Why I Always Pack Tissues (And Why You Should To)
Updated: 9 hours ago
Memories are the best souvenirs from travel. In the 27 or so years since I visited Rome for the first time, I no longer have the little blue whale cup that eight year old me ate gelato in, or the "Il Primo Bacio" t-shirt that barely fit me, adorned with angelic cherubs from the open-air markets. Instead, my first trip to Rome is memorialized in my mind as the trip when I learned the most valuable travel tip I could ever teach anyone - ALWAYS pack tissues.
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Bathrooms Are Different Abroad
It was at the young age of eight that I discovered not all bathrooms are created equal. I'd learned to say, "Dov'è il bagno", asking for the toilets and was quite proud of it. I was understanding quickly that flushers across Europe had different characteristics than home in America - you'd see pull chains, foot flushers, wall buttons and so on - all different and always a challenge in itself when approaching your mid-meal or mid-touring pee break. What I didn't realize it that not all bathrooms are free of charge. Enter, the bathroom attendants.
You Have to Pay the Bathroom Attendants
It goes without saying, the bathroom attendant is not culturally exclusive to Europe. Across the globe, bathroom attendants, usually nice ladies who look like your mom or grandma, sit in a little plastic chair by the door with a variety of purposes. In clubs or bars you might find a bathroom attendant offering perfumes, tampons, even candies - although I'm not sure who would want candy from a bathroom.
In island nations or grubbier, poorer locales the bathroom attendant serves as a reminder that the bathroom doesn't clean itself, and a small tip would be appreciated. Even in the more advanced societies you'll find these women posted to their sentry boxes for the simple exchange of coin for potty privileges.
Any small pocket change will do in these scenarios, however sometimes there is a sign providing you with the cost of your bathroom visit. This is all well and good, and perfectly acceptable to keep the bathrooms running efficiently and economy churning. Unless you're an eight year old sent to the bathroom by herself.
Bathrooms Don't Always Have Toilet Paper
Here's the thing, these bathroom attendants serve a holy purpose, especially in the Vatican City on this life altering day. In exchange of a handful of Lire (may as well be ancient coin since the Euro took over), you receive a handful of toilet tissue. It's not quite toilet paper, but generally that waxy scratchy kind of square diner paper that you'd pull from a chrome dispenser.
Four or five tiny pieces of that would suffice for your coin exchange, and you'd do your business and go. You may even get a paper towel for hand drying when you're done. I will add that in the event there is no bathroom attendant, sometimes cultures provide a communal roll of paper by the sinks, to be collected prior to going in to your stall. Forget this, and you may as well refer back to the point of this whole blog - better have those pocket tissues on hand.
Don't Be Caught Without Options
Alas, in my scurry to the toilet I bypassed the woman exchanging valuable paper goods and ran in to a stall to poop. "Ha Ha!" I rejoiced to myself quietly. I successfully evaded the lady trying to take my money. Jokes on her!, I thought. Not quite.
As I relieved myself of the day's tortellini lunch, a panic set in. My eyes scanned the stall in horror. I'd just laid down the largest load of the century to this divine throne of white and there was no paper to be seen. I rifled through my meager belongings for a solution - what eight year old carries a purse or backpack unless filled with toys and junk?
In Dire Straights, Improvise
Ecco! I found it! In it's origami square, I unfolded the coarse edged plastic map of the
Vatican City. This sacred square would save me from a very unholy departure from the stall. As I wiped my butt on the Papal paper, shame flooded my pre-pubescent veins.
Always Pack Tissues
I ran in near tears from the stall to my parents and re-told my tale, to which mom replied, "why don't you ever listen to me? Always. Pack. Tissues."