Dealing With Toilet Anxiety While Traveling

moroccan-bus

One of my strongest fears while traveling is that I’ll need the toilet, but there’ll be nowhere to go.

It’s a strange fear, but a common one. I don’t know how it came about for me, but it can turn traveling into a nightmare and spoil a holiday if I don’t keep it under control. Often that’s impossible.

Whenever I need to take a long bus ride I always have that voice in my head screaming, “WHAT IF! WHAT IF! WHAT IF!” I don’t worry about the bus falling off a cliff or a car crashing into us, I instead worry about the bathroom.

What if I need to go, but I can’t?! That’s the main thought. I keep thinking about it over and over, convincing myself that it will happen. It must happen!

I can almost picture the scene, feel the embarrassment. I’m sitting on a bus desperate to pee (or worse!), I don’t feel I can hold it in any longer. I look at the driver, but he can’t speak English. I just have to hold it in.

Every time the bus goes over a bump it feels like my bladder is going to explode. I keep holding and holding. Praying the bus will stop. But it never does.

Eventually I can’t take it anymore and I get up. Try to plead with the bus driver who waves me away. Everybody is watching me, looking up at me. Then it happens. The bus falls into a pothole, jerking my body. I can’t hold on. Everybody watches.

“What the hell that white guy just peed himself!”

These thoughts make me panic, my heart beats faster and my stomach churns. My anxiety about needing the bathroom makes me need the bathroom! Whenever I take a bus I keep rushing to the toilet every 2 minutes before hand. Then when I get to the bathroom, I can’t even go. I’m empty.

Soon I get on the bus and when the bus doesn’t leave I start worrying more. Why isn’t the bus moving? What if we sit here for hours and by the time we leave I need the toilet? I won’t be able to hold it in!

Eventually the bus starts and after 10 minutes I start to convince myself that I need the bathroom. How can I hold it for the whole journey? I can’t do it. My palms sweat, my heart beats. Panic.

When traveling with Jamie, this drives her mad. “It’s all in your head!” she insists. Part of me knows she’s right. It’s just anxiety, half of it is my imagination. Always there is that feeling of foreboding inside though, maybe this time it isn’t in my head. Maybe this is the time when the worst finally happens.

A few years ago I was taking a bus through Morocco with a friend. We wanted to travel from the Sahara Desert in the south to Fez in the north. We thought it would only take a few hours and our tour guide pushed us onto a random bus at 7 in the morning before saying his goodbyes.

It was a stupidly hot day and I was sweating, so I bought a bottle of water. I didn’t want to get dehydrated so I kept drinking. Gulp, gulp, gulp. Soon I’d downed the whole bottle.

Within half an hour the water had passed through me. I started to get that feeling. I needed to go. The feeling grew, my bladder getting fuller. Each minute that ticked by increased the pressure in my bladder.

Soon I started to feel desperate. Was the bus ever going to stop for a break?! Why the hell haven’t we stopped yet?! Panic rising.

Eventually the bus slowed down to let on some farmers. As soon as the door opened I jumped out pushing by the bus conductor.

Quickly, I ran about 20 meters into a field beside the bus – I say “field” but really it was just a patch of sand and rocks. I pulled down my zip and suddenly the feeling was gone. I couldn’t go. Stage fright. Come on, come on, come on! The bus conductor started shouting at me in Arabic. Come onnnnnn! Eventually I started to pee, feeling instant relief.

As I finished, I turned around only to notice the bus was starting to pull away. I sprinted after it, catching up to it and jumping into the doorway as it chugged away. My friend turned to me and mentioned that everybody on the bus was getting angry at me. I didn’t care, I would rather have a bus full of Moroccans angrily watching me pee than seeing me wet myself.

Five minutes later I felt incredibly foolish as the bus pulled into a town and we were all pointed to a bathroom.

Once we’d set off again we asked the bus conductor how far it was to Fez. “6!” he said. We groaned. Six hours was way more than we expected, we were starving and after 30 minutes I felt desperate for the toilet again. This time I held it in…it’s all I could do. Eventually we stopped again much to my relief.

At the 5 hour mark we started to get excited. Almost there, one more hour. After two more hours we were wondering why the bus hadn’t stopped. We asked the bus conductor again, “How long til Fez? “6!” he said. “Six more hours?!” A teenager turned to us and simply said,”Six o’clock.” It then sunk in that the bus ride wasn’t 6 hours, but we would arrive at 6 o’clock.

What that experience taught me is that doing a lack of research and planning can easily come back to bite you in the backside. If I knew I was getting on a bus for 11 hours I would never have drunk so much water. I also would have organised my trip to be more relaxing. Being on the bus for that long is way too much for me. I get uncomfortable.

A lot of my fears dispel when I am more comfortable, so I try to keep my travels organised enough that I can stay relaxed. I do lots of research before I go to a place so that I’m confident about traveling there. Research allows us to prepare ourselves for any problems we face making places less stressful.

As with a lot of anxieties, the more you think about them, the more of an effect they have on you. For the rest of my Moroccan trip I had no problems getting on a bus and barely even thought about needing the toilet. However on later trips, once I’ve gotten the idea in my head that something bad might happen it’s been hard to shake it. I’ve found that it snowballs into other parts of my life too, affecting my time even when I’m not on a bus. I become stressed out about everything.

Often before getting on any form of transport, I get into a worry routine. I work myself into a frenzy of nerves and fear. To solve the problem I try to either get myself out of that routine of worry by taking control of my trip. The more control I have of a situation, the more relaxed I am.

I love taking the train for a number of reasons, but one is that there’s always a toilet to use whenever I need it. We often take the train because it’s less stressful and there’s less anxiety. We also try to spend no more than 4 hours traveling on buses. Any more than that and I’ll start to get uncomfortable and panicky. I mentally know I can handle a certain amount of time on a bus, so I like to stay within that limit.

It’s also important to realise when you actually need the toilet and when you’re just convincing yourself otherwise. Look for the signs. If you’ve just been to the bathroom 5 minutes ago, chances are you won’t need to go any time soon. Generally I think a person can hold it in for hours at a time unless they’re sick or have a medical condition. I know it’s easier said than done though. Panic can make you the most irrational of people.

If all else fails, you can create a travel itinerary that you are in complete control of. Rent a car or hire a driver so you’re in charge of your rest stops and can stop any time you feel the need.

The best thing to do though is just relax. Remember why you go traveling–to have fun and experience new things! Take it easy and enjoy yourself, take control of your holiday and travel in a way that makes you comfortable. Then hopefully your anxiety will slip away.


Do you suffer from toilet anxiety while traveling? What solutions have you found to tackle it?

Photo by Troy

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15 thoughts on “Dealing With Toilet Anxiety While Traveling”

  1. Ah, this gave me a giggle. I’m not the only one with this issue, which is nice to know!

    I drove my mother and sister nuts in San Francisco last year because I get unwell if I don’t drink enough water (very, very unwell – I’ll spare you the too much information!). Our constants stops for me to use the washroom drove them spare.

    I have to admit I don’t have any tips for a long bus trip – I basically avoid any forms of public transit because I attract weirdos. Not just eccentrics, but people who will attack me or sexually harass me. What can I say, it’s a rare talent I have…

    1. Water is clearly the enemy when it comes to travel. Drink too much and you need to go to the toilet every 10 minutes. Drink too little and you’ll die. Sometimes the latter option sounds more appealing to me when I’m on a long uncomfortable bus ride!

      The weirdos are the best thing about public transport…maybe I say that because I’m one of those weirdos though!? Oh no!

  2. This is quite literally a legitimate concern at times – especially if you’re traveling in places with lower hygienic standards. I can honestly say I’ve come quite close to shitting my pants but fortunately never came to that.

    1. I didn’t go into it but this does actually make the anxiety worse because obviously when you travel there is always the knowledge in the back of your mind that at any moment food poisoning can kick in. I always fear it’ll happen an hour into a 10 hour bus journey. I wouldn’t know what to do and hope I never find out. I’ve read far too many people discussing shitting themselves to believe it’s not a rare occurrence though! Doesn’t exactly put my mind at ease.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. I totally have toilet anxiety. I recently was on an 18 hour bus ride (terrible idea I don’t know how I let my boyfriend convince me of that. Never again), and every time there was a bathroom break, I would make a dash for the toilet no matter what. You never know what could happen. Use it when you can. At least I knew they were coming regularly. It’s true though – the more you think about it, the more it becomes a reality and panic inducing.

    1. Argh 18 hours would be way way too long for me. Unfortunately sometimes you have to do long journeys on planes and trains but we try to stay away from buses as much as possible! I’m also the type to go even if I don’t need to. Each toilet is like a gift to me! Hah.

  4. As that friend on the bus to Fez, I’d like to point out that we got on the bus at 7am, expected to be there by 11am, later learned it would be 6pm and eventually arrived at 11pm. To top it all off Dan had decided we should be travelling on the budget of recently bankrupted Zimbabwean (lowest GDP Per Capita of 2013, facts yo’) so I spent the whole journey sitting on a seat that resembled a wooden plank. Because; it was a wooden plank. 2nd worst journey of my life. Still have the hemorrhoids to prove it.

    1. Hah. Worse than I remembered. Never again. Complete lack of preparation on our part in honesty! I don’t think it was a budget thing like…it wasn’t our choice!

  5. So nice to know that its not just me! My partner sighs when I say I have to pee five minutes into a trip after I have already gone three to four times before we leave! I think my pee anxiety started when I travelled to Thailand 11 years ago, I was on a 12 hour train from Bangkok, a two hour bus ride then a 3 hour boat trip… I didn’t pee the whole time!!! My partner at the time had warned me (jokingly) that the toilet was in the other carriage to us on the train and that because I was clumsy I might fall off the train when going between the carriages!! So I held on so long and was in so much pain that I didn’t pee for over 17 hours.

    1. Not peeing for 17 hours. Jesus. How could you have anxiety after that? You’ve proved that you can hold it in for almost a whole day!

  6. Well guess i am not the only one….. i’ve been having this anxiety for as long as i can remember i am 24Yrs old now. and this anxiety is getting worse day by day. Only for me its not urinating its actually defecating (shtting). I cant even travel for 15mins now without having this anxiety like “what if i have to go” its like a constant battle for me everyday. it takes 30mins bus ride for me to got to my work and everyday i fight. even though i win most of the time the anxiety wont go away.

    not only in traveling the anxiety comes whenever i know i cant go. like few days back i was at work. feeling just fine and normal. but when a collegue came and announced that all the toilets are being maintained and they’ll be closed for 2 hrs……. out of no where i had this urge to go….. i kept walking here and there cuz i dont know why while walking the the urge reduce. but only a little bit

    it has ruined my life. i cant even go to my father’s grave cuz the cemetery is 45mins drive.

    i kinda learned to deal with it. but something happened few months back and now i am all back from where i a started and its getting really worse now. i feel like crying sometime cuz how messed up my life is

    i have no one to talk to about it since it kinda feel weird to say “i cant go cuz i have bathroom anxeity” i found no solution on the internet other than this Online Hypnosis Therapy worth $15. but most of the people say Hypnosis Therapies doesnt work well. and i myself think that my anxiety has been with me for 20Yrs i dont think a simple therapy would help me much

    what do i do? 😥

    1. Hi Umer,

      You are not alone. I think this is quite common for people with anxiety. If you want to read more about my experiences and those of others, check out this forum post. I really recommend signing up to the forum and talking about your own experiences as people can put your mind at ease.

      I did have a big problem with it at one point, but have got a lot better. So you can get better too! I can imagine your horror when finding out that your toilet was to be closed for 2 hours. When I was at my worst I used to panic a lot if there was no toilet within around a minute of me. I think it is good to challenge yourself though. Slowly push your way out of your bubble. If you think you can only make it 30 minutes without a toilet, challenge yourself to do 31 minutes. Then 32 minutes. Soon you might see you’ll be able to do hours!

      If you can get yourself to a doctor, then you should as they’ll be able to help you to! If you want to talk you can email me anytime.

  7. It’s so good to see I’m not the only one!
    A few years ago I was travelling and most of our tour was on a bus for several hours each day. Needless to say, I nearly panicked when the tour guide told us there was no toilet on the bus. What if I need to pee? What if I need to do something else because I got food poisoning? So I barely ate or drank anything at first. Then I realised our tour guide was very nice, too nice in fact! He let us off the bus at a gas station or public toilet every hour! Relief! But then I started panicking, what if I can’t hold on for an hour? We drove through lots of highways and mountains, I can’t ask them to let me off then. I did have a mild panic attack a few times when we were driving in the mountains though, and when we ran into traffic.

    This fear has changed aspects of my life. I know it’s all in my head, but I’ve never had the bravery to overcome it. I know that having just gone to the toilet half an hour ago, it most likely means I don’t need to go for at least another few hours, but when I start panicking, I really feel like I need to go.

    Oddly, I had this issue several years ago too. I would be very scared, very scared about needing to go to the bathroom when I would be on a bus or somewhere with no toilet. But I managed to cast that fear away by convincing myself that it was practically unheard of to need to go again, and it was all in my head. That worked for a few years. Until one day I actually really needed to go and I was in a car and we were lost. That wasn’t in my head though, I actually needed to go. The feeling of that panic rising inside me and the need to go brought that fear back.

    Though for that tour trip from before, funnily enough, nearly everyone went to the bathroom every hour, just incase!

  8. I too think it’s time to admit that I have this problem. Every single comment I’ve seen I can relate to. It takes me 3 times as long to get to work as it should. I am trying to get better though. Recently I’ve taken up cycling which allows me to be in control of when I stop, and when I cycle I never appear to stop! As soon as somebody says “do you want to go to *place*?” I instantly try and work out in my head where the toilets are on that trip so I can use them just incase. I really really hate myself for it. I have a trip to Budapest soon and am really worried because I don’t know where the toilets are! I drove my girlfriend nuts when I went to London the other month and that sweaty, toilet-less underground drove me insane. I am just a student and hope I get over this fear soon.

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