5 Steps to Hacking Public Restrooms on the Trail

Bathroom breaks can be seriously complicated when you are globetrotting.  A toilet seat may be missing.  You may be greeted by a simple hole in the ground.  Toilet paper may be replaced with a water scoop.  The toilet may be fully electronic yet labeled in a completely foreign writing.  Your sense of balance may be tested if squatting on the bowl is required.  It is important to anticipate a whole range of restroom realities. So in the spirit of facilitating easier bathroom breaks on the go: here’s a survey of different toilet troubles and how to hack them:

1) No toilet paper – This is often the case in even the most industrialized of nations.  While you may be very prepared and carrying rolls of toilet paper in developing countries it is wise to at least carry a couple tissue packets whenever traveling.  I’ve seen everything from bare toilet rolls to places that charge you for toilet paper.  Toilet paper shortages are not fun and are CERTAINLY not something you want to contend with if you are in a hurry or if the local cuisine has caused some kind of an emergency.  Come prepared, march confidently into that cubicle or charming hole in the ground and take care of business knowing that clean up is covered.

2) Check if you can flush the toilet paper - The question of whether or not you should flush toilet paper may seem a no-brainer but in many countries you can’t do it or you will plug the plumbing up.  The protocol in these cases is to dispose of the TP in the trash can that is often provided right next to the toilet.  Get this right or risk very embarrassing incidents/humiliating explanations later.  Guide books will most likely tell you whether or not to flush TP… but ask if you are confused.

3) Be adventurous - When I lived in a fishing village in the Philippines, I learned to squat on the seat-less toilet bowl and then use a water scoop to take care of clean up – people just did not do TP.  In fact the very thought of TP grossed locals out.  Water was cleaner and more thorough.  They were probably right… just took some getting used to.  It was a case of being confident, stepping onto that bowl and making it work.  You can do it!!

3) Do not hold it - Some newbies insist on holding it because they are too put off by the local bathroom situation to go.  That turns into a problem quickly and can result in UTIs and other unwanted medical stress not to mention severe discomfort… DON’T do it!

4) Use hotels – When traveling I am ALWAYS on the lookout for hotels.  If you suspect that bathroom conditions are going to be problematic, look for major hotels that cater to expats.  Generally no questions are asked if you walk in confidently and use the restrooms.  You will avoid fees that may be charged at local restrooms and the comfort and hygiene of a 5-star hotel is unbeatable.

5) Carry Change – Europe can be notoriously bad about free restrooms.  It makes sense to carry a healthy amount of change to take care of restroom charges.  It is one of those unfortunate realities that you may just have to surrender to.  In Britain and Scandinavia I almost don’t even think about the bathroom charge anymore… they are basically the norm and its better to pay up than to spend your day hunting down free facilities.

Good luck everyone.  Savvy global do-gooding is so much more fun on an empty bladder:)



Bjorn Karlman

5 thoughts on “5 Steps to Hacking Public Restrooms on the Trail”

  1. Ha ha!, this brought back lots of great memories. One additional tip, learn the local terminology for “restroom”/bathroom”/”toilet”/”loo”/”John”/”comfort room”, etc. long before you need it! There are certain things better not lost in translation.

    1. Ha! Thanks:) I had fun writing the post… so many memories of awkwardness!!

      BTW… I thought it was interesting that you don’t drink even if your dad owns a pub. What’s the reason?

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