Travel for long in any part of the world and you will discover the need for a toilet. The need could be urgent, perhaps caused by Daallo Airlines (the official airline of the Horn of Africa) inter-Africa meals. It could be a run-of-the-mill need, but no matter. You need a bathroom. Or a toilet. Or a bush. Or a hole in the ground. And you need it stat.
What kind of bathroom facility might you find? It depends on where you live and, spoiler alert, if I based my decision of where to live abroad on bathroom standards, I would go to Japan.
Ethiopia There is an abundance of squatty potties except at Western-style restaurants or hotels where you can find the more throne-like seat. But none are not guaranteed to be clean, flushable, or stocked with paper or water. When in rural areas, there is not even the need for a hole in the ground, simply find a tree and squat. But be prepared to be observed, especially if you are a foreigner.
Indonesia Public toilets are mostly squatty potties with buckets of water, no flushing. The left hand is used for wiping so make sure to never use the left hand for anything else, like shaking hands, pointing, or handing out food or gifts. Sometimes people charge a small fee to use these toilets though whether this is an official position or an entrepreneurial street kid can be unclear.
Chad At bus stations in Chad the toilets have four walls, no roof. There is a cement floor with a small hole and raised blocks on either side to step on. When the bus stops and isn’t at a station, for a small fee passengers can use the village’s three-walled structure with a dirt floor and a short-drop hole. If the bus stops away from a station and away from a village, find a bush or a clump of grass. Men on one side of the road, women on the other.
Djibouti In the city for many men, all the world is a toilet. They just step to the side of the road and unzip. Many rural areas share a bathroom among neighbors: four tin walls and no roof, a hole in the ground, and a bucket of water. In the city some restaurants have facilities, toilet paper and toilet seat not included. The airport sometimes provides paper and running water and on a good day, the toilets will flush. In homes, there is often a pair of ‘toilet flip-flops’ that people slip on because the floors are wet.
Somaliland A restaurant in the coastal town of Berbera in northern Somaliland has a four-walled, no ceiling wooden structure with a short drop hole that goes more back than down, meaning the goods mostly just sit there. With no water for washing it down or for washing the hand, dirt has to suffice. When a toddler once had a diarrhea accident on the dirt floor inside the restaurant, the waiter simply covered it over with a plank of wood.
Ecuador Unless you bring your own, in Ecuador you prepay for toilet paper so hopefully you are able to make a good guess regarding how much you’ll need. There are no toilet seats and since those are rather hard to fit into purses, get used to not using one.
Austria One particular toilet in the subway station at the opera house charges a small fee to fill the bathroom with the delightful strains of classical music while you go.
South Africa At a game park in South Africa, at the end of a long path lined with tall reeds for privacy, you can find a fully functional flush toilet, open to the sky. No walls, no ceiling, and hopefully no overhead satellites.
Taiwan In Taiwan’s public bathrooms you are actually given the choice between sitting and squatting. For those who prefer to not touch anything, squatty is the preferred option. In fancier locales, toilet paper is provided in the stall but otherwise, either gather a handful at the communal dispenser or bring a wad in your purse.
United States No hands is the goal in American bathrooms. Automatic flush, automatic water, automatic soap dispenser, automatic hot air dryer. But privacy doesn’t seem to be a major concern as bathrooms have short doors and cracks between them. Also, conservation of water doesn’t seem to matter as the toilet bowls are filled so high that there are stories of foreigners, or returning expatriates, going for a wipe only to find that they have dunked their hand into the water.
Japan In Japan you can push a button to turn on music or white noise in your stall so others won’t be disturbed by your sounds. Not only do people not want to hear you, they don’t want to smell you either, so some toilets come with a power deodorizer. Other push-button options include a bidet wash, a dryer, an automatic seat-lifter for men, and an automatic paper seat cover dispenser. Doors go all the way to the floor for complete privacy. There are also handles for hanging umbrellas and sometimes even heated seats.
Personally, I like the idea of the opera music in Austria but the heated seat in Japan won me over. In Djibouti it is so hot we have no need for heated seats, but I grew up in Minnesota, the frozen tundra as we like to call it. Getting up in the morning and sitting on a freezing toilet seat is all the shock you need to wake up for the day. A heated seat sounds divine.
Everyone, everywhere, needs a bathroom, whether it is the earth or a warm throne surrounded by music. The specifics will vary but the need is universal.
Welcome to the essence of the travel experience.