Toilet tips for travellers in a hurry

Travel can throw up interesting challenges when you need to go.

A toilet tale to bowl you over

This is an incident that was never meant to be funny, but nothing my family has ever done has been retold with more regularity or generated more mirth. 

It’s a story about one of those times when you simply have to go, and it struck during a food walking tour through the streets of Hanoi with the family. 

“I’ve got to go,” I said to the tour guide as we sat on tiny plastic chairs at the front of a dumpling eatery that was as big as our laundry. And we have a small laundry. 

The tour guide went inside and talked to the woman who ran the restaurant. 

She beckoned me inside and directed me to a corner, pulled aside a curtain and pointed to a plastic bowl on the floor. 

I looked at it. I looked at her. 

“Are you kidding?” I said. She wasn’t. She pointed to the tiny bowl. 

It’s difficult to describe what I was feeling at that moment without ruining the rest of your day. Suffice to say, this bowl was hopelessly inadequate for what I felt was required. And the proximity to the kitchen, and diners, was an issue. 

The guide sensed my growing anxiety and dissatisfaction with what was being offered. With my family sitting on their tiny stools howling with laughter, the guide led me up the street, around a corner, up another street and eventually to a public toilet where I parted with a few dong – I would happily have paid thousands – and did what I so desperately needed to do. 

Believe it or not, I relate this story in an attempt to help you because there are ways you can avoid being directed to a plastic bowl behind a curtain in a room shared with strangers trying to enjoy their meals. 

It’s called “research” and everything you need to know is on the internet. Just type in “clean toilets”, then the name of the city you’re in, or going to, and copious hints will appear. If your research skills are adequate, you’ll find maps that show you the nearest toilets and possibly even critiques of them. 

If you forget to do your research, here’s another tip, depending on what country you’re in: always carry some toilet paper. Stick some in a back pocket, in a backpack, in your handbag. Just make sure you have some, because some toilets in some countries don’t have such things. Though there may be someone there selling paper. 

And while you’re at it, toss in some antiseptic hand gel. 

Some Asian toilets – and some in Morocco and no doubt other countries around the world – have a hose so you can squirt the soiled area of your anatomy and the soiled concrete. Bum guns, I guess you could call them. That’s sort of okay, except that some of these hoses have very poor pressure. Say no more. 

In many regions, including parts of Portugal on a recent visit, you’re asked to place your used toilet paper in a container rather than flush it. If the signs in the toilet say to do this, do it, and don’t feel awkward. It’s what the locals do and it preserves the plumbing. 

You may also be called upon to squat, which is a lot easier if you’re wearing a sarong or skirt, not so easy for elderly types in trousers. 

And then there’s the matter of privacy – or lack of it. A row of women squatting can be confronting. And I’m no princess. 

No matter how you look at it, going to the toilet in some parts of the world can be a challenge that requires preparation, planning and paper. 

It can be a long way from the Beaux Arts public loos at New York’s Bryant Park with their self-flushing toilets, self-changing sanitary seat covers, original artwork, music, air conditioning and fresh flowers. 

Here’s our guide to help you with your public toilet experiences: 

  1. Always carry toilet paper.
  2. Have antiseptic hand gel in your handbag or backpack.
  3. As you walk, keep an eye out for hotels or bars that may offer suitable toilets.
  4. Go with an open mind. If the signs say to put your paper in a waste paper bin, do so and think nothing of it.
  5. Wear appropriate clothing for the expected conditions.
  6. Work on your best squatting technique.
  7. Watch what you’re carrying. You don’t want your mobile phone or wallet to slip out while mid-visit.
  8. Search the internet for public toilets. Bigger cities have extensive websites.
  9. If you find a hotel or restaurant, just walk through as if you own the place.
  10. Carry change. Some public toilets demand payment.



    To make a comment, please register or login
    5th Mar 2018
    I think I will give those places a miss.
    5th Mar 2018
    Good to know all this, thanks for the tips :)
    5th Mar 2018
    On a visit to Varna in Bulgaria back in the 70s, we went into a restaurant, and towards the end of the meal I went to the restaurant's toilet, only to find that you placed used toilet paper in a wire waste paper basket , which accounted for the smell as it was half full. On top of that, there weren't any washing facilities, and this was a restaurant. I hoped the kitchen staff didn't use the same one as customers. Fortunately I just needed to urinate only, but had to use the bowl.! As regards toilet maps, they are available in Australia for all major cities, and towns in Australia.
    5th Mar 2018
    At least in most European countries and the USA you will find proper clean toilets. Putting paper in bins rather than flushing it is not a problem, as long as the bins are hygienic and have lids. At the end of the day, visiting some places is a real eye opener and makes you appreciate what you take for granted at home.
    6th Mar 2018
    Sorry Janelle but you just ain't been around.
    My wife first struck one of these horrors in Malaysia. Recently also in Italy, a place where most dunnies and bathrooms are of an exceptionally high standard.
    As I said to my wife 'if you gotta go then go'. She refrained!
    Not sure why any country would put these things in. The third world?!
    6th Mar 2018
    I had to pay for paper squares whilst in Egypt from a lady that worked doing that for a living, poor thing. At least it was a western toilet. I also saw the throw the paper in the corner thing in another part of the country. Last year when in Iran I was very surprised at the amount of squat toilets they had, one really dirty one at a restaurant as well. They did have a few western toilets but yes you definitely need to take your own paper or little packs of tissues just in case. One would never think of a clean toilet as a luxury, more a necessity but after visiting these countries it certainly is, mind you I absolutely loved the countries.
    6th Mar 2018
    Have come across a number of squat toilets in Italy and France. Soon learnt that jeans etc. were not ideal in such situations. Yes, always have toilet paper with you. Also if "caught short" most restaurants, bars etc. will not let you use their toilet unless you are a customer.

    12th Apr 2018
    Thanks for the tips Janelle, are those situations that we do not want to pass or joke; The need is clear, but the conditions may be inadequate, so we must adapt taking the precautions we create are necessary for us, this if we are "so special" in matters of cleanliness ;)

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