Worried about toilet travel trauma?
I can certainly appreciate why some travelers hesitate to go anywhere without a modern flush toilet. Serious illnesses bear serious concerns. And, let's face it, 'crappy' toilets can be really unpleasant and uncomfortable. What kind of vacation involves toilet trauma? But if you want an ironclad guarantee of particular standards and services when you travel, well, you won't go very far.
Nearly all of our favourite destinations brought a bit of toilet culture shock. And sometimes it took a while to adjust. But we haven't let a throne, commode, or outhouse cast a stench over our travel dreams and neither should you!
There are no washroom warranties.
Furthermore, there are very few countries without some toilet variety. Squat style toilets aren't exclusive to developing countries. Even my favourite bar in Paris has one! There are outhouses in many of the most beautiful destinations on earth, like Death Valley National Park. "Western" style flush toilets are now more common than ever. It's the only kind of toilet we saw in Myanmar (including at a guest house that cost less than $30 a night). And in Turkey, there was a mix of every kind of toilet imaginable. Don't base your travel choice on an assumption - you might just be in for a surprise!
Don't let anyone flush away your dreams.
Everyone has a horror story about the most revolting toilet they've ever seen. I'm looking at you, Myanmar train toilet (left) and Parisian Port-a-Potty! But, knock on porcelain, the overwhelming majority of travel toilets I've encountered ranged from tolerable to gleaming. And chances are that yours will too.
Answering the call of nature.
This was my strategy when some friends and I were returning to Lilongwe after a weekend away visiting a national park in Malawi. We all had to "go" so we just pulled over on the side of the road, scampered across the field, and did our business behind a huge boulder. We thought we were the only people around but no sooner had we dropped our trousers that we heard giggles from a group a kids spying on us! Um, thanks guys! Meanwhile, our friend who stayed with the vehicle had struck up a conversation with a local resident who informed us that the road was the unofficial border, we had unwittingly (and illegally) crossed into Mozambique, and there was a good chance that there were still a few stray landmines in the field. Oops!
Not having a toilet is never fun (though it may be adventurous) but at least things are relatively clean. Just do your part to keep it that way. Be prepared to carry your toilet tissue back out with you using a plastic bag and avoid areas close to waterways.
Outhouses can be kinda awesome!
A well designed outhouse and properly dug latrine can be a hygienic and relatively comfortable option. And there are many innovative and dedicated organizations who are working hard on making this kind of toilet even more safe and efficient, bringing improved hygiene and health to people throughout the world.
My best advice when it comes to using outhouses is to roll up your trousers and carry absolutely nothing that can possible fall out of your hands or your pockets. Put your smart phone in your backpack! This is one environment where a headlamp is your best friend at night.
Squash your squatting fears.
If you've ever had to awkwardly 'hover' over a yucky Western style toilet, you'll find the much lower squat you employ to use a squat toilet a million times more comfortable and stable. It's actually remarkably hard to tip over or wobble in this position, as your center of gravity is so low. It is a much more natural position than the 'hover'. Your body never touches the toilet and as such it's a very clean experience. (Still not convinced you can master the squat? A number of companies make special funnels that help women pee standing up).
There are two kinds of squat toilet - wet and dry. Wet toilets have a water tank and a flush mechanism (often mounted on the wall) that you flush like any other. A dry squat toilet is flushed manually after each use, either with a hose of running water in the stall or a bucket of clean water. You will often be encouraged to not flush toilet paper and there will likely be a nearby garbage bin for it.
Persnickety paper problems.
But in all honesty, I have never really gotten used to the splash method and I always travel with my own tissues. They come in handy for many purposes and my own brand is much softer than what is available around the world. All the same, I'm glad I did my self-imposed 'left hand training'. Gestures of politeness are just as important as good bathroom habits!
I also carry lip balm infused with essential oils - yes, for the bathroom! Lip balm isn't just for your lips! One of the most crafty travel tips I've ever heard is to scrape a little balm out of the tube and rub it under your nostrils. The soothing smell of the lavender, peppermint, or other essential oils will temporarily block any unpleasant bathroom odors.
Be of good cheer.
A little discomfort, combined with an open mind, can actually make you a more kind, understanding, and respectful traveler as you now have a new appreciation and empathy for the kinds of challenges, big and small, faced by the local population on a regular basis.
It's your turn! Tell us a GOOD toilet story! Have you ever found an unexpectedly clean toilet in an unusual location?
Looking to stay healthy on the road? These articles will help!
Sleeping Tips For Tired Travelers
Footcare for Travelers
Malaria Prevention for the Value Minded Traveler
We proudly support This Village, an Ottawa-based non-profit, which focuses on small scale, sustainable poverty alleviation, one village at the time, and recognizes that access to clean water and sanitary waste disposal systems is a key part of poverty reduction.