Clean Western style toilets are becoming more standard in populated areas. But one of the points of budget travel is likely to get off the beaten path which means getting away from modern conveniences. And yes, clean toilets with toilet paper are a convenience, not the norm.
But never fear! Knowing what to expect and carrying a few essentials with you can help with the potential shock and lack of supplies.
The quick list. Keep these things stashed in your bag (details below):
• Tissue / TP
• Hand sanitizer
• Small change
• Washcloth towel
• Female urinal (yes!)
Down the Hall, First Door on the LeftIf you are budget traveling, expect to have shared bathrooms in your hotel at some point. They are usually nearby down the hall and the only real differences are that of privacy and not being able to keep all your stuff out on the counter. Well okay maybe those are big differences.
Some toilets for restaurants or even accommodation are in a separate structure. Think outhouse. Sometimes walking for a late night pee can be something you decide to save for morning.
On a hill tribe trek in Myanmar, getting from the sleeping area to the toilet meant tiptoeing through the other people sleeping all over the floor, climbing down a ladder, walking through the main living area where the family was sleeping, figuring out how to open the door, one more flight of rickety wooden stairs, and down a dark dirt path out by the field to a tiny outhouse that just had a hole in the ground. And I happened to get sick as a dog on that trek so I HAD to use the loo during the night. Oh and there was no electricity.
¿Dónde está el baño?I always stress how important it is to learn a few basic phrases of the local language. "Thank you" "excuse me", and "where's the toilet?". Even if you just learn the single word for "toilet", you'll be able to get by.
A step further, learn the written words for "men" and "women" in case there are separate toilets for men and women at a restaurant. But usually unless you are somewhere upscale, there will only be one room for all genders. How very politically correct of them. LOL
If you are going to ask in English, use the word "toilet". Not loo, WC, head, ladies, bathroom, restroom, or bathroom. Toilet is the internationally understood word. Bathroom (typical in the US) would be a room you bathe in.
Toilet PaperYou always want to have a stash of tissues in your bag since toilet paper is a luxury in many places. Some pay toilets will supply you a few squares provided by the attendant, so yeah, bring your own.
In most developing countries, the plumbing is not built to handle paper. TP goes in the trash bin. This also takes some getting use to. Touristy areas might have a sign telling you not to put paper in the toilet, but really your best clue will be if there is a bin by the toilet. If there is, put your TP in there. Just fold it in on itself and toss it. Wrap it in a little extra TP if, well, I'm sure you get the idea.
Local TP alternatives usually involve water. My favorite is the hose with a sink sprayer on the end of it. If there's one of these by the toilet, that's what you use to clean up with. Spray away. It does leave you pretty wet so if you have TP with you, you can use it to dry off with.
If there is a bucket or even a drum of water with a big ladle in it, that's what you "wipe" with. Grab a ladle full of water with your right hand and either attempt to throw it onto your privates (this makes a bit of a mess) or pour it into your LEFT hand and wipe with your hand. If the water is low, there should be a water tap nearby to fill it up before you do your business. It's also proper etiquette to not leave it empty when you're done.
Yes, using the left hand to wipe is common practice in many parts of the world . That's why you will see people eating only with their right hand. In fact it's bad form to use your left hand for much of anything. I won't lie, I've done it. Sometimes it's the only option you have to get clean.
Squat ToiletsAlthough you will find Western toilets in many places. you will still encounter many a squat toilet. You'll find them anywhere from a tin shack to international airports. They are not considered a poor or dirty toilet, it's just the type of toilet used in many countries. I actually wish they were not going by the wayside since I hate seeing cultures homogenized.
Squat toilets are actually more hygienic if you think about it, since you're not putting your bum on the same place everyone else has sat before you. And the squat position is supposed to be the most conducive for an easy #2. ;) But they do take some getting used to.
Some public toilets will have a combination of both Western and squat toilets. Sometimes they are marked on the door, sometimes not. So if you are in dire need of a Western toilet, check all the stalls.
Squat toilets vary from clean porcelain bowls with ridged foot placements on the sides, to a hole in the ground with a couple of bricks to stand on. In fact, I've been in some bus stops where there are ONLY bricks in the stall and the pee just runs down the sloped floor to a shared trough along the back!
To use a squat toilet, you pull your pants down (or skirt up - much easier), do everything you can not to let your pants touch the inevitably wet floor, put your feet on the foot pads, and let 'er go. If there is a hook on the door, you can consider taking your pants clear off but that can be a balancing act in itself trying to keep your clothes off the floor. Flat feet work best and sometimes (usually on a moving vehicle like a bus or train) there are handles to help you steady yourself. Adjust your aim as necessary.
There should be a bucket of water with a ladle for you to flush with. Usually there is a water tap nearby and if the bucket is low or empty, it's proper etiquette to fill it up. Also, check the water when you enter the toilet and start filling it if you need to before it's time to wipe and flush (see Toilet Paper above).
In all the years I've been using them, I have yet to learn how not to get pee on my feet when squatting. One of my dear friends who was budget traveling with me, actually missed entirely and pooped on the back of the bowl! It was good for a laugh. I was a bit proud of myself recently when using a rather small hole-in-the-ground toilet that I manage perfect aim. Whew.
GrossnessBe ready for some disgusting toilets. From having pee all over them to being stopped up or just plain stinky. Hover hover hover or use your female urinal device.
Toilets are especially disgusting on trains and buses. They will usually have a handle for your to hold yourself up with but there have been toilets that I've just walked right out of.
Having a sink is hit or miss, mostly miss. Don't expect to have a sink or especially soap to wash your hands with afterward. Even less likely, paper towels.
Put a small hand sanitizer on your list of must-haves along with your tissues. I also carry a small washcloth sized travel towel that I use for sweat, a dining napkin, or drying my hands.
Stand Up Ladies!No more need to be envious of guys being able to stand up to pee! Female urinal devices make great travel companions.
The SheWee, Venus To Mars, GoGirl and many others allow you to place this little funnel device over your hoo-ha and the pee comes out the tube in the front. You are still a bit exposed of course so you need to be careful. You can use them outdoors for going pee in the bushes, for concerts, hikes, and they're also great for yucky toilets in lieu of hovering.