (Rachael and Brittney) at the MFA in Boston, Massachusetts.

Have you ever sat down on a plane and felt immediately trapped by a chatty Cathy? Or maybe you feel disappointed the man in 14C isn’t more chipper?

People want different things on planes. Some (most?) prefer to just get to where they are going and not learn their neighbor’s life story. Others are looking for a talking buddy. However, no matter which camp you fall into, it’s a important part of flying etiquette to maintain your civility.

If you don’t want to chat, a quick “Hey, I’m going to get some rest. Nice to meet you.” Or “Enjoy the flight! I’ve got some work to do.” should be enough for most to get the picture. If you are out here trying to make friends, be sure to be alert for the these subtle brush offs.

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Be Cool about Bathroom Breaks

Flixbus Budapest

At the baths in Budapest, Hungary. I definitly got OUT to pee because I’m not nasty AF.

As a lover of the window seat, I can promise you that I hold it as long as I can because I don’t want to bother you, but sometimes a girls gotta go.

If you sit on the aisle, even if you’re in a dead sleep, proper flying etiquette says that you don’t have the right to be irritated if one of your rowmates wakes you up because they need to use the restroom. People need to pee.

Unlike frequent access to the overhead bin, frequent trips to the bathroom are definitly something to accommodate.

Shower the Day of Your Flight

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Rubber Duckie, you’re the one. Houston, Texas.

I’ve started carrying peppermint essential oil to rub under my nose with me on flights because so many people seem to think it’s chill not to shower when they are about to embark on a hours-long journey in a metal tube with recycled air.

Please you guys. The day of your flight is not the day to skip your shower.

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Sometimes tight airline connections sneak up on you!

You thought you had two full hours to grab a bite to eat and wander to your next gate, but then your first flight has a mechanical delay and suddenly you have 30 minutes gate to gate.

Sometimes airline’s minimum connection times don’t take the reality of airport sizes into account, so even if your first flight is on time, you still have to channel your inner Usain Bolt to make it to your next gate.

We’ve all been there.

Flixbus Wifi limit

Munich, Germany

Here are my best tips for Tight Airline Connections

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Change Your Flight

airline connections short connections tight connections

Vaduz, Liechtenstein

If the connection time the airline is offering you during booking makes you feel rushed, call the airline before completing your reservation and ask about booking a flight with a different connection.

There is usually a small fee for completing a reservation over the phone, but it’s always hundreds less than any potential change fees down the road.

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Disembark First

airline connections short connections tight connections

Berlin, Germany

Speak to a flight attendant about mid-way through your flight about your options. If your first flight was significantly delayed, you can work with the onboard team to ensure a quick exit from the plane. I’ve been on flights before when they’ve asked us to remain seated so connecting passengers can bolt.

I’ve also seen people moved to the front of the plane during the final portion of the flight so they can hit the ground running to make one of their tight airline connections.

If your connection is on the same airline, the flight will sometimes wait for you if they know you’ve landed and are rushing over, but you have to speak up and check in with the cabin and ground crew as you go.

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Be Vocal During Security

airline connections short connections tight connections

Vienna, Austria

This is especially important when traveling internationally, as you often need to go through security again, even if you are just a transit passenger. If the lines are long and slow-moving, you can approach agents at the beginning of the line to ask about your options, as some airports have “mercy” programs in which the security team will pull passengers from the line to help them make their tight airline connections.

But if you don’t speak up, they won’t know you need help!

If the officials aren’t interested in expediting the process for you, consider asking your fellow passengers if you can cut them in line. I’ve gladly let frantic travelers ahead of me at security when they have 20 minutes to take off and I have 90.

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Pack with Checkpoints in Mind

airline connections short connections tight connections

Prague, Czech Republic

If you want to make your short connection, you need to prepare!

Don’t keep your ID in the darkest depths of your backpack. Make sure your toiletries are all under the limit and in a clear bag that’s accessible, preferably near your laptop so you can take them out at the same time. Wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off.

It drives me crazy to be stuck behind travelers in the security line who don’t seem to know what is expected of them, even though there are signs and security agents everywhere explaining the procedure.

Some quick things to remember when packing for short airline connections:

  • Liquids, gels, and aerosels must be less than 100ml (3.4 oz) that fit into a 1 quart (or smaller!) clear bag.
  • Your laptop should be taken out of your bag and placed into a bin by itself.
  • Don’t put anything in your pockets while going through security.
  • You might not need to take your shoes off; it depends on the airport. Listen for instructions.

This way, you won’t be scrambling through security. You can progress through it quickly and be on your way to your gate in no time.

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Study the Airport Map Before Hand

airline connections short connections tight connections

Vienna, Austria

This step is usually undertaken by travelers who know they have a short connection because it was assigned during booking. You can check the airport website for the campus layout and make note of which terminals their airline uses and how they are connected.

However, for surprise short connections born out of delays, you might not have this luxury. Luckily, most airlines have maps of the major airports they service in the seatback magazines. It might also be worth it to pay for in-flight wifi so you know what to expect when you land.

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Use the Facilities during Your First Flight

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Rome, Italy

Stopping for a bathroom break can cost you precious minutes when trying to make a tight connection! Instead of waiting in long lines for the airport bathroom, make sure to use the facilities on the plane.

A good time to go is when the captain announces your initial descent, this way, even if you have an active bladder, you can make it to your next aircraft before you need to go again.

I spent about 10 minutes waiting in line for the toilet at Charles de Gaulle in Paris last fall, and ended up arriving at my gate at 10:10…for my 10:10 flight because the passport control line was so long. 0/10 would not recommend.

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Make a Note of your New Terminal and Gate

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Bratislava, Slovakia

Take a picture of it on the screen, text it to yourself, write it on your hand, whatever you have to do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been running through an airport chanting “2A” to myself and have suddenly been like “Wait…what’s my gate?” Having to find the monitors, stop, and check again costs precious time.

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Literally just Run

airline connections short connections tight connections

Bratislava, Slovakia

Sometimes you just gotta book it. I connected through Paris Charles de Gaulle both to and from my Grand Tour of Europe last fall and due to an apparent lack of staff, it was packed both ways.

On the way in, I was late getting off my flight from Houston because the jetty had an issue attaching to our plane, but luckily there was a man on my flight who was also going to Berlin. He was going there to run the marathon, so he sprinted ahead and let the ground grew know I was on my way.

On my way back, it was all up to me, so as I ran through the airport in flip flops and superman pajamas pants, I tried to concentrate on just not throwing up. I made my flight, coughing up a lung and probably with shin splints, but I made it.

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Know Your Rights

airline connections short connections tight connections

Budapest, Hungary

Airlines usually have a minimum connection time, so if you miss a tight connection due to no fault of your own (like long lines at passport control, or delayed first flight for mechanical issues), you can work with gate agents to rebook your flight at no charge.

If the next flight to your destination isn’t until the next day, the airline should provide lodging and food vouchers, but you usually need to bargain for them.

Remember to be polite! In many places (including the USA!) there are no laws around passenger rights, so kindness will get you a long way.

If you miss one of your tight airline connections due to weather, airline employees are usually not willing to book you into a hotel, but they will work with you to rebook your flight.

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Traveling with braces? You might feel a little worried about leaving home with a mouth full of metal, but there’s no need to be. Whether you’re traveling with family or taking a buisness trip on your own, going on a trip during orthodontic treatment is easy to handle.

Here’s how:

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Traveling with Braces braces on vacation

Brace-faced at Mount Rushmore.

Things To Bring when Traveling with Braces

You can click the name of each item to grab it off of Amazon.

Just because you’re traveling doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep up with your routine. Okay, maybe you won’t have the energy for a full floss after an entire day of hiking the Grand Canyon, but if you don’t keep up with your dental hygiene while traveling, your smile will suffer!

Flossing with braces is already hard AF, why make it worse for yourself. Bring a pack of floss threaders. Save yourself the headache.

Be sure to ask your orthodontist for extra dental wax to use during your trip in case any of your brackets start giving you trouble. It would be a shame to run out mid-vacation and have to deal with bloody gums the whole rest of the trip.

This bottle is a great thing to have because you can use it to swish any spare food out of your mouth, especially if you are eating on the go. After you drink the water, you can fold it up and tuck it into your purse and you don’t have to carry around a bulky water bottle all day.

Traveling with Braces braces on vacation

Brace-faced in DC.

It’s a great idea to keep a travel-sized toothbrush in your purse when traveling with braces. This way, if you need to do a quick teeth check in a hotel or restaurant bathroom, you can.

  • Extra Rubber Bands

I traveled quite bit during my braces treatment and once left my last bag of rubber bands at a hotel in South Dakota, so I was band-less for like four days before I g0t more from my orthodontist and MAN did the bands hurt when I finally put them back on. Ask for an extra bag or two so this doesn’t happen to you.

You should honestly be using these things in your daily life with braces, but if you’re not, stop what you’re doing and buy some right now, immediately. They are the perfect tool for getting that piece of food that just.won’t.come.loose.

If you have a bracket break off or a particularly pokey wire during your vacation, you can sterilize a pair of nail clippers with rubbing alcohol or soap and hot water and use them to clip down the wire responsible. After you clip it, cover the end with wax so it doesn’t irritate your gums and set up an appointment with your orthodontist for the day of (or right after!) your return.

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Things To Remember when Traveling with Braces

Traveling with Braces braces on vacation

Brace-faced at Graceland in Memphis.

  • Keep Your Diet in Check

Just because you on are vacation doesn’t mean you can throw caution to the wind and chow down on anything and everything in front of you. Be sure to stick as closely as you can to the dietary restrictions that your orthodontist gives you so you don’t have a dental emergency while traveling.

If you decide to eat sugary things, remember to rinse your teeth off with water and your travel tooth brush ASAP. If you’re somewhere like Italy and are desperate to try the pizza, remember to cut it up into bite-sized portions instead of biting off chunks with your front teeth, which can damage your brackets.

  • Use Your Phone To Check Your Teeth

You don’t really need to carry a pocket mirror around for post-meal teeth checks these days if you have a smart phone. If you already have a compact in your purse that you would like to use, go for it, but don’t feel the need to buy a special mirror for your teeth.

  • Remember To Tell Your Orthodontist about Your Trip

Whether you’ll have braces during study abroad, your 6-week backpacking trip through South East Asia, or even just during a weeklong summer vacation with your family, you need to let your orthodontist know as soon as you can.

If your trip is short, he or she can make sure to send you home with extra dental wax and rubber bands in case you accidentally leave them behind at the hotel. If you trip is longer, like study abroad, you’ll want to let your orthodontist know as soon as possible so he or she can make the appropriate adjustments to your treatment plan.

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Final Tips for Traveling with Braces

Traveling with Braces braces on vacation

Brace-faced in Florida with my friend Lauren.

  • They Won’t Set Off the Metal Detectors 

No need to worry about going through security when traveling with braces. The number one thing I got asked while I was in treatment and traveling a lot was “do braces set off metal detectors?” And the answer is a solid “NOPE.” They never did. Not once. Now that I’m braces-free, the metal on my retainer doesn’t make the detectors beep either.

  • Finesse the Student Discount 

I got braces when I was 22 and had just finished college, but because of my baby face, I often was mistaken for a high school student. If you’re out of school with braces and people still think you’re 16, just go along with it. It can save you a few bucks.

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Traveling with Braces braces on vacation

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Sorry y’all — you usually can’t stop your period for vacation.

I know; it’s the worst. You’re on a flight to paradise and start feeling a little crampy, so you might think your vacation is over. But it doesn’t have to be.

I travel on my period all the time and these tips for dealing with your period always get me through. I may have bled on a few ancient sites, plane seats, and even all over Graceland, but I lived to tell the tale. And you can too.

Here are 7 tips for dealing with your period on vacation:

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Download an APP

The number one tip to dealing with your period on vacation is simply planning ahead.

First things first: download an app, so you know when Aunt Flow is gonna show. If you’re irregular, this might be not the most helpful. That’s fine. Proceed to step two.

dealing with your period on vacation

smiling — and bleeding — at Windsor Castle

Buy a Diva Cup

90% of the stress of having your period on vacation will just disappear if you just get a Diva Cup already.

While you can read all about why I’m obsessed with mine here, the TL;DR version is that they save you tons of money on period supplies, are hella eco-friendly, and make periods basically stress free.

When I studied abroad in Rome, ½ of my backpack was filled with tampons because finding the kind I like in Italy was going to be difficult. If I had a Diva Cup, I could’ve brought more snacks with me instead.

Don’t be like me. Buy a Diva Cup. Bring more snacks.

Bring along a “Period” Towel

I do this at home too because I’m lazy AF and don’t feel like changing my sheets every time I spring a leak.

Bringing a towel along can also save you from the potentially awkward situation of waking up on the Japanese flag in your hotel room and trying to convince the cleaning ladies that, no, a murder did not in fact occur. So just bring an old towel with you, fold it in half for extra protection, and rest well.

Go for a Walk

Chilling in your bunk with some chocolate and your laptop as a makeshift heating pad might be all you want to do if you have your period on vacation, but that’s just it…you’re on vacation, so you don’t want to miss out.

Also, exercise is the best thing for getting rid of cramps while on your period because the movement can help loosen the blood clots that give them to you in the first place.

So take two Midol, and take a walk around the Louvre, the Great Wall, or the Costa Rican jungle — you got this.

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dealing with your period on vacation

selfie at the Hagia Sophia…you can’t tell but I’m basically bleeding out

Take a Nap

I’m usually grumpy when I’m on my period because it exhausts me — like going to bed at 9:00PM, sleeping for 10 hours, and then still needing a nap the next day exhausted. So combining that with the regular tiredness from exploring all day can be a disaster.

But you don’t have to let it go that far.

While wallowing in bed all day is not the answer (as stated above) you can do a few things to protect yourself:

  • Drink extra water (hello Camelbak).
  • Avoid alcohol (I’m a sleepy drunk, so this is especially important for me).
  • Schedule slow mornings. Spend a little time pampering yourself before breakfast to set yourself up for a great day.
  • Hoard snacks in your purse. Snacks are always a good idea – even when you’re bleeding out—as they provide an instant energy boost.

But seriously. Take a nap. Just don’t sleep the day away.

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Carry Wet Wipes

Accidents happen. Even if you have the fool proof Diva Cup, you don’t want to find yourself covered in blood in a public restroom with no way to clean yourself up.

This 100% happened to me y’all — I almost turned Graceland into that one scene from The Shining. Part of dealing with your period on vacation is being prepared and let me tell you, some wet wipes would have come in REAL HANDY. They are also good to have around in case travel tummy strikes.

Become a pro at dealing with your period on vacation. Always pack your wet wipes.

dealing with your period on vacation

Graceland….where disaster strikes

Set an Alarm

As a last resort, if you are still worried about bleeding all over the hotel’s sheets while you sleep, even with your towel in place, set an alarm for once every three or four hours so you can get up to take care of yourself.

A quick warning: if you’re staying in a dorm, those around you might hate you, so be prepared. That said, if they give you any lip about it, you have my full permission to bleed on them and everything they love.

How do you manage dealing with your period on vacation? 

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