Some people find it offensive to talk about toilets, but I’m not one of them. In fact, I think it’s important to talk about them and to have an understanding of toilets and toiletting habits around the world. As a traveller I like to be prepared, and in some countries you truly need to be prepared before nature calls.
We generally don’t think too much about bathrooms. We all have them and we tend to know where local and shopping centre restrooms are located, but when road-tripping we plan bathroom stops and we think ahead. No one wants to be stuck with a crampy stomach 100 kilometres from the nearest public toilet. One of the challenges when travelling overseas is to plan bathroom stops as we don’t know where they are, and if they’re going to be hygienic enough to use.
I wrote a previous blog article about my bathroom experience in Malaysia, which was downright horrific. I had to pay to use a hole in the ground and clean myself with an excrement encrusted hose. But I get it! Different cultures and different norms. It’s just not what I was used to. Many public bathrooms in Australia’s national parks and picnic areas are no better but have the added indignity of poisonous spiders lurking around.
I was very pleasantly surprised by the restrooms in America. They are spacious and mostly self-flushing, which is an added hygiene measure. In one of the malls in Waikiki in Hawaii, the toilets had bidets which were fantastic. I’ve been obsessed with them ever since. I also like that the water level in the toilets in the US is very high. Australian toilets only have a small amount of water in the bottom, and as they mostly have water saving devices you need to flush them fifteen times to remove toilet paper. I don’t see the point. The only strange thing about American restrooms is the huge gap at either side of the doors. What’s that about? There are no gaps in our doors in Australia and I can tell you that when one is using a toilet, privacy is king.
When driving through NSW a few years ago I stopped at Fitzroy Falls for a walk and to use the restrooms. They have the scariest toilets I have ever seen. You need to keep the lid closed when you’re not on it as they have a vacuum style system of removing waste, which goes down to a large tank underneath the floor. When you look into the bowl it’s black and you cannot see the bottom. It’s like a pit of despair. There are signs warning you to not drop stuff into the toilet and to supervise small children. That’s nightmarish stuff; having your toddler sucked into a pit of muck. Ugh. It’s bad enough to lose your car keys in the pit, but to lose your children as well is just a bit too frightening for me. Those are toilets I could never use again and the Malaysian hole in the ground would be preferable. They both smell as bad as the other so I’ll go for squatting rather than drowning.
When I drove along the Seward Highway in Alaska I stopped at public bathrooms at the side of the road. I vigilantly looked for bears as I bee-lined to the bathrooms, and was surprised at how clean they were. Much cleaner than the restrooms inside a service station which sold hot food, on the way to Valdez. They needed to be burnt down to purify them.
Having been to many different countries and experiencing all sorts of public restrooms, my advice is to simply be prepared. Don’t go into it thinking that the bathrooms will be the same as what you are used to at your local mall. Every country has different sewerage systems and bathroom cultures. Take a roll of toilet paper or wipes in your bag. Disinfectant wipes can ensure you can quickly clean up a not so hygienic toilet, and many restrooms don’t provide hand soap, even here in Australia. I make my own hand sanitiser with essential oils and aloe gel, and I keep it in my bag with some wipes. I’ve had way too many bad bathroom experiences to be unprepared. Some bathrooms I’ve been to are so foul that I’ve had to hang on to a full bladder for another hour just to get to a toilet that is usable.
What this has all proven, is that even toilet experiences add to your travel memories. Even bad toilet experiences give you something to laugh about and talk about. So get out there with your wipes and sanitiser, and use a public restroom.