But it doesn’t have to be this way, as I learned after spending two weeks car camping in some of New Hampshire and Maine’s most well-trod mountain and beach towns. Relieving oneself 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 an intrepid mind-set. So before hitting the road, memorize these four steps for a tension-free trip to the toilet.
Consider your options
If you won’t have access to your own commode while traveling, then your shared-use venue will either be a solo bathroom or a multi-toilet bathroom that can accommodate several people at once. If you’re concerned about covid-19 transmission inside bathrooms, this could be the crucial factor to consider. Scientists have established that covid-19 spreads more effectively in indoor settings where people are congregated, especially if the room where they’re clustered has poor air ventilation. You might be able to keep six feet away from your fellow bathroom occupants, but what if they aren’t wearing masks?
Then there’s the toilet itself. We’ve seen those stomach-turning studies that show that flushing a toilet may blast aerosolized fecal particles upward, where they linger in the air for up to half an hour — and many shared or public bathrooms have flush toilets without lids. While it hasn’t been conclusively proved that inhaling fecal aerosols can result in a case of covid, this is another reason to wear a mask, and to remember to wash your hands after touching or removing it.
“Wearing a mask is the best protection that people have from the aerosolization and transmission that can happen inside,” says Robbie Goldstein, an infectious-disease doctor 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 that people were breathing out hung in the air for seconds or minutes before dropping to the ground. But it turns those aerosolized droplets probably stick around for a lot longer and can travel farther.”
A solo-occupancy bathroom can offer some protection from people and aerosols, especially if the bathroom is an outdoor facility with a non-flush pit toilet like an outhouse or even a porta-potty. (“There’s no one else who may be in a stall next to you,” Goldstein notes.) It may be a grimier venue, but this was a problem before the coronavirus, and protocol remains the same. Plan to hover, or to wipe down the seat with some kind 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 consider keeping it partially open while you’re inside. “Letting air flow through the porta-potty is going to be the best ways to flush aerosols out,” Goldstein says.
Know before you go
Before booking any lodging, pick up