The toilets in Sochi are creating quite a buzz on social media. I have to wonder how much traveling these outraged journalists have done. Toilets in the US are different from those that you’ll find in other countries. The twin commodes and loos that trap their users are an anomaly but it isn’t unusual to see signs asking you not to flush toilet paper. In some locations there simply isn’t enough pressure to take away your waste and the paper. I’ve encountered this in my travels including in a nice restaurant in Rome. It’s not ideal but it’s also not a sign that you’re in a third-world country.
If you’ve never traveled outside the US, there are some potty peculiarities that you should be prepared for.
#1 Don’t be surprised if there is a fee to pee.
Paid toilets are the norm in many countries. Some people are tempted to cheat the system and hold the door for the person behind them. Do this at your own risk. Some of the European toilets are self-cleaning. A cycle starts when the proper change is deposited. After you conduct your business, use the sink and exit, the cleaning cycle begins. The toilet will not accept another “fare” until the cycle is complete. If you cheat the system, the cleaning cycle will still begin when the door shuts only now instead of spraying an empty bathroom, the system will shower blue bathroom chemicals on the cheapskate who tried to avoid paying.
If you are using the restroom in a restaurant or cafe, you should be prepared to buy something for the privy privilege.
#2 Flummoxing flushers
Toilets flush in all sorts of fun ways. Some will use a foot pedal (the same is true for sinks), others will have a pull-chain, and some will have a button on top of the toilet.
#3 Whatchamacallit Having trouble finding a sign for the restroom? In many countries, you are looking for the WC or water closet. Here are some tips for asking for the bathroom in other countries.
#4 New experiences
You might encounter a “squat toilet” when traveling. This can be a hole in the floor or some slightly glorified version of the same. If you’ve really got to go, you’ll make it happen. You may also find unisex restrooms. These generally have individual stalls and no urinals. The genders only mingle at the sinks.
#5 Bring your own
I always travel with a pocket pack of tissues. You never know when it will be your only source of TP. When traveling on a group tour in Jordan, we were warned about a lack of paper in public restrooms. We took several rolls of paper from the bathrooms in our hotel and everyone loaded their pockets on the bus before setting out to explore Petra.
#6 Calm down
First, no one is asking you to empty the wastebasket containing the used paper. Does that put things into perspective?
Using the bathroom is a very personal act. We all have certain needs when it comes to comfort and privacy. It’s important to understand that you may have to compromise if you want to see the world.
Want more bathroom talk? Read what Rick Steves has to say on the subject.