Must Consider Advice for How to Choose a Safari

Start researching safari options and you will quickly discover just how massive Africa actually is. From the Great Migration on the Plains of the Serengeti to the drifting sand dunes of Namibia there are a spectacular number of parks and varied experiences to choose from.  This rapidly becomes even more complex as you then weigh your budget, seasonality, type of experience and the wildlife you want to see.  I’m freshly returned from a spectacular 9 day camping photography safari in Tanzania and am eager to share some of the lessons gleaned from this, and previous safari experiences. I’ve pulled from my own safari experiences across multiple countries, my research,  and discussions with the local company, Fed Tours and Safaris, who I partnered with for my recent Tanzanian adventure.

Picking your Safari

Perhaps you already know exactly where you want to go. For most of us though, the first step is figuring out just what type of safari we’re interested in, where we want to go, and what we want to see. So, ask yourself the following questions and then make sure to also catch ‘key questions to ask your safari provider’ which are outlined at the end of this post:

  • What animals am I most interested in seeing?
  • Which African cultures am I most interested in?
  • What landscapes do you like most?
  • What time of year will I be able to go on my safari?
  • How much safari time can I afford?
  • Why do safaris cost what they do?
  • What level of comfort do I need?
  • What is the core purpose of my safari?
  • Do I want a social experience or a private one?
  • Is quality of experience or diversity of sights a higher priority?
  • What is your level of mobility?
  • How much independence is important to you?
  • Malaria
  • Toilets
  • What are your fears?

The Spirit of the Moment

I’m thrilled to share that VirtualWayfarer just passed 1,000,000 views on YouTube (I’m so incredibly humbled and flattered – you are all amazing!). To celebrate, I decided to dive into my video archives, sort through the footage I’ve accrued over the past six years, pull out some favorite shots and to create a travel tribute video exploring and embracing snippets from some of the incredible adventures I’ve had over the past few years.  The result is just under 15 minutes of some of my favorite HD footage and spans 19 countries.

To go with the footage I pulled up a chair, sat down, and attempted to explore the lessons I’ve learned from travel.  The result is a heartfelt exploration of life, travel, and the magic of the road.  In it, I attempt to share some of the more significant lessons I’ve learned from travel, offer some advice, and aspire to convey the sense of ever-increasing wonder I have at the richness of the world at large.

It’s a smudge long, but the feedback has been that the combination of the footage and some of the ideas expressed in the monologue make it well worth the watch.  I hope you’ll take the time to give it a watch and then to share some of your own revelations or grand adventures. At the end of the day, travel and the opportunity to embrace the spirit of the moment is a wondrous thing.

Thank you all so, so, much for continuing to read (and watch!) VirtualWayfarer, offer your feedback, share your special moments, questions, and passion with me. I’m profoundly humbled and flattered by the messages you share with me and that you find my stories, photography, and video interesting.

Some have asked about the quality differences given clips were filmed over 6+ years – footage was shot on a mixture of devices. The earliest footage was filmed on an old Flip HD 720p handheld cam. Other footage was taken on a Vixia HF200. More recent footage was taken on a Canon 600D and a Canon 6D.  Video didn’t load properly?  View it here.

The Almost Brave Warthog – Weekly Travel Photo

Warthog Meets Elephant - Chobe Safari
The banks of the Chobe River in Botswana were home to a rather amusing series of events.  As we floated along and watched things transpire, we watched curiously as a rather bold warthog casually strutted in the general direction of what I believe was a young male elephant.  Full of swagger and strut the warthog marched right up in the general direction of the elephant, who at first ignored the approach and then as the warthog neared, turned a more attentive eye.  After a brief pause and standoff in which the two stared each other down, the elephant’s ears flared out and the warthog did a shockingly quick 180 before setting an energized pace for a hasty retreat.

The Monkey Soccer Mom – Weekly Travel Photo

Mother and Child - Chobe Safari - Botswana

While we may differ from monkeys in more than a few ways, some things remain the same.  Young baboons are every bit as curious, rambunctious, and entertaining as human children. They also appear to be every ounce the challenge for their parents to deal with.  In this photo from Chobe National Park in northern Botswana I captured a healthy mother and her rather animated child right before he launched himself from her back and into the nearby grass for a playful romp, roll, and flop.

The mother’s mixture of vexed parent and half-ignored mode of transport reminds me vividly of the small army of soccer moms (and dads) that descended on the rich green grass fields behind my apartment back in Arizona every weekend.  The kids could often be seen half-tumbling out of the mini-van’s sliding doors moments after the vehicles came to a stop. The raised voices of vexed parents chasing after them.

Both sights brought a smile to my face.  Though I will admit that I’m ever so slightly more partial to the oversize ears and awkward tail that define a baby baboon.

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

Startled Lions – Weekly Travel Photo

Lions Started by Elephants - Chobe

While watching a small pride of young lion and lionesses relax in Chobe National Park, Botswana we were treated to an entertaining sight.  The ordinarily confident lions were brought to their feet and startled out of their lazy late afternoon naps when an ambling group of Elephants accidentally wandered into their midst.  While the elephants were somewhat alarmed and surprised it was the lions which found themselves giving way.  After a short, undignified sprint, the lions seemed to notice that we were all watching, slowed to a controlled amble and then plopped back down into the grass.  But, not before changing direction so that they could keep a close, if casual, eye on the elephants.

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a  Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

2012 – A Year of Travel In Photographs

Traditional Souks - The Spice Market

2012 was one of my best travel years to date.  In it I added two new continents, four brand new countries and scratched some pretty major destinations off my bucket list.  In addition to completing my first year in Copenhagen I made it to the United Arab Emirates, Scotland, England, Germany, Sweden, Zambia, Botswana, Italy, Turkey, Canada and the Czech Republic.  Experiences ranged from my first time back in North America in 15 months where I came nose to nose with wild polar bears to an incredibly awkward Turkish Hamam experience to a week spent cooking over a charcoal brazier in rural Zambian villages.  2012 also saw me upgrade from my trusty Canon G11 to a Canon 600D, my first ever dSLR.

I feel like you have all been there with me throughout my many adventures.  Your readership, support, comments, feedback and advice really means a lot and is part of what makes the hours, money, blood sweat and tears I put into this blog worth it.  So, thank you.

Without further delay, I give you 42 of my favorite photos from 2012 in no particular order.

Lion Cubs Playing at Sunset

Lion cubs relaxing – South Luangwa, Zambia

Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Snow

The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) – Istanbul, Turkey

Lilac-breasted Roller - Chobe Safari - Botswana

A Lilac-Breasted Roller – Chobe, Botswana

Polar Bear and Setting Moon in Churchill

Full moon setting as the sun rises – Churchill, Canada

Lazy Leopard in South Luangwa, Zambia

A large leopard in the grass – South Luangwa, Zambia

The Streets of Stockholm

One of many beautiful streets – Stockholm, Sweden

Rainbows - Victoria Falls - Zambia

The last of my big three – Victoria Falls, Zambia

Elephants - South Luangwa - Zambia

A young male pausing to stare us down in South Luangwa, Zambia

Traditional Souks - The Spice Market

Spices at a traditional souk in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Faces of Zambia

Children clowning for the camera in a small village in Luapula Province, Zambia

Zebra - South Luangwa - Zambia

A Zebra relaxing just before sunset in South Luangwa, Zambia

Berlin - Beautiful Marbles

One of my favorite marble statues – Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany

Beautiful Sunset in Istanbul

A mosque at sunset during Istanbul’s worst storm in 25 years – Istanbul, Turkey

Faces of Zambia

Children showcasing their zeal for life – Luapula Province, Zambia

Streets of Perugia

A particularly beautiful street – Perugia, Italy

Hamish the Highland Cow

Hamish the world famous Highland Coo (Cow) – Kilmahog, Scotland


Fishing boats in Antalya harbor – Antalya, Turkey

One Eyed Leopard

This beautiful male leopard has survived with only one eye – South Luangwa, Zamiba

Wild Polar Bears in Churchill

Dancing or fighting?  Perhaps a bit of both – Churchill, Canada

Dubai at Night from the Burj

Dubai from the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building – Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Wild Leopard at Night - South Luangwa, Zambia

A large leopard warning a nearby hyena not to come closer – South Luangwa, Zambia

Cappadocia Region in Winter

The famous rock chimneys that decorate and define the Cappadocia region – Goreme, Turkey

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

A moment of love and companionship – Orvieto, Italy

The Streets of Stockholm

The historic streets of Gamla Stan – Stockholm, Sweden

Elephants Posturing - South Luangwa - Zambia

Elephants posturing near a watering hole – South Luangwa, Zambia

Sunset over Samfya Lake

Fishermen at sunset – Samfya Lake, Zambia

Elephants in a Line - Chobe Safari - Botswana

An elephant convoy walking single file – Chobe National Park, Botswana

Wild Polar Bears in Churchill

Polar Bears play fighting while waiting for the ice to freeze – Churchill, Canada

The Quirang, Isle of Skye

View out over the Quirang – Isle of Skye, Scotland

Lioness Feeding on Hippo

A lioness chewing on a baby hippo’s head – South Luangwa, Zambia

Bikes in Stockholm

A Swedish bike with a traditional twist – Stockholm, Sweden

Luapula Province, Zambia

The night sky over the village of Chisunka – Luapula Province, Zambia

Lion Stalking Impala - Chobe National Park

A lion casually stalking alert Impala – Chobe National Park, Botswana

The Isle of Skye, Scotland

An abandoned boat – Isle of Skye, Scotland

Perugia's Rooftop Textures

Looking down on Perugia’s beautiful rooftops – Perugia, Italy

Polar Bear Tears

Polar Bear tears – Churchill, Canada

Mother and Child - Chobe Safari - Botswana

A baby Baboon preparing for launch – Chobe National Park, Botswana

Geese Families in Stockholm

A mother and her babies resting – Stockholm, Sweden

Faces of Zambia

Hard at work preparing and seperating corn kernels for sale – Chisunka, Zambia

Old Painting from the Archaeology Museum

A close up of a beautiful piece of art in the Antalya Archaeological Museum – Antalya, Turkey

Alert Impala - South Luangwa, Zambia

A very alert Impala – South Luangwa, Zambia

Luapula Province, Zambia

d’Artagnan, my brother’s cat – Luapula Province, Zambia

It was nearly impossible to select 42 of my favorite shots from the last year.  There are a lot which I absolutely love that didn’t make this post. If you enjoyed these shots, please head over to my flickr albums and continue browsing.  You may have noticed that this post only includes one photo from Berlin, and does not include any shots from England, the Czech Republic or Denmark.  I wasn’t doing much shooting in England or Germany and I have not edited my photos from the Czech Republic yet so you’ll have to stay tuned for those!  I chose to exclude Denmark because it is my current place of residence. I’ll be doing a special post featuring 10-20 shots from the past year dedicated specifically to my life here in Copenhagen.

The photo at the start of the post (technically #43) is from the traditional spice markets in Dubai, UAE.

Most of the photos in this post were shot on a Canon T3i (600D) while using either a 18-135mm lens, 55-250mm lens, or a 50mm f1.4 lens.

I would LOVE to know which of these shots is your favorite, or if you have other photos I’ve taken over the past year which you think should have made the list but did not.

Thank you again so, so much for all of your support.  Your comments mean a lot to me!  I cannot wait to see what adventures 2013 brings!

How to Select the Best Safari Experience

Polar Bears in Churchill

The chance to go on safari is a fun and exciting opportunity. It tugs at our heart strings, teases us with adventure, and can bring to mind visions of early explorers and naturalists cutting their way through lush jungle in the pursuit of new and exotic animals.  While the realities of modern day safari going have changed significantly, there should be no doubt in your mind that most of the adventure is still there.  After all, you’re essentially taking the concept of a zoo and inverting it.  In place of locking the animals in small enclosures and then parading a procession of wild and savage humans past, you’re tossing a small group of humans into a vehicle while encouraging some of the world’s most powerful and majestic animals to take a closer look.

Lion Cubs Playing at Sunset

With three safaris under my belt I dare not claim to be an expert.  Luckily those three safaris have been diverse, action-packed, and have provided the following insights which I’m eager to share with you. These experiences converted me from a safari skeptic to a safari addict and were quite honestly some of the most magical travel experiences I’ve ever had. The suggestions in this post are based on observations and conversations taken from my six day South Luangwa luxury safari, three day Chobe National Park camping safari, and three day wild polar bear safari in Churchill Manitoba.  For the sake of this post, I’m excluding various day trips that I’ve done which might be considered casual safaris (eg: A penguin excursion in Tierra del Fuego) as I don’t think they qualify as the type of safari relevant to this post.

Chobe Safari - Botswana

Pick Your Destination

While all three safaris were wonderful experiences the South Luangwa Safari and the Churchill Safari offered a much richer and more appealing experience.  Exploring all comes down to one fundamental factor: location.  This seems straight forward enough but it’s actually more complicated than you might initially assume.  It is essential that you pick a safari with the overall location in mind.  When we ultimately chose South Luangwa for our safari, there were a lot of factors that influenced us.  These included time of year, location in the park, the animals that are present in the park; and the size of the park.  What we also learned to look at were the types of regulations in place for the safari operators.  These include things like the hours that are available for safari (we were allowed early evening drives in South Luangwa but in Chobe had to be back in camp by 6:30 sharp), existing facilities, and the number of safari operators/vehicles licensed in the park.

Lilac-breasted Roller - Chobe Safari - Botswana

Go For Immersion

On a more localized level it is important to understand that not all safari operators have equal access.  The operator I used in South Luangwa was Shenton Safaris. The operator I was with in Churchill was Frontiers North/Tundra Buggy.  In both instances these operators had their camp/lodge situated deep within the park.  Shenton’s Kaingo camp is one of the most rural in South Luangwa, while Frontiers North has a special (exclusive) concession that allows them to operate their mobile Tundra Buggy Lodge in Wapusk National Park.

Hyenas Feeding - South Luangwa - Zambia

While not guaranteed this translates to less competition and better access.  It’s important to understand that the typical safari usually only covers a few square miles.  So, while I initially expected that a six day safari would lead to six days of new terrain and new roads, I learned that it meant six days covering the same few square miles.  This makes sense as the parks that safaris are in are only so big, there’s usually only so much “prime” real estate, and because the animals themselves tend to be quite mobile.   This also means that the more safari vehicles you have in a set area the more disruption, competition and…well…traffic you’re going to have.  Nothing kills the feel of a safari like a line of 8 or more land-cruisers jockeying for position around two annoyed lions.  Interestingly, this held true for both my African and my Canadian safaris.  In both cases the best moments occurred within a mile of our central base – something that attests to the value of being situated in the right location.

Polar Bears in Churchill

Location, Location, Location

In the case of my Canadian safari, being based out of the Tundra Buggy Lodge provided incredible opportunities that all of the others missed.  Despite spending the entire day on the tundra for three days in a row, the best viewing typically occurred in the first two hours and within a quarter mile of our starting location.  Which is significant because all of the safari goers using other companies or doing day trips had to spend nearly an hour and a half in commute time each way to get in/out of the park. In short, most of the best action was over by the time they started their day.  It also meant that we got to enjoy the sunrise out on the Tundra every morning which was ideal for photography and made for magical moments.  In the case of our South Laungwa Safari, the structure was slightly different but the same was true with easy access in the early morning hours and the opportunity to enjoy the sunset before engaging in a brief nighttime safari each evening.

Wild Leopard at Night - South Luangwa, Zambia

Less Is More

Remember: Fewer people per vehicle is always better. In a safari experience the animals will likely appear all around the vehicle. This means that you’ll want to be able to see them no matter where they are. If you’re sandwiched into a bus sitting between two people you’re not going to be able to see the animals properly or to get the photos you want. The more people on a vehicle, the more motion and the more noise. Unfortunately the concept of not scaring the animals seems to be overly complex for some people. Fewer people makes for much more valuable and enjoyable experiences when it comes to safaris so look at vehicle size and for safaris with caps on the number of people per group.

Mother and Child - Chobe Safari - Botswana

Do As The Wise Do

My final suggestion is to chase the experts.  A good guide is every bit as important as your location.  Good guides that are photographers and/or have worked with professionals from organizations like National Geographic are worth their weight in gold.  The trips, guides, and safari companies they use tend to cost a little more. Better guides and fewer people are worth it.  Even if you can’t book with one of the companies that National Geographic, professional photographers, and professional cinematographers use or have worked with in the past it’s a great way to figure out where to book your next safari.  In the lead up to my recent trips I never imagined I’d be seeing first-hand, up close and personal, the type of amazing moments that make National Geographic and specials like Planet Earth so staggeringly beautiful.

Safari Vehicle Shots

There Are Great Budget Safaris Out There

If you find yourself on a tight budget, don’t despair.  While I’ve focused on how to select the best safari experience, that doesn’t mean that more backpacker friendly options (like my Chobe safari) won’t be wonderful!  While the immersion and quality of experience of the Chobe safari was not the same as the other two, the price was much more practical. I was able to see a number of amazing animals and was extremely happy with each of my safari experiences.  I’ve been told I have great safari karma, but more importantly it all comes down to doing your research, having a laid-back/flexible approach, and enjoying each moment and each surprise as it comes.  Don’t be afraid of being bored while on your safari. If you’ve got a good guide and are are in a great location you can easily spend days chasing the animals without feeling bored or tired.

As a final thought, make sure you take a powerful camera lens with you on your safari.  While we were able to get extremely close to the animals, having my Canon 55-250mm lens made a significant difference in the quality of the photos I was able to take.  The photos in this post were taken during safari on my Canon T3i (600D).

Have a safari tip of your own?  I’d love to hear it!

**The Safari company I used in Chobe was Kalahari Tours which was booked through Jollyboy’s Hostel.  My trip with Shenton Safaris was a paid family trip.  My trip with Frontiers North was provided as a gift prize through a partnership with the Canadian Tourism Commission and Travel Bloggers Unite.

Travel Fears: Squat Toilets and Spray Hoses

Photo by David Berger
Photo by David Berger

I began this series of posts with a piece exploring the topic of race.  In the 2nd I tackled disease, HIV and hypochondria.  In this, the third in the series, I will continue to share the concerns, uncertainties and revelations that led up to and culminated in my visit to Zambia.  I do this in the hope of helping many of you better understand  your own fears, paranoia  and to perhaps answer questions you might otherwise be uncomfortable asking or discussing.  The topics in this series are delicate ones, many of which are considered off-limits or too embarrassing to discuss openly.  As I seek to express, analyze and discuss them, please keep this in mind.   A more in-depth introduction can be found in the first post in this series: Travel Fears: Africa – Revelations as A White Traveler. You can see part II of the series here: Travel Fears: Africa – Disease, HIV and Light Hypochondria.

Bathroom Revelations

I was 24 when I learned a shocking fact.  People take two approaches to using toilet paper – some of us fold, while others scrunch. Both work well and have their uses but what really shocked me was that it wasn’t until I was 24 years old that I learned there was another way to wipe my bum. That comes to about 8,760 days spent going about my business without the foggiest clue I had a whole different set of options.  I find this to be a perfect illustration of just how taboo the subject is.   It also strikes me as an interesting example of just how unoriginal we can be when servicing parts of our daily routine. Which, in part, is probably why westerners find the thought of using squat toilets terrifying.

For those unfamiliar, a squat toilet is…well…a hole in the ground. If you’re lucky that hole can be quite fancy with slightly raised foot rests and at times even a sanitary hose for bidet-like cleaning. At the end of the day though, it’s just a hole in the ground. A hole that you have to squat over to use while praying that your aim is good, that you don’t fall over, have your phone slip out of your pocket and into the hole, and that you don’t spray paint your shoes.

Despite traveling in quasi-squat countries for years they terrified me and I managed to avoid them.  I would walk into a restroom, throw open the stall door and then issue a stream of muttered profanity when greeted by a squat toilet’s open maw.  Then, after a nervous and awkward staring contest I’d eventually give up, reverse my route and then commence the tourist’s squat toilet dance.  You know – that dance which resembles that of a small child who needs to use the restroom but refuses, instead walking stiffly around the house, sweating, and shooting daggers at anyone who tries to talk to them in the process.  If you’re observant you’ll find a lot of western tourists doing this same dance in squat toilet countries.  It’s a comically uncomfortable experience and one that can be more than a little embarrassing.

Worse than just the dance though is the behavioral change that goes with it.  While a lot of us are hesitant to admit it, I know more than a few travelers have actually structured their schedules around safe toilet breaks.  That’s a pretty fundamental behavioral factor in a trip not to talk about….right?  As an individual that is lactose intolerant and whose stomach has a fairly resilient but temperamental disposition, I’ll admit that strategic toilet thinking has definitely shaped more than a few day’s itineraries. Which left me nervous…which in turn…well…left me in need of a porcelain perch that much more often.

Squat Toilets

No longer! Zambia finally forced me to confront my fears, take a squat and I’m happy to tell you all I survived…barely.  Fellow travel bloggers LOVE to sing the praises of squat toilets. How they prefer them, how much healthier they are, how comfortable they are, how they’re natural and even how much more sanitary they are.  The wikipedia page for squat toilets is basic, but still manages to read as a public service announcement noting they:

  • Make elimination faster, easier and more complete. This helps prevent “fecal stagnation,” a prime factor in colon cancer, appendicitis and inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Protect the nerves that control the prostate, bladder and uterus from becoming stretched and damaged.
  • Securely seal the ileocecal valve, between the colon and the small intestine. In the conventional sitting position, this valve is unsupported and often leaks during evacuation, contaminating the small intestine.
  • Relax the puborectalis muscle which normally chokes the rectum in order to maintain continence.
  • Use the thighs to support the colon and prevent straining. Chronic straining on the toilet can cause hernias, diverticulosis, and pelvic organ prolapse.
  • A highly effective, non-invasive treatment for hemorrhoids, as shown by published clinical research.
  • For pregnant women, squatting avoids pressure on the uterus when using the toilet. Daily squatting helps prepare one for a more natural delivery.
For those paying attention apparently squat toilets even help pregnant women. So, when I build a house in a few years will I be installing squat toilets?  No. Hell no. I hate squat toilets. They are profoundly uncomfortable, awkward, potentially embarrassingly dirty, and a menace.  Every time I realize I’ll be forced to use one my stomach still gurgles in dread.  BUT, the pro-squat camp are onto something.  They really do help with many of the things mentioned above.  In fact, I’d love to join the pro-squat team, but I’ve realized there are a number of reasons why squat toilets have such a bad reputation among your average western traveler.

Squat Toilet Strategy

Every time I use a squat toilet I feel like I’m participating in a timed military drill.  Get in. Get down.  Rescue the prisoners. Get up. Get out.  Why?  Well, let’s just say it really sucks when your knees start to burn, the muscles in the arches of your feet start to cramp, you’re dehydrated, and you’re still trying to take care of business.  All while trapped in a tiny thatched mud hut in the middle of nowhere aiming for a small square cut into the cement floor. No rope to support yourself, oddly stained brick walls you don’t dare touch just out of reach, and nothing to prop yourself up on.  Oh, did I mention the giant spiders staring down at you from the roof?  Yes. Giant spiders. Meanwhile praying you’re not accidentally and embarrassingly re-decorating your paints or shoes in the process. All of which makes resting lazily on a porcelain standing toilet look REALLY good.

What I’ve realized is that a primary source for many of the issues we have with squat toilets stems from basic cultural body dynamics.  In places like Zambia, Dubai or India you’ll regularly see people casually relaxing in a squatting position.  For many it’s a comfortable alternative to sitting cross legged or in a chair. Even more important though, they’ve been squatting in this position since they were kids AND when they do it, they do it flat footed.

As you’ll note in the photo above I definitely can’t squat flat footed and if you’re having a lot of issues with squat toilets, you probably can’t either.  My tendons are too tight and i’m not flexible enough.  This is partially due to my height, but it is largely just because I’ve never needed to. When I squat I’m squatting on the balls of my feet. The rest of my foot is completely off the ground.  As a result I’m far less stable and far more prone to cramping than a more flexible or flat footed squatter. In turn this means that my body weight isn’t as well settled which puts added strain on my already weak knees causing increased discomfort.  I’ve tried to squat flat footed, but have a lot of work to do if I’m ever going to manage it.  I think in my particular case it is especially bad because of the muscles I’ve developed during 9 years as a salsa dancer….a dance which is danced predominantly on the balls of one’s feet.

If you’re nervous about squat toilets my advice to you is to experiment and to see if you can squat flat footed.  If you can’t and you have a few weeks left before your trip starts, begin stretches and exercises designed to improve your ability to squat flat footed.  You’ll be doing yourself a huge favor. Even if you can squat flat footed, consider pausing to squat for 3 minutes straight 3x a day in the lead up to your trip.  It’ll be good for your thighs, and help refresh the muscles you’ll need!

To reduce risk of splatter damage it’s advisable you take a wide squat base. This should improve balance and more importantly keep you cleaner. If wearing pants or shorts keep them above the knee when squatting, just mind what’s in your pockets. The temptation is to lean forward and rest your body on your legs, but you’ll be far better off if you can keep your spine straight as this should help reduce…shall we call them, “explosive projectiles” … or you can take a slightly different approach like my buddy Mark over at Migrationology who just takes his pants off completely.


This is still the part of the process I’m less than comfortable with. The toilets in Dubai had fancy hoses and nozzles. The more traditional or basic versions around the world often just provide a small bucket with water or a water tap.  Unfortunately, it’s as straight forward as you’re afraid it is.  Take the water, in whatever form it comes, and rinse yourself.  If water alone is insufficient use your left (not right) hand to help clean yourself, and then use the water to wash your fingers further.

But, that means you’ll be squatting there with a wet bum, right?  Yep. Unfortunately it seems that’s not a concern. No pat dry necessary (allowed?). Just shake off as much water as you can, and then pull your pants up and go about your business.

If, like me, you find the concept of touching a hose/handle/cup/nozzle that everyone else has touched…shall we say…suspect? Then you can plan ahead and take a pre-filled plastic coke bottle in with you for use as your own private water source. The locals will likely see this as “less clean” but we’ll agree to disagree.  If your trip is shorter, you can also pack in your own wet-wipes or toilet paper. Just be mindful when disposing of the paper, as many toilets can’t handle it. If you’re not able to shower on a daily basis or expect to have food-related complications I highly recommend you have wet-wipes on hand.  They’ll make a huge comfort difference and do wonders for your mood.

It’s also interesting to note that use of water/toilet paper seems to vary from country to country.  Not all squat toilets lack toilet paper. In Zambia, there was rarely water available and always toilet paper to be found.  In Dubai, however, a mixture was often present.

Final Thoughts and Tips

You’re not always going to be able to avoid squat toilets.  However, you will be able to avoid them far more often than you think. When trying to seek out a traditional western seated toilet make sure to keep a close eye out for handicapped bathroom stalls.  Even in bathrooms that were almost exclusively squat toilets, the handicapped stall was typically a traditional western toilet.  Other bathrooms (such as the old wing of the Dubai Airport) alternated between squat and sitting toilets every other stall.

Unfortunately, you’ll find that many of the toilet seats in squat-centric countries are cracked, missing or damaged.  This is because toilet anxieties go both ways – an oddly re-assuring fact.  Traditional squatters don’t like and are at times unsure how to use our seated toilets. So, many will actually squat while perched on top of the toilet seat.  This ends up damaging the seat or breaking it free altogether.

If using rural squat toilets it can be immensely useful to take a brick, or stick in with you.  The brick to help brace yourself if you’re having stability issues, and the stick to help balance yourself.

I hope this post helps alleviate some of your fears, answer some of your questions, and better prepares you for your next face-to-face encounter with squat toilets.

If you’ve got an added piece of advice feel free to chime in!