Anyone who travels regularly will tell you how toilets, at moments, can come to dominate a holiday. It can be tricky enough if you’re caught short on your local high street, so needing to spend a penny in a strange language and new surroundings can end you in serious trouble.

Stories of holding it in and the legendary length of hostel loo queues abound – not to mention cautionary tales of searching forthe gents in the basements of Berlin nightclubs.

When you finally get to the ladies or gents, you might find yourself faced with something unfamiliar. While your bog-standard Western toilet is to be found across the world nowadays, there are still variations on the hole-in-the ground which are widespread across the water.

Before we take a look at the potty possibilities below, here’s a bit of advice that will always applies: make sure important documents and your travel money are secured somewhere, not just loose in your pocket. If those suckers fall into a foreign sewer, you’re not going to get them back – and better be privy to your travel insurance details…

Trough Toilets (Japan, China)

Sometimes no more than a gutter in the ground, sometimes with partitions for a semblance of privacy, this experience requires you to straddle the channel and go. Unless you get to the front, you’ll be party to other people’s effluence as it flows beneath you.

Squat Toilets (Asia, France, Turkey)

While they’re not common in the United Kingdom, this kind of commode will be familiar to Asians or mainland Europeans. Many people like them because they say it’s more hygienic than sitting on a looseat; even if you’re sceptical about that, it will give your thighs a great workout.

Because using them requires a yogic mastery of muscles: you must suspend yourself over a shallow ceramic dip by gripping two handles, leaning back and suspending yourself in a semi-crouch. While your limbs must be tensed to support your weight, you must be relaxed enough to actually go. It can be very tricky for a first-timer; so make sure everything’s tucked out of splash range before you start.

DIY Flushers (Thailand)

Similar in some respects to its sibling above, the Thai toilet (or ‘thailet’) lacks handles, instead giving you enough room to balance in a crouch directly above the ceramic dip. It’s also recognisable for the trough of water and bucket that’s always in its vicinity: this is the flush mechanism. In order to push your waste down the delicate Thai pipes, you must pour a bucket of water down after it (handy tip – if you have something that won’t shift in a regular toilet, this trick will also work).

Splashers (Asia, North Africa)

These look deceptively like Western toilets – but they conceal a surprising secret that’s either unpleasant or pleasant depending on your outlook (and position). Rather than having you go to the trouble of cleaning yourself off after finishing, these hi-tech thrones double as bidets and will squirt a jet of water over your nether-parts. Sometimes it’s quite high-pressure, so forewarned is forearmed.

Wherever you’re going, remember to celebrate a unique toilet experience when you find it! Immersing yourself in a new culture is a huge part of the fun of travel – whether it’s learning a few words in a strange language, getting caught up in a national festival or doing the deed like the locals do, nothing highlights the beautiful, life-affirming diversity of the planet than experiencing small but pungent nuances in universal habits.


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