Fears stop many people from traveling. Wether it is fears about safety (read this for some safety tips) or fears about filthy toilets and dirty hotel rooms.

Things like this shouldn’t stop you from discovering the world, because there are many handy tips and tricks out there, to make these experiences bearable.

I had my share of toilet nightmares, which were absolutely terrifying, but in the end gave me a gross, but still quite good story to tell.

This is a topic most people prefer not to talk about, but I am not really known for my proper behaviour, so I will tell you all the things I learned while being on the road, which can make your journeys much more pleasurable and can save you some bad surprises.


These tips are especially if you are traveling in China or Asia in general, but I stick to some of them when I am on the road in Europe or the States too. They make my life easier.

We all heard some rumors about the infamous squatting toilets, very common in Asia, but I already had them on a ferry in italy too. Some so dirty that you feel like passing out because of the smell.

how to survive public toilets
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Yeah no kidding this is a toilet, but actually a rather clean one xD

Definitely not something we see very often. Even our train stations have nowadays nice and clean toilets.

Technically squatting toilets are actually more hygenic than normal toilets, because you are not touching anything with your naked skin. But if they are not cleaned regularly, they can be really a nightmare.

So here are my tips on how to survive public toilets (I focus on my time living in China) :

  • Starbucks: If you are staying in Shanghai or Beijing lucky you (or any other big city, in China we used to say it is just a real city if it has a Starbucks, otherwise it’s a town, no matter how many people lived there 😉 )

Starbucks is your best friend.They even have lovely signs over the toilet seats, saying : Dear Customer, please sit on the seat. The seat is not made to stand on it.
Means as much as there must have been local woman actually squatting on top of a regular toilet seat. Somehow these post made my day.

Every time I went to Starbuck the toilets were clean and nice and tada they had toilet paper =D

  • Toilet paper: This is the next big issue. Most toilets don’t have toilet paper. So you ALWAYS have to carry some with you

But don’t flush it into the toilet, there are bins for the used toilet paper. Trust me DON’T THROW THE TOILET PAPER into the TOILET…because chances are big that you clog the toilet with it and in worst case you’ll flooding the whole room.

Also I would always carry some hand sanitizer with me, because soaps are rarely found in public toilets. And trust me, there will be places were you have the urge to get your hands very clean afterwards.

  • Shopping Center: These also can be your rescue. In Shanghai the shopping  center were pretty much pure luxury and really nice and clean and western style.
    In smaller cities, like for example Qufu, they are still alright,but mostly squatting and not always the cleanest, but still better than using the public toilets on the streets. So if you know a shopping center, head there.
  • No Flip-Flops or open shoes: If you know you will be on the road the whole day, you do know that you probably have to use a public toilet at least once.

Save yourself the nightmare of having to go into one with flip-flops. There are times when people don’t hit the hole properly. Just warning you, you will see things, which you definitely didn’t want to. Sometimes the toilets leak and there are water puddles (hoping it is just water), so yeah with open shoes or flip-flops you will probably end up having a lot of undefinable things stuck to your feet for the rest of the day. Enjoy (hope you hear the sarcastic tone)

  • Squatting-practise: If you are travelling alone and you are having a backpack, I would advice you to practise squatting with your backpack a couple of times.

Because the worst nightmare is losing balance and falling into the hole. Squatting down can already be a challenge, but doing so, with a heavy backpack on your back (can’t leave it outside alone, don’t want to put it down onto the wet and dirty floor), is really challenging.

Better prepare and get used to it, so that you are not putting too much weight forward and are landing on your nose and not too much back to get stuck in the hole.

  • Privacy :Well yeah this is a bit of an issue for woman and men equally. There are public toilets with no doors, so the stalls are there but well there is no front door. As a foreigner people will stare at you, even more when you are using a toilet. I mean it could be that you are looking any different down there, right?

So if you really have to go, be mentally prepared, that you might won’t be all for yourself, because there is really not much to help you here. But you will find these open toilets mostly in rural areas, I never came across one in a touristy city, yet.

  • Get into the right toilet: While in the main city’s the toilets signs are in English and Chinese, in smaller city’s the signs will just show the Chinese Characters. (Goes for other countries too, learn the signs or words for men and woman before going to a foreign country.)

So I painted them for you, so that you won’t have any unpleasant surprises:

(Also learning the phrase: “Were is the toilet?” can safe your life. Don’t be lazy, learn at least the most important things)

  • Have some change with you : At some places you have to pay a small amount to use the toilets, not because they are clean, but simply because they are
    somewhere next to a famous sight. So always have some change with you.


  • Everything Else: Out of my own experience the cleanest places are found were many western tourists are, like Shanghai or Beijing, if you stick to the main tourist areas.

Hotels usually have Western toilets and are quite clean, same goes for Hostels, which are often mixed with western and squatting toilets, but generally clean)

If you are going to visit a temple or mountain, the most touristy ones are usually the cleanest. My worst experience was at a local mountain, were there were mostly tourist from the area. I could swear they haven’t cleaned that place the whole week and the flush wasn’t working, so I leave the rest to your imagination, that stink was indescribable.

But the thing is going into nature just isn’t an option. As a foreigner (and woman) you are going to be watched the whole time. Sometimes they even follow you around. So even if you try to hike of into the woods (which is even forbidden at some mountains) it could be somebody actually follows you to tell you to come back, so that you won’t get lost. If he/she has a camera, it could be that they will show pictures to their family back at home of the crazy foreigner peeing in the woods.

Lastly if you really can’t squat or live without a proper toilet seat. There are seats at sale in China. Basically foldable chairs with a hole, which you can place over the actual squatting toilet. Gives you a bit of a luxurious feeling, but do you really want to carry that thing around with you?

Just a quick drawing, to help you visualize ;)
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Just a quick drawing, to help you visualize 😉

In the end I can promise you if you survive China, you will probably have seen your share of yucky things and there won’t be much to shock you anymore afterwards.

It is quite an experience, but with these little tricks the whole experience might won’t be too bad. Otherwise you will have some great, really gross stories to tell…

Did I miss anything? Do you have any special tips on how to make toilet nightmares less nasty or how to avoid getting into these situations entirely.

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