The toilet situation can, at times, be difficult when traveling. The standards of cleanliness are frequently extremely different to back home or even just the way toilets work. So here’s my round up of how to handle the different toilets of the world, from the easiest to the hardest/most different.
If you’re from America, Australia or England there isn’t going to be much difference in the toilet situation here. The standard of cleanliness of toilets in Europe will be roughly the same as what you’re used to at home, although a little worse at times, and the actual toilet basins will look exactly the same as at home. No real change. Although I really would recommend always keeping some toilet paper in your handbag or pocket if going for a night out ladies. I’ve never found Europe good for there being a reliable supply of toilet paper in bar toilets.
South And Central America
The actual toilets here will look roughly the same as at home again however in most of South and Central America the plumbing systems can’t cope with toilet paper being thrown in the toilet bowl. You have to throw it in the bin. Takes a bit of getting used to and you’ll forget occasionally at first but before long you’ll just get into the habit of doing it.
The same rule as the above, of not throwing toilet paper in the toilet bowl, applies in most of Asia, although there are some countries in the area where this isn’t the case, such as Singapore. In fact I’ve been in Asia so long now it’s become more of an ingrained habit in me to throw toilet paper in the bin than in the toilet bowl. I’ve even busted myself doing it in plane toilets.
But as well as the change in where to throw toilet paper, Asia also comes with it’s own wonderful collect of different toilets to navigate too.
Squat Toilets (also known as Eastern Toilets)
This is where the ceramic basin of the toilet is actually embedded in the floor and either side of the hole of the toilet is an area to place your feet so that you can then squat down to hover over the toilet.
Bizarrely I think the first time I ever used a squat toilet was in Italy rather than Asia, although Asia is where they’re most prevalent. I’ve met a lot of people who worry about using these toilets but there is nothing wrong or unclean about them. In fact when using public toilets it’s probably more sanitary as you will definitely won’t be sitting your naked bum on anything!
Bucket and Ladle Flush Toilets/Non-Automatic Flush Toilets
This is exactly what it sounds like, toilets where there is no flush button, instead there is a bucket and ladle to use to scoop water up out of a big container and pour it down the basin to flush the toilet. Particularly prevalent where there are squat toilets, but also with a lot of sitting toilets in Asia too.
The bucket and ladle system has a tendency to make the floor of bathrooms really wet with people having misaimed in pouring the water down the hole or even having used it to rinse off the foot stands after use. If there is water all over the floor in a restroom in Asia you’re therefore probably safe in assuming it is just water, unlike back home where the most likely explanation for that situation would be something much worse.
The bum gun
The bum gun is essentially a little hose at the side of the toilet that has a nozzle on the top (see below). When you press the lever, water then sprays out of it. The purpose of it being to clean yourself after going to the toilet rather than using toilet paper.
I avoided using the bum gun for my first six months in Asia. I just couldn’t get my head around it, but then one person told me about a skit from an American comedian where he talks about the bum gun and says “Look, if you got s**t on your arm, you’d wash it off with water right? You wouldn’t just rub a dry piece of toilet paper up and down your arm and smear it all about, would you?”. Good point. Well made.
I now love the bum guns. In fact I’ve become such a fan of them that it actually seems somewhat barbaric that people don’t use them back home.
Give it a go. You never know, you may end up being converted like me.
The bucket system when there is no bum gun or toilet paper
This is the only one I haven’t managed to get on board with yet. Squat toilet, sure. Bucket and ladle flush, sure. Bum gun, sure but this last one is where I reach my comfort zone limit! This is where there is no toilet paper in a restroom, or bum gun, so the expectation is that to wash yourself you use the bucket and ladle that is also used for flushing the toilet. Here you’re supposed to scoop the water out in the ladle and then you use your hand (left-hand, always left-hand) to clean yourself with the water. By all means give it a go if you’re more adventurous than me. I instead always carry toilet roll for just in case I happen to get stuck in a situation like this.
I have even encountered toilets which are nothing more than a stone slab on the ground surrounded by some flimsy bamboo walls (for peeing only), an actual hole cut out of the floor of a house on stilts above water so that any waste just goes down to the water below (I wish so badly that I had a picture of that one but I was too concerned with not falling through the hole myself let alone navigating getting my phone out too), or where the toilets are just an open field which is what they were in most of the bars in Lombok.
The best advice I can give you for dealing with all the weird and wonderful toilets you will discover on your travels is:
- Make sure you differentiate between what is basic and what is unclean. There being no flush button and having to pour water down the basin to get a toilet to flush does not affect the cleanliness of the toilet in the slightest, it just only has basic functionality.
- Always carry some toilet paper on your just in case.
- If you think it’s likely to take you a while to get used to all the varieties of toilets there are in the world, carry some disinfectant hand gel on you. That way at least you know you don’t have to worry about germs.
- Try to see the fun in all the weird and wonderful toilets you encounter. I love that I’ve seen a toilet that was just a hole cut out in the floor of someone’s house. I doubt I’ll ever see that again in my life. Try to see it all as just part of the adventure.
- Remember, a less than perfect toilet is, in general, not going to do you any harm. Maybe it smells a little bad or doesn’t’ look great. Hold your breath and get in and out as quick as possible. It will be over soon.
Got any other tips on how to navigate toilets of the world? Let me know in the comments below.
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