“To flush or not to flush…” Sorry Shakespeare, but sometimes this question is more urgent than pondering our existence.
Americans don’t think twice about flushing toilet paper. We’re a young country and we have the sewage system to prove it. With four-inch sewage pipes, our toilets can handle the quilted-extra-ply-super-soft toilet paper we’re accustomed to.
The rest of the world? One of the first things to know upon arriving in a foreign destination is that flushing toilet paper can cause plumbing nightmares. In some places, it’s downright prohibited.
Ancient places come with ancient plumbing. For example, in Greece a standard sewage pipe is only two inches. Same in Spain, Turkey, Italy, Mexico…Eastern Europe, Central America, Southeast Asia…you get the idea. Best to learn now how to avoid nasty overflows.
To flush or not to flush: Don’t be THAT tourist!
It’s easy to know if toilet paper can be flushed at your destination. The obvious way is to just ask the hotel clerk or your guide. Or look it up before you go. Easy-peasy.
Next, look to see if there is a bin next to the toilet. Yes? That’s where the toilet paper goes. Hard to miss, right? The bin may or may not have a lid. As a side note, toilets come in various “designs.” With or without seats, flushing mechanisms here or there. But the purpose and function is the same. You’re a smart person…figure it out.
In the beginning, you’ll forget to use the bin once or twice…usually as you’re flushing. That happens. But DON’T say to yourself, “What’s one more bit of toilet paper?” and keep doing it. Or, “Gross! I am not doing this!” That’s plain rude–would you like it if a guest clogged up your toilets?
Read the signs!
You don’t have to understand another language to figure out what’s being said. In general, if there’s a sign in the restroom or stall, it’s telling–begging–you to please not flush anything more than what comes out of your body. Go ahead and laugh at the poorly-translated language. Take a photo to post on Instagram. But follow the instructions. Just like in the U.S., it costs a ton of money to unclog a toilet. Only in other countries, you’re also plugging up the town’s sewage system, too. Do your part to help make travel pleasant for all–including the shop, cafe, or restaurant owner.
One last bit of advice: Clean up after yourself
Notice that nearly every public restroom has a brush situated next to the toilet bowl. If you leave…um, a mark…you are expected to use that brush to clean up. Toilets in other countries have a different design that somehow capture traces of human elimination. “Smudges” cling to the bowl. Don’t ask me why or how, I don’t know–maybe it has something to do with flushing efficiency. Anyway, as the guide in Florence directed us, “Use the brush!”
While we’re on the topic of keeping clean, I advise you to tuck a little roll of camping (decomposable) toilet paper into your purse or day bag. I’ve shown you some pretty nice toilets, but busy places run out of toilet paper. A wise traveler is prepared.
Of course, you’re already toting a little bottle of hand sanitizer for all types of travel situations. When you find yourself in a soapless restroom, don’t grumble or complain. Just use it and move on.
Fun fact about toilet paper
A Minoan king of Crete came up with the idea of a flushing toilet over 2800 years ago. However, it took another 1700 years for toilet paper to come along. (Thank you, Joseph Gayetty!) By now, you’re wondering what folks used for all those centuries: stones, clay, sheep wool, leaves, corncobs, and water. And later on, pages from an Almanac or Sears catalog.
More ways to travel like a pro: