The Art of Squatting: A Guide to Using Squat Toilets

by Ekua on February 23, 2010 in backpacking,female travel,general travel

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.

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Abbie February 23, 2010 at 9:10 pm

haha I love it! So useful, yet something I would’ve never thought to post about!

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Ekua March 2, 2010 at 11:06 am

It was something I was really nervous about as I headed to SE Asia… now I feel like a pro :P

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Vanessa February 24, 2010 at 12:09 am

Ekua, you and I would have a LOT to talk about I see if we ever got together in the flesh!

I remember being on holiday in India where I’ve refused to eat and drink anything for fear of having to use the toilet…

Hugs from Switzerland

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Ekua March 2, 2010 at 11:09 am

Places where I’ve had to squat have been tropical and hot… so it’s hard to avoid drinking a lot of water. I got pretty dehydrated once and it’s not fun at all! Like I said in the post, wearing a skirt makes squatting soooo much easier!

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Carina February 24, 2010 at 9:10 am

Ekua – I’ve been thinking of posting on this, but didn’t actually have any good advice! Ha – my 4 months in Africa should have taught me better. I do have plenty of squat toilet horror stories…thanks so much for this article! Consider pitching it to Matador, it’s perfect.

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Ekua March 2, 2010 at 11:11 am

Hehe… I guess thinking about toilet advice is kind of a weird thing to do, but useful and fun for travelers.

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Mary R February 24, 2010 at 4:43 pm

Ekua,
I recently thought this would make a great travel article idea as well. Good job!

As for me, I’m okay with the squat toilets now, but it’s the communal male and female bathrooms in Japan I am freaked about.

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Ekua March 2, 2010 at 11:12 am

Ooo, I don’t know anything about Japan’s communal bathrooms, maybe you should do an article about that!

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Lola February 24, 2010 at 5:09 pm

Haaa. Fun post!

Oddly enough, it actually brings back memories from my rugby playing days when we were already kitted up and on the field with no time to run to the toilet.

We’d kneel on just one knee, pull the shorts aside from underneath, and… you can figure out the rest :)

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Ekua March 2, 2010 at 11:13 am

Haha… there’s another good tip incase there are no toilets at all!

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GRRRL TRAVELER March 1, 2010 at 4:20 am

LOL. Yes– I am quaking newbie at this art. Not a big fan of the squatting routine and though i’m slowly getting it down. I do try to avoid it at all costs. LOL. Fun tips.

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Ekua March 2, 2010 at 11:14 am

Give yourself time. If you’re going to be in Asia for awhile, you’ll be an expert pretty soon :P

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Julie March 4, 2010 at 9:57 pm

I feel like this should be posted in English on every squat toilet around the world.

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Ekua March 5, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Haha, if you’re traveling to a squat toilet location soon, feel free to post it ;)

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mina March 10, 2010 at 10:01 pm

there have been a few sketchy places during my travels so far – but nothing really gross or a hole. i am scared of what’s to come!

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Ekua March 11, 2010 at 9:11 pm

One word: Asia. They are hard to avoid in a lot of countries there, especially if you do the SE Asia circuit. And rural Africa also has a lot of squat toileting. Squatting really isn’t that bad, once you get used to it!

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leslie March 11, 2010 at 1:49 am

I loved this!
I’m going to admit it; I don’t think I ever have before. I prefer the squatter. There, said it.
I live in Laos and the squatter is my best friend. Having used bathrooms in the mist terrifyingly disgusting places, I’ve come to find the squatter as an easier means to staying sanitary. It’s a lot easier to hover over a hole and hunker down on a piece of ceramic then it is to avoid touching any part of an actual toilet.
So here, for my comfort, you win, squatter!

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Ekua March 11, 2010 at 9:13 pm

Just today, I was somewhere were the only toilet option was a squat toilet. In that sort of situation or when it comes to road tripping and using gas station bathrooms, having to squat is much easier than the hovering women already do! So I totally know what you mean!

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Bobbi Lee Hitchon March 14, 2010 at 2:47 pm

hahah this is fantastic!

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Ekua March 15, 2010 at 3:51 pm

I think the squatting issue resonates with a lot of female travelers. Thanks for retweeting!

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MsBeautySoul August 22, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Excellent tips… I an tell that you are definitely an expert! LOL

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Sonia November 10, 2010 at 6:06 pm

Ha ha! I just discovered your blog and I love it! I’ve had my first encounter with squatting toilets when I first came to Japan, almost 2 years ago. I’ve gotten used to them since ;-).

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Ekua November 12, 2010 at 12:11 am

Thanks, Sonia. Time heals all squat toilet issues :P

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ChuckB November 12, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Awww. I visited this blog thread in a search of squatting in Southeast Asia, as in squatting land or houses. I’m disappointed.

On the other hand, it was an interesting read. And I myself also had the first squat-poop experience in SE Asia. IT really makes sense. It’s a much much more efficient way of getting things done. I’d consider getting a squat toilet in my own house, even here in Canada. Probably wouldn’t go over so well with most people.

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Ekua November 13, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Sorry you didn’t find what you are looking for, but glad you found the post to be interesting ;) Many North Americans have an issue with it, and I’m not sure I’d be ready to make a permanent switch to that myself, but I guess there is a reason why a lot of the world does it…

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Sarah August 15, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Ekua, hi!
I loved this post of yours! It brings up (not only pleasant) memories, and definitely makes me want to pack my bag right now! :)

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AfrogeniK May 20, 2013 at 11:17 am

Funny and useful !
Thanks

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