10 Travel Adventures in Restroom Etiquette

Squatting, no flushing, pay before you use – these are just some of the many toilet experiences you'll come across on your journey across the globe.

As a backpacker, I love nothing more than to travel to different countries, meet different people, learn different languages, eat different foods, play different sports, and listen to different music. But for some strange reason, the one thing that seems to fascinate me most is the different ‘toilet experiences’ I inevitably come across in my travels.

Here is a list of my top 10 most disturbing, challenging, hilarious, weird and overall memorable toilet experiences I have encountered on my travels.

1. Paying to Use Public Toilets

Places Experienced: South AmericaEurope

The concept of paying an old lady sitting outside a public toilet just to do my business is weird to me. You pay to get in and are allocated a predefined amount of toilet paper (never more than 4 squares). Call me a princess, but I’m accustomed to deciding how much toilet paper I require on an ad-hoc, case-by-case basis.

Having the correct change on you is also vital…yet according to Murphy’s Law it is highly unlikely. Then, the old lady usually hands you a receipt. I can’t possibly think of a situation where I will need substantial evidence or an audit trail proving that I went to the toilet. Oh well, in case of an emergency it can act as a makeshift fifth piece of toilet paper!

Note: You would expect that a public toilet that necessitates a monetary transaction would be for the express purpose of facilitating its upkeep and cleanliness. In my experience… think again!

2. Squat Toilets

Places Experienced: Asia

Despite this being quite a challenge, and a better workout then doing a squat class at the gym, I really found squat toilets to be not too bad at all.

Positives:

  • There is no skin-to-seat contact! Let’s face it, if I ever have to do my business in an unhygienic, bacteria filled cesspool of a toilet, I am likely to squat above the bowl anyway. This just eradicates the obsolete, pointless and in-the-way toilet bowl from the whole process.
  • There is no water, which means no splash back.
  • No need to tuck in your bits and pieces so as to avoid mistakenly touching the edge of potentially disease infested toilet seats.

Negatives:

  • The smell - Oh the smell!
  • It’s a balancing act…and one small slip up can be an absolute catastrophe.
  • Usually its BYO (bring your own) toilet paper, which is never cool(and the process of wiping is never as leisurely when you are not in a sitting position).

3. Music Festival Portable Toilets

Places ExperiencedAustralia, North AmericaSouth America

I am in my absolute element at a festival, except for one annoying factor - the portable toilets; You have to be a bloody contortionist to succeed!

Festival portable toilets are like communism – in theory, if everyone worked together, there would be a more beneficial outcome for the greater good. But, this would only require people to go to the toilet like civil human beings, not angst-filled, drunk, partying youths. Waiting in a line to get into a club sucks, but waiting in line while missing your favourite bands just to use a toilet that 1500 people have soiled before you… that is a nightmare!

Note: Never put your backpack down on the floor. You can pretend the 2-inch deep wetness on the floor is ‘just water’ all you like, but you are going to be wearing that backpack on your back for the rest of the day. Think about it. 

4. Toilets Without a '2-seat' System

Places ExperiencedSouth America (especially Bolivia), Central America

Bolivia and my stomach were not the best of mates. So I have some very vivid memories of my time in the loo. Bolivians do not believe in the traditional 2-seat system. I am naturally accustomed to having a toilet that is suitable for dual purposes. More than likely (due to the state of some toilets), I wouldn’t actually be making contact with the second seat anyway. However I figure this is kind of like having travel insurance – even though you may not end up claiming it, it’s really important to have it in place!

5. Toilets on Traveling Vehicles

Places Experienced: Airplanes, Buses, Trains

Regarding toilets on moving vehicles, I would suggest always maintaining a healthy level of caution that the person before you has ‘missed.’ Even the most skilled marksman cannot handle a severe bus swerve or extreme turbulence - so take caution.

While we’re still on the topic of Bolivia, make a point of never taking a long bus journey while suffering from a severe case of gastro. I embarked on what was supposed to be a 13 hour trip (but turned into a 21 hour trip because it got held up by a road block due to a local protest), on a bus without any toilets. I seriously thought was going to die from internal combustion.

6.Local Peruvian Practices

Place ExperiencedPeru

Whilst walking in the streets of Puno, on the bank of Lake Titicaca I past a traditionally dressed Peruvian woman sitting against the wall. I suddenly noticed that she was not quite sitting flat and she had elevated herself ever so slightly. What I saw next was that a small stream was coming from where she was (half) sitting. I found this to be uniquely strange and at first wrote this off as a hilarious one off circumstance, but I soon found out this was quite common practice of the culture.

7. No Flushing Toilet Paper - Please Put it in the Bins Provided

Places Experienced: Central America, South America, Asia

Some places, particularly developing countries, simply do not have the sewage infrastructure to handle flushing toilet paper. However, when sharing a bathroom with a significant other, it can at times be a little off-putting. My tip is to always save a couple of squares of toilet paper, to make a cover on top of the used ones you have just disposed.

8.Camping

Places ExperiencedCentral America, South America, Asia

On these trips toilet paper is gold! Make sure you take enough supply for the entire duration of your trek - you do not want to be caught a day short. Of course, you could always become a “MacGyver” camper who is not afraid to use stones, leaves, a running stream or The good ‘ol one square of toilet paper trick - but I'll leave that up to you.

Note: You need to be well aware of your surroundings and the insects, arachnids, reptiles and animals that may be looming around you while you have your pants around your ankles and are in a compromising position.

9. Bidets

Place ExperiencedArgentina

Just as I believe that squatting over a hole or throwing my toilet paper in a bin instead of flushing is quite primitive, the Argentines believe that the way Australians go to the toilet is simply barbaric - that is, without using a “bidet.”

What is a bidet you ask? Imagine a small basin, something that looks suitable to bath a baby. Its primary purpose is to wash your nether regions with a pressured stream of water. Perhaps the Argentines are correct, but I never got used to it.

10. The Mecca Of Toilet Experiences

Place ExperiencedJapan

If you want the ultimate toilet experience you need to go to Japan. I have only been to Tokyo-Narita Airport in Japan and had 15 hours to kill. I may be exaggerating but I reckon I spent approximately 13 of those hours in the toilet!

Japanese toilets have everything you could ever wish for - from seat warmers to bidets with all sorts and pressures to female hygiene modules to buttons that create a flushing noise for the express purpose of muffling any embarrassing noises that you my cause. If the level of a society’s sophistication can be defined by the way they go the toilet, then Japan is by far the most sophisticated country in the world.

Who would have thought that the toilet in Narita Airport on the way home from 6 months backpacking trip would be one of the highlights of my journey?

Some Serious Considerations

  • Be cautious as some of these toilets can be disturbingly unhygienic, rife with bacteria, so be careful of what you touch.
  • Be sure to always wash your hands properly after using the toilet, and especially before eating. It is a good idea to carry some hand sanitizer.
  • Leave your valuables with a friend if possible, or at least keep them close to you (if the type of toilet permits). 
  • If suffering from gastro flush it out of your system with as much water as possible.
  • Never be too proud or cheap to go to a doctor, you would rather be safe than sorry.

Behind the Backpack

Kevin Lippy and Dean Ginsberg are broke backpackers who decided to start a website called Brokepacker.com which is all about discovering the best ways for backpackers to maximize their experiences within the limits of their budgets! They live and travel by the principle that every single dollar saved is a dollar that can contribute to another experience, another adventure and ultimately another day.

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1 Comment

  • Explorerdad said

    Nice post. My most memorable experience was 10 years at the border crossing between china and Russia on the trans Siberian railway. Train station has a bathroom, but the stench was so overpowering - why because of the sea of urine on the floor - people would just go anywhere in the room! I hadn't seen that before...

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