Travels with a weak bladder: a tale of personal torment

Loo with a view

Loo with a view

I know to check these days. If we’re taking a bus journey that’s longer than a couple of hours there has to be a toilet on board. It doesn’t always remove the problem. After all, even if the bus is equipped with a loo, it may well be broken or locked. But I have to try.

It’s been a source of discomfort and occasional agony for me since my teenage years. As a student I would often take the bus between Nottingham and Bradford. It was very rare back in the 1980s for buses to come with a loo on board. I remember one journey where, by the time I’d reached Sheffield I was crossing my legs and whistling to keep myself distracted, such was the desperate urge to go. As someone who hates making a fuss I didn’t want to disturb the driver and ask for him to make the other passengers wait while I found the station toilets. By the time I had endured another 40 minutes to Leeds however, tears were streaming down my cheeks and I asked him to wait while I ran into the station building. “Ok” he said, “but why don’t you use the one at the back of the bus?” I could have screamed! I’d suffered for nothing. The memory still haunts me over 20 years on.

It’s always the way now that I check if there’s a toilet on the bus when I board. If there isn’t one I can guarantee I’ll be asking the driver to stop before any other passenger does so. Yet if I see the reassuring sight of a lavatory on the bus, in my relaxed state I can survive a long journey without the need to go. It really is all in the mind. I even avoid coffee on the morning of travel but it doesn’t prevent me from entering this tortured world of my own making.

Sometimes even the peace of mind of finding a toilet on the bus can be misplaced. On a five hour journey through Patagonia, I was happy to see the bus had a loo and relaxed for a couple of hours, enjoying the bleak landscapes. When I finally decided to go, I was distressed to find that the door wouldn’t open. I pushed and pulled, and it wouldn’t move. In my best Spanish I asked the driver for the key to the toilet and he looked at me as if I was an idiot. “It’s open” he shouted. Finally another burly passenger went to back and rammed the door with his shoulder, and the problem was solved. As if I should have worked that out by myself…

If there’s any country where needing a pee is never an issue it has to be India. On our second day in the country, our driver was heading along the highway on the way to Agra when I asked him to make a stop when it was next convenient. He immediately pulled up at the side of the road. When I asked him where I should go, he looked at me in despair and said “Sir, this is India. You can go wherever you like.”

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17 Responses to “Travels with a weak bladder: a tale of personal torment”

  1. Oh man, I hate the feeling of being trapped…and not being able to go when I have to–or even just feeling I cannot if it comes upon me…makes me panic a little. Glad to know I’m not alone! When we’re traveling as a family, I always demand everyone use the loo when one is available to us, specifically for this reason. I think I’ll go and use my bathroom right now…just because I can. ๐Ÿ™‚

    March 31, 2010 at 1:41 pm
  2. Haha, thanks Lisa. Just writing this post has made me want to go. Funny, I always perceive it as being a man thing. But maybe we’re the ones who can run off the bus and stand by the side of the road, while the women suffer silently. Good idea to always go when you get the chance.

    March 31, 2010 at 2:15 pm
  3. Me too! I once had to stop a public bus in Costa Rica on the side of a mountain because I couldn’t hold it any longer. I had also not drunk any liquid that day. Hate it. Any tips for how you deal with it?

    March 31, 2010 at 2:16 pm
  4. Oh Andy, I laughed out loud reading this! You are preaching to the converted – my bladder is the size of a kidney bean. Whereas you bite back the pain, I can’t! One instance had me forcing a bus to stop near the Cambodian border, this girl has to do her business at all costs. ๐Ÿ™‚

    March 31, 2010 at 10:13 pm
  5. The call of nature eh? I can mange well outdoors, the military refer to it as a “shovel recce”. I do however struggle with the ever popular “19th hole” type of loo – that found commonly in Turkey and the Balkans. It’s not that I want to read my paper, its just that for me, delivery (on-time) has always been more important than accuracy.

    April 1, 2010 at 7:09 am
  6. Haha, another brilliant post Andy! I was in Borneo last week and we we heading down the road into the jungle. The guide said that the drive would take about 3 hours and if I needed to go, I should let him know. I asked if there were any places along the way where we could stop and he shook his head. “We can stop anywhere”, he said. “Just check the bushes for snakes before you do your business”. ๐Ÿ™‚

    April 1, 2010 at 10:33 am
  7. Anna, no tips I know of that work for me. Maybe hypnosis??

    Jeannie, my sympathies on your Cambodian border experience. I hope you found some privacy ๐Ÿ™‚
    Mark, 19th hole, I love it! They are invariably grim, and definitely not a place to be bare-footed.

    Keith, great story. I’m sure after hearing about the snakes you were faster than ever at doing what you had to do!

    Thanks all for the stories

    April 1, 2010 at 1:07 pm
  8. Great post! I can totally sympathize. My cry when travelling is always “I need to pee”. I am actually a proponent of the not peeing unless you have to movement because I think the reason my bladder is so small is because my mum always made me pee whenever there was an opportunity. So I think my bladder isn’t as stretchy as it should be. I don’t drink coffee before a long trip (or a movie in fact) either! I have to pee all the time! In fact I have to pee right now! Bye!

    April 1, 2010 at 6:03 pm
  9. This is an issue for me too when travelling, so I’m glad that you’re writing about it Andy. It’s a topic which isn’t given much coverage but is so essential to enjoyable trips.

    April 3, 2010 at 7:48 am
  10. Andy,

    I never thought it would get this painful. The movement to charge us for bodily function has begun: hold on tight!

    Are they taking the pee?

    April 7, 2010 at 12:23 pm
  11. Thank you Mark, Karen and Verity for your comments. I hope Ryanair don’t go down that route. It’s not the โ‚ฌ1 charge that would worry me as much as the reduction to one only lavatory.

    April 7, 2010 at 5:53 pm
  12. LOL. Try traveling while you’re pregnant! HORRIBLE! It’s VERY hard to enjoy the scenery when all you can focus on is where the next bathroom might be! (It goes without saying that simply not drinking isn’t an option at that point!)

    May 19, 2010 at 11:16 pm
  13. Oh this is so like me!!! I call it long distance bus paranoia! I remember nearly wetting myself on a Malaysian long-distance bus! I was happy to go on the side of the road but as I wasn’t a guy this apparently wasnโ€™t acceptable so I sat on the stairs next to the bus driver praying we would make it in time to the road stop, when the doors opened I flew out! Afterwards many of the Malaysian passengers wanted pictures with me, one for the family album “This is the foreign girl who nearly pissed her pants on the bus to KL!”.

    June 6, 2010 at 3:15 pm
  14. Thanks for sharing Sasha. You girls have it far worse than us guys, that’s for sure! Glad you managed to hold it in ๐Ÿ™‚

    June 7, 2010 at 8:25 am
  15. Silvy #

    I feel your pain. I have IBS and know exactly the torment of which you speak!!

    June 15, 2010 at 5:43 pm
  16. Not envious at all, Silvy!

    June 15, 2010 at 6:39 pm
  17. Um, I hear ya! While on my RTW, I came across many of the same situations. beijing was the worst, not because they didn’t have plenty of public toilets, but because they were so disgusting that it was hard to go into them! Thanks for sharing!

    July 21, 2010 at 11:18 pm