There is one thing that no matter where you go or how you travel, you can’t avoid it. The toilet. Loo. Watercloset. “The can”…whatever you prefer to call it, you can’t deny that it is as essential to our day-to-day life as drinking water no matter where in the world you live. So when you travel, there are some unique variances in where and how this facility is utilized and the services it offers. Here is a tale of two very different toilet experiences.
Location: Sri Lanka. Date: Late 1980’s
I had been asked by World Vision International to accompany a group of U.S. citizens to Sri Lanka in the late 1980’s. The purpose of the travel was to visit villages and projects that had received World Vision funding in the previous fiscal year and verify that funds were indeed reaching the people that needed help. My job specifically was to take photographs of the entire trip experience. The pictures would then be used in promotion and fiscal reporting back in the states. This was a tremendously dangerous time of civil war and unrest in this country, as the Tamil and Sinhalese were battling for control. We traveled in a very small group trying hard to not draw attention to ourselves and our purpose. There was a fear of being too noticeable and thus creating a potentially dangerous situation for ourselves and our guides. Because of this, we avoided major roads and utilized back roads and jungle paths to get to and from our village points.
This was my first time in this part of the world and while I was prepared somewhat for our experiences in the villages, I was unprepared for the lack of basic necessities as we traveled across the nation. On one very long, hot day, we had been bouncing along on the jungle roads for quite some time when our guide told us he would be making a rest stop just up the road. I was relieved to hear this, as the bouncing of the road and the lunch we had earlier in the day were not getting along. Soon we rounded a corner and stopped. The guide disappeared into the jungle foliage and then returned in a few minutes. Since the only women in the group were my friend Sherrie and I, he specifically wanted to be sure there were not any men already using the toilet facilities. “Thanks”, we said with a sigh, but then questioned him on where it was. He pointed up the little hill through the jungle leaves, and then reminded us to stay on the path and watch out for cobras!
Cobras! We grabbed each other’s hand and carefully made our way along the little trail through the leaves and vines. At this point, we were seriously starting to question how badly we needed these facilities. Any doubt on our “need to go” was quickly alleviated when we arrived at the little concrete shed and looked inside. There was only a hole in the floor, two slightly raised tiles for our feet and a bucket of water. Now, before you criticize me for being a squeamish prude, I must defend myself and say that I’m a pretty hardy country girl. I have camped in the woods many times and used a variety of very primitive restroom facilities…but this exceeded my understanding on so many levels and with the fear of cobras already ingrained into our minds, we quickly ran back down the trail to the jeep just hoping we could control ourselves until we reached our hotel for the night. Even though I was the “photographer” on this trip, I will have to admit that I did not stop long enough to take a photograph of the facilities. A fact that I regret today as I am writing this and I have no visual proof of the sparse and primitive nature of toilet #1.
Location: Germany Date: 2008
Fast forward to 2008. The scene is a multi-generational trip to Germany and Austria. It is my mom, my daughter, my niece and myself and two weeks of travel, art museums, roadside cafe, afternoon coffee and a very special and memorable time. We had rented a car so that it would be easier to get off the autobahn, out of the cities and into the countryside villages. We tried very hard to limit our travel on the autobahn and would commonly program our Garmin gps named “Greta” to avoid all major highways. We encountered some of the most wonderful little out of the way places traveling this way and discovered some places that I’m sure most typical “tourists” don’t see. But on this particular day, we were on a fast track to get from one side of the country to the other. We decided to get on the autobahn and just get there as fast as we could – which if you have ever driven on the autobahn is quite possible since the speed limits are all very subjective and relative to your ability to handle it. As would happen, we needed to make a quick stop for gas along the way. While we were getting gas for the car we decided to make use of the restroom facilities before hitting the road again. As you may or may not know, restroom facilities in quite a lot of European countries cost you to use them. When I traveled in Europe in the 1970’s, there was actually a facility hostess (or host) that was stationed in each restroom. You paid them (10 cents at the time) and then used the facility which they immediately cleaned after you left. Now, it is rarer to see a hostess on duty, but the restrooms on the autobahn have overcome the issue of cleanliness by installing the most ingenious self-cleaning toilets. You have to pay to get a “ticket” at the vending machine and then use the ticket to access the restroom facilities. This wondrous toilet was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. The entire restroom was spotless and I left and immediately told everyone else in our group, “I don’t care if you don’t need to go…you need to see this.” My daughter was so amazed, she “went” twice! I actually found a link to the self-cleaning toilets online…since again, I just wasn’t thinking and didn’t get a picture. Enjoy!
Seeing is believing in the case of toilets! And toilet #2 was a definite winner over toilet #1.
So, here are the top five tips for making the most of your toilet travel experiences:
1. Be prepared for anything.
2. Always carry some Giovanni Cosmetics Relax Organic Lavender Calm Mini Towlettes 20 Wipes or other sanitizing wipes. At some point you will need them.
3. Research the country where you are traveling in regards to toilet fees and services. Always carry enough small change to allow you to access the facilities.
4. Quit being such an Americanized wimp. You are in a different country. Embrace the cultural experience as just part of the journey.
5. Be sure and take your camera in with you to capture those unbelievable restroom facilities. Otherwise your friends and family will never believe you.
The moral of the tale of two toilets is…not all toilets are created equal.