Holes in the ground are the reality of travelling through the developing world, so it’s best to be prepared and know how to use one, especially if you’re taking young kids or toddlers with you. Jess Farrugia of With Two Kids In Tow, It’s Backpacking We Go took two girls under 6 on an extended budget holiday around Asia, so she knows a bit about how to handle the daunting squat toilet. Here are some of her tips for dealing with bathrooms in developing countries when traveling with kids. 

Exactly how do you use a squat toilet?

A squat toilet usually has grooved foot areas on either sides of the bowl – place each foot here. If urinating, you can face either way, but if number 2s, the drain pipe should be directly below your backside.

What do you do if there is no toilet paper? 

Squat toilets never have toilet paper – you need to bring your own. Otherwise, there is always a tap next to the bowl to fill up a separate bucket with clean water. Then you either use the smaller bucket supplied with it to “splash” and wipe with your left hand only, or just scoop the water with your left hand only and wipe/clean. In cultures where the squat is used, it is universal that the left hand is used for this purpose and you eat with the right hand. [Never shake hands with or touch someone using your left hand for this reason.]

What about if there is no flush?

Squat toilets rarely have flushes. (We've only encountered a flush once.) Again, you use the small bucket to scoop fresh water out of the larger bucket to pour down the squat to “flush”.

How do you deal with the wet floors, especially if kids are still toilet training?

The floors are wet because of the transfer of the fresh water used to “wipe” as well as “flush”. Aside from being wet, they are generally quite clean – locals are quite adept at using them!  

In fact, in public situations, once you get used to the squat I think I prefer them to the “Western toilets” which can sometimes have a missing or dirty seat. And it's much easier to get the kids to squat (young kids are more naturally pre-disposed to being able to squat properly) than to hold them over a seat, especially once they are over 2 years old.

As we have girls they are almost always wearing skirts or dresses which come in handy for using squats (I myself also avoid wearing pants for this reason). If wearing pants, I would hike up the hems while dropping the seat of the pants to your knees – a bit tricky, but not impossible!

[For kids in the very early stages of toilet training, it might be preferable to just remove all pants outside the bathroom and wear only shoes into the squat if you think your child is still unstable and unconfident.]

What if your kids just won't go on a squat toilet?

In some situations places might have one “Western toilet” amongst a few squat toilets so check if this is the case. Otherwise, often there is no other option but a squat toilet, then there is no choice but to use it!  

How did your kids first react to a squat toilet? How did you encourage them to use it and get used to it? 

The kids were disgusted, confused and a bit apprehensive. They were afraid that they would fall in. Peeing on their feet was also a worry.

If the squat was the only option, we just reassured them that this was perfectly natural and stayed with them. Sometimes, especially earlier on, we needed to physically support them as they were squatting. With time and practice they became more used to it.

What are your tips and tricks to using a squat toilet?

Westerners haven't developed the muscles or balance to use squat toilets. Before your trip, practice doing a full squat with both feet flat on the floor. Get the kids practicing it too – you'll probably find that they are more natural doing it than you. (My 6-year-old still can play for a long time while in this position). You have to get your bottom right down, preferably without needing your hands for support. For most Western people, this is a very difficult position to sustain for any amount of time.

When actually using the squat, place a hand on the adjacent wall (or face the wall if peeing), a pipe or even on the water bucket to help you balance. The cubicle of the squat is usually quite small so it shouldn't be a problem finding something to support you.

I also prefer the kids to wear flip flops or Croc-type shoes with non-slip bottoms (as the bowls can be quite slippery) which make it easier to quickly rinse in case of any accidents.

As with any new situation, your own attitude towards using a squat will set the tone for how the kids react to it. Keep it positive and hopefully the kids will soon take it in their stride. In any case, we have noticed that more and more places that cater to Western tourists, even in South India, have at least one “Western toilet” available.

For more travel tips about travelling in developing countries with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here
To read more about The Farrugia family’s adventures read the suitcases&strollers story Backpacking With Kids.