Travel essentials: toilet paper

This was originally an entry I submitted to a contest to become a travel blogger. It is now reprinted here for your enjoyment, updated and extended.

The horror of horrors

One of the things I’ve learned from traveling is that even if you’re leaving your comfort zone, it is still common to bring your expectations with you. Growing up in the third world, I always found it funny how my friends from the U.S. discovered that as dirty as a public toilet can be, they at least have toilet paper. Walking into a bathroom was definitely a shock, forcing them to adopt the habit of not just finding a clean restroom, but one that had toilet paper or bringing in their own, since it would often be stolen from most restrooms in Manila. My general rule of thumb when traveling is to always carry a pack of toilet paper in my luggage and a roll in my backpack.

When traveling with friends, it makes me their new best friend and the certified boy scout whenever we go on long road trips or through the remote countryside. Conveniently, it’s also a bartering tool, which I’ve used to trade for cigarettes to give to other friends who would trade their cigarettes with me in exchange for them taking care of my duties, such as picking up the tab for dinner or carrying my heavy backpack for me.

You can’t expect the conveniences provided to you to be present when traveling, but at the same time, you may discover more conveniences that you never expected, such as when I was in Bangkok staying at the Princess Pathumwan Hotel, and found a telephone installed next to the toilet. If I ever ran out of toilet paper, I knew room service would definitely be able to respond to that emergency fast.

For real emergencies in Princess Pathumwan Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand

Leave your expectations behind and think of every possible essential you need, and you won’t ever have an emergency that could have been curbed by being prepared for the worst. This is why I bring my own toilet paper, laundry detergent, and a fake wallet for people to steal while I hold my real one in a special concealed travel wallet I wear around my neck. For every wonder and interesting person you see when traveling, there are a dozen crooks and inconveniences to deal with.

The other reason I like to bring my own toilet paper is because quality may vary–either the sheets are too thin and they break apart easily, or they are like sandpaper, which is usually the norm since they’re cheap, and that’s still only if you find a roll in a stall.

Most of the time in the third world, I’ve seen varieties of toilet hygiene. Some places don’t have toilet paper in the stalls, but a vending machine that gives sanitary napkins and tissue, which isn’t convenient for people who don’t have a few coins on them. Other places just have a pail you fill with water and use with your hands to clean yourself, which shocks most people who are too used to the privilege of toilet paper. When I was in the Philippines in the far provinces, I sure was glad I knew how to use water from my bottle in lieu of having no toilet paper at the time. Unfortunately, it’s too bad I didn’t have any soap or hand sanitizer to use after the fact ;).

Bring your own toilet paper–you’ll be a lot happier for more reasons than the ones I’ve shared here. Besides: you may also end up having to squat over a pit in the ground instead of a toilet.

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