I remember the beginning of my first squat toilet experience vividly. I was 17 and visiting Ghana for the first time in 15 years. Ghanaians love formalities, and because we’d been away for so long as a family, there were many welcome home rituals to take care of. A trip to my mom’s home village was in order. So one day, after hours of driving down pothole laden roads in heavy tropical rain, we reached the village. The constant bouncing and sounds of water combined with lack of facilities along the way meant I really had to go when we arrived.
I asked to use the toilet, totally naive about what I would find. I opened the door and inside what appeared to be the bathroom was a hole in the ground. “Where’s the toilet?” I thought as I carefully examined the entire bathroom and the surrounding areas. My teenage heart sank as I realized the hole was my only option. Whatever happened after that has been erased from my memory.
I’ve now squatted many times and in many places, even unexpected locations like France. Asia was the number one squatting skills development location. My month in South East Asia was like a senior year course in sucking it up when it comes to toilets. It’s inevitable that every adventurous female traveler accustomed to sit down toilets will face these dreaded holes at some point. Once you accept them, they become a lot easier to deal with. Especially when you consider that if you avoid them, the health risks (dehydration, etc.) can be much worse than the few minutes you’ll spend strengthening your thighs as you relieve yourself.
For women who are afraid of squat toilets—and I know many are—I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned about how to deal with them during my travels:
Leave Your Stuff in the Vehicle
Don’t expect to have a place to hang your belongings. And because squat toileting requires balance and concentration, you want to make sure your hands are free. If you’re in a situation where you can’t leave your stuff unattended, make sure you’re carrying a backpack or messenger bag that doesn’t need to be held on to.
Wear a Skirt or a Dress
For once, fashion equals function. Weather permitting, it’s a great idea to wear a skirt for long road trips where you’ll likely have to use a bathroom in the middle of nowhere. It’s much easier to lift a skirt and get it out of the way than it is to get pants or shorts out of the way. Enough said.
Bring Your Own Toilet Paper or Tissues
Where there’s a squat toilet, there’s likely to be a lack of toilet paper. Or sometimes you may find yourself scrambling for change to buy some unearthly colored or scented toilet paper. So make sure to have your own stash.
Wash the Toilet When You’re Done
If there’s a bucket of water and a container to scoop it out with next to the toilet, it probably means you’ll need to wash the toilet down after your done. Do this to be courteous to the next squatter and know that if you walk into a wet toilet, it’s likely just water (if the liquid looks relatively clear) and not whatever you were imagining it to be.
Have Hand Sanitizer Ready
I like the spray kind. If the toilet stall seems to be particularly gross, I will spray it on my feet as well.