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A shower head outdoors in branches of a tree

Showers Made Simple

By Jane McLellan

Last updated: 13th October 2011

Yes, I’ve already shared my very best advice on toilet tricks and how to pee, and now I’m getting on to the serious business of how to wash yourself on your travels.  I know what you’re thinking… flannel…soap…water, there’s nothing to it, right?  Don’t underestimate how different the art of washing can be depending on the facilities on offer throughout the world!  I have stayed in hostels where the bathrooms are as nice as in some good hotels, but equally I have shared my shower with rats, cockroaches and filthy, gooey floors…eek!

Communal bathrooms are – well – an experience. The most important item you’ll need for your trip to the bathroom is a pair of flip-flops. Some bathrooms are pretty disgusting and you have no idea who has been using that shower and what nasty things you may stand on. Keep your flip flops on whilst you are in the shower to protect your feet from any dirt and germs.

Shower cubicles don’t usually have a great deal of space in which to put your things. If you are lucky you may find a shelf or at the very least a hook on the door. A hanging toiletries bag is essential as it allows you to avoid placing your shower accessories on dirty floors. I also put my clean, dry clothes in a plastic bag so they don’t get soaked while I am showering.

Depending on where you are in the world, avoid having a shower first thing in the morning. The reality of taking a shower at this time is long queues, dirty showers and a sudden, and often quite shocking, loss of hot water. There are better times of the day to take a shower, like after the cleaners have finished. Not only are the showers super-clean, but there should be plenty of hot and high-pressure water, plus you are more likely to be able to take your time.
Remember to have lots of toilet paper with you. Trust me, many places don’t provide it!

Some bathrooms, especially at campsites, don’t have mirrors, so remember to pack a small pocket mirror. This is useful for the ladies who fancy wearing a bit of makeup and for guys when they need to shave. It will make life a lot easier.
Don’t forget to take a travel towel with you. They fold up really small, dry quickly and are super absorbent. Don’t take a normal towel with you because they will take up too much room in your bag, and more importantly, take ages to dry. When you pack a wet one in your bag you’ll find that all your other clothes will pick up the same horrible damp and musty smell.

Some countries do not benefit from the same infrastructure as we do back home. You may not have hot water or even a shower, which brings me on nicely to the bucket shower…

Bucket showers are an interesting and novel way to wash yourself. You are likely to come across one if you plan to travel around South East Asia or Africa and they come in all shapes and sizes. The most basic version is simply a bucket or similar container, while the more technical ones actually hang above your head and have a pipe attached with a tap. It’s easy to fool yourself into thinking that it is a normal shower for about 20 seconds, while the water lasts. If you are lucky you will have warm water but from my experience most of them are cold, although this can be refreshing, especially if you are travelling in hot, humid areas.

It was in Fiji that I experienced my first bucket shower. We were allowed one bucket of water a day to clean ourselves. It was different – cold, but refreshing. As each day passed, I quickly became an expert in the art of bucket showering.  Cold showers can make you shudder and scream but there are things you can do to make it more bearable.

The most important thing to ensure is that you shower before it gets dark. By doing this you can sit out in the sun and dry off without getting too cold. Secondly, have your shower gel and shampoo ready so you don’t have to waddle around naked and soaking wet trying to find your stuff. If you only have cold water you can get yourself accustomed to the temperature by cupping some water in your hand (or with a ladle if there is one) and sprinkling it onto your skin. Then throw more water all over yourself until you are sufficiently wet enough to lather up, wash yourself and then simply rinse off. I leave my hair until the end so I don’t have a cold and wet head for too long. A good tip for those with long hair is when washing your hair in cold water is to bend over and pour the water over your head so the cold water doesn’t needlessly go over the rest of your body, making for a much more pleasant showering experience.

My favourite bucket shower was in Ko Chang in Thailand. The shower area was in the middle of a rainforest surrounded by a six-foot wooden fence and there was no roof, just glorious tall trees hanging over me. The weather was hot and humid so to stand naked and pour rainwater over me was quite an exhilarating experience. I could lather up listening to the tropical birds and feel at one with nature. Lovely!

That’s it, lesson over!

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