Most of us 60-somethings do a lot of research before we grab our bags and head off on a trip abroad.
We make sure our passport is up-to-date, that we have the necessary visas, ensure we have proper immunisation requirements, a map of the area we’re visiting, a pre-booked room for at least the first few days, and some cash in the local currency.
But, there is something you may not have thought about, although you’re bound to need it.
Let’s Talk Toilets
Even if you think you’re too old to learn a new language, it’s a good idea to memorize at least a few local words before you travel to your destination.
I dare say, the first words you’ll definitely want to learn are the local words for toilet – which is often called a WC or Water Closet. You might be in for a surprise once you find one.
If you travel by train, for instance, you would notice that some of them don’t require flushing. Whatever you place in the toilet will simply end up on the tracks.
Spend a Penny
The expression “spend a penny” comes from England. I came across pay toilets there – although I’m sure they cost more than a penny.
Pay toilets can be found in other countries as well. Make sure to have change in the local currency. You might find an attendant you’ll need to tip if you’d like toilet paper or a paper towel during your visit. Imagine how you’d like to be treated if that was your job.
The first thing I noticed on my inaugural trip to France was the old-school toilet paper dispenser with small squares of rough, brown paper in the water closet down the hall from my room.
My next discovery was the bidet in my room, which even those who’ve never travelled are now familiar with. I was a teenager at the time and so this was a new one for me. I’d never seen one before. I didn’t make the common mistake of thinking it was a footbath, but I did wonder why there was no toilet paper.
Men Find Relief in Public
In Amsterdam, there were toilets ‘just for men’ right in the middle of the street. Basically, it was just a walk-in, wrap-around sheet metal curtain with a hole in the ground. You could see their feet sticking out underneath, too.
Luckily, I’ve not yet seen the new public outdoor urinals in Paris that have men peeing into what looks like a bread box. Women are less than impressed with this innovation. They’re even less impressed when guys just pee on the street. It happens.
A Challenging Situation
At least the toilets I visited at the start of my trip were normal height. That changed as I made my way toward the more eastern European countries.
Italy was a shock when, after spraining my ankle, the only toilet I could find was a squat toilet. This is not so much a toilet as it is a hole in the ground with two imprints in cement where you place your feet.
Beware when you flush. You’ll be washing the floor and you’d better know how to jump – unless your shoes could use a wash.
After that, I started asking for washroom recommendations. By the time I got to Greece, I discovered asking fellow travellers for washroom recommendations was as popular as asking where the Acropolis was or where to locate the best souvlaki.
My Favourite Toilet
Imagine my surprise when new friends gave directions to the toilet highlight of my trip. In the 1980s, I had never before seen such a washroom – at home or abroad. It was located in a luxury hotel in the middle of downtown Athens and was a vision to behold.
Not only was the luxurious room lined with marble on the walls, ceiling, and floor, but the full-height toilets automatically flushed when you stood up, the gold-plated taps ran hot and cold water as soon as you stood in front of them and the hand towels were made of cloth with a hamper beside to toss them in.
I was in heaven. I revisited that spot many times and it became popular with other female travelers as well.
It’s sad to say that although I loved the Acropolis and was mesmerized by the evening Sound & Light Show, the details from that special washroom are my clearest memory of Athens.
When Nature Calls
Once back in North America, my other memorable toilet travel experience was in the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia, USA. I was canoeing there with friends when we stopped for lunch and a few of us went to use the facilities.
While waiting my turn, I noticed a large alligator sunning itself just to the right of the outhouse door. I decided I could wait until later and slunk back to the canoe as calmly as possible. Happily, everyone lived to tell this tale.
New Tourism Awards for Best in Toilets
The 2018 International Toilet Tourism Awards are now open for entry. They are awarded to the best toilets around the world. So, keep your eyes open while you travel and see if you can find a winner for these categories:
- Best Location: best view. Previous winner was a cliffhanger – literally.
- Best Design: for architectural brilliance, visual design or creativity.
- Quirkiest Toilet Experience: use your imagination on this one.
When you travel, a secret supply of toilet paper may come in handy, and don’t be afraid to ask for directions to the best toilet seat in town. Share the news with friends. They’ll be glad you did.