No pictures with this post. LOL.
Let’s get into the practical aspect of travel and a question that you will hear from your family more than one time during your trip – Where’s the bathroom? Ah yes, international bathroom usage is a unique experience. Who am I kidding, sometimes it just plain sucks. Different countries have different ideas about sanitation and public access to facilities. Here are some tips for making this experience less heinous and uncomfortable. I live in Mexico so I’ll focus mostly on that.
First of all, no matter what country you are visiting, know how to ask “Where is the bathroom” in that country’s language. Even if you can’t fully understand the directions you are given, there will be a lot of pointing, so you can have a general idea and figure it out. In MEXICO you say “donde esta el bano?”, pronounced “dohnday esta el bonyo”. You also need to know the words for Men and Women, as that will prevent the inevitable embarrassment of walking into the wrong bathroom. In Mexico they use Hombres for Men and Mujeres for Women. You’ll also see Caballeros for Men and Damas for Women.
The bathrooms of department stores, malls, hotels and nice restaurants are very similar to our American bathrooms. They will usually have soap and water and toilet paper. Some have a baby changing station. Warning: You will see a garbage can in every stall that is filled with used toilet paper. Yes, it’s disgusting, but here’s why they do that. The water pressure in Mexico is not the same as the US, so many people, especially from the poorer neighborhoods, don’t flush the used paper. They throw it away. Some bathrooms even have signs in the stalls asking you not to flush the Papel (paper). I flush it anyway. Sometimes you’ll have to flush it twice. And always hold the handle down until the toilet is almost flushed.
Sometimes the toilet paper provided is not in the stalls. There will be a big roll of paper just outside or inside the door to the bathroom. So estimate wisely. Or do what I do, and ALWAYS carry toilet paper in your purse.
Another thing to always carry with you is hand sanitizer. Even the “nice” bathrooms sometimes don’t have soap.
Now if you are out shopping at a local outdoor market (which are super fun and I highly recommend) you will encounter a completely different bathroom. You have to pay for these bathrooms. It’s usually 3-5 pesos. That is per person, even children. Make sure you have exact change. They hand you the toilet paper. So essentially, you’re rationed (again, ALWAYS carry TP with you). The toilets don’t have a toilet seat. I like to carry disinfectant wipes in a Ziploc baggie with me for that reason. And they usually don’t have soap.
If you’re traveling on the freeways, several of the gas stations have bathrooms. But you have to pay for them. Sometimes you put your money into a machine and walk through the revolving door. Be quick going through the door. If you’re not ready or quick enough, it will lock and you’ll have to pay again.
Mexican bathrooms smell bad. Just prepare yourself. Between the used TP in the waste basket, the poor plumbing that allows sewer gases to come up the pipes, and the strong air fresheners used to cover up the not so nice smells, it can be a little overpowering.
Notes about other country’s bathrooms:
SWITZERLAND: They are generally clean and well stocked, but they are hard to find. There are not very many public restrooms in Switzerland. The gas stations don’t have them. Stores don’t have them. Restaurants have restrooms but only for their patrons. I found myself drinking a lot less water so I wouldn’t have to find a restroom as often. The bathroom sign for men will read Her and the women’s will be Frau.
ITALY: The bathrooms are small and hard to find. Most of the major tourist areas have one hiding somewhere. Ask around. These are usually free, but occasionally cost a few coins. In one museum, there were two closets with a toilet each used by both men and women and then the sink was in the hallway. In Verona, it was in the tourist parking garage and cost. Most sit-down restaurants will have one for customers, take advantage. The bathroom sign for men will read Uomini and the women’s will be Donne.
IRELAND: The bathroom situation is fairly similar to the US. On the street, you will find some pay toilet cubicles. They are clean and have paper. You might just want to use one for the experience. Everything is automatic and the seat retracts into the wall and comes back out clean. All the tourist sites have facilities.
So to sum up:
*ALWAYS CARRY TOILET PAPER WITH YOU
*ALWAYS CARRY HAND SANITIZER WITH YOU
*CARRY DISINFECTANT WIPES WITH YOU
*ALWAYS HAVE MONEY (COINS) WITH YOU TO PAY FOR THE BATHROOM
*THEY CAN BE HARD TO FIND SO DON’T WAIT AND USE IT BEFORE LEAVING AN ESTABLISHMENT YOU PATRONIZE
Feel free to comment about your international bathroom experiences, but please don’t be too graphic. Haha.