Like you, I go to the bathroom. Perhaps not like you, I suspect I have a bladder the size of a pistachio.
Such physical predicaments have helped me accrue a certain expertise in the realm of public restrooms. Still, there’s nothing like 7 months on the road in developing nations to put to the test all I thought I knew and could safely expect in a bathroom. Like plumbing.
Ever vigilant of my surroundings, I created a 7 point ranking system to help differentiate the potty winners from the loser loos. One star is awarded to a bathroom for each of the below:
1. The Western Toilet Seat
Personally, I find it unsettling to squat over a hole in the ground, teetering on unsteady legs, trying to aim for the mark, balance and keep my pants legs dry. I do realize that for those unfamiliar with (what I believe to be) the great invention of bathroom relaxation – the toilet seat – squatting is physically superior to sitting. No matter, I will always prefer a bowl and accompanying seat.
2. Toilet Paper
It seemed so obvious to my Western sensibility. You use the toilet, you use the toilet paper. Not so, in India and Southeast Asia. Shower hoses in some bathrooms are intended to do the job for you, but honestly, I never figured how to creatively put the hose to use without emerging from the toilet soaking wet from head to toe. Which brings us to…
3. Dry Floors
I still cringe to imagine where the excessive volume of water (or other mystery fluids) on the floors of the countless bathrooms I visited might have stemmed from, but man, it was copious. Many toilets include taps for filling buckets for “flushing” (see below), and shower hoses for cleaning oneself. The spillover really adds up. Rubber-soled shoes are preferred. I pity the fool in flip flops.
Just when you think your discomfort ends at squatting over a hole and replacing toilet paper with the collection of paper napkins you’ve had to acquired, you’ll encounter a toilet without plumbing. How to flush? Fill up the bucket in the bathroom (which you always wondered about) with water from a tap on the wall, dip an accompanying small pot in, and dump this water by hand into the toilet hole/bowl until your waste disappears. You’ll never feel so up-close-and-personal with yourself as you will after this little task.
Unless you happen to have brought your head lamp with you, negotiating a bathroom – any bathroom – in the pitch black is really, really hard.
Now, these next 2 features are really bonus features. Not necessary to have, but after doing without either for most of the trip, I consider them real nice amenities.
6. Hand Soap
After going to the bathroom, I like to wash my hands. With soap. This wasn’t really possible for most of my trip, and so I gave major props to bathrooms that offered a little bit o’ bubble. As for trying to stay semi-washed, I did pack plenty of travel sized hand sanitizer.
7. Hand Towels
Paper towels or actual hand towels, no matter. When you’ve been wiping your wet paws on yourself for 5 months, the luxury of a towel feels downright decadent.