Toilet Survival Guide: China

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Bathrooms in China are interesting in the same way that soups in China are interesting; each one is totally different and you never know what you might find in there. I’d been travelling around Asia for a couple of months before I went to China, so I thought I was pretty well prepared for any toilet situation. Nuh-uh. Nothing in South East Asia prepared me for rural China. I can still hear the confused bemusement in the diary entries I wrote in China:

“Another toilet without a door… just a line of women staring at you!”

Let’s jump into the details…


Quick guide:

  • Squat toilets are the norm in most parts of China, especially in more rural areas
  • Bring your own toilet roll and soap/ antibacterial hand gel with you everywhere, as these items will rarely be provided
  • Sit down toilets were available at every hostel and guest house I stayed at, except while trekking
  • In small, off the beaten track villages, toilets are a communal affair (doors optional)
  • Trains link most major cities, and they have squat toilets on board
  • Buses are useful when the trains are booked out; they do not have toilets on board, but they do stop at toilets during the journey
  • Learn which characters indicate male/ female toilet before your trip

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Welcome to China

I spent a month backpacking around China, and pretty much nothing reminded me of England. China was totally unrecognisable to me, and I found the culture, the people and the history endlessly fascinating. Outside of major cities, you might not meet another English speaker for days on end. I had a phrase book with me, and I spent a lot of time pointing at written characters and gesturing wildly. A particularly useful symbol to memorise is “men” and “women” in the context of toilets. Not all toilet signs have English translations, or those strangely proportioned stick figure pictures on the doors to help you out. Learning a few Chinese characters can prevent a seriously embarrassing misunderstanding.

Here are the most common toilet signs you’ll see:

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Accommodation

I stayed at hostels and guest houses throughout China, and they all had western style sit down toilets. This even included one guesthouse in Shangri-La, Yunnan, run by a local couple who didn’t speak a word of English. I haggled for a room entirely by finger counting. They raised 4 fingers, asking for 40 yuan, or about £4.

“No way!” I communicated, by making a shocked face and shaking my head.

I raised 2 fingers to counter offer (without swearing at them!) and now it was their turn to play the haggling game. Shaking their heads and exchanging dismayed looks, I imagined what they were saying:

“20 yuan! For this delightful, high-quality room! No madame, that would be an insult, you must give us 30, that’s our very best price.”

Without actually saying a word they raised 3 fingers and we shook hands to seal the deal, all smiling again.

The toilets at this guesthouse were great, and they were clearly not used to accommodating English backpackers. As long as you BYOTP (bring your own toilet paper!) you shouldn’t have anything to worry about with guest house toilets. 


Trekking

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The only guesthouse I stayed at without a sit-down toilet was in the Himalayas, a simple trekking lodge in Tiger Leaping Gorge. This was a classic trekking squat-toilet situation, navigated thus:

  1. Check out our guide on how to use a squat toilet

  2. Find your head torch, soap, toilet paper and flip flops. It can be pitch black in the mountains after sunset, with no light pollution and very limited electric lights. Using a head-torch keeps both hands free for clothing rearrangement and toilet paper use. After a full day of hiking up the side of a mountain, the mere idea of putting hiking boots back on to walk to the toilet can be painful!

  3. Set off down the mountain, away from the small circle of buildings which make up the guesthouse.

  4. Find the outlaying hut which contains a toilet. It’ll probably smell a little, but not too much, because it’s cold in the mountains. This hut contains a small hole in the ground, which is where you’ll do your business.

  5. Close the door as much as you’re able to. In this case you could achieve about 70% privacy, leaving a large enough gap that if someone stood in just the right place they could see everything. Be grateful for the dark! Or ask a friend to stand guard if the guesthouse is busy. 

  6. Squat to use the toilet, throwing used toilet paper in the bin provided.

  7. Locate the cold water tap, or bucket of water outside the toilet for a hand wash (if the water is outside the toilet, it’s for hand washing, not bum washing)

  8. Look up at the sky before you head back towards the lights. Odds are the stars will blow your mind.

Tiger Leaping Gorge is also notable for the “world’s best view toilet”. Sure, a lot of places claim this title, but this is a pretty spectacular place to use a toilet:

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Getting around

When I told a friend I was going to China for a month, he looked slightly bemused.

“What are you going to do in China for a whole month?”

Well, as I told him, China is massive, and a month is nowhere near long enough to see it all. China also contains pesky mountains and deserts which make getting around quite a challenge. If you’re planning to travel around you’re likely to experience some long journeys, which is when you’ll have the least control over your access to toilets.

China does have an excellent train network, with several different comfort levels available, including luxury sleeper carriages with pillows and blankets. All trains have squat toilets and running water on board, so you don’t need to worry about lack of toilet access overnight. (If your bladder is the size of mine, lack of toilet access at night can be a major concern!) It’s best to bring your own toilet roll and soap though, as these are unlikely to be provided. Train toilets do tend to get pretty dirty a few hours into a journey, but that’s a worldwide phenomenon.

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Typical toilet on a Chinese train. Source: Wrightbus

Further train considerations…

Remember those luxury sleeper carriages I mentioned? In August, high tourist season for the rising Chinese middle class, I came nowhere near those fabled luxury sleeper carriages. The best I could do was “hard seat” class. Imagine sitting on a wooden park bench, squashed between one man smoking and waving ash around indiscriminately and another man who periodically spits on the floor. Now imagine sitting there for 12 hours overnight, because it was the only ticket not sold out weeks in advance. That was my repeated experience of train travel in China.

Of course, the toilet experience is the same whether you’re in a luxury private sleeper or a hard seat. I just thought you should know.

Long distance buses

The train network in China gets more sparse the further west you travel, so if you head out to more rural areas you’ll probably find yourself on a bus. In my experience, long distance buses and coaches don’t have toilets on board, but they do make regular toilet stops. Of course, unless you understand Chinese you’ll have no idea when the toilet breaks are coming or how long the journey is going to be, which can lead you to hedge your bets and get up to pee every few hours. Long distance buses have a reclining seat or a sleeping pod option. If you get the pod you can lie totally flat, but it’s such as small space that I didn’t fit in on my side, and I needed to wiggle in flat like a worm, then out, then in again every time we made a toilet break.

One more thing…

Outside the main cities, very few people speak English. When catching a bus or a train, you’ll need to walk around looking at the written Chinese character for the place you want to go, comparing it to the characters you see on the front of buses or trains, so you can jump on when you find a match. No, this system is not foolproof. At one point I got off a train at entirely the wrong station and didn’t realise for an hour. Totally oblivious, I got off my train and into a taxi, having recognised part of the Chinese character displayed on the platform. A taxi driver who spoke as much English as I do Chinese happily agreed to give me a ride, then drove round in circles for a really long time, before eventually dropping me off in the middle of town with a vague gesture at a building that might have been a hostel. It was after he’d driven off with my money that I realised I had no idea what city I was in. China is an adventure.

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Public toilet adventures

China has public toilets! Public toilets are not a given in many parts of the world, so this is a very welcome situation, especially for women. However, the quality of public toilets does vary hugely, and you can run into troublesome lack of door situations….

While in China I took a day trip to a small but fascinating village just outside of Lijiang, in the Yunnan province. Prayer flags fluttered between buildings and the local Buddhist monasteries were surrounded with prayer wheels, filling the village with good karma as they spun. After a day of exploring, I was on the look out for a toilet. I’d had street food for lunch, chunks of tofu fried up in unfamiliar spices, eaten out of greasy paper while wondering the streets. This was such a spicy and delicious lunch that it was difficult to identify the main ingredient as tofu, which should be the aim of all tofu-based cooking.

The downside of eating street food? No restaurant means no toilet access. So when I came across a small building with a separate entrance for men and women, I didn’t hesitate to check it out. It was busy inside, a crowd of women standing around waiting to use the facilities. I joined the crowd inside and was immediately met with an alarming sight. 4 long troughs had been carved into the floor, narrow grooves with a walkway through the middle. The troughs had a slight gradient to them, and each one was filled with a stream of urine running down towards the far wall, where it was funnelled out of sight. It looked like about 20 people could do their business at once, with no barriers of any kind between each person. A woman pushed past me to an available space on one of the troughs. Facing the back of the women in front of her, she positioned herself with one foot on either side of the trough, pulled up her skirt and started peeing into the stream. Another woman squatted down behind her, leaving a metre or so of space between them. No one was acting like anything out of the ordinary was happening; they were just getting on with it. 

“Just think of it like a urinal,” I told myself.

“A row of urinals like what men use all the time. But with more bums on display.”

Arranging my clothes for maximum privacy, I found a spot in the corner and squatted down to pee, keeping my eyes down in the hopes that if I couldn’t see anyone else, they couldn’t see me. Looking down, I saw small piles of turds along the trough, parting the urine that flowed around them. I quickly looked up again. A child was staring right at me. So was her mum. At least they weren’t pointing and laughing. I stood up and rearranged my clothing as quickly as possible, trying desperately not to show anyone my white bum.

As I got on the bus back towards Lijiang later that day, I thought about how embarrassment is culturally relative. If all those women use trough toilets every day without acting awkward or self-conscious, then that must mean it’s not actually embarrassing… right? And anyway, how embarrassed can you really be in front of people you’ll never see again? I just hope I’m not remembered as the only tourist crazy enough to use the trough.


Let’s end on a positive note:

China is currently in the process of upgrading its toilets and sit down toilets are becoming more common. In major cities like Beijing and Shanghai you might well not encounter any squat toilets at all, let alone a trough. And if you do encounter squat toilets or a trough… well, consider it a cultural experience.

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Toilet Guide: Morocco + Trekking in the Sahara

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Friend of the blog Mark recently returned from a month-long road trip through Morocco, and naturally the first thing we asked him was “how were the toilets??”

Being a normal person, Mark answered in one sentence and then tried to tell us about some of the other things he’d done in Morocco. We then asked him 50 follow-up questions about toilets, until he thought we were super weird. As it turned out, he’d already prepared us an excellent step-by-step photo-guide on “How to Poop in the Sahara”, which was basically the best thing ever! He also provided all the rest of the photos you see in this article, and you can check out more of his amazing work here:  http://www.mdleaver.com

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I also visited Marrakesh myself in 2012, and am pleased to report I only encountered good quality, Western-style toilets there. Marrakesh is extremely well set up for short city breaks, and the facilities are excellent.

Quick guide

  • Towns on the main tourist trail including Fez and Marrakesh have Western-style toilets readily available.
  • Locals often use squat-toilets, particularly in rural areas.
  • Homestays will probably have squat-toilets.
  • If you’re staying in towns and cities, you will likely have good access to toilets at your accommodation and restaurants.
  • When travelling between towns, coaches will generally make stops at places with toilets. You’ll be pleased to hear trains have western-style toilets on board.

Accommodation

In the main traveller destinations such as Essaouira, Marrakesh, Rabat and Fez, your guesthouse or hotel will generally have a Western- style sit-down toilet. It’ll probably provide toilet paper too, but it’s always smart to bring your own.

When you get out into more rural areas, you’re likely to encounter some squat-toilets. Locals use a water based cleaning system, the sort that involves a bucket of water next to the toilet rather than a bum-gun. Curiously, they do not always have the bucket-in-a-bucket system that many places adopt; it’s often just one bucket filled with water. If you’re not happy using this, you’ll want to bring your own toilet paper with you. Everywhere. And be sure to pour some of this water down the toilet to flush it.


Out and about: self-drive

Morocco has public toilets! Even in very remote places, you’ll come across handy little roadside buildings like these:

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Which is great news if you’re road tripping. Although of course, if you have your own vehicle you actually have quite a lot of control over your toilet stops, compared to being on public transport. When driving, you can stop whenever you need and find a private bush. Even up in the Atlas mountains you’ll find some public toilets, although they become further and further apart as you travel to move remote places.

Out and about: public transport

Trains do have Western-style sit-down toilets on board, which is excellent. Although like train toilets in most of the world, they can get pretty dirty pretty quickly, and the toilets may well be overflowing by the time your train pulls into its final destination. Best to go at the beginning of the journey if you’re concerned about the cleanliness factor.

Although buses tend not to have toilets on board, if you’re going on a longer journey the coaches will make regular toilet stops. These coaches are pretty comfortable, and yes, they generally stop at places which have toilets. Morocco isn’t a huge country and the main cities are connected by a good road network, so you’re not likely to do any really long bus journeys. 

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Hammams

Hammams are the Moroccan equivalent of spas. At a hammam, you can get scrubbed, steamed and scraped until you’re pretty sure you no longer have any skin left. Then they scrub you again, and massage you in that special, “I don’t know whether this is really great or really painful!” kind of way. Whatever your take on a hammam, there’s no denying it’s a traditional Moroccan experience, and you’ll feel super clean afterwards.

Hammams tend to have the bucket-in-a-bucket system in their toilets, which is probably a good indication of what city-dwelling locals use.


How to Poop in the Sahara

Multi-day camel treks across the desert will present some toilet challenges. Depending on which trip you book, you may or may not have toilet access at your camp for the evening. This is definitely something to clarify before you start your Lawrence of Arabia reenactment. There’s a full range of tours available and I’m sure some of the more upmarket tours set up camp at places with excellent toilet facilities. On the other end of the spectrum, you may end up sleeping out under the stars with no toilet facilities whatsoever, which I did in India.

Many Sahara tours stop at homestays and nomadic houses. These do often have western style toilets, with the only catch being there’s no plumbing. Rather, you’ll find toilet bowls placed over deep pits which collect the waste. This makes no difference from a functional point of view. You can use a pit toilet just as you would use a plumbed toilet (although someone will need to fill in the pit when it gets full, dig a new pit nearby and move the toilet accordingly. But that someone is very unlikely to be you!)

But what if you need to go during the day, when you’re out in the middle of the desert? In the middle of the desert, however fancy your tour is, you will not find a sit-down toilet. In fact, you might be greeted with a vista like this:

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This is not a good place to go to the toilet.

Don’t panic; the Sahara is not a homogeneous landscape. Sooner or later you’ll find a scene more like this:

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This is a much better spot. Shade, privacy and a nice gradient too.

Well, maybe not total privacy…

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Once any curious camels have moved on, you’ll want to prepare your toilet roll.

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Sticks can provide a convenient toilet roll holder. Sand is pretty useful too, as it makes it easier to dig yourself a hollow in preparation.

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You’ll want to face uphill, so your waste travels away from you. When you’re done, the ideal thing is to burn your used toilet paper. If this isn’t possible, you’ll want to bury it fairly deep so no one else finds it. This is quite easy with soft sand, especially if you already did some digging in preparation. You can also buy small folding spades to help you dig your wilderness hole, there are plenty of good options available on Amazon*. Although in the desert, you can easily dig enough of a hole by scrapping sand aside with your shoe. 

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You might even have one of these little guys to help with the clean up…

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Morocco is a fascinatingly exotic land, just a stone’s throw from Europe. Whether you’re trekking through the Sahara, exploring the markets or relaxing at a hammam, be reassured that the toilets shouldn’t cause you any problems. Enjoy your adventure!

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All photos in this article were provided by Mark Leaver and if you haven’t already, you should definitely go check out more of his excellent work (including more lovely Morocco pics) at www.mdleaver.com!



*This is an affiliate link. If you buy anything on Amazon after following this link, we’ll receive a small commission at no extra cost to yourself. Thank you for supporting the blog!

Toilet guide: Latin America

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If you’ve travelled through Asia or Africa, you’ll most likely be pleasantly surprised by the toilet quality in Latin America. Western style sit-down toilets are most definitely the norm in this part of the world, unless you get properly off the beaten track. I travelled across 10 countries in Latin America, and along the way I encountered exactly 1 squat toilet, compared to hundreds of white throne toilets.

Quick guide:

  • Western style, flushing sit down toilets are very common pretty much everywhere.
  • Few of these toilets can flush toilet paper – you’ll need to throw used toilet paper in the bin.
  • You’ll also need to provide your own toilet paper basically everywhere; have a roll in your day pack.
  • Buses in South America have toilets on board. Wonderful, sit down flushing toilets.
  • Buses in Central America do not have toilets, but they’re super interesting.
  • Minivans link common traveller destinations in Central America and they make regular toilet stops.

Accommodation

Honestly, you don’t have a lot to worry about here. If you plan to stay in budget places, you’ll need to bring your own toilet paper and soap, but all the guest houses and hostels I stayed at had respectable western style toilet facilities (except for one homestay – more on that later!) Whether I was in a village in the Andes or a lodge in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, the toilets were honestly fine. Okay, I did find a bat in the shower of my rainforest bathroom, but he was totally friendly. The more you pay, the better the facilities will be.


On the road – South America

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I found western toilets to be very common whilst out and about whilst in Peru, Chile, Argentina and Brazil.  They might not always be clean, but good toilet facilities can be found pretty much everywhere in urban cities and in the main travel destinations. I would definitely consider Chile, Argentina and Brazil to be first world, developed countries, and their toilet facilities as good as anything in Europe. Even in the less-developed countries of Peru and Bolivia I found sit down toilets pretty much everywhere (okay, the toilet at a local school I volunteered at had a shower curtain instead of door, but it was still a sit-down toilet!)

Passenger trains aren’t really a thing in Latin America, which means unless you have the money and the inclination to fly, you’ll be spending a lot of time on buses. South America in particular is a big continent, and when you’re backpacking in Argentina and Brazil it can feel like everywhere is a 20-hour bus ride from everywhere else.

Despite the distances, South American buses are amongst the most comfortable in the world. There are usually different price options, but if you go for the slightly more expensive coaches the facilities are excellent, much better than on many buses I’ve taken in Europe and North America. Reclining seats are standard, as are comfy headrests and supportive foot and leg rests. One overnight bus in Chile even had a conductor who gave every passenger a juice box and a biscuit in the morning.

The best thing is, all coaches have toilets on board! Now some of these toilets do have signs on them advising you not to poop on the bus; liquids only. But you do get a flushing toilet and sink which you can access whenever you need during the journey.


On the road – Central America

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Bus journeys are also long in Central America, even though the actual distances are much shorter. Most places are linked by narrow windy roads, precariously clinging to the side of mountains. I was there during “landslide season” in Guatemala, and boulders in the road were a common sight. Overtaking on blind bends half way up a mountain was standard driving practice. So, it makes sense that night buses aren’t really a thing in Central America.

I didn’t find any good quality coaches in Central America. The locals tended to take chicken buses, which are old American school buses shipped down through Mexico into Guatemala, where they’re painted bright colours and used as public transport:

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Backpacker minivans are also common. Organised through travel agents, these minivans run between big traveller destinations in Central America. Neither option had a toilet on board, but the backpacker minivans made regular toilet breaks, and they actually stopped at toilets.


Toilets on the death road, Bolivia

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Bolivia is one of the least developed countries in South America, and contains some of the more sketchy toilets the continent has to offer. Due to poor planning, I only spent a few days in Bolivia so I can’t claim to be an expert on their toilets (although it’s somewhere I’d love to go back to!) In those few days, I did find a public toilet with no doors. It was a row of standard looking toilet cubicles, all containing sit down flushing toilets. There were walls between the toilets… but no doors! I was on a tour, cycling down death road at the time, and compared to what we were doing, using a toilet without a door didn’t seem like that big a deal. Frankly, I was pleasantly surprised we could be in the middle of nowhere in Bolivia and could still access sit-down toilets every few hours. So all the women on the tour used the cubicles, politely averting our gazes before heading back out on the road.

As to why the toilets had no doors, I still have no idea. Maybe they ran out of money? Or maybe, like my own trip to Bolivia, they were just poorly planned. It remains a delightful mystery.


The first time I ever encountered a squat toilet; Peru

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The first time I ever came face to face with a squat toilet was on an island in the middle of Lake Titicaca, Peru, 3800 metres above sea level. This was problematic for several reasons.

  1. We were on a small, very rural island. On an island, you can’t just go in search of another toilet like you could in a town.
  2. We were staying there for 24 hours. A lot of toilet needs can arise in 24 hours.

The island itself was stunning. The toilet was was, as far as I could tell, absent. Instead, there was a hole in the ground, covered by a small congregated iron shack. A bucket of water for flushing sat nearby. The shack was a good few metres from the main house, which was enough of a challenge in the pitch black night. As night fell, I gathered around this hut with 2 fellow backpackers, and we stared in dismay at the so-called facilities.

My fellow travellers were seriously debating whether they should take their Imodium instants to block themselves up, thus guaranteeing they would not have to go number 2 in the hole. (Side note – this is a terrible idea. Don’t take Imodium unless you have diarrhoea, or it could be LONG time before things get moving again.) I was just as intimidated by the hole as they were, but I’d gone just before we left the mainland, so was in a prime position to wait until we returned to “civilisation” the following morning.

When it came to doing a wee, I was very glad to have a head torch with me. This gave me both hands free as I squatted with my roll of toilet paper in one hand, and afterwards when I poured water down the hole to flush the toilet.

In hindsight, the main reason we found this squat toilet so intimidating was because it was literally the only one we’d seen. Toilets are so good in Latin America, we hadn’t had any practice with using squat toilets. Check out our guide to using a squat toilet, have a head torch, toilet paper, and antibacterial hand gel with you and you’ll be ready for anything.

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India: How to survive 17 hour bus journeys with a micro bladder

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This article deals with the issue of toilets specifically while travelling by bus; also check out our general guide to toilets in India here.



I’m going to preface this with a warning; some of what I’m about to describe might sound frickin’ terrible. Long distance buses in India are probably the single biggest toilet challenge I’ve come up against in all my years of travel. The places I travelled to by bus were definitely worth the visit, but reaching them could have been way easier. I hope that by sharing my experiences, including some advice I sorely wish I’d heard before I travelled to India, future travellers can avoid repeating some of my worst travel toilet experiences!



To start, because I’m an optimist, here are some good things about long distance buses in India:

  • You can buy tickets last minute, which you can’t always do on trains.
  • Some overnight buses have beds instead of seats! You lie down (providing your own blanket and pillow), draw the curtain around you, and sleep horizontally!

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Now here are some of the not so good things about long distance buses in India:

  • They drive around corners very fast. You’re not strapped in if you went for the bed option, so you fly back and forth, scrabbling for purchase.
  • Some of the beds are designed for 2 people. You could end up next to someone, sliding back and forth and banging into each other in a small space for 10 hours. I think cultural considerations would not allow a strange man and woman to be partnered like this, but the bus company had no problem pairing me with another female backpacker I’d only just met. It was an awkward 10 hours.
  • Many buses play very loud bollywood music and movies All. Night. Long.
  • Temperature control is limited; it may be freezing in winter and boiling in summer. I was so cold on one bus I took all my clothes out my bag and attempted to put them all on at once, like a sleep-deprived hippy scarecrow.
  • They do not have toilets on board.
  • Even if the journey is 17 hours long, you may not stop at any toilets.
  • That’s right, you might have to go 17 hours without access to a toilet.


The way this works is, the bus driver stops with no warning when he needs a toilet break or a cigarette. He happily pisses by the side of the road. Other men get off the bus and piss on the road. The women cross their legs and stay put. Except for me and my micro bladder, who can be found frantically squashing my feet into my hiking boots, jumping out my bed and asking random people:

Toilet? Is there a toilet?”

Only to have people shrug at me, probably thinking:

Yeah now you mention it there isn’t a toilet, huh as someone who can happily pee whilst standing up I’d never noticed”

So things like this would happen:

  • I find a low wall a short distance away, and squat behind it. Remember I mentioned it’s freezing? So I’m also fumbling with the layers of leggings and hippy trousers I’m wearing without taking off my yak wool gloves if at all possible, whilst I convince myself this low wall provides total privacy.
  • I find a ditch by the side of the road and squat into it so I’m hidden. Kinda. Somehow, when it’s 3am, dark and everyone is either asleep or also peeing in public it doesn’t seem as bad as it sounds. On one middle of the night bus stop there really was nothing to offer privacy, so a system of women round one side of the bus and men round the other side was hastily developed. The few Indian woman who got off the bus to pee solemnly squatted in the road, their saris preserving their modesty. It was too surreal to be embarrassing.
  • Other times I’ve talked my way into a toilet at bus stops by asking absolutely everyone where the toilet is, until finally someone takes me to one. This only works if you stop in a busy place, and I would then have to run flat out back to the bus in total fear that they’ve left without me.

Some long distance buses don’t even call at bus stations, so you have to stand on a random street corner whilst waiting for the bus, which may arrive anytime between right now and in 3 hours time. There is no toilet to use whilst you wait, although sometimes they have the sort of street urinals that don’t have drains so all the piss runs right down the street. I was once in this situation for such a long time that I gave up and squatted to pee in a doorway whilst waiting for my night bus. It was dark and I was entirely alone, which was a fairly nerve-racking situation right up until I needed to pee, when suddenly it seemed way convenient. There was no way I was getting onto a night bus already needing to pee, and sure enough when this bus did turn up it was hours and hours before we made a middle of night stop (and of course it didn’t stop by a toilet.)

Also, when you finally do arrive at your destination, there probably won’t be a toilet available to use straight away. You generally have to wait until you check into your accommodation. I took the bus to Jaipur, and this only stopped once in the whole 17 hour journey. Seriously, once. I spent the whole morning desperately trying to think of anything except my full bladder, as we slowly drove through the city traffic. Then the hostel I wanted to stay at was all booked up, so I had to travel EVEN FURTHER before I could pee. I think you could just ask the bus driver to stop if you were really desperate; the only problem is, there probably wouldn’t be a toilet where you stopped because of the dire lack of public toilets in India. Lack of access to toilet facilities can be a huge issue for women in Indian society, affecting their independence and education.



So how can female backpackers prepare for this?

Firstly, remember that traveling India wouldn’t be nearly so enriching if it was easy!

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Secondly, follow this practical advice:

  • Consider bringing a She Wee (or similar) with you, so you can pee standing up without too much clothing rearrangement. I didn’t bring one to India, but think it would have been super helpful. You can buy reusable ones, or disposables. Reusable ones obviously need washing, but some come with a carry case for hygiene. And, if there’s no toilet, you can pretty much guarantee there’s no bin, so you’d have to carry the used product with you anyway.
  • Another idea is to wear a long skirt/ sarong which you can pee under. Local women would squat down and pee under the privacy of their saris – the trick is to hike it up enough that the material doesn’t get covered in pee, but not so much that anything is on display.
  • Have loo roll available in your pockets, for easy access. Finding loo roll buried in the bottom of your bag whilst hovering in a small, dark and dirty toilet is difficult.
  • Always have antibacterial hand gel handy.
  • It’s not smart to dehydrate yourself, but if you know that certain drinks made you pee more (such as tea/coffee/alcohol), avoid these during and prior to a long bus journey.
  • Have small change available for toilet fees; if you do manage to stop somewhere with an actual toilet, or you start your journey at a bus station with a toilet, you will have to pay for entry.
  • If you’re really desperate to go, please do ask the driver to stop. You might sit suffering for hours otherwise.


The bus from Lumbini to Varanasi

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One of my more questionable travel decisions was to travel overland from Kathmandu, Nepal to Varanasi, India. You can read about the much more pleasant Nepalese section of this journey here!  In fact, if you haven’t read it yet, I suggest you do so now, so you get the full effect of the contrast between the two sections of this journey.

Done? Alright, you can continue:


After a flying visit to Lumbini, I crossed the border out of Nepal around 7am, and I instantly knew I was back in India. As I walked under a brick archway painted green, white and orange, I felt like everything had shifted around me. The energy was different. The streets looked different. India swallowed me up and drew me in so completely that even 100 metres down the road from the Nepalese border, I felt a million miles from Nepal.

I was going to be on the local bus for the next 14 hours, winding my way to Varanasi. No buses in India have toilets on board, but at least the bigger coaches have luggage storage. This bus had no storage space, so I had to hang onto my big backpack the whole journey, keeping it squashed in front of me. Fortunately I had nabbed the front seat, which had a little more leg room. This bus would make two poorly spaced-out toilet stops during the day, leaving everyone with hours and hours to think about their full bladders. Both stops did have public pay-to-use squat toilets though, and even food stalls. At the first stop I ate some samosas being sold outside the toilet. They were delicious. I threw them up as soon as I arrived in Varanasi, which taught me not to eat food that’s being sold right outside a toilet, even if I’m super hungry. Also, the lack of toilet access becomes even more of a pressing issue when you’ve got a bad stomach.

So I was feeling pretty queasy and also needing to pee (again) by mid-afternoon. The bus was designed so 3 seats were squashed into a space that would normally fit 2 adults, and I was in the middle. With this set-up, there physically wasn’t enough room for all 3 of us to lean back at once, so we had an unspoken rotation system going on. How it worked was, the 2 people on the edges would lean back whilst I would lean forwards, then after half an hour or so we’d all change positions so I could enjoy the backrest for a brief interval. Repeat for 14 hours. 

I got on the bus with another backpacker who I’d only just met, and we sat next to each other.

What I was thinking:

Cool! Someone to talk to and share this experience with! I’m going to ask lots of questions so we can have a great conversation and forget about how squashed and uncomfortable we are!”

What he was thinking:

No fucking small talk.”

So I gave up with making conversation and we sat in silence for 13 hours. Which was kind of hilarious when the local guy sitting next to us asked if we were married. And it did mean we could watch each other’s bags whilst the other one went out to use the toilet, instead of dragging ALL our luggage with us because there was nothing to stop someone picking it up and wandering off with it.

Side note:
Bringing your big pack into a squat toilet is massive pain. You don’t want to put your stuff on the floor of a public toilet, but holding it whilst squatting is quite a feat. Generally I would recommend keeping the backpack on your back whilst you use a squat toilet; it shouldn’t get in the way as long as there’s some space behind you.

In hour 14, out the blue, the other backpacker started talking to me. Then he asked where was good to stay in Varanasi and did we want to share a rickshaw? So we did, which was fine except there was only one good room available at my chosen guesthouse, which he happily took for himself, smiling like “well your problem for being way too polite all the time, you can have the expensive room with the mice problem kay thanks bye.”

So I checked into my worse quality, more expensive room, and spent a while throwing up my ill-judged samosas next to the mice. But once I’d got over all that, I realised I was in Varanasi, one of the most ancient and spiritual places on the entire planet. I spent four days just watching everything that goes on; watching bodies being cremated then scattered in the holy Ganges river, whilst pilgrims bathed among the fresh ashes. Watching shirtless men wash their herds of buffaloes in the murky river, and watching people do their laundry just downstream from the burning ghats, painstakingly laying crisp white sheets out to dry in the hot sun. Hindus believe that washing or being cremated in these sacred waters will help cleanse your spirit of any sins committed in previous lives, and people travel remarkably far for the experience. The buffaloes weren’t being cleansed of their sins, however. That’s just classic India; a mashup of holy ritual and pragmatic everyday chores. I was so totally enthralled by the delightful chaos of Varanasi, I forgot all about my terrible journey.

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Here’s the thing: long bus journeys in India might be generally awful, but the country has an excellent rail network. And domestic flights are always an option too, if you have a slightly bigger budget. It is totally feasible to travel India without getting a long distance bus, and for a budget backpacker, I would definitely recommend the train over the bus for long journeys. Trains are more comfortable, you have toilets and running water on board, people sell food and drinks, and you can stretch your legs. You can read more about travelling by train in India here.

Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to avoid bus travel.

Whilst in Varanasi, I learned the Dalai Lama was going to be teaching in Dharamsala in 3 days time, a town over a thousand kilometres away. I knew I had to to be there no matter what. The problem was, Dharamsala is deep in the Himalayas, inaccessible by train.

So I started planning my next bus journey, ready to do it all over again. More on that another time!

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Dharamsala, adopted home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile.

Toilet Guide: India

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So, India is quite probably the most incredible country on our entire planet. Let’s hold that thought in our heads going forwards.

India is also quite an undertaking. India is huge. India is frustrating. India is modern and ancient, holy and profound, exhilarating and infuriating. And that’s all before you attempt the considerable feat of using the toilets there.

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In case there weren’t already enough conflicting messages in India… even the bins are holy!

Writing a guide to toilets in India is a bit like writing a guide to “toilets of the world”. It feels about as ambitious. You will likely experience the full range of toilets the world has to offer in India. You could be using an impossibly posh throne of a toilet one minute, then pooping in the gutter the next. Cos, you know, it’s India. You have to go a lot.

I think of India as a micro-world; every state is like a new country. You can travel a few hundred miles in India and find that the food, culture, people, laws and of course toilets are all suddenly completely different. And everywhere you go, you’ll encounter the same tangle of impenetrable paradoxes – a sea of totally contradictory ideas which are all equally true and important and somehow all work together.

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Quick guide:

  • 70% of households in India have no access to toilets. Defecating in the open is still fairly common in many parts of India, although as a traveller you will not necessarily see any of this. The towns on the “tourist trail” all have toilet facilities. 
  • But, these toilets vary hugely in quality. You will find very basic squat toilets and very fancy squat toilets. You will find buckets in buckets and also bum guns. Ideally, read up on all of these before you go.
  • Toilet paper will rarely be provided for free unless you’re staying somewhere upmarket. So bring your own toilet paper with you. Everywhere. You’ll find it for sale in many shops and some guesthouses, but it definitely pays to pack it before you go, in case of emergency. 
  • Some public toilets give you a wodge of toilet paper when you enter. You will be charged for entry to these toilets, so have small coins handy.
  • Accommodation aimed at a western audience will likely offer sit-down toilets, unless its super cheap. Hostels that charged £3 a night tended to have sit-down toilets. Hostels that charged £1 a night usually had squat toilets. Yes India is VERY cheap.
  • Not all cafes/ restaurants have toilets. There are a lot of great places to eat hovering in the space in between “street food” and “actual café”. These set-ups generally do not have toilet facilities.
  • Public toilet facilities in most towns range from limited to non-existent. In larger towns, shopping malls will likely have toilets you can use. 
  • You can’t flush your toilet paper down the toilets in India. Use the poopy paper bin. OR learn to use the bum gun and then you will only have to use toilet paper for drying your already clean bum.


Accommodation

Toilet facilities in your accommodation will be directly linked to how expensive and fancy your guesthouse is. If you pay more for a nicer place you will very likely find only great toilets in your hotels. I paid an average of £3 a night in India, which bought me a private room with shared toilet. In this price range I often found guest houses had both squat toilets and sit-down toilets available, so you could take your pick.



Toilets on transport

India is big. If you are overland travelling in India, you will likely be in for some long journeys, either by bus or train. Domestic flights are the only way to maintain guaranteed good quality toilet access.

Travelling by train

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The train network is wonderful, expansive and just as delightfully mystifying as the rest of India.

Trains in India have toilets on board. This is very welcome news, especially if you’re planning on doing some serious train trips. I spent an enjoyable 40 hours on the train from Goa to Delhi, sipping cup after cup of chai safe in the knowledge I could pee whenever I wanted. The toilets are generally squat toilets, although you find some sit-down toilets on trains as well. That said, by the end of the journey the toilets are usually so gross you don’t want to touch anything with any part of your body or clothing. In those situations, I honestly find it easier to use the squat toilets than the sit-down toilets. Because seriously, what’s the point of a sit-down toilet if you can’t actually sit on it?

A word on balance. Trains in India are bumpy, so one issue with squatting to use the toilet is trying to not fall head over heels every time the train goes over a bump. I generally find a rail to hold onto with one hand, for balance. Like you do on the tube/ subway.

There are always sinks with running water on trains, so as long as you have a bar of soap handy you can have a proper hand wash afterwards.

Something else to note is traditionally, train tracks are a popular toilet spot in India. By squatting on the rails, you ensure a nice gap between your bum and the ground, a fact which has not gone unnoted by the Indian population…

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Buses

Buses do not have toilets on board. Nor do they make toilet stops. This is information I sorely wish I knew before I boarded the 17-hour bus to Jaipur. Lack of toilet access during bus journeys is such an important topic we have a whole post on it here!



Further considerations:

Toilets in Amritsar

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You can stay at Sikhism’s most holy place, The Golden Temple, for free. Free bed, free meals, free toilet and shower facilities. This is incredible and humbling, especially considering at night hundreds of pilgrims spread out blankets to sleep on the floor, and they still give up beds for western, non-Sikh travellers.

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The toilets are cleaned everyday by volunteers so they stay in excellent condition. Inexplicably, all the toilets have holes in the doors, just at a height where someone could comfortably stand and stare at you whilst you squat to use them. Which is just what happened to my friend Nick. So, that’s a thing.


Toilets during the monsoon

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During the monsoon, everything floods. See that street above? That was bone dry literally 20 minutes before I took that photo. I spent time in a rural village in India during the monsoon, and the infrastructure really struggled to cope with the rains. The toilets didn’t flush because the land was so waterlogged, which got really gross really quickly. Also, immediately prior to the monsoon, during the hottest and driest time of year, the wells dry up and the toilets stop flushing. So, if you will be spending time in rural areas do consider the weather. You might face a considerable period of time with a deceptively non-flushing toilet, panicking as the toilet bowl fills higher and higher instead of flushing


That’s one reason why travellers are usually advised to avoid the monsoon season!



Toilets in private houses

If you’re lucky enough to get invited for dinner at someone’s home, you might be surprised by the toilets you find. I was invited to a wonderful Diwali dinner with a local family in Southern India, and they had a very clean and lovely squat toilet in their huge house. This was a pretty well off family; they simply preferred their squat toilet to a sit-down toilet. It can be surprising for Western travellers to learn that many Indian people use squat toilets by choice, because they genuinely find them better than sit-down toilets. We also ate dinner on the floor; not because the family didn’t have a table, but because sitting on the floor is during meals is an important part of this  family’s culture. India is good at challenging your assumptions!



And lastly, don’t forget your toilet kit!

We would recommend you carry toilet paper and antibacterial hand gel with you at all times, unless you’re happy to use the bucket in a bucket to clean yourself and adopt the “left hand for cleaning, right hand for eating” system the locals use.

We also recommend bringing your own bar of soap in a soap box on your trip to India, because sometimes you just need a proper hand wash and there’s no guarantee anywhere will provide soap.

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So,  got all that? With a bit of planning and preparation, you can face the toilets in India with absolute confidence. Just remember, no matter how many plans you have for India, India will always surprise you with the unexpected. Which is why so many travellers fall completely in love with this amazing country  🙂

Toilet Guide: Nepal

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We love Nepal. We know, we say that about every country, but the people in Nepal are seriously amazing. Every person we had the privilege of speaking to in Nepal was incredibly kind and welcoming, and just unbelievably generous. But enough about the people, let’s talk about the toilets.

Quick guide:

  • Pretty much all guesthouses in Nepal aimed at a western audience will have clean sit-down toilets, as will more upmarket cafes and restaurants.
  • Squat toilets are commonly used by most locals, particularly in rural areas. This means you’re very likely to encounter a squat toilet during your stay. If you’re not sure how to use a squat toilet, check out our comprehensive guide.
  • Bring your own toilet paper with you everywhere, unless you’re cool with using the bucket in a bucket cleaning method.
  • Plumbing in Nepal cannot handle toilet paper being flushed down the toilet. This means you need to put all used toilet paper in the bins provided. Yes we know this seems gross.

Toilets in guest houses

We found that budget guest houses in Nepal have pretty reasonable toilet facilities. Aside from the cheapest of the cheap guest houses, western sit down toilets were very common, especially in any place marketed towards a western backpacker audience. You could pay a little more for a private ensuite bathroom, or opt for a shared bathroom if your budget was a bit tighter. We stayed in a lovely guest house in Pokhara, for £3 each per night, which had a very clean ensuite toilet and shower with hot water. The sit down toilet was accompanied by a bum-gun, which seems quite typical for urban dwellings in Nepal. This price also seemed pretty typical, with many backpackers actually commenting that it was a little expensive. Nepal is a very cheap country to travel in!
Note: We were there just prior to to the devastating 2015 earthquake, but we know plenty of people who have visited post-earthquake and they assure us Nepal is still awesome.


Toilets out and about

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When out and about exploring Nepal, you can’t guarantee where your next toilet is coming from. We didn’t encounter a single public toilet in Nepal. Nor can you expect that restaurants and cafes will have toilets, especially if you plan to try the street food. That said, any slightly more upmarket place, or anywhere aimed at backpackers will likely have a sit-down toilet. If you’re very lucky, they might also have the fanciest tap you ever saw:

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So, you might only have great toilet experiences, but we do recommend you practice your squatting! It’s easy to get caught short in Nepal, and you may well have to duck into the nearest cafe to use their facilities. We found everyone was happy for us to use their toilets though, so don’t be afraid to ask.


On the road

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Travel days generally pose the most challenges for toilet access. A “travel day” is when you’ve checked out of your accommodation and are moving to the next town with all your luggage in tow. These days are when you have the least control over your access to toilets.

In our experience, overland buses in Nepal are generally great. With one notable exception (more on this later!) We found tourist buses on the main tourist routes, such as from Kathmandu to Pokhara or to Chitwan national park, to be comfortable and reliable. Tourist buses are slightly more expensive than local buses, don’t really stop to pick up passengers (except the driver’s friends!) and have larger, more comfortable seats. None of the buses we took in Nepal had toilets on board. However, these buses did tend to stop every 3 hours or so, to give you time to use the toilet and buy snacks/ drinks.

The toilets at rest stops were always basic squat toilets, but they were free, and they were private. There tended to be a few toilets available, so queuing wasn’t too bad. Running water was generally available for hand washing, but no soap or toilet roll was provided, so make sure you have your own supply readily available.

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Provided by Nick Rogen, author of the excellent travel blog A Life Unfiltered.

Some toilet stops were yet more basic; we distinctly remember one wooden shack perched precariously on the side of a cliff on the road between Kathmandu and Pokhara. These more basic toilets were again, squat toilets, and they generally didn’t have running water available for hand washing. But they did tend to have bins for used toilet paper, which avoids that sticky situation of “I used this piece of toilet paper before I realised there is NOWHERE to put it…”


Go Go Guano top tips for overland travel in Nepal:

As when travelling in any developing country, we would always recommend you carry toilet paper and antibacterial hand gel with you at all times. That is, unless you’re happy to use the bucket in a bucket to clean yourself and adopt the “left hand for cleaning, right hand for eating” system the locals use. 

We also recommend bringing your own bar of soap in a soap box on your trip to Nepal, because sometimes you just need a proper hand wash and there’s no guarantee anywhere will provide soap. 

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And finally…

Here’s a story about an interesting toilet and bus related experience Rosie had in Nepal. It explains the exception to the “buses are generally great” rule mentioned earlier… 

After Morgan went home to England, I decided to travel overland from Kathmandu to Varanasi, India by myself. This was, quite frankly a terrible idea. This 340-mile journey involved over 20 hours on buses with extremely limited toilet facilities. To put this in perspective, you could feasibly travel 340 miles in about 5 hours on good roads. It was slow going. Without Morgan to tell me what a terrible idea this was, I went into massive optimist mode, thinking things along the lines of:

Overland travel is such an enriching experience! I love overland travel. It’s so cheap and you meet fascinating people…”

So off I went.

Phase 1 of this 340-mile road trip took me to Lumbini, the fabled birthplace of Buddha in the deep South of Nepal:

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It sounded like an incredible place. But first I had to get there.

I could tell I was in for interesting journey as soon as I arrived at the bus station. As a testament to this wonderful country, my rickshaw driver helped me sort my ticket out, insisted on carrying my backpack and personally walked me to the right bus, without even expecting a tip.

The bus looked fine from the outside, but on closer inspection several things started to worry me. The seats were much smaller than an average size adult human. There was no luggage storage, so a “pile” system was created whereby everyone chucked their luggage haphazardly in the region of the gear stick. And, the journey took far longer than expected. But despite all this, I loved this bus ride for one simple reason; the people. My fellow passengers looked after me, as the only backpacker on the bus, far more than I deserved. They insisted I move seat twice, to make sure I was in the most comfortable seat on the bus. At one of the comfort breaks, I tried to buy some chai, only to find I had no change. This being Nepal, of course the vendor didn’t have change for a big note, so I smiled and said no thank you; I would get by without my chai fix. A few minutes later a local woman approached me carrying 2 steaming cups of sweet, spicy, chai. She didn’t speak English, but smiling broadly she indicated she had seen my earlier exchange and bought me a drink. We didn’t share any of the same language, but we sat and enjoyed our chai together smiling and gesturing to communicate. Nepal humbled me.

The downside of drinking chai in the middle of an all day bus ride? You need to pee.

A few hours later, my bladder painfully full, the bus pulled over for a break. But there were no toilets in sight this time. I felt fairly let down. One thing I had to learn to love about Nepal was the comfortable rest stops every few hours, with access to drinks, snacks, and squat toilets, and this more basic, local bus was not delivering.

I asked the driver, and he looked genuinely sad to tell me there were no toilets here; we had only stopped as some people needed to change bus. The bus driver took me under his wing, talked to some people, and within a few minutes, I was being shepherded into what I now realise was someone’s house, to use their toilet. I walked through their living room and kitchen, said a brief, confused hello to the family, promptly disappeared out through their back door, and into their back garden. From there I was ushered over to the family outhouse. I found a lovely clean squat toilet, and after thanking the family profusely I got back on the bus. That was it. No one asked for money. No scary situations arose involving a solo female traveller following a stranger into his house. It was just a great experience, which taught me that if in doubt, just ask for help. If you’re in Nepal, you can pretty much guarantee people will help you out.

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Unfortunately, things weren’t so fluffy and nice on Phase 2 of this trip. My final destination was Varanasi, India, and this required yet another long bus journey. Go ahead and read all about my comparatively horrifying experience here.


Planning on going trekking in Nepal?
Check back soon for our guide to using toilets while trekking!
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Wild camping in Botswana: the most scared I’ve ever been to do a wee

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Rosie and Morgan had a most excellent adventure in Southern Africa in 2016. Their main criticism of this trip was the toilet facilities were just too damn good! There were clean sit down toilets available at Victoria Falls, both on the Zambia and Zimbabwe sides. Toilet paper was always provided. The toilets in Cape Town yielded no unpleasant surprises.

We’ll have nothing to write about!” we muttered, as we encountered yet another excellent toilet.

Then we spent 7 days overland travelling and wild camping in Botswana.

We were essentially living in a big jeep, towing a trailer full of tents and food. Starting in Kasane (North East Botswana), we cut an epic route through the Chobe national park down to the Okavango Delta, pitching our tents and lighting a campfire wherever we landed each night. For the most part, there was no access to plumbing or electricity.


The camping set up

Our first night, we left the road and parked in a seemingly random spot, identifiable as a camp site only by a small sign nailed to a tree stating “private campsite”. We were surrounded by wrecked tree trunks, which the guide explained was the result of elephants pulling down the trees to reach the best leaves. This did not fill us with confidence. As we pitched our simple two man tents, our guide busied himself digging a hole a few metres outside the main camp:

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Yep, this was our toilet for the night.

It got better:

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And better:

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And better!

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They even provided toilet roll. And there were hand washing facilities:

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The ground was very sandy and loose in most places we camped, so after you’d used the makeshift toilet you simply had to kick some dirt into the hole to cover things over. There were only 5 guests in our group, and we asked if they did anything different for the bigger groups.

It’s the same setup”, our guide told us.

But if there are more people we dig a deeper hole.”

One night, we even set up a makeshift shower, using the same canvas and poles system as the toilet tent.

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The dangling bucket was filled with water, which flowed out of small holes when you turned the tap. This created a low water pressure but overall genius bush shower.

Every morning we were up at 5.30, ready to dismantle the entire camp before heading off on an early morning game drive. The canvas and metal frame came down from around the toilet tent, the seat was packed up, and the hole was filled in. When we left it was as if we were never there. 

In the evenings we set up our makeshift toilet again… and again and again. It came with us throughout Botswana, even ending up in the Makgadikgadi salt pans:

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Without the tent, privacy would have been extremely limited…

We were very impressed with this makeshift toilet, which served us well all week. But that’s not to say going to the toilet was always easy…



Wild cries and glowing eyes

The thing with wild camping in Botswana is you are full-on wild camping. You’re still in the safari parks. The exact same safari parks you saw those lions in a few hours ago, except now it’s pitch black and the night is full of noises. Botswana doesn’t agree with fencing in safari parks, and there really was nothing between us and the wild animals at night. Our guide assured us we were totally safe when we were in our tents:

To a lion, a tent is the same as a house. You’re as safe as if you were indoors. Animals will respect the tents and walk around them.”

We were dubious, but willing to trust him. Going to the toilet however, was a different story. Waking up for a wee at 3am in the middle of the African bush is frankly, terrifying. Our guide assured us we could wake him up if we needed to leave the tent at night, but being English I was more concerned about being a nuisance than I was about being eaten by a lion on my way to the toilet tent.

We were given a safety briefing our first night, and it mainly centred around what to do when you visited the toilet tent after dark.

Before you step out of the main camp area, shine your torch all around. You need to look out for glowing eyes. If you see blue or green eyes it might be a deer or a hyena. Animals are much more active at night, and also more fearless. If you see orange eyes it’s a big cat and you should NOT proceed”.

We didn’t see any glowing eyes that first night, but the sounds were incredible.

A herd of elephants walked right through our camp. As the guide had promised, they were very respectful of the tents and didn’t trample anything. Thankfully, neither of us needed to leave our tent, so we lay awake in silent awe at the multitude of noises around us. Elephants trampling, branches cracking, insects buzzing, fruit bats chirping and an indistinct haze of distant roars and cackles filled the dark night.

The strange cry at 4 seconds is a hippo, which strolled past our tent on its way to find some tasty grass. The beeping type noise is a fruit bat using its sonar.

The second night I woke up in the dark and I really had to pee. As I made to scramble out of my sleeping bag and put on my head torch, Morgan stopped me:

You can’t go out there! Didn’t you hear the hyenas?!”

I had not heard the hyenas.

We listened in silence for a few minutes, and sure enough, the sounds of whooping and cackling carried across the dark night. I had heard the calls, but I hadn’t recognised the strange noises as hyenas.

We opened the tent flap a crack and shined our torches out into the night. A pair of green eyes was staring right back at us. We even saw the hyena’s distinctive sloped back as it strolled through our camp, followed by another one a few minutes later. They proceeded to drink noisily out of our washing up bowl. 

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We stayed like that for a long time, silently listening to the African night and peering out into the unfamiliar darkness. Eventually, we decided it was safe (ish) and I crept out the tent and squatted to pee, whilst Morgan shined his torch all around in search of glowing eyes. There was no way I was doing the dark trek to the toilet tent! Leaping back into the tent and zipping it closed fast, I felt like I’d achieved something huge.


The third night lions circled our camp.

Another camper had headed out to use the toilet fairly early in the evening. We were still washing up the dinner plates when a hesitant voice floated out the darkness:

Umm guys? Lion….”

Everyone else moved towards her voice in a tight-knit group, shining our torches all around. When we reached her we saw not one but two pairs of glowing orange eyes, watching us curiously in the darkness. The guide shined his powerful torch towards the eyes, revealing two lionesses, staring at us.

We’ll be fine as long as no one leaves the group”, instructed the guide.

No one is to visit the toilet tent, it’s too dangerous.”

We were the impala herd, huddled together in a state of high alert. The lions watched us. We crowded closer together, no one wanting to appear a solitary target. Shit had just got real.

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We crept away from the lions as one, relinquishing control of the toilet tent over to them.

Cleaning our teeth meant going over to the jeep, to use the integrated water tank. Taking it in turns to stand guard while the other rinsed their toothbrush, we saw yet another pair of glowing orange eyes behind us, watching.

I don’t like this”, muttered our cook.

It’s not good when lions come to the camp like this.”

You don’t say.

So the tents are totally lion proof?” we doubled checked, as we rushed to zip ourselves away for the night.

you’ll be fine as long as you don’t leave the tent” we were assured.

Of course I needed to pee before I could sleep. Groaning, I got out of my sleeping bag and shone my torch out through a crack in the tent door, half excepting a lion to be standing right in front of me. The guide was still up, so this time, we got his attention and he swept the area before I stepped out. Like the night before, I squatted right by the tent whilst Morgan stood guard. I leapt inside as soon as I finished, my heart pounding in my chest. Morgan then confessed that he’d been needing to poop for a while, but since the lions still had control of our toilet, he had no option but to hold it until morning.

I didn’t wake up at all that night, staying firmly inside our lion-proof tent until dawn. That was definitely enough excitement for one night.


There’s nothing like the African bush to make you feel small, and between the milky way glowing above our heads and the lions prowling around us, it felt very insignificant to be a human in a tent.

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