How to use basic toilets out in the middle of nowhere

If you’ve never left the comforts of North America, you probably haven’t experienced the various types of toilets that you don’t normally find in wealthier western countries.  Here we’ll go over a couple of types that you’re likely to encounter at some point if you travel to third world countries (or developing countries if you prefer that term).

A pit toilet (or drop toilet) in the Peruvian Highlands.


This guy right here is called a pit toilet.  It’s basically just a hole in the ground.  If you’re lucky, you’ll get two small platforms on either side of the toilet where your feet go.  The protocol is simple:  you squat down and let it fly.

The mechanics of it are pretty easy, but here’s a tip that will make life much easier and make it less likely that you’ll soil your clothes in the process of taking a dump:  remove your pants completely and hang them up nearby while you use the toilet.  Or if there’s no place to hang stuff, roll them up and hold onto them.  When you’re squatting like this with your pants around your ankles, you’re just a small angle away from your jeans being in the line of fire.  Some people are naturals when it comes to positioning themselves, but I never could figure it out without putting my legs in an unnatural position resulting in muscle cramps after a short period of time.  I’ve found that it’s much easier just to take everything off below your waist except your shoes, and then you can squat however you want to with no risk of dirtying up your britches.

Example number 2 is something that looks like a standard toilet at first glance, but there’s no tank sitting behind it and no obvious way to flush it after use (I’ve used these before, but I don’t have a picture – sorry).  When you see this type of toilet, there will be a big bucket full of water sitting somewhere nearby with a smaller scoop in it.  Use the toilet as usual, and when you’re done, scoop an ample amount of water from the big bucket and pour it into the toilet.  It will flush.  Basically, you’re providing the flush water manually instead of it being released by a reservoir tank.  If the big bucket is running low on water, be sure to inform whoever is in charge so that it’s refilled for the next person.

As recommended in my packing list, hand sanitizer is key for these situations.  If you have access to soap and water, that’s even better.  You don’t want to get yourself or others sick after your adventures in the toilet.  Also, don’t forget your packet of tissues since a lot of toilets like these do not provide toilet paper.


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