Toilet Guide: Iceland – Road Tripping with Shewee & Peebol

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“You are not bringing that bag of piss into the rental car”


Intro to Iceland:

Usually, when we announce our travel plans, people ask us the same two questions:

“Where is that?”

Closely followed by:

“Okay… but, uhh, why would you go there?”

People never ask you why you’re going to Spain or France though, and equally people never ask why you’re going to Iceland. Instead, they often comment:

“Oh cool! I went there last year!” or “Ohh I really wanna go there!”

So Iceland doesn’t really need an introduction. You know where it is and why people go there. Chances are, you’ll probably go there yourself some time, so let us prepare you for their toilet situation!


Survival guide:

  • Toilet facilities in towns are consistently excellent, whether you’re at a cafe, restaurant or tourist hot-spot. Nothing to worry about here.
  • Out in the countryside, standards vary more. Whilst on road trips, we found some of the world’s most expensive public toilets, with excellent facilities, and also some pretty basic toilet shacks without hand washing facilities.
  • When you’re driving around off the beaten track (or as far off it as you can get in Iceland), there will be times when a nature pee is called for. We explore this in more detail below, and we also review 2 outdoor peeing aids we brought with us for trial; Shewee and Peebol.

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Road tripping in Iceland

Iceland is made for road trips. The countryside is so downright stunning that they print advice cards in the rental cars, reminding you not to stop your car in the middle of the road to take photos, even if is really pretty. And yeah, we did see another car do just that next to a particularly jaw-dropping glacier. The 6 of us piled in our huge 4×4 rental car, blasted out Wheels by the Foo Fighters and asked our friend Eduardo to park up every 5 minutes so that we could stand up and simply gaze open-mouthed at the wild beauty surrounding us.

However, the middle of nowhere is notoriously lacking in toilets. Here’s how we managed the toilet situation on our various road-trips:


The Golden Circle

The golden circle is a popular day trip from Reykjavik, taking you past an exceptionally active geyser, a gigantic waterfall and a rift valley. This can be comfortably done in one day (the golden circle is not to be confused with the ring road which goes around the entire island and is definitely not a day trip). Our first stop was the rift valley, a stunning landscape featuring excellent public toilets, although they were ludicrously expensive at £1.50 a go. However, Iceland is firmly in the 21st century and you can pay on card if you lack the correct change.

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At least £1.50 buys you an excellent hand-washing view:

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The next stop of Geysir had good quality, free toilet facilities connected to a nearby cafe and shop. For the price of walking through the gift shop, we found clean cubicles with locking doors, and toilet roll and soap were provided. The waterfall stop, Gullfoss, is only 10 minutes down the road from Geysir, so we had no need to seek out toilets there.


Northern Lights Hunting

To have any chance of seeing the northern lights in Iceland, you need to be in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night. One place you rarely find toilets is the middle of nowhere.

We fashioned our own northern lights hunting trip, using the Icelandic Met website to track gaps in the clouds as we sped through the foggy countryside, chasing the tail of the elusive aurora. As soon as we spied stars peeking out between the clouds, we pulled over and lay down in a field, huddling together for warmth as we stared hopefully at the sky. When the clouds started to roll in, we jumped back in the car and drove in search of the next gap, ever waiting, ever hopeful.

After a couple of hours of driving, we had a problem. I needed to pee, as did my friend Steff. Privacy & warmth were our primary concerns; there are few trees in Iceland, and the landscape in this particular areas was flat and uh, exposed. The only shelter we had was the huge rental car. Luckily, we’d taken a Shewee and some Peebols with us to Iceland, which were kindly sent to us by Shewee. I tried the Shewee “Extreme”:

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The Shewee allowed me to have a pee while standing up, and without pulling down my trousers, which was a great advantage in the freezing Icelandic night. It also felt much more private, which is handy when there are 5 people within 5 metres of you.

That said, using a Shewee is a bit of an art-form; it feels very strange to be standing up and peeing, and I think it takes a few tries to be confident using it. You will probably choose to still use toilet roll after using a Shewee, and it pays to have it ready in your other hand before you pee. The Shewee “Extreme” comes with plastic carry case, so you don’t need to worry about putting it back in your bag if you’re not able to fully clean it after use. I would suggest putting your used toilet roll in this case or in a sealable plastic bag, rather than leaving it on the floor. Because nothing is more disgusting than going to behind a rock to pee and finding a pile of used toilet roll.

The problem was, Steff needed to pee too. And we only had one Shewee with us, which really did need a wash before anyone else could use it.

“I’ll use the Peebol!” Steff decided, with determination.

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Peebol is a small plastic bag, containing absorbent crystals which turn urine into an odourless gel. We explained this to Eduardo. He held zero faith in the absorbent crystals and even less confidence in the plastic bag.

“You are not bringing a bag of piss into the rental car” declared Eduardo, taking his role as the driver very seriously.

Nevertheless, Steff gave it a go. She soon realised that figuring out a Peebol for the first time in the pitch black Icelandic night is quite a feat. Steff’s main concern was accidentally getting the cardboard top-section wet, and while she’d discovered the zip lock seal, she hadn’t found the additional sticky seal. That said, she peed into it very successfully and was pleased to have somewhere to dispose of her used toilet roll too.

The only problem is, you do have to carry the bag with you afterwards.

“It’s not even pee anymore, it’s gel!” explained Steff. “But umm, it’s really dark and I’m not sure I sealed it properly…”

“You’re not bringing that bag of piss into the rental car” repeated Eduardo.

We popped the Peebol in a large crisp packet by way of compromise and were pleased to report absolutely no spills in the rental car.

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We knew that our chances of seeing the aurora in this weather was very low, and indeed we didn’t manage to spot the elusive lights with our eyes… But, this photo Morgan captured (of some greenish shapes to the left) shows they might actually have been there all along, unfortunately just behind a lot of clouds!


The South Coast – On the road to Vik

Let’s get one thing straight: our South coast road trip crapped all over the golden circle. But being a less touristy route, there were fewer places to crap!
Toilet facilities at the key stopping points on this journey were free, but much more basic. Some stops lacked running water or toilet roll, as was the case at Seljalandsfoss, the first of two epic waterfalls on this route. So bring your own loo roll, and be prepared to queue if it’s busy – preferably before you gaze upon the mass of relentlessly flowing water.

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When we reached the isolated volcanic beach at Vik, the usual suspects (Steff and I) needed to pee. This time we swapped: I tried using a Peebol and Steff had a go with the Shewee. I found squatting to floor level was the most comfortable way for me to use the Peebol, and the shape of the bag worked well to avoid splashing. Of course, it was broad daylight and I was comfortably concealed behind some beach boulders with Morgan as lookout, so circumstances were pretty favourable. Carrying it with me did feel a bit odd, but once again the seals held and I at no point felt there was any risk of it leaking. That didn’t stop Eduardo grumbling about the piss-bag in the car thing, though. Luckily, Steff was preparing an article for her own crisp-based blog, so we had plenty more crisp packets to stick our Peebols in.

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Steff tried to use the Shewee at the beach but found she didn’t trust the shape enough to be able to go, so she ended up doing a traditional nature pee. Steff has used a disposable cardboard P-Mate in the past and reckoned their wider opening felt safer. Overall, Peebol was her first choice of peeing device, whereas I personally preferred the freedom of the Shewee.


Things we’d do differently:

In trying to pack fast and light, we broke 2 of our own key rules. We neglected to bring a head torch or antibacterial hand gel with us. Fools! Talk about not following your own advice. We had phones with torches on, but peeing outdoors is so, so much easier when you have both hands free. Antibacterial hand gel would have made us feel much cleaner, especially as some of the more basic toilets didn’t have hand washing facilities.

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Which peeing device is for me?

Pros

Cons

Shewee “Extreme”

(Note: “Extreme” is the version we’ve got, which comes with a box and an extended tube – Both worthwhile features! But you can also get a simple Shewee without them, or a version with only the tube: the Shewee “SOS Plus”.)

– You don’t need to remove your clothing or squat down – you can pee standing up, which increases your privacy. It also means you don’t need to expose your bum to the cold Icelandic winter.

– The extended tube takes the urine away from you, reducing risk of splashing.

– Can be difficult to use if you’re not used to it, especially since plastic Shewees are a fixed shape. You need to trust that there won’t be any spills. (Worth practising in your own bathroom first)

– You need to carry it with you, although the plastic carry case keeps it well sealed and inconspicuous.

P-Mate (disposable)

– No need to remove clothing or squat down.

– Flexible width.

– Lighter to carry with you and folds flat to take up less space in your bag.

— Recyclable.

– One-time use only.

– Needs to be carried with you after use, until you find a bin. You can use the packet it comes in for a bit of protection against the wet cardboard.

– No extended tube, so the pee lands closer to your body.

Peebol

– Large opening, very easy to get the pee in the bag.

– You can also dispose of used toilet paper in it.

– Zero risk of splashing your feet whilst you pee.

– Recycleable parts (all except the gel).

– Sort of re-usable, holds up to 1 litre.

– You can pee in a moving car or bus, and other situations without toilets or where you can’t normally pee. Ladies might want to use Peebol with a Shewee for maximum privacy in those situations. 

– You need to carry it with you until you find a bin or a toilet you can empty it down.

– Though the risk is very low, there’s always a chance of leakage from the used bag if you seal/store it badly (eg upside down & under pressure). Putting it in a dry bag would virtually eliminate any risk, and the the Shewee “Out & About” Combo comes with one specially.

– In practice, it’s pretty much one-time use only.

Simple nature pee

– No fuss, no equipment needed

– Risk of splashing your feet or legs with your own pee

– There’s no way to avoid bearing your bum to the world.

– What do you do with used toilet roll? Leaving it behind is pretty gross, unless you can bury it. The environmentally-conscious method is to take it away with you in a sealed bag.


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Overall, Iceland has excellent toilet facilities, so relax and enjoy your trip! We would recommend bringing some toilet aids with you if you want to get out and explore nature, as well as the regular toilet trifecta of loo roll, hand gel and a head torch; don’t get complacent and make the same mistakes we did on our Icelandic adventure!

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The call of nature: peeing in a bag in the Scottish Highlands

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By guest blogger Rachel Bicker


Somewhere deep in the Scottish highlands, 1000 meters above sea level in blizzard conditions, I harness the bravery of my Scottish ancestors, remove my many layers of mostly borrowed winter gear, and I pee into a bag.

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I ended up here, with icy, wind-whipped buttocks and a cringing sense of vulnerability, because I signed up for a weekend course in winter skills, encouraged by my friend Rina with the group Explorers Connect. Rosie and Morgan, my housemates and Go Go Guano creators, decided this would be a perfect opportunity for me to test out a “Peebol” in some pretty extreme conditions!

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As an ecologist who works outdoors for long periods of time, I am no stranger to outdoor peeing. I previously tried a Shewee in the Carpathian Mountains (without much success), and I was hoping to use something less likely to result in a stream of urine that could potentially whip back at me in a strong gust (otherwise called a ‘dirty wind’). The makers of the Shewee have come up with another option, the Peebol.

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But what is a Peebol, I hear you cry? It’s a small resealable bag, containing rapid performing, absorbent granules which convert fluid into a biodegradable gel. It’s very light and foldable, slipping easily into a small pocket. The top is reinforced by cardboard and has a ziplock, so it opens easily and closes again securely.

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So, how did it go with my own, personal wizz-bag?


Step 1: Find a good sized rock for shelter from the blizzard and other mountaineers…

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The chosen boulder

Step 2: Dig around in your backpack for Peebol bag, take off gloves to unseal the top.

Step 3: Last glance around, pants down, then all systems go…

Step 4: Come on, hurry up, hurry up, hurry up…

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Thinking of Scottish mountain streams

Step 5: Continue to enjoy the views /blizzard

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View from my boulder (and my group, a little too close for comfort…)

Step 6: Get distracted by wildlife.

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Ooh, a Ptarmigan!

Step 7: Think “Wow I drank a lot of tea today…”

Step 8: Zip the seal back and ‘sort yerself oot’ (under layer up, over layer down, under layer up etc.)

Step 9: Re-seal Peebol bag and leave for a few minutes while the granules work their magic. Replenish bodily fluids by drinking more tea.

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Step 10: Place in the top part of your rucksack (or if you fancy a home-made hot water bottle right there and then, simply stash in your clothing).

Rejoining my group, I realised I’d been a bit hasty in pulling up clothing in order to avoid the blizzard entering my undergarments. My thermals were still hovering low around my knees under my outerlayer, creating an unfortunate sort of John Wayne meets MC Hammer situation all the way back down the mountain.

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My Peebol verdict:

The Pros:

  • Very light and folds into a tiny packet (when empty)
  • Leaves no nasty yellow snow
  • No splash-back
  • Holds a surprising amount of pee
  • Contents can be disposed of down the toilet and all parts of the bag are recyclable

The Cons:

  • Must be used in good cover to avoid losing the bag in gale-force wind.
  • Bag-split paranoia when you stash it back in your pack

If you’re now thoroughly sold on the idea of peeing in a bag in sub-zero conditions, you can find Peebols and various other outdoor urination devices on Amazon. Shewees can of course be used in conjunction with the Peebol bags, but also work fine solo.


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Explorers Connect on Cairngorm Plateau

Bonus section: Cairngorms Poo Project

An important message for people out enjoying natural environments like the Cairngorms is to minimise human impact, ideally by leaving no trace of our presence on the mountains. Human waste is a big issue as this can build up quickly in popular areas, contaminating water and soils, ruining it for other people and for wildlife. Because of this, the Cairngorm Poo Project was set up in 2007 by mountain ranger Heather Morning. Hikers are encouraged to call in at the Ranger Base for biodegradable bags and a carrying pot, which is light-weight with a screw top to eliminate the risk of leakage or smell. The bags break down readily in the sewage system at the Ranger Base, where all parts can be returned. Not a bad deal, considering it’s free for all hikers!


And finally…

When she’s not peeing in bags, Rachel normally writes a blog about the wildlife around Gatwick Airport. This week is a Scottish special featuring the native wildlife and poop that can be found around the Cairngorm National Park – check it out here!

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Camping in Tanzania: my biggest ever travel freakout

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It all went horribly wrong as soon as I needed to use the toilet. Of course it did.

I’d held it together until then. I’d survived 2 months of solo travel through East Africa, having men shout at me and try to grab at me on the local matatu buses in Nairobi. I’d braved 2 weeks of living in a village without electricity or running water, learning how to draw water from a well and do all my business in a squat toilet. I’d volunteered for an NGO, working alongside inspirational individuals in harrowing conditions, every day exposing me to previously unimaginable levels of poverty. East Africa challenged me more than any place I’ve travelled before or since, and I was unable to shape my experiences into something I could understand. The knots of certainty that tied together my knowledge and expectations about the world had been shaken loose, leaving tangled strands of doubt drifting through my mind.

It wasn’t until the final few days of my trip, whilst on an organised safari of all things, that I finally came undone.

Determined to push aside my uncertainties and enjoy my final days in Tanzania, I’d arranged a trip to the legendary Ngorongoro crater:

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Rising at 6am in preparation for the long drive into the savannah, I’d held it together during the 7 hours we spent in a jeep without seatbelts. With nothing to hold me down, my head crashed painfully into the jeep roof whenever we went over a bump in the rough, unfinished road. I’d held it together as we drove past poverty-stricken villages, my stomach churning with guilt and helplessness as I imagined the conditions inside. I’d even held it together when we pulled up at our camp in the scorching sun, and I realised I was out of drinking water. Our guide still had several water bottles left over from our lunch, and I asked if I could have one.

“Err, no I don’t think so” came his quick reply.

I was momentarily stumped. He’d been freely offering out the same bottles earlier in the day!

“I’ll pay?” I tentatively offered. “Can I buy one?”

He declined me again. Mumbling vaguely, the guide started to walk away, taking all the water with him.

“Please!” I called out. “I’m really thirsty!”

He didn’t even turn around. Grunting in exasperation, I marched to my tent, only to hear the water man call after me, “Hey, just like, chill out… there’s no hurry…”

No explanation and no water came my way. I took a deep breath and continued walking, distracting myself by unfurling my sleeping bag inside my tent. Aside from the clothes I was wearing, I’d brought very little with me for the 2-night trip, so I had nothing else to unpack.

Storm clouds rolled in as the sun finally set, cutting through the heat of the day. We had a long, slow dinner in the simple dining hall, raindrops landing with dull metallic thuds on the corrugated iron roof. I’d finally been able to buy drinking water, and I was happily gulping it down as I chatted to a group of Mexican backpackers over dinner. We were excited, speculating about the animals we might see tomorrow as we greeted sunrise in the Serengeti national park.

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The only downside to finally being able to hydrate? I needed to pee. And I had foolishly not investigated the toilet situation before sunset.

Still, I was an optimist. It was only a few metres to the toilet block. And it was an actual toilet block! No peeing in the bushes for me, I thought to myself, as I navigated the falling rain with the dying light of my headtorch.

The dim bulbs swinging above the wooden dining benches were the only electric lights in the camp, and the soft glow emitting from these bulbs quickly faded as I took a few tentative steps away from the mess hall. Even the noise of my fellow travellers was quickly muted by the steady rain, obscuring my senses and making me feel quite alone in the dark night.

There was no path through the campsite, and my flip flops were slipping dangerously on the wet muddy grass. As soon as I came to a downhill slope, I slipped. It was almost comical. My feet skidded out from underneath me and I landed on my bum with a thud, scrambling for purchase on the wet grass. My head torch flew off, and as I lunged to grab it I lost my balance again, sinking my hands into the soft mud in a clumsy attempt to break my fall.

Soaked and filthy, my frustrations of the last 2 months poured out. I let rip a stream of expletives that would make a Hell’s Angel blush, as I desperately tried to leave this hellish incline. At last, I stumbled into the toilet block, shining my torch around the pitch black room. The beam of my headtorch illuminated the mud caking my hands and arms as I fumbled to turn on the nearest tap. But the tap was busted; not so much as a drop of water came out as I span the handle around again and again. I tried the next one, and the next… and they all came up dry. I dimly remembered overhearing something as I arrived at camp, preoccupied with the water bottle fiasco; the camp water supply had been interrupted. Not only were my hands, arms, face and my one set of clothes covered in mud, but there was no running water to clean myself.

I checked around the outside of the building for taps, and inside all the toilet cubicles, but the simple squat toilets offered no help. As I squatted down over the basic toilet facilities, my hair swung stiffly into my face, and I realised in dismay that even that was somehow caked in mud. And of course, there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

After an interrupted night’s sleep, painfully aware of how much dirt I was transferring into my sleeping bag, I sheepishly approached the dining hall for breakfast. I’d tried cleaning my hands with antibacterial gel, succeeding in swirling the muck into strange patterns on my fingers and palms. I had already drunk nearly all my drinking water, and after splashing a tiny amount onto my hands, I’d panicked, imagining if I had more problems buying water today.

“This is how I live now.” I thought to myself, as I approached my group of Mexican friends, sitting at the same table as last night.

“I’m a feral mud-creature trying unsuccessfully to infiltrate normal society.”

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Everyone at the table looked annoyingly clean as they ate breakfast with their hands. Of course, there was no cutlery in this culture. Of course I would have to eat with my filthy mud-creature hands.

The group stopped eating and looked at me cautiously.

Are you… okay?” they asked tentatively, too polite to directly ask why the hell I was caked in mud.

Umm, yeah…” I mumbled. “I kinda fell over in the rain last night.”

“We heard. You sounded quite… unhappy?”

I was unsure if this was a polite euphemism or the result of a limited English vocabulary. If by “unhappy” they meant “disproportionately angry at the whole damn country”, they’d be right.

I felt my cheeks burning red as I imagined these mild-mannered Mexicans overhearing my furious tirade last night. Fortunately, the mud disguised my embarrassment, and I tried to laugh it off. In that moment, there was nothing to do but continue with life as usual. I pulled up a seat and broke off a chunk of chapati with my dirt-encrusted hands.

“2 more days,” I thought to myself, as a gentle coating of dirt fell from my hair and landed in my breakfast. “2 days until I can go home and try to make some sense of all this.” I desperately needed time and space to start sifting through the dense tangle of experiences overwhelming my mind, to draw together the horrors and the beauty I had witnessed into some sort of whole. But most of all, I needed a freakin’ shower.

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