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Toilets Around the World - Toilet Talk for Travelers

What makes you think you even *get* toilet paper?


Australian Toilet Sign in Port Campbell National Park

Port Campbell Park, Australia

© Kathleen Crislip
Whether appealing (Paris) or appalling (squat toilets anywhere) to your Westernized sensibilities, toilets around the world serve the same purpose, and you'll need to use 'em. You can't flush toilet paper in many countries' toilets, and you don't get toilet paper to begin with in some of the places you'll be going (is that a pun?) -- your hand and, hopefully, a bucket of water may be the options; in some countries, the toilet paper may be reminiscent of fine sandpaper. Let's talk toilets (and traveler's trots, too):

Squat Toilets - Asia and Africa

Squat toilets require the legs of a long distance runner because, yes, "squat" means squatting. Squat toilets are basically a hole at ground/floor level over which you'll squat and into which you'll aim.

An interesting piece of the poo puzzle with squat toilets in many countries is the clean up (of you). The water in that bucket near the toilet is meant to clean yourself with (using your left hand) after you do your thing. (Factoid: this is one reason the custom of shaking hands with the right hand developed -- one never knows where someone's left hand has been.) Check out Andy Hobo Traveler's step by step instructions on exactly how one cleans up with water in a squat toilet:

About.com's Anouk Zijlma tells you about squat toilets in Africa, along with some useful tips on using 'em:

Experts (that would be anyone who's used a squat toilet successfully, including yours truly) agree that taking your pants off completely in a squat toilet can be a good idea -- if you've got traveler's trots (see below), it's especially smart. If you're headed for toilet-paperless places and feeling squeamish, carry your own wet wipes (like those used for babies' butts) and/or antibacterial gel.

The Poop on Plumbing

You'll see a wastebasket beside the toilet in some countries -- if it's there, you should put your used toilet paper in it because its presence indicates that the toilet's plumbing / septic system is not prepared for toilet paper. Flushing your toilet paper could cause expensive problems.

Toilets Around the World

Some interesting toilet talk:

Traveler's Diarrhea

The squirts, trots, Montezuma's Revenge -- whatever you call it, diarrhea's a drag. Common travel wisdom is to let it run its course; plugging up the source keeps the bad bacteria in. E-coli, a creepy bacteria which lives in fecal matter and developing countries' tap water, is a major source of cramp-causing traveler's trots, as are bacteria Salmonella and parasite Giardia. Prevention ideas include not drinking the water, not eating the food and generally engaging in total gustatory boredom.

If you get the runs, the best bet may be to drink, drink, drink (water!) and wash those little bugs on down the drain, or hole in the ground, depending on where you are.

Because diseases like dysentery spread through contact with infected feces, lack of handwashing by waiters and cooks is a common cause of many unpleasant maladies -- before ordering in a restaurant, you can stroll into the bathroom and see if soap exists... if not, employees may not be washing their hands adequately (and you can make dining decisions accordingly). Flies carry dysentery - avoiding fly-festooned food booths is easy enough (I eat from street stands abroad all the time and never get sick -- knock wood).

Know before you go (so to speak):

Some travelers like to carry a water bottle with a purifying filter:

What your mother may not tell you: if you've got the squirts and you're using a squat toilet, do take those pants off before you let fly, and aim carefully or you'll be cleaning walls and your legs.

Check out the links (way) below for some toilet talk and tips on avoiding disease abroad. And enjoy the trip!

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