Surviving Toilets Abroad – a female perspective

Toilets abroad, depending upon where one travels can be a trauma – especially if you have a stomach bug and can’t wait.  Hygiene is not a priority, floors are often flooded, toilets double up as showers, there is no toilet paper –   douches in the form of hose pipes are provided, squat toilets are a logistical nightmare if you are wearing trousers and have luggage (especially if the floor is wet).  Locks often don’t work and peepholes are common in mixed gender toilets.  I was on a ferry once travelling from Lombok Island to Flores Island in Indonesia. There were two toilets on the deck at the back of the ship for the passengers.  As usual there was a queue that turned into a scrum when one of the toilets became vacant.  Shoving back the mass of people behind me I dashed for a door as it opened and secured a toilet.  There was no lock, plenty of peep holes, no loo roll, I was wearing trousers, the floor was disgusting and it was a squat toilet.  Using one hand to pull the door closed and the other to cover the peep holes I balanced precariously.  Obviously frustrated by not being able to watch the men hanging around outside toilet wrenched the door open and had a good look before I managed to pull it shut again.     It was obvious at this point I needed to develop a new strategy to deal with toileting needs abroad.  Here is my guide:-

  1.  Wear a skirt.  It won’t get wet as you lift it away from water and dirt on the floor.  It stays up of its own accord leaving both hands free.  If travelling in remote places where there are no toilets squat like the local ladies and let your skirt fan out around you in order to preserve your modesty.
  2. The first words you should learn in any country you visit is “where is the toilet please”.
  3. Don’t wait till the last minute to go – often you will be in a place where there are no facilities.  Take advantage of every toilet and toilet stop going.
  4. If you are on a bus when it stops for a break race out ahead of everyone else – they are all heading for the loo as well.  Quell your desire to be polite and let people pass – they will not return the compliment.  Even old ladies will knock you aside in a desperate attempt to avoid queuing.
  5. If you are like me and need to use toilet paper carry your own supply to the loo as well as a plastic bag for rubbish as there is often no waste disposal bin.  
  6. Check for peepholes and use the toilet paper to bung them up.
  7. Wear waterproof shoes.
  8. Take a vial of nice smelling oil to smear under your nose in case of gut retching odours.
  9. Get a friend to mind your bag or wear a rucksack – again leaving both hands free.
  10. Carry hand sanitizer around with you as often there are no wash basins.
  11. Ask the most fearsome looking fellow traveller on your tour/bus/train to guard the toilet while you use it.   
  12.  Learn to pee like a man – it is possible I hear.   

The answer to the old question ”what do women do in toilets?” can in some part be found in the first part of this blog.   At home different reasons include, queueing (this takes up a substantial amount of time), talking to each other across cubicles or if one can’t bear to be parted from friends 3 – 4 in a cubicle having a communal  wee, taking a phone call whilst on the loo, changing clothes, trying to toilet ones offspring, writing shopping lists, meditating or reading a magazine.  All the later are reasons why there is a queue in the first place.   The latest addition to my list is being so drunk that you can’t work out how to get the door open (it took her 15 minutes).   As a person who is not keen on public toilets I tend to hang on for as long as possible, rush to a toilet only to find a queue and end up using the men’s facilities in desperation (unlike women they don’t get territorial about toilets and even sympathise).   The only time I tend to hog toilets is when I get stuck in them due to a faulty lock and then generally I have the luck to be in an isolated loo with no one around.  

So no matter how pissed off you are waiting in that interminable queue for the loo at home just bear in mind how much worse it could be if you were travelling.    

I hope this helps ladies.

28 thoughts on “Surviving Toilets Abroad – a female perspective

  1. Brilliant! The worst toilet I’ve ever encountered was on the border of Peru and Bolivia – I decided to opt for the bush round the back when I opened the door and three chickens bustled out!

  2. Hah! Reminds me of my trip to Syria! Only toilets available everywhere I went, even in new buildings, were squats. Being slightly arthritic in the knees, squatting to go was a nightmare. I learned to remove all lower garments, squat as best I could and clean up the mess with the mini shower head beside the toilet. My question: don`t these people understand the pleasure of reading a magazine at your leisure as you peacefully eliminate waste – hmm, I forgot, people in the Middle East hardly read at all… Maybe they would if they had proper toilets :).

  3. One of the lowlights of my travelling career was stealing money from the tip dish in public toilet in Nimes, France. well I didn’t actually steal it but I was an accomplice. We netted about 1 franc for our efforts which at the time was enough to buy a loaf of bread. I fear that because of this my toilet karma has been irrevocably dammage and I will find myself in desperate need of a toilet at some point only to find it closed for maintence,

  4. Boy, howdy (to use some Texas slang). You got that right. Talking shit can be useful; you just proved that. You have a lovely site and an interesting life. Thanks for visiting my humble little corner of the world and I’m glad you enjoyed “Take a Hike.” And you keep hiking. I’ll keep riding (my bicycle).

  5. Squatting floor toilets are actually more hygenic than sitting down ones as you don’t have to put your backside on a dirty seat…what I don’t get though, is that doors never seem to reach the floor and therefore you have a massive gap at the bottom where people can see you pee! Yuck. In Laos, I had to use a toilet where you actually crouch on top of it, with a door that wouldn’t lock and my arms not long enough to keep it shut and no lights….of course I had a stomach bug at the time too. I have never “done my business” so quickly!

  6. Japan has wonderful toilets. The toilets at a petrol station near Kamakura was so much cleaner than the toilets at Myer! Worst toilets – in the Philippines. There are no seats, and you kind of have to do a squat and hover over the bowl – and this was in a major department store in a metro city (Cebu)!

  7. Traveled India for two months. Still today, people are often surprised at how long I can hold it. Believe me, I trained myself! Love this post.

  8. Using the toilet while traveling could probably be the subject of it’s own blog! I had my first squat toilet experience here in Bolivia the other week…There wasn’t even a door. It could have been a lot worse, though. Usually I’m just glad to find a clean toilet with the seat still attached. And traveling with your own TP supply is essential!

  9. Or in Ukraine, you better avoid the outhouse type loo altogether while traveling, cuz they are too gross to even think about… often slaked lime is used which gives such a penetrating ammonia smell I get lioterally sick of it. Of course there is no toilet paper, I soon learned to carry it with me at all times. When at a stop when traveling it was common to hear: “girls to the left, boys to the right!”, no matter if outhouses were available or not. Of course, in Winter it was much harder to hide…. Your points are very applicable! Oy veh – toilets, one can write a book about them!

  10. Something to remember is that at some bus depots and rest stops like in the Philippines, you need to pay 5 pesos to use the public toilet. And of course always carry your toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Some places you need to do the ‘bucket flush’. Ladies must be physically fit to always squat.

  11. LOL…I agree with all of them. If you’re travelling alone #11 is a must…As for #12, my professor once said it is possible for women to pee standing up but it only works if you wear a long skirt and the “receptacle” is in the ground not mounted on a wall 😉

    One thing I learned on my travels is to bring a small foldable umbrella – the type that fits in your bag. If you need to go you can get your moment with nature and hide yourself behind the umbrella. I’ve seen local women do it – they get down from the bus and “go” with their beloved “payung” protecting them 🙂

  12. I think men have an advantage, and the lines are usually shorter. I found your story to be informative, and interesting. I confess that while travelling in Turkey I always sought out the north american toilet style and avoided the porcelain holes and there was nothing too gross. In fact I have used worse outhouses. I did also think that having attendants is a great idea, and the paid toilet with an attendant in Sweden was so clean I was happy to pay, happy happy. A gross bathroom experience really twists my gut. In one carpet place we visited in Konya I accidentally went to the ladies washroom and my wife guarded the door once she realized my mistake. No biggie to me but for them it was a small hullaballoo.
    Bathroom experiences travelling – lots of blog material. ha ha

  13. While women certainly have more problems than men, finding a proper place to use the restroom while travelling can be problematic even for us. I once found myself denied access to the facilities because I didn’t have the local currency (what did they expect? We arrived at 5:45am!) How I handled that little nicety might be a post itself.

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  15. Great advice!

    For #11 I suggest bringing thin rope to tie the handle (if there is one) or anything attached to the door, and then you hold on tight to it if the toilet is situated far away from the door. If the door opens inwards this tip is no good.

    For #12 I recommend P-mate, or even a shenis (but the latter might bring attention if you’re anywhere where people can see you).

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