Toilet Affairs for the Avid Traveller – published by Top Shelf Magazine December 2012
Although rarely admitted out loud among company, we all do it.
It is a biologically required act that enables us to continue healthy, regular lives. Toilets are important; every living human in the world requires a place predetermined as dump-worthy to do their business, yet travel columns rarely take the time to talk about the ever-needed comfort room while adventuring abroad.
Taking the time to prepare for your impending confrontation with squat toilets, manual toilets, long drops or top-of-the-line Japanese heated seats equipped with a self-washing and drying function is important.
While you may not want to ask your travel-buddy if they prefer to ‘hover’ or ‘squat’, when the time comes that you are faced with nothing but eight hours of road ahead and behind you with naught but a hole in the ground and a pine cone, you don’t want to be left with an option that leaves you awkwardly exchanging tissues in the backseat and a weird smell for the rest of the ride.
Take South-East Asia for example, if you are travelling through a major tourist destination like Singapore, Bali, Thailand or Kuala Lumpur you are almost always going to find your average western sit-on-your-behind dunny, however you will not be guaranteed toilet paper or a clean bowl. This is where a stash of pocket sized tissues, antibacterial gel and hovering skills come in handy. Squat toilets will be more common to these areas, as you may pick up from the signs on the doors of the odd western toilet detailing a person standing on the bowl, with a big red ‘no’ line through it.
Do not accept this challenge unless you are ready to undertake your business and are confident you can hold your behind far enough away from your pants that you don’t poop on them instead of in the hole in the floor. This requires excellent balance, skills, muscle strength and more pocket sized tissues.
If you are travelling in Europe or England you may not be aware that public toilets are few and far between, and when you finally find one you will need 50p to £1 coin exactly, or 50c to €1.
In Czech Republic you may pay a nice man with a mop at the door, in France you may have to pay a machine to receive a chip to put in the toilet door to open it up. In London you may just need to pop a coin in a turn stile to get access to the loo, while this small fee generally means the toilets are kept and clean, this is not always the case. Be prepared and keep coins handy, or else you may find yourself in a dirty stall smelling of what appears to be cat urine that’s covered in water from the hose spraying water from the corner, with no toilet paper (thanks Watford Junction Train Station, London).
However, kudos go to toilets in bars, pubs and cafes around London whose amenities offered cutesy and kitsch interiors, a sweet smelling stall with charmingly clean bowls and fancy soap in bottles mounted to mirrors above motion censored taps and the ever-so-affective Dyson Airblade hand dryer (these babies have yours hands drip-free in seconds).
If you find yourself travelling more remotely, perhaps on an eight hour drive from one Philipino city to another on a narrow road, crazy driver at the wheel and water works ready to burst from your bladder, you may just find a manually flushing toilet.
You will walk through the door and be hit in the face with a god-awful smell, a tin roof in 35 degree heat, a toilet and a giant bucket of water with a little cup inside. This little cup and bucket of water is what you will be using to push your poo down the loo, thereby ridding you of any evidence suggesting what you had for breakfast.
Basically, you will have to pour water into the toilet until the current carries the waste away, my suggestion for this unfortunate method is to use the biggest cup/bucket available to you, it’s all about force and momentum. If you pour enough water in quick and hard enough once will do the trick, but if all you’ve got is a 100ml cup your looking at 4-5 scoops of the musty water sitting next to the toilet, that you will be dipping your hand in over and over again. Pack a decent sized bucket, pocket sized tissues and as much antibacterial gel you can fit in your bag, practice the ‘hover’ method.
While using public toilets, wash basins and hand dryers abroad here are a few facts about the bathroom you should know. Dr. David Hooper, chief of the Infection Control Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston says that you need to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds to remove visible dirt and germs.
Alcohol based antibacterial gels need to be at least 60% alcohol and work on friction, therefore you must rub your hands vigorously until they are entirely dry rather than as you would for moisturiser or lotion. Co-author of ‘The Germ Freak’s guide to Outwitting Cold and Flu’, Dr Charles Gerba, says that the floor of public toilets are the dirtiest part of the room with about two million bacteria per square inch, much more than a toilet seat at just 1000 bacteria per square inch. Therefore, avoid putting any belongings or handbags on the ground, he found 30% of handbags had fecal matter on the bottoms.
Toilet Affairs are no laughing matter, all it takes is one bad experience in a squat toilet due to Bali Belly to cast a shadow on the entire holiday, and probably the shoes you were wearing.
By being prepared for what amenities will be available to you as a tourist you will save yourself much time, effort and potential embarrassment