Toilets around the world: real talk

Warning: this blog post deals with “bathroom business.” Some readers may find toilets around the world distasteful. But if you are interested in a life of travel – including locations in the developing world – this is information you need to be aware of.

Toilets around the world: different from USA

A few days ago, I spent a few minutes burning a small beach fire on the seashore of beautiful Bohol, Philippines. The sun was setting, colors building, the waves peacefully splashing, the heat of the day dissipating in a gentle breeze. Sounds romantic.

Hardly.

The fire I was tending was to dispose of our used toilet paper from the previous days. It’s how you get rid of this waste, and other paper trash, in this part of the world.

Actually, it was my second time conducting a shit paper fire.  Three years ago in Yelapa, Mexico – another stunningly beautiful, natural, and inaccessible beach village south of Puerto Vallarta – we were instructed to burn our used paper as well. There, a cute little terracotta chiminea was available to complete the unenviable task.

Tedly burns used toilet paper in Yelapa, Mexico, 2017.

In both places, the process went well enough. It truly takes only 3-4 minutes. There was no smell, no mess, no lasting trauma.

Toilet paper burning tips

As an expert, I do have a few suggestions for anyone new to this endeavor.

  • Pick a time with some wind, preferably steady and light (like very early morns or sunset time).
  • Locate the burn so winds will take the smoke AWAY from you and your dwelling, belongings, friends, neighbors, etc.
  • Cover your hand with a bag or glove or use makeshift wooden ‘tongs’ to handle the soiled paper. (Your wife will then feel better about the exercise.)

In actuality, burning used toilet paper and other household trash goes on all over the world. At most places, however, the stuff is collected at the curb by rubbish removers. In the best of circumstances, the incineration then takes place at a power generation facility, providing some ‘payback’ to humanity.

Indeed, Americans are often surprised to learn that in many places around the globe — including Latin America, Asia, parts of Europe, the Middle East, Korea, India — used toilet paper is collected – not flushed. It’s an unspoken detail that can detract from that dream vacation.

The fact is, while many modern resort hotels worldwide do have adequate wastewater facilities, many other public and private systems can not handle paper and other ‘flushables’.

Some other advice

Further, in lots of developing places around the globe, you are lucky if any paper at all is provided. Or it might be available for a small fee from an attendant (often someone who has removed the provided paper and is now selling it).

Similarly, many restrooms in less developed nations are NOT free. Be prepared to pay the equivalent of .10¢ to .50¢ per visit. Keeping small locally denominated change handy is wise.

As continual global travelers, we also advise always having some paper napkins or tissues at the ready – and maybe a small packet of baby wipes or hand sanitizer too.  Soap is often viewed as another optional luxury.  

I recently made and posted the following meme to our Earth Vagabonds Instagram account in an effort to convey the same message (and get our website noticed).

What’s pictured is a common “squat toilet” in places like Northern Africa, the Balkans, China, and Southeast Asia.

The photo was taken in a bus station in Morocco. And there was one big roll of paper on the wall outside the stalls — grab some before entering.

But I have seen the same unfamiliar squat toilets in Croatia, Montenegro, Greece, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and other places.

Toilets around the world: acceptance helps

Of course, restrooms in malls and restaurants and other public places all over the world vary widely in cleanliness and comfort. And I’ve been in some absolutely disgusting bathrooms — even in America.

But in the extreme, while traveling, we have used bathrooms without running water, swarming with flies, gnats or mosquitoes, filled, flooded, fouled with smells, with broken fixtures, no flush mechanism, no soap, no sink, no mirror, no lights, no doors — and maybe a bucket of water somewhere nearby. Welcome to the world of real travel.

In truth, these experiences are just another part of our unending journey. As perpetual wanderers, we choose to take toilets around the world as reminders of the human condition, history, and the challenges that unite us all. Sounds noble. But what else can we do?

The fact is that travelers to older, less developed, un-touristed, and more remote locations need to always be ready for less than ideal restroom conditions and practices – like shit paper burning – that may challenge your sensibilities and stomach.

As always, be thankful for your blessings, happy trails, and more beer.

Life is now!

A toilet paper cardboard roll is burned with used toilet paper.

Thanks for reading this post!

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