But that doesn’t have to be the case, as I learned after spending two weeks driving camping in some of the busiest mountain and beach towns in New Hampshire and Maine. Relieving yourself in relative comfort while traveling on a tight budget isn’t easy, but like most aspects of budget travel, it’s achievable with a little research and a fearless mindset. So before you hit the road, memorize these four steps for a stress-free trip to the bathroom.
Consider your options
If you do not have access to your own chest of drawers during your trip, your shared use location will either be an individual bathroom or a bathroom with multiple toilets that can accommodate several people at a time. If you are concerned about the transmission of covid-19 in bathrooms, this could be the crucial factor to consider. Scientists have established that covid-19 spreads more efficiently in indoor environments where people are gathered, especially if the room where they are gathered has poor ventilation. You may be able to stand six feet from other bathroom occupants, but what if they aren’t wearing masks?
Then there is the toilet itself. We’ve seen those stomach-spinning studies that show that flushing the toilet can blow aerosolized fecal particles up, where they stay in the air for up to half an hour – and many shared or public bathrooms have flush toilets without a cover. Although it has not been conclusively proven that inhaling fecal aerosols can lead to a case of covid, this is another reason to wear a mask and remember to wash your hands after washing. ‘have touched or removed.
“Wearing a mask is the best protection people have against aerosolization and transmission that can occur indoors,” says Robbie Goldstein, infectious disease physician at Massachusetts General Hospital. “You don’t know who was last in the bathroom, and our old understanding of how viruses were transmitted through the air seems to be wrong. We thought the droplets people breathed would hang in the air for seconds or minutes before falling to the ground. But it makes those aerosol droplets likely stay around much longer and can travel further.
A single occupancy bathroom can offer some protection from people and spray, especially if the bathroom is an outdoor facility with a non-flush toilet such as an outhouse or even a porta-pot. (“There isn’t anyone else who can be in a stall next to you,” Goldstein notes.) It might be a darker place, but it was a problem before the coronavirus, and the protocol remains the same. Plan to hover or wipe down the seat with some sort of disinfectant. When you’re done, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer, which should also take 20 seconds.
And if you can, try opening the door before your bathroom visit, and remember to keep it partially open while you’re inside. “Letting air flow through the portable pot will be the best way to remove aerosols,” says Goldstein.
Know before you go
Before booking accommodation, pick up the phone and find out a little more about their on-site toilets. It can be a bit awkward to ask questions, but you want to know exactly what type of bathroom is available at your campsite, hostel, or rental before committing. Campgrounds that cater to outdoor enthusiasts often have eco-friendly composting toilets, which don’t spray any aerosol particles. And stand-alone pit toilets are still very common in rural areas, where time flies patiently.
If you can’t find an accommodation that offers your favorite bathroom, it’s time to take advantage of the economy and adventure of budget travel and find some good public toilets near your destination. These will likely be porta-pots and you can often find them in recreational areas such as public parks, beaches, boat launches, trailheads, scenic pullovers like waterfalls or panoramas, or even sports fields. Check Google Maps to see if there are places like this within 20 to 30 minutes of your accommodation. Try to call the Department of Public Works in the city closest to your accommodation and ask them where their public toilets are.
If they are careful about this, go to step 3.
As you approach your destination, do not head directly to your accommodation. Drive around town and take a drive through recreation spots, to see if there are bathrooms or porta-pots on site. (Again, take a look at a map before hitting the road to find these recreation spots.) Once you’ve come across a few leads, pull over and make sure the bathrooms are open. Take a look inside to assess their cleanliness. You can check to see if the bathroom has signs indicating when it was last cleaned or, if it’s a small pot, when it could be washed out. If the establishment checks out, consider return trips if necessary. When I have found a suitable toilet within a reasonable driving distance of my campsite, I plan to use these toilets in the morning. Earlier in the day, this is your best bet to avoid the crowds, especially if the washroom is near an area where community events are held like farmers’ markets or soccer games. You don’t want to stand in line.
Finding a public toilet or a porta-pot nearby is a wise step to take even if your accommodation facility has bathrooms that are suitable for you. It’s good to have a Plan B, in case your master bathroom ends up in the trash, or you unexpectedly find yourself in need of a toilet while you’re on the go, enjoying your day.
The latter scenario – an unexpected call from nature – can be disastrous. And if you are stuck in a place where no suitable place can be found, then it is time for the nuclear option.
Back to earth
Consider traveling with a trowel, TP, and sealable plastic bags. These tools are your last resort and should only be used if you cannot find a bathroom that meets your needs. Follow the “leave no trace” guidelines for disposal: Find a secluded space outside, at least 200 feet from any water source, and dig a “cathole” six to eight inches deep. Put down your drawers, do your thing and put the used toilet paper in the plastic bag, to put it in a trash can. (You can’t bury the TP; it takes months to decompose, and in all likelihood the animals will dig it up.) Cover your “deposit” with soil and maybe rocks. (Is the ground too hard to dig a hole? Consider getting some “Go Anywhere” toiletry kits.)
Finding a suitable toilet as a budget traveler is even more difficult during a pandemic. But once you find your places and a routine, there is a release. Knowing that you have solved the predicament while practicing covid-19 safety measures will make that windswept hike or that farm-fresh blueberry pie all the more satisfying. Because you are still traveling, despite everything. The road remains open.