The wonderful world of showers

Away with the Fairies Hostel, Hogsback, South Africa

I’ll be the first to admit, although I’m not a dirty-hippie, dreadlocked and black-footed typical backpacker, my hygiene level does significantly decrease while travelling.  Frolics in the ocean become relaxing baths and baby wipes become a must-needed 2 minute shower.  Running water and private bathrooms are luxury amenities and for some, backpacker showering may be horribly unappealing.  But for those of us who can turn a blind eye (or for those of us who don’t wear our glasses or contact lenses while showering), bath time becomes a novelty item much like kitschy souvenirs. So in order to navigate the path to cleanliness, here is a guide to showers across the world! Feel free to leave your experiences or advice in the comments below.


Found in: Indonesia and Malaysia
What the?! (a.k.a. how to use):
 A mandi is a traditional bathing technique involving 2 containers of water – a large bucket and a smaller scoop.  Simply scoop water from the large bucket using the smaller scoop, pour the water on yourself and voilà,  a shower! Make sure you don’t contaminate the large bucket with any dirty body run-off water because that may be the only water you’ll get that day.  Typical drainage is a hole in the ground and if you’re in a more modern facility, instead of a large bucket, you may find a spigot to fill your scoop with fresh water.

  • Wash your hands first, that’s your sponge/loofah and no one likes a dirty sponge.
  • Girls, wash your hair by flipping your head over, it’s easier this way to get shampoo out with the small scoops of water.
  • If you’re using a mandi with freezing cold water in freezing cold weather (like half way up the 2329m Mount Bromo in Indonesia), don’t worry the shivering and shaking will stop eventually after wrapping yourself in layers of blankets and curling into the fetal position.

Shower Over Toilet
Found in: 
cramped bathrooms and fancy train bathrooms. I’ve encountered it mostly in South East Asia.
What the?! (a.k.a. how to use):
A shower over the toilet is similar to regular western showers except that the shower head is directly over or very near to the toilet.  There is no separate area or bathtub so drainage is again probably just a hole in the ground.

  • Water will go everywhere so put your towels, clothes and toiletries far away from your shower area.
  • Put the toilet seat cover down, there’s something gross and uncomfortable about sitting down on a wet toilet seat the next time you need to go.
  • Remove the toilet paper from the showering vicinity.  What’s worse than a wet toilet seat? Wet toilet paper.

Electric Hot Water Shower Heater
Found in: 
anywhere without a hot water tank.  This is one shower that doesn’t discriminate based on geography  – I’ve encountered these in India, Japan, Europe, Hong Kong and South Africa.
What the?! (a.k.a. how to use):
An electric hot water shower heater looks like an electrical fuse box mounted on the wall of the shower near the shower head with pipes coming in and out of it.  It normally has a switch, knob or dial (depending on how fancy the heater is) and/or indicator lights to show that the water is sufficiently heated. Simply flip on the switch/turn the knob or dial to your preferred temperature and wait until the electrical coils inside the panel heat up the water to a lukewarm or scaling hot temperature (for you hot water shower sadists).

  • Planning and preparation is key here! Make sure you turn on the heater in advance of your shower or else the water may not be heated until you’re halfway through the “repeat” of lather, rinse, repeat.

Nature’s Shower
Found in: approximately 75% of the Earth’s surface in the form of oceans, lakes, seas, rivers, ponds, creeks etc.
What the?! (a.k.a. how to use): Jump in and enjoy! Don’t do one of those teeter by the edge gently splashing water on your body with your hand moves.  Most likely, you’ll either fall in or some jerk friend will push you in.  Then you’ll just get mad and ruin your showering experience.

  • Make sure you’re aware of what’s around you and the local customs before you strip down to your birthday suit.  You don’t want to be perved-on or worse, offend anyone with your pasty body.
  • Try to not use any soap at all but if you must, use environmentally-friendly soap.  You’re already contaminating the water with your grime, the fish don’t need the sodium laureth sulfate, citric acid and methylchloroisothiazolinone also.

Baby/Travel/Make-up Wipes
Found in: your bag.  Baby wipes or travel wipes or make-up wipes (or cloths) can be purchased at grocery stores, convenience stores, drug stores etc.
What the?! (a.k.a. how to use): Wipes can be used if there is no source of clean-ish water nearby.  This often occurs after long bus/train/plane rides or in remote locations.  A showipe (see how I did that? clever, right?) may seem gross but when you’ve been sitting in an 8-hour bus ride in front of a man holding a live chicken with the windows down on a dirt road in 35C, 95% humidity weather (yes, that actually happened in Kenya), a refreshing, slightly moist, cloth is your saviour! Usually, I can get away with using 2-3 wipes before I feel comfortably clean.  Note, you can’t possibly clean every spot on your dirty body with just wipes but all you need to target are the essentials – face, armpits, hands, neck, nether regions.

  • If you’re not allergic, use scented wipes which can mask BO and act as a nice perfume/cologne.
  • Save costs on buying bulk and keep things light in your day pack/bag by separating a few into ziplock bags to keep in your day pack.

So there it is! A starter’s guide to the wonderful world of showers.  Happy showering!


One thought on “The wonderful world of showers

  1. meiness says:

    Very interesting, Claudia! When we lived in China, before we had running water, I used the wash basin and washcloth method. I’m glad we finally had plumbing when I got too big to fit in the wash basin!

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