Travel Guides – The Missing Chapter on Toilets

International Travel Guides – very handy for planning a trip. There are often several to choose from. If you are uncertain which guide is best, I would suggest you flip to the index and scroll down to see if there is a section about Toilets.  In my experience, the information contained in one short paragraph could turn out to be the best advice in the whole book.

Alas, most guides omit the topic completely. So here is a bit of practical information for after you arrive at your destination. The first challenge will be knowing what to call the facility you are looking for. You might try asking where the bathroom, restroom, WC, loo, lavatory, comfort station, toilet, or washroom is. If that is met with a shrug, you are on your own. A bit of wandering will usually take you to a location that seems familiar because you are offered a choice of two doors. These will be labelled in some manner that has to do with how the equipment inside is tailored for the sex you happen to be. If this label is hard to decipher, then just open one of the doors and decide if a room full of urinals is where you want to be.

Sometimes the facilities are unisex. In London I found a coin operated space age unit that could be mistaken for a bus stop. Upon exiting the facility, the entire inside of it went through a washing cycle – but not a drying cycle, which was why it was so damp inside when I first entered. In an airport in France the facilities weren’t quite unisex, but the women’s facilities were reached after passing by the men standing at the urinals.

In many countries, toilets are a source of income for someone. In India most public washrooms are manned by an attendant who insists on hard currency for the privilege of entering the facility. A small wad of toilet paper is included in the transaction. But in some countries it is best to carry a pocketful of kleenex, because paper is not deemed to be needed for a “clean-up in aisle four”.

In the Middle East I had my first ‘hole in the floor’ experience and came to the conclusion that I needed to have better thigh muscles. In general, expect the unexpected!

Once you have found the facility and completed your task, there is the challenge of Initiating a Flush. This means you have to find a knob, button, cord or lever that can be be pushed, pulled, or turned. Don’t assume this trigger is anywhere near where you would normally find it. If all else fails, quickly walk away to the hand sanitation station and pretend you had nothing to do with what happened in stall two.

While there is often a sink of some sort, and perhaps some water, and maybe even a bit of soap and a towel, the travellers best companion is the small bottle of hand sanitizer that keeps the kleenex company in your pocket.

My last bit of advice is this – when Choosing a Restaurant to eat in, check out their washroom before you order your meal. Washrooms are usually well lit, which not only lets you determine how clean the facility is, it also makes it much easier to read the menu…

9 thoughts on “Travel Guides – The Missing Chapter on Toilets

  1. I was so proud of myself that I went through a 3 week tour of SE Asia without ever using an Asian toilet. By the time, I made it to Morroco, I decided it was time to bite the bullet. Generally people think they’re more sanitary than western. But, you’re right, you definitely need good thigh muscles.

    It’s a very important topic that many are reluctant to discuss. Thanks for discussing.


    1. Hi Cathy – A Three week tour of SE Asia is pretty impressive! I’m sure you came to appreciate how different facilities are in that part of the world, compared to the United States and Canada!


  2. Hi Margie,
    I just can’t get used to the idea of unisex toilets, this of course may have a lot to do with me being an “old girl” but I did see some o/seas and I avoided them at all cost. 🙂

    I always travel with a packet of pocket tissues, I have over the years learned that some Countries just don’t supply enough toilet paper, I have come across some that when you hand over money to use the toilet, they also give you toilet paper, this is usually in my experience 1 yes 1 little sheet of paper, I have made sure that I will not be caught out again. 🙂


  3. I was just writing up a cultural guide for my replacement at work who is new to Japan. I feel like travel guides should warn people here that the toilets either have 500 buttons (bidet, dry, flushing noise, temperature on seat warmer) or are squat toilets, which are just dandy if they are clean. For some reason, my prefecture is good about soap in bathrooms (thanks, swine flu!), but others are not (Hiroshima). Plus, there are not usually paper towels–you bring your own hanky for drying after washing. I’m so used to it now that I don’t think of it, but it would be nice to have that written down for tourists!


    1. Hi odorunara – When we moved to the Middle East, we attended a mandatory culture session about how to live in an Arab culture, but there was never any discussion about squat toilets. The only relevant topic was that the left hand was used for bodily hygiene and therefore not used for eating or handing things to another person.


  4. I think that’s one reason I haven’t had the desire to travel abroad! We did go to Ireland once, and there wasn’t a problem with finding restrooms. Believe it or not, finding a bathroom in Cambridge, Massachusetts is a challenge. When we ordered a hamburger there at a well-frequented restaurant, I asked the waitress where the bathroom was so I could wash my hands. She looked at me like I was dumb as a rock and said they didn’t have public restrooms and told me I could walk several blocks down to an office building! There’s actually a website you can go on to find out where public restrooms can be found in the Boston area. Great post!


    1. Hi CE – If finding a restroom wasn’t a big issue, then restaurants wouldn’t make such a big deal of stating that only patrons can use the one in their establishment!

      The biggest issue with public restrooms is the fact that they are often easy targets for vandals.


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