When traveling about no matter how well you plan at some point in time it happens to all of us, we have to use the dreaded public restroom. Using the toilet while traveling abroad can sometimes be an adventure in itself. Like forest said, it’s like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get inside. On my first international trip, I was in London looking for a restroom. While in the upscale store Harrod’s you would think finding a restroom would be easy. But when I couldn’t find one I approached a sales clerk and asked her where the restroom was. She looked at me with a puzzled look on her face and then asked me if I wanted to lie down. I said “no, I needed to use the bathroom.” She replied “so you want to take a shower.” Finally I said “no, I have to pee.” “Oh, you want the WC,” she said. I soon learned in England if you want to go to the bathroom you need to ask for the “WC” or the “Toilet.”
When using the toilets in foreign countries you should keep a sense of adventure and be prepared to pay. Some public toilets charge a small fee for use so be sure to keep a few coins on you just in case.
Museums and restaurants will offer free restrooms so take advantage of these when possible. Always carry a packet tissue with you. Some of these restrooms are poorly supplied or you may find that someone has removed all the toilet paper from the stalls and are asking for tips in exchange for a couple of squares of toilet paper. This is especially true in poorer countries where people will do anything to make a couple of dollars.
If you are going to use a bathroom in a restaurant try to find one with outdoor seating, this way it won’t be so obvious that you are just there to use the bathroom. Most fast food places will have free public bathrooms, although sometimes the bathroom code is printed on your receipt making it necessary to make a purchase.
When using public restrooms you never know what you will find. In a Starbucks restroom in Bern, Switzerland you will find the bathroom is decorated with blue lights to make it impossible for junkies to find their veins to keep them from using the bathroom to get high.
Train stations often have restrooms you can use for a small fee. Some even have showers available. They are usually well kept. In some large European cities such as Paris, London and Amsterdam, they have coin operated public toilets on the street. They kind of resemble a phone booth but more private of course. You insert a few coins and the door pops open. You then have 15 minutes to do your business before the door pops open again after which the facility then disinfects itself which sometimes involves the floor tipping while disinfectant shoots out. You do not want to be in there when that happens. Though you will be extremely clean when you come out!
Some cities actually have not so private public urinals for men right on the street call Pissiors, no kidding. Men just stand there peeing as people walk by. As long as you don’t have a problem doing your business while people stare awkwardly at your backside, you may find these urinals very convenient.
If you are a train passenger you can use the free toilets on the train however some can be quite the adventure. While on the train in Egypt I used the restroom on the train. If you have ever seen the movie The Mummy II with the scene where the little boy is using the nasty bathroom on the train, it is not that far off from reality. When I flushed the toilet water came shooting straight out of the bowl and onto the wall on the opposite side. You could also see the tracks below when you flushed. You probably will want to wait until the train leaves the station before using the toilet, just saying…
Though most places have western style toilets sometimes you will come across a squat toilet, also known as a Turkish toilet. Basically this is a porcelain hole in the ground that is flanked by platforms for your feet and just as it sounds, you squat.
The moral to the stories is when you travel abroad go with an open heart, open mind and bring your own tissue.