You may think that this topic isn’t worth mentioning, but my experience tells me that it is really important to be able to access this commodity, with ease, throughout the world for your own comfort. Standards of hygiene for public amenities varies greatly around the world and your awareness and preparedness are vital to ensure you’re not caught off guard. Some require you to make payment with small change from that country and this can be awkward if you purse is light. I would have to say that the worst toilets that I’ve ever had to navigate where those on the Inca Trail and the cleanest were in small villages throughout Mexico. My motto with loos is ‘Be Prepared’. Always carry a small packet of wipes and it pays to have a supply of dampened tissues to wash your hands because water isn’t always on tap.
Unfortunately, the entire Inca Trail is like a human mine field with poop scattered throughout the bushes for the length of it. This is the result of totally inadequate amenities along the way for the number of guests the trail hosts. It is only when you reach the campsites that you are presented with filthy, unisex concrete holes in the ground that were smeared with faeces for a one metre diameter. A night time visit was fraught with dangers. This was back in 2012 and I hear that the toileting situation along the trail is almost threatening its closure, so I doubt if the issue is being addressed. Alternatively, and I’m happy to say, the situation throughout Mexico is completely the opposite.
Now, I’ve done a lot of travelling and I would have to say that Mexico has the cleanest toilets in the world. They seem to be well equipped and maintained. You really don’t mind giving a tip to the attendants there, so always be prepared with some token of your appreciation.
Egypt was horrendous for the lack of toilet paper and the stench. It seemed like mops of urine were being utilised to swab the floors… and that was at the National Museum in Cairo. I was extremely reluctant to give a tip or even go there. Necessity tends to override some reluctance and there comes a time when you just have to hold your nose and gently breathe through a small gap through your lips and brave it. You have to breathe because you don’t want to pass out in there.
I think everyone from a westernised country is a bit shocked when they first see the ‘starting blocks’ – the holes in the concrete with the footprints either side in many Asian countries. You get used to them and squatting is actually the natural position for opening the bowels, but it was the communal toilets where you all sit together that took me back the most. I was reluctant to sit there for a chat to my neighbour.
Boat toilets, or ‘heads’ as they’re known as, have come a long way since the days of having a hole cut out in one part of the bow sprit hanging over the ocean. That could be refreshing in a big sea and included your own bottom spray. It is always a good idea to read the instructions when you go to the ‘head’ or ask a crew member for a demonstration for pumping water in and pumping waste out. Giving quite a few flushes through keeps the hoses clean and avoids smells so don’t be lazy when you have to pump. Electric toilets are often fitted in flash boats. This can just be a matter of pushing a button. Most importantly, you must never, never, NEVER put anything extra down a marine toilet. This will block it up and make the captain very upset. Some boats don’t even put the toilet paper through them.
On my first visit to France, my 7 year old daughter called me into the bathroom to show me the great foot washer as she was standing there with her foot in the bidet. She was pleasantly surprised when I described its function… well the best I could because I’d never seen one before either.
Now water conserving, dual flush buttons on top of toilets have become more common throughout the world, but in the early days, a German friend confessed that she was bewildered about what to do with it when she arrived in Australia. There were no instructions in there.
Having to pay to carrying out a human bodily function is offensive to some people. In many countries it is considered a human right to be able to relieve yourself without having to have small change in one’s pocket. You will find numerous clean, free and well equipped toilets throughout New Zealand, Australia and USA. These will be well signposted. There are even free apps for your smart phone so you are able to locate these quickly in an emergency. I hope there are free apps for Europe because I found this the most difficult place to locate public conveniences, which was a bit awkward when I was travelling with my young daughter. Some Asian countries can be a challenge as well, especially if you’re off the beaten track. Be prepared to ask some locals for the lavatories’ location.
If you’re not a native speaker, then it is a good idea to learn the phrases needed to help you locate a toilet. Then you need to know how to understand those directions. Often sign language can come into play, but at least try and know left and right in the country’s language.
Be prepared with your own equipment such as toilet paper and moist hand towels, small change and try not to let it become an issue. Eat well with lots of fruit and green vegetables to ensure regularity when you’re travelling so that the big jobs can be done in the morning at your accommodation in familiar surroundings. Avoiding diarrhoea by making careful decisions about where and what you’re eating is a good move, especially if you have a day of sight-seeing and you’re out and about or if you’re travelling a long distance. Avoid over eating as well. If you’re not hungry – don’t eat, especially if you’re feeling a bit queasy to begin with. Just drink plenty of clean water and you will find that this is one of the best ways to let your body adjust to the new environment. Don’t overeat on a flight either. It won’t hurt to skip a meal every now and then. This rests your intestines and you won’t want to push yourself into uncomfortable situations.
All the best and I hope you won’t have as many toilet stories as I’ve ended up with along the way. Don’t let it turn you off visiting a country and don’t get up tight about it. That will only make matters worse. Like everything with travelling, it’s about the attitude. Stay relaxed and try and go to the toilet on each stop when it is convenient.