This article was written in the context of Asia. But you can transfer the most of the content to almost every context in the world.
The life of a nomad as budget traveler has not always sunny sides although today it’s 36°C again. But while shitting 36°C is not funny. Here are my every day challenges…
Since I am just starting my life as a digital nomad I don’t care so much about luxury but try to “survive” as cheap as possible. That one cannot always stay in Marina Bay Sands is self-evident. However, not quite true! I have at least “slept” in the Marina Bay Shopping Mall which is in the basement of the famous hotel. I was only for one night in Singapore and had a flight on the next day. I thought it would be a nice idea if I just stayed up all night while checking out the city. Unfortunately, there are very comfortable armchairs in that shopping mall so that I fell asleep. But the night was short because after a while the security personal woke me up. Their instruction was: I may sit but I must not sleep. Since in Singapore I have heard there is flogging punishment I decided to move on. The locals which also slept there just didn’t care and kept on sleeping. Outside at the Bayfront there were anyway many loungers which are much more appropriate for sleeping.
In Asia, there are many surprises in backpackers’ everyday life. Whether you have a dorm which is advertised in your booking app as having 10 beds while really having 20 and steel strips instead of mattresses. Or you will find showers which are actually a bucket of water and a bowl to scoop water. In Far East everything is possible. There you can’t apply German perfectionism but you have to be relaxed and flexible. German crafting standards you will search in vain. But instead you will find many innovative solutions for everyday life’s problems. In my current hostel, I have for example a washing basin which doesn’t have a real drainage. Instead they just build a pipe to the next hole in the bottom. That your feet become wet after 10 seconds of washing your hands nobody has thought of. After 10 seconds, only because there is – even in superior hotels – a very low water pressure. Therefore, washing your hands might take longer due to a shortage of water coming out.
Yes, I knew before my journey already that in Asia you often have holes in the ground serving as toilets. Seat-toilets are a rather Western cultural artifact. In my house of my student living community there were some Arab refugees. Those avoided to sit down on our toilets. They didn’t know these kind of toilet chairs we are used to. From their cultural perspective, it is disgusting to sit on a toilet seat. Granted, in principle it is a little bit unsanitary to sit down on that place where someone else sat before with his sweating ass. Actually, that’s true for home toilets as well as for gross public toilets.
Although I already had that knowledge I must have suppressed it somehow. Because I had a great shock when I first had to do a number 2 in Malaysia. Even though I was at the international airport of Kuala Lumpur there seemed to be only Asian squat toilets in the ground: How does this work? How do old people deal with it? Hopefully I don’t slip and fall! What do I do if the seating position become inconvenient during a longer session?
But eventually you will always find a Western style toilet somewhere. But many locals don’t know how to use those. So, you will sometimes find shoe prints on the toilet seat. Some toilets, however, don’t withstand the acrobatic experiments of the local population so that they broke sometime. Just imagine! Someone is just shitting and suddenly the toilet below his feet is breaking apart. Fatal! But also, own fault…
Toilet paper? No chance! In Asia, you usually use a small water pistol to shower your ass. And somehow Asians always manage to flood the whole bathroom with this. Gross, if you think about that you have to walk through other peoples’ ass water to reach the toilet! And when you pull down your pants for defecation purposes it will end up directly in that puddle! And since everything is flooded anyway every time the showers are just build in to the toilet room without any subsidence or cabin. Sometimes you might be lucky and you will find toilet paper. But you aren’t supposed to flush it down under any circumstance in some countries. But instead you have to throw it in the waste bin which is hopefully available at your toilet. Yet to be fair I have to mention that there are some locations where you will have high tech toilets. They have an integrated cleansing nozzle and dryer.
There are sometimes really bad sanitary installations in Asia. Some of them even charge an entrance fee. But the fee is way cheaper than in Germany. Who thinks that airplane toilets are narrow has never visited a toilet in an overnight bus in Thailand. They might have a third of the size the airplane variant has. Another traveler has once mentioned to me a public toilet where you saw the excrements of your neighbors in a canal which was embedded in the bottom. This canal went through all toilets bringing out the dump to the drain.
In Asia, there are many guttering for rain at the roadside. And also, the canalization has much more capacity than in Europe. Because when it rains in Asia then a shower seems like a hot-air chamber in comparison. My suspicion is that the bad smell in many towns and especially in the big cities is due to the toilets being somehow connected to that drainage system. Everything will then finally end up in the rivers. In Bangkok, there are many rivers. There is an actual net of water canals throughout the city. On these canals, public transport boats are commuting. These are better than the buses which are always stuck in traffic jam in Bangkok. You will get from A to B much faster when you use the boats. Unfortunately, the water will splash in your face even though there is some splashing protection installed in the boats. This is especially disgusting if my drainage theory is true. Mentioning shit, in Thailand every third stool is diarrhea. This is such a kind of reality you will not read in any travel brochure. It is especially funny if you only find squat toilets. Why is this the case? Why don’t my guts get used to Thai food? Another German which I met and who lives in Thailand now for over a year had no idea either. He could only promise me that it will not become better over time. He couldn’t either filter out the food which is responsible for that problem. Probably the street food is.
In Asia, even your showering procedure is very exciting. Since you usually shower a few minutes you have a short time to watch your surroundings. Often you will see many animals whether crawling, jumping or creeping. Frogs, ants, lizards or bugs – everything you will meet during showering. If you stay in the right area you might even observe monkeys in the trees outside of your window. Mosquitos graciously only appear at night. Many showers are cold even though the Asian cold is still warm for German users. Some showers even have a water heater. Those are working with electricity
and heat up the water directly before it comes out of the shower. In Brazil, I have even seen one time a shower cabin with wires hanging around everywhere. Even though I detest bureaucracy and regulations I really missed the German standard and perfectionism in such occasions. When you see electric wires hanging at the height of your chest while crossing a pedestrian bridge you ask yourself: Is it because of my German culture and upbringing that I am too nitpicky to see the point or was here someone really stupid?
You do not want to accidentally wet your pants. For the usage techniques maybe, a separate real talk article would be appropriate. The following tip would have been even more valuable if I had gotten it from someone already back then. So, listen carefully!
This information can literally someday help you out of the "shit". Quite often some of the toilets are in western style and only the majority are squatting toilets. Sometimes salvation comes when you just open the next doors. Often there is a western option at the very back behind the last door. In an emergency, just try all the doors.
In some countries - and here nothing can help - toilets are more like Advent calendars. Behind every door is a brown surprise. Then you can only shout out: "Help, I want to get back in the plane!
What do you think? What were your most shocking experiences in foreign countries? Are you yourself a backpacker and might have tips and tricks you might want to share with us? Then please just write a comment below!
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