Let’s address the elephant in the room: everybody poops. Even girls poop. In fact, I believe that every moment of every day PREPARES us for the fact that we all poop. Our whole life is us either pooping, or getting ourselves ready to poop.
However, that doesn’t mean we’re all OK with that fact. Society seems to treat crapping like Donald Trump treats climate change: we all know it’s a thing, but we like to quietly sweep the issue under the carpet as if it’s not.
So if everybody does it, why do we in Western society make such a fuss over it? Why do we like to pretend we don’t push a log out of our butt every now and then? In Eastern countries like China and India, pinching off a loaf is much less secretive. In rural corners of China, you can find a room of squat toilets, where if you’re lucky, you might have the luxury of a small walls. In India, over half the population (mostly in rural areas) practice open defecation.
Even if we go back a few millennia, we can see that people didn’t care who saw them shit. Look at this rows of loos we encountered on our trip to Ephesus in Turkey. Notice how there’s JUST enough space that your elbows aren’t quite knocking against the person next to you, but you can still have a romantic conversation with your neighbour?
Now, I personally experience crazy poop anxiety. For as long as I can remember, I’ve rarely ever pooed outside of my own house when I’m not on holiday. I’ve gone at my girlfriends house twice, and once at university. I’ve never plopped a log at work, or at school, and the time at university was done on the almost abandoned 5th floor of the science building in the private handicapped bathroom. Talk about neurotic, right!
We all have ways of dealing with shit. Unfortunately, these ways might not always be applicable when you’re travelling around the world, especially when travelling to regions where modern toiletry privacy has yet to catch up with you.
It’s also fairly easy to unloose the caboose when you’re ‘glammed’ up and shitting in the Hilton, but not so easy when you’re sharing a single toilet with another 30 drunk backpackers in a crappy (pun intended) hostel. The privacy you so desperately crave might also not be available, so what then? Well, without further ado, here is…
A Nervous Poopers Guide to Backpacking
STEP 1: Identify Your Poop Anxiety:
Like every problem, you have to identify exactly what the issue is before you can work on overcoming it. Whether your anxiety stems from being heard, being smelt, or being judged, you need to first look inside yourself so you can work on getting what’s inside yourself out. Identify what your issue is. My poop anxiety is fairly extreme: I can’t go if people know what I’m doing. If people think I’m getting a shower, or doing my hair, or am just taking a REALLY long leak, I feel OK. If the bathroom is away from other people and there’s no chance of them overhearing, I feel OK. If people can smell what I was doing, I actually do not give a shit.
Everyone is unique, so figure out what your issue is.
STEP 2: ASSESS THE TOILET SITUATION
Every dunny is different. Every country has a unique way of unleashing the brown snake. Even the situation of when you need to go can change from day to, so the second step is assessing the toilet situation.
If you’re defecating in a hostel, your situation can differ. We’ve had hostels where the bathroom situation is pretty chill: private bathrooms, and lots of them. These, for me, can be fine. No one will know who is in the bathroom if you jump in when the coast is clear (ie: early in the mornings, late at nights, or during the day when everyone has gone out), and the abundance of loos means there is less opportunity for a line to form outside.
On the other hand, we’ve had hostel toilets that were middle school camp style. I’m talking unisex, 10 bogs all with small doors and thin walls. There was NO privacy here. On top of this, every cubicle also included a shower (yes, you shower on top of where you shit), so even if no one else was in there letting the dogs out, the chances of someone being in there freshening up was almost a lock.
Perhaps you’re sharing an AirBNB with a host, or living in a guesthouse with other tourists. In this case, unless you’re lucky enough to score an en-suite, you’ll probably be sharing a bathroom with others. Although there are less people to compete with for toilet time, the anxiety of unloading some timber with others around might still pop up.
However, there may come a time when you’ll need to go in public, or during a lengthy overnight bus ride (very common when you’re in Asia or backpacking across Europe.)
Once you’ve assessed the toilet situation, you’ve got to move on to the next stage.
STEP 3: MINIMIZE ANXIETY
It’s time to go, so let’s find the most appropriate time and the best way to dump given your current predicament. If you’re backpacking, you’ll likely be staying in budget accomodation, so let’s talk about hostels first. As mentioned earlier, there are plenty of ways to drop a turd when staying at a place with a shared bathroom, particularly if there are a few of them. In Japan, I stayed at a 3 story hostel with a bathroom on each floor. On a day when I needed to let one loose, I picked the floor that was the quietest, and chose to poo fairly late at night. Luckily this worked with my schedule, as we were not getting home until 11pm, but if you’re early to bed, consider waking up before everyone else to drop the kids off at the pool.
In the case of the middle school camp style toilets I mentioned earlier, I can’t really help. My anxiety was so bad during that stay that I didn’t drop anchor for two days and we wound up booking our last night at a cheap bungalow style accomodation with a private bathroom. In some instances, this is OK, man. Don’t feel ashamed to book a place because you feel awkward about the ‘shit sitch.’ In our case, a night in a cheap bungalow wound up being CHEAPER than our stay in a hostel, after splitting the cost of the room between two people. Just something for you to consider.
In a guesthouse or AirBNB, there’s usually less at stake. Having your own room means that people won’t necessarily know it’s YOU in the bathroom if it’s occupied, which might ease the anxiety (at least it did for me.) In case it doesn’t, however, it’s very easy to run a light shower while you handle your business, masking the sound and hiding the fact that you’re using the pottie. In this instance however, it’s important to be respectful: don’t waste water for more than a few minutes, particularly if you’re in an area where water is scarce, and make sure you run a COLD shower, don’t go using up someone else’s hot water out of awkwardness.
Now I understand, if you gotta go, ya gotta go. Sometimes, a situation may arise where you’re in public and need to bake some brownies. Maybe you have been blocked up for a few days and can’t hold on any longer, or maybe you just had a mean curry the night before. Whatever the case, if it’s coming out now, you’ve got to find the most private and hygienic place to do so.
One time when travelling to rural Vietnam, we blocked our hotel bathroom by constantly flushing toilet paper. As such, we had nowhere to go to the toilet for the whole day because we felt too uncomfortable letting reception know (we were told so many times not to flush toilet paper, so we felt too weird saying we flushed so much that we almost flooded the bathroom.) In this instance, we were lucky enough that just a five minute walk from our hotel was an INSANELY huge shopping centre that was practically abandoned. The toilets inside were very clean and had massive cubicles with very thick doors, so there was no chance of being overheard. Thankfully, the opportunity did not need to be taken, but it was a nice option nonetheless.
Moral of the story: big shopping centres have clean bathrooms, and depending on where you go (find the most abandoned section of the store) can be very private. Other buildings include universities or college campuses (find an old and empty building, or a higher floor with less people), lobbies of fancy hotels (pretend you’re a guest), and single occupancy bathrooms in restaurants (if you’re sure you can be quick.)
However, if the situation calls for it, you always have the disabled bathrooms. I know it’s probably very ethically wrong, but the disabled toilets are often very clean, very private and very rarely used (at least in most of the places I’ve been to, obviously don’t try this at a nursing home or something). Depending on where you are as well, the disabled toilet might not be in the same area as the other toilets, thus minimising the amount of people who see you enter and reduce awkwardness.
STEP 4: THE DEED ITSELF
Depending on your situation, you may need a little help to ease your anxiety. Maybe it’s a way to deaden the sound. You could play music from your phone, which also could help sooth your emotions, whilst concealing the sounds coming out of your butt trumpet. Many Japanese toilets have inbuilt ‘white noise’ or music, just further proof that Japan has conquered the toilet game. Another way to deaden the sound of the splash is the create a mini ‘toilet paper trampoline’, cushioning the blow of the feces and dulling any potential noise. Be careful with this one, however, as you may be limited on the amount of toilet paper you have on hand (more on that later.)
STEP 5: THE AFTERMATH
Finally! You are shitfree. How nice the feeling. Take an opportunity to revel in the fact that you have discretely dumped, everyone around you none-the-wiser. If you feel anxious about the smell, consider travelling with a small spray of VIPoo or PooPourri to mask any scent. Now wipe up, pull up your pants, and GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE! Don’t think about whether you left any skidmarks, just keep your head down low and go go go. Alternatively, walk out with your head held high; pooping’s allowed, so walk out proud.
BONUS STEP 6: OVERCOMING OBSTACLES (THINGS TO CONSIDER IN OTHER COUNTRIES)
Ah, you thought you were done, right? WRONG! Good for you, pooping in a hostel. I’m so proud. But have you ever needed to plant some soil in rural China, where the only option is a squat toilet? Or to let loose with no toilet paper, where you have to wash yourself with a bum gun? There are unexpected obstacles when travelling the world that need to be addressed.
Depending on where you travel, you may indeed come across a squat toilet or two. Look, I understand that, biologically speaking, squat toilets are better for our bowel movements, but I like to have the option to sit while I shit, OK. Luckily, most of these toilets will have at least ONE sit down loo. If there isn’t one, take a look for a disabled bathroom. Old people can’t really be forced to squat, so there’s usually one available. If not, fast food chains like McDonalds can always be counted on to have at least one sitter.
Many Asian, and some Western countries, don’t use toilet paper either. They might have a ‘bum gun’, a hose used to wash away any fecal matter, or they might have a bucket you can use to ‘wet’ your nether regions, so always make sure you have some toilet paper with you at all times.
These places don’t have toilet paper due to the plumbing; the infrastructure in these places is fairly old so it can’t handle the moderately recent invention of TP. Therefore, all of the paper needs to be deposited in a dustbin. Funny enough, this was the case in Greece: yes, even pooping in Greece is different. If you feel uncomfortable leaving your dirty paper in a bin (I always did, but it’s better environmentally for you to do it), make sure you flush it in small amounts: don’t go stuffing massive amounts down the toilet or you’ll clog the thing (trust me, I speak from experience.)
Finally, you’re not always guaranteed soap and water and your washroom of choice. Water, sometimes, but soap, rarely ever. In these cases, ALWAYS make sure you travel with a small bottle of hand sanitiser. We managed to score some portable ones that clip onto your bags, so we were never in short supply.
Well Holy Shit. This blog went for WAY longer than I thought it would. I hope this gives you some pointers in navigating the stressful world of shitting abroad. I do realise that this article may seem like a very elaborate joke, but it is something that I struggle with, so just know that if you suffer from poop anxiety, you’re not alone!
And never be ashamed to book a place based on a bathroom. There were times in Asia where I specifically booked a room based on how their shitter looked.
If you need advice on how to use a bum gun… ask someone else, because I didn’t use it once.