It starts with a tingle. A reflexive contraction of the pelvic floor muscles that may leave you a little wide-eyed and anxious. Then begins to accumulate into a dull ache, impossible to ignore, as much as you clench and squeeze and twist your legs together. An ache that jolts you acutely into the moment, you need to pee. Fresh drops of perspiration begin to form, slowly slip and drip over your scrunched brow. Eyes concentrated, darting to and fro, but there is no toilet in sight. What’s a girl to do?
If you’re female and travel often, I’m sure you’ve experienced this panicky feeling before. You can only hold it for so long, whether you do Kegel exercise’s or not. My pee envy for guys has no end, their ability to urinate wherever and whenever they want is even immortalized in a statue in some cities. Where they can easily whip it out and ease themselves, we ladies need to go through, sometimes traumatic, ordeals just to adhere to the call of nature.
Journeys are half of your travel experience, and they don’t always happen the way you expect them to. Sometimes, you need to pee at the wrong time. It happens. I thought I would share some of my pee predicaments I’ve faced during some of my travels, and some solutions I’ve found along the way.
Warning; it might get gross.
1) Petrol station pit stop’s
On long road trips, (especially in East African) my first reaction is to suggest to stop over at a petrol station to use the toilet. Sometimes café’s, restaurants or hotels/motels don’t allow you to use their toilets unless you’re a paying customer (I suppose this depends largely on the kind of person you find at the reception) and in this part of the world, you can’t just walk up to a resident and ask to use their bathroom. You would just get a suspicious eye in response. But even if you do find a decent station to stop at, I’ve found that most of them don’t have a ladies restroom. Most times I find a foul smelling urinal, that’s way to high up for me to even attempt to use (no way am I sticking my bare butt into that) with the door unhinged or unlockable.
Other times, if there is a women’s restroom, it’s a filthy pit latrine, or even worse a tilted slab of concrete with an open drainage gutter running across at the end. A start comparison to the men’s urinals, that are at least tiled, and installed with proper plumbing, as dirty as they may be. Sometimes I feel like women are not even considered as decent human beings, when it comes to the provision of public restrooms in this country.
2) Lets do it like they do it on the Discovery Channel
Growing up in Uganda I’ve learnt to pee in some pretty grim looking toilets, but occasionally I’m confronted with one that you can not bear to step into…those are times I decide to find a nice little bush to squat behind. It’s a little tricky at first to master the squat but once you get the hang of it it’s a refreshing and exhilarating experience; open air, a view, the thrill of mooning abrupt passerby’s.
Here are some tips on pulling off a successful bush squat;
- Find a secluded spot, it doesn’t have to be far, as long as your bottom half is covered from the road. Don’t be that picky girl everyone has to tolerate who turns a quick stop into a 30 minute delay, there is no such thing as the perfect spot, just make do with what you have.
- If you’re standing on a slope, make sure you’re facing down hill, if you pee facing up hill chances are it will trickle down to your feet.
- Grassy or soft soil surfaces absorb the pee without any splash, avoid, dry soil or concrete/tarmac surfaces.
- Pull your pants down mid thigh, but not below your knee’s
- Stand legs wide apart, and lower your bum, as if you’re sitting on a low chair or stool.
- Gather the crotch of you’re pant’s or front of you’re skirt/dress up so you don’t get any pee onto it.
- Enjoy the sweet release! If you use tissue to wipe afterwards, don’t leave it lying around with the lazy “it will decompose” excuse. Take a bag you can put trash in, and dispose of it properly when you get the chance.
3) The tantalizing water trap
Everybody know’s not to think of anything relating to water, waterfalls or rain when trying to hold pee. But sometimes you cant help it, especially if you find your self on a slow moving boat ride for 4 hours. Remember my Banda Island trip? I was surrounded by outstretched miles of water, the consistent sound of the waves splashing against the boat, giving it an occasional rock or jump. I had just gulped down a whole 500 ml bottle of water, so I had an empty bottle I was considering to use. My Mpenzi(boyfriend) I was traveling with managed to cut open the top of the bottle, making the opening larger and easier for me to aim into, but before I could even attempt it, one of the passengers on the boat, who had been eyeing us questioningly asked “susu”? (a Ugandan English term that means you want to pee). I nodded like a guilty little girl, caught about to do something naughty. He pointed towards the front of the boat, where there was a cavern space, beneath the front deck, with a barrier. I climbed in and found the bottom half of a Jerrycan, of which I was reassured to discover some pee already inside. I squatted, pulled my pants down and peed, facing the people on the boat. The barrier was tall enough so that as I was squatting I was only visible from my belly button up, but it was still pretty obvious as to what I was doing. It was awkward to say the least, but I trying to keep a poker face on like I was doing the most natural thing in the world.
4) Up in the air
Then there are times you find yourself in the air, in one of those small charter flights with loads of turbulence and no bathrooms? One of my first posts was about a charter flight, and as much as I enjoyed it the first round, it was a whole other experience on the return. I had flown to Murchison Falls National Park, which was so hot and dry at the time, my water intake was double my usual amount. On the flight back, it was torturous to hold in a full bladder through the heart skipping swoops and dips cased by the turbulence, a sensation that’s heightened in smaller planes. I eventually resorted to sneaking to the back where they keep the luggage, and concealed behind a curtain I waited for a stable moment, and peed into an empty bottle, filling it up about 3 quarters of the way, without any spills or drops! I triumphantly caped the bottle, returned with it to my seat, and enjoyed the rest of the flight. A little embarrassing yes, but better than a wet seat! At least I gave the pilots some in flight entertainment!
5) Swim with the fishes
Beach sides can also be tricky places to pee, especially if in a remote location, like an island away from the mainland without any public restrooms or cafes/resturants, and/or super crowded. Those are times I decide to go for a little swim, Wikihow breaks it down here, with illustrated step by step instructions! What? The fishes do it in the water all the time, and besides, your swim suit is already wet. Need more convincing, theres plenty of reasons why peeing in the ocean is perfectly sanitary in this link! I consider it one of my guilty pleasures, like pee-in-the-shower moments when you come out cleaner than you went in.
This however does not apply in a swimming pool situation; the bathroom is always walking distance by a pool, so there is no excuse.
If I’ve learnt anything in all these experiences, its this;
- If you know your about to take a long journey without any toilet facilities, whether by Bus, Boat or Charter plane, don’t drink a lot of water. Like my Mama used to say, ‘Use the bathroom before a journey, even if you don’t feel like’.
- An empty 500 ml water bottle can come in handy
- When you have to pee in unusual situations, act like its absolutely normal, and people wont react as badly as you may think.
- Get yourself a Female Urinary Device;
I discovered this little handy contraption while I was working at the last International Travel-show Berlin (ITB) last March, and was amazed there is a whole industry around creating devices women can use to pee in difficult situations! They even had a life size urinating manikin all set up demonstrating how to use it.
However I must admit, it’s been a little hard to get used to it. After using it, it’s hard to use it again, even if it only has a few drops on it, and the sales lady reassured me that pee is more sterile than I think (if from a healthy human being that is). It can also be quite dramatic to use, especially when in a conservative country like Uganda, where the sight of a woman peeing standing up, with something shoved in between their legs can be quite scandalous. It’s easier to get away with in some remote countryside, but a little hard say, if you’re on a night out in the town with friends, or by the side of the road with prying passerby’s, it can be challenging and confrontational, even though its socially acceptable if a man was in the same situation.
In the end it all trickles down to The Right To Pee. There is a serious lack of safe sanitary public bathrooms to cater to this universal basic human need, especially in Africa. It’s time we stopped waiting for the muzungu’s to build toilets for us and do something about it. Women also need to be recognized as equal human beings and considered in the creation of public restrooms, as well as children and even the disabled (who are totally ignored when it comes to African infrastructure). Concrete floors and men only toilets are demeaning and unjust.
I found the “Right To Pee” a campaign based in Mumbai, both touching and uplifting, although I’ve not yet been to India, I can relate as the Ugandan, and I’m sure African situation is pretty much the same.
“There are fewer or no public urinals and toilets for women because women, by traditional gender definitions, are supposed to stay at home. We’ve found that sabziwalis and other working women, have for years trained themselves to not urinate for eight to ten hours in a day. You know the kind of gynaecological, urinary tract and kidney problems that can cause? Worse if you are pregnant because that causes an increase in the pressure you are feeling.” – Sujata Khandekar
I would love to hear about some of your pee experiences and misadventures while traveling, and how you’ve learnt to overcome them! Do we really need to dehydrate ourselves on long bus rides or are there any other handy inventions we can use to make it easier for us?