You wouldn’t think I’d need to write a post about taking a shower around the world, but that strange white box in the bathroom has perplexed more American travelers than you can imagine.
Turn the power on in the shower
Yes, most of the world is energy-conscious, and they tend to electronic devices off when not in use. That white box on the wall of bathrooms in most countries outside the US is a mini water heater. Just like a computer, you have to turn it on to use it. To turn it on, you might have to do one of four things. A. Turn the dial on. Some heaters simply shut off when the temperature is turned all the way down. B. Push the button. Usually (but not always) a light will come on when the power is on. C. Flip the switch. This will either look like a light switch or a larger switch, possibly with a red light in it. Also, most countries flip the switch down to turn the power on. D. Pull the knob out.
Control the temperature with the water pressure
It’s a water heater, not a water tank. It warms the water in real time as the water passes through the pipes. If you have the water pressure on high, it won’t have a lot of time to heat up. Simply turn the pressure down, or change the setting on the shower head for fewer holes, and voila!
Avoid scalding water
When using showers with independent water heaters, there’s a trick you have to use to avoid getting seared. After you turn the water off, the heater will continue to heat the water left in the pipe for a couple minutes. This can make it extremely hot. If you’re like me and turn the water off while you’re soaping, make sure you get out of the way or turn the shower head toward the wall when you turn the water back on. Also, after the initial burst of scalding water, you’re likely to get a few seconds of ice-cold water. Give the heater a moment to catch up, and you’re good to go.
Yeah, but which one?
Many toilets around the world have two buttons. The smaller button is for “number one,” i.e. a leak. The larger button is for “number two,” a dump. Other countries are water conscious as well as energy conscious, and (usually) the smaller button will only flush long enough to replace the water in the bowl, while the larger button lasts long enough to get any solids down the drain and clean the bowl a little.
Learn to use a douche
Alright, here’s one I had to learn the hard way. I’ll never forget my Workaway experience near Cinque Terre, Italy where I had the horribly embarrassing experience of asking my host why there were two toilets in the my small bathroom. Technically, that was a bidet, but close enough to a douche. Basically, you have to use water and your hand to clean yourself. Sorry, I’m not going into more detail than that. The only advice I can give is to control the nozzle if you’re using a douche. Don’t get water all over the bathroom (says the guy who comes in after you). Personally, I use the other method.
Bonus tip: Always keep spare toilet paper in your pocket when you travel!
Read more of my travel tips for the savvy traveler.