Hygiene Hints for the Road – Asia

Toilet talk
doesn’t get much airtime on message boards. Yet when traveling, your bladder
and other hygiene issues can bust a gut. For example, even though I had extensively
researched my first overseas trip (to easy Europe,
mind you), my nineteen-year-old-self could not fathom paying to use the toilet.
Franc-less and fearful of an accident, I bummed money like a Friday night
junkie who needs her fix. And once I was inside shock of all shocks – neither the
stall nor I had toilet paper. These days I consider myself a well-versed traveler;
still, it took a month in Africa to
learn how to "flush" in a long drop. Whether you’re a road virgin
or a vested travel-holic, check out the tips below to make certain you’re not
caught with your pants down.

A roll

A roll

Pack a Load
(of toilet paper)

Stuff your
pockets with paper like you would money if it grew on a tree. One can
never have too much. Before you leave your accommodation in the morning, load a wad
(seriously, a whole wad, or better yet, if your religion and conscious allow,
the whole roll) in your pocket or purse. If you have the Luck ‘o the Irish and come
across a loo with its own roll, for gosh sakes, use it, not your own. Your goal
should be akin to oxygen levels while diving: never deplete your supply.
Ladies, bear in mind that daddy’s no longer paying for cuddly Charmin,
so use sparingly. Gents, I know you’re the superior species with your upright
stance and all, but you never know when that greasy road-side burger will work
its way out. And your girlfriend is not in charge of your paper reserves. At restaurants,
grab a napkin (preferably a clean one) off the table before you make your way
to the head.

Learn to be
a Squatter

If you’re not familiar with a long drop, you’re in for a treat – especially your feet. Prepare by
rolling up the cuffs of your pants, (often the floor is wet with unidentified
liquid). Your jeans are likely to shimmy down when you squat. Have toilet paper
in hand and sculpt those quads your trainer always reminds you about. If you’ve
just hiked Kili or Macchu Piccu, be forewarned: your legs might not last. Should you be feeling particularly shaky, use your elbow to brace yourself against the
wall. Adjust aim when necessary. Usually you’ll find a tap and a bucket of water
on standby; locals use it to wipe themselves and to clean the porcelain slate.
You’ll probably opt out of the first, since you have hoards of paper (right?),
but do "flush" the toilet for the next squatter.

Find Your
Inner Baby

After nothing
else would remove the grease off my face from my dilapidated tuk-tuk, I took out my baby wipes in a
last-ditch effort. Walla! Grease removed. Besides babies’ bottoms, wipes can swipe:
faces, bodies, camera LCDs, iPods, bus/airline armrests, tables, hotel door
handles, shoes, clothes, your companion’s foul mouth. You get the idea. Since
the cloths are formulated for little ones, they won’t dry or irritate your
skin, as some hand sanitizers are apt to do. Since they usually come in
packs of 100 plus, you can be as generous as you like.

Ladies, the
only thing worse than menstruating while traveling is doing so without the
proper accoutrements. Pack enough sanitary protection to last the duration of
your journey. I know it sounds like overkill, but in many third world
countries, tampons don’t exist and maxi pads could float the Titanic. For the
fearless, try applicator-free tampons such as OB,
which take up less room, or, for the really brave of heart, become friendly
with a reusable menstrual cup, such as The Keeper or Divacup. (If you’ve got a
minute or twenty, hop over to the discussion thread on BootsnAll on this
topic. You’re in for some good laughs.) Just think, if you can eliminate the Ziploc
full of Tampons, you can pack another pair of Pumas.

It’s Going to
Get Unpleasant

Even the most hardened
stomachs meet their match on the road: Montezuma, Pharaoh, Delhi Belly. Line
your pack with charcoal tablets, Imodium and Cipro, and take one or the other when you’ll be on the move. If you have the luxury of running to the toilet every
ten minutes, forego the drugs and let the bug work its way
out. Remember, when you’re down in the dumps, stay hydrated (brown bottled liquid
does not count). Take rehydration salts if the cursed foe lasts for more
than two days, says traveling nurse, Kelly Quinn, R.N. Man can live survive on street food alone, if
you’ve acquired a steely stomach. Keep in mind though, if the locals aren’t
eating there, you probably shouldn’t either. As I learned at a hillside
stop in the Himalayas, cockroaches scuttling
out of your food does not equate with diarrhea.

Do Business
with Toilets

In many
countries, you pay for the loo, especially at border crossings, around
tourist sights and near posh palaces. Assuage your bladder by taking advantage of the
restroom prior to leaving for the day – even if you don’t need to. Get into the habit of asking for change (small coins, preferably) at breakfast, you don’t want to wait until your bladder screams, and have to stand in a
long line, only to arrive at the front and realize you don’t have coins. At a rooftop bar in Kolkata, I met a woman who religiously kept a few
rupees tucked in one bra cup and a tissue in the other. Not only did her
supplies fill out her A cup, but she was never caught empty-handed.

At some point,
you’re bound to be on a midnight train to Georgia
or Varanasi
where conditions are less than desired: roaches on the berth, a case of the
runs, or a urine-saturated loo. As long-time road warrior Cheliese Simmons
says, “Lower your standards. You’re going to be dirty.” She’s right. Take a
deep breath (preferably through your mouth) and remember: a little dirt or diarrhea
never hurt anyone.

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