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