Tidewater Traveler - October 2010


The Happy Room
George W. Sellers


I can only hope that my friends and acquaintances in Arizona are not offended that I am motivated to write this article while aboard my favorite airline (Southwest) bound for Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, to be followed by a two-hour desert drive to Tucson. Please believe me when I say there is nothing about a trip to Arizona (specifically) that conjures up the images and experiences needed to develop this topic. No doubt, regular readers of the Tidewater Traveler will conclude that travel is in the toilet after enduring the next few paragraphs.
The topic - what shall we call it? I have heard it referred to as going to the L00, the water closet, the WC, the washroom, the restroom, the bathroom, the potty, the sh--house, the toilet, the John, the slitty, the sitty, the latrine, the litter box, the head, the outhouse, the necessary room, the comfort station and the lavatory. Not counting foreign languages, I am sure I have missed many more melodious monikers used to describe one of the most sought-after and called-upon components of the vacation experience. A hand-painted wooden sign above the door at a highway rest stop in the rural Sichuan Provence of China probably says it best, “The Happy Room!”
I pride myself in preparing clients for their travel experiences, but I have to admit that this aspect of travel typically goes untreated – unmentioned. Travelers are almost always left on their own to discover the sometimes dramatic differences in design and modus operandi of facilities intended to provide for one of nature’s most basic of functions - the elimination of body waste.
All humor aside (for a moment), toilet availability and usability are genuine concerns for many travelers, especially travelers with bladder-related or bowel-related conditions. It is so unfortunate that many people feel they need to curtail or completely avoid travel because of such circumstances. In addition, most travelers have some trepidation about drinking destination water and the effect it may have on their internal processes. For many digestive systems, drinking different water – not necessarily bad water, just different water – may produce intestinal discomfort, intensifying one’s interest in needing to find an acceptable location quickly. A good vacation is an Imodium-free vacation! (P.S. Never travel without it!)
Travel-potty-issues in the field (no pun intended) are usually tightly guarded, top-secret matters sometimes revealed when someone in the travel group says, “Have you seen So-and-So? S/he just disappeared.” To which someone else replies, “Maybe s/he got caught short.” When a group of travelers reaches a certain level of familiarity, top-secret issues evolve to whisperings among trusted friends; and when the members of a travel group really gel, outspoken innuendo and eventually open discussion evolves. Such was the case with a recent group touring China.
The group’s very first experience with a no-sit, squat-over toilet broke the dam (so to speak) for discussion of travel-toilet issues. From that point forward nothing was taboo – nothing! The ladies developed a network of toilet-scouts – brave travelers who would inspect the facilities upon arrival at a destination and report back to the group regarding the general condition and tips for effective utilization. The general condition was reported in terms of star-rating – 1-star through 5-star. Imagine our surprise and amusement when we learned that some restrooms had actually been given star ratings by the government. Utilization tips included such things as: take your own paper; there is no place to hang your purse; can’t wash your hands; there is no privacy door on the stall; there is no stall; put the paper in the trash can – not in the hole.
Star-ratings ran the gamut – from less than 1 star up to 5+stars. I will allow you to imagine the 1-star or lower facilities for yourself, but you might be interested to know that one of the 5-star potties at a dinner theatre so impressed the scouts that just about everyone in the group went to see it whether or not they had the need to do so. Those who went to see (and use) were rewarded with crystal chandeliers; marble floors, walls, vanities and stalls; a private attendant with fabric towels and a smile; and best of all - each private stall housed a sitty. The ladies had previously classified the bathroom fixtures as sitty and slitty. Slitty is the designation given to a porcelain-rimmed hole in the floor, on either side of which are foot-rests molded into the porcelain. When using a slitty, the most effective position for the consumer is the baseball-catcher-squat or the helicopter-hover, sometimes relying upon the aid of a companion for increased stability. One traveler reported using an adaptation to the helicopter-hover that involved leaning forward to rest the head against the stall door or wall, thus establishing a more stable three-point stance. Be assured - excitement and pleasure were openly expressed whenever a scout reported the presence of a more Westernized sitty.
Travelers to destinations in Asia, Europe and South America should be prepared with mini-rolls of toilet tissue and containers of moist wipes. Rely on 4-star and 5-star hotels to be certain of having Western-style facilities. As for all other locations, be prepared for the possibility of having a new cultural experience.
The Happy Room quandary occurs not only when comparatively substandard facilities and fixtures are encountered. Consider how many average American travelers might have found themselves for the first time in a nicely appointed 5-star hotel room, marveling at the marble walls and floors; admiring the glass-walled shower enclosure and the huge Jacuzzi tub. “Mabel! This seat is heated! You need to try this. But first, bring me my book. I’ll be here a while. Mabel! There are two toilets in here! One of them has no seat, but it has a water fountain in the bowl. What the heck is this thing???!!!” Many a traveler has been puzzled, or at least very curious, about the modern bidet (bu-day’). Do you try, just for fun, to figure out how to use it; or do you simply look at it, talk about it, and photograph it so the less fortunate back at home can see how really nice the hotel was where you stayed?
Seeing and experiencing new things - that is what travel is all about. Imagine how dull travel would be if everything was just like it is at home! Probably we should catalog our unusual travel-potty experiences as cultural enrichment!
Hmmm – gives a new dimension to my slogan. . . May all of your travels be happy and safe!

George Sellers is a Certified Travel Counselor and Accredited Cruise Counselor who operates the popular travel website and travel planning service www.SellersTravel.com.