Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
Usually when we need to go to the bathroom on the road, we just look for the next rest stop or check the road signs for a gas station or convenience store exit. In some cases, we can just pull off the highway and find a wooded area if the situation becomes somewhat urgent.
But for all the ways we’ve dealt with a daily occurrence in our lives in the past, we sometimes find that events make simple solutions difficult if not impossible.
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Where there is No Bathroom
There are occasions where there are no options. There’s nowhere in sight where there’s an obscured area of trees, bushes, or anything else to keep your activity from prying eyes. Complicating matters is that the conditions of any high concentration of traffic means a lot of people will be looking and watching.
Many of us can relate to the following:
- Traffic jams are the most common barrier to an easy exit to a bathroom. There are various causes from construction to an accident or just the volume of traffic in an area.
- Weather can wreck havoc with traffic especially if snow or ice are involved. In some cases, traffic comes to a stop and stepping out of your car to find a nearby thicket of bushes or trees is a guaranteed way to see the traffic suddenly start moving again.
- A breakdown will bring you to an abrupt halt and leave you stranded until a tow truck or friend or family member tries to find you on the side of a highway. In the meantime, nature is sometimes not patient and your options are now very limited.
- Long stretches of some highways can go for miles and miles without any exits or off ramps. Worse, some highways make it impossible to pull off to the side of the road and access anywhere remote.
- The recent pandemic created a new dilemma even for something as basic as a bathroom. Some of us may have been hesitant to go to a public washroom while others were dismayed to find that rest stops were closed and even gas stations locked their bathrooms.
- Evacuations from a city or town often lead to massive traffic backups especially if it is a forced evacuation requiring everyone to leave at once. Highways running through cities are unforgiving for a quick pull-over and if the traffic is proceeding at a snails’ pace you can’t just let someone run off to find a tree especially if the pace picks up.
- A car full of kids on a long drive to anywhere presents a challenge for any parent familiar with any long road trip with the family.
- You just gotta go and even a rest stop or gas station a few miles ahead is just a mile too far.
- Diarrhea is unforgiving and no amount of will power or determination will deny it. Worse, it often comes on fast and is more likely to strike when you’ve been traveling and exposed to a range of foods and water that increases the odds of a food or water-borne illness.
- Incontinence afflicts many people, especially the elderly but anyone who has learned to live with (and deal with) incontinence will tell you that it took a while before they accepted that they had the condition and took active steps to prepare for it.
There’s a good chance that some of you have encountered one or more of those situations. But for some reason we often decide that the best way to prepare for it is to make sure we go to the bathroom before we leave; avoid drinking coffee on the road (caffeine is a diuretic), or just decide that we’ll find a rest stop or gas station in time—until it happens again.
The real challenge emerges when someone has to go and the traffic is a parking lot with not a tree or bush in sight. That’s when you’ll wish you had brought something with you to manage the urgency of a full bladder without an exit in sight.
Why Not Just Buy This Stuff?
You certainly can. There are a variety of options available in pharmacies and on the Internet that allow you to relieve yourself on the road and even while driving, although that’s not recommended. But even though commercial options are easily available, sometimes events catch us by surprise.
A sudden natural or manmade disaster resulting in an evacuation won’t leave you much time to go shopping let alone wait for a delivery from an Internet order. At times like that we have to think fast and often improvise.
It’s worth looking at what’s sold commercially to deal with on-the-road toilet emergencies if only to get a sense for how things are designed. Here are a few commercial concepts, and then we’ll get into how to make them yourself in an emergency.
The Car Pan
Think of it as a bed pan with a seat belt and yes, it actually has one. It’s more likely a child would use this, but an adult in the back seat or even the passenger seat might be relieved if not embarrassed to use it. It’s definitely not intended for the driver, so pull over somewhere and pretend like you’re reading a map.
Male and Female Urinals
A favorite in hospitals everywhere and made to accommodate both males and females. The design is simple and speaks for itself. Truckers have used them for decades and at the height of the pandemic their sales went up.
DIY Toilet Solutions
There are few ways to approach this. Some are more robust than others and in some instances have to be modified to accommodate both male and female anatomy. Basically we’re dealing with two bathroom possibilities: Number One and Number Two.
The most frequent and common bathroom emergency is usually when we have to take a pee. We can sometime do better holding off on a bowel movement but our bladders can be unforgiving.
The solutions are simple and even wearing an adult diaper like Depends can work but this is about improvising solutions, not buying them.
The fundamental do it yourself concept is designed around hospital urinals. They’re usually a small, plastic jug that hold up to a quart that are designed on a slight angle with an attached, tight fitting lid.
For women, there’s a product with a curved cup designed to fit against the body.
1. DIY Male Urinal
Nothing fancy here. Any empty, plastic bottle with a wide opening and a tight fitting lid will do the trick. You can empty it later and use again but maybe throw a splash of bleach into the bottle between uses. Better yet, dump it and toss it and replace for your next road trip. After all, they’re just empty plastic bottles.
2. DIY Female Urinal
This is a two piece construction. The primary chamber is another plastic bottle with a tight fitting lid but you need to find a funnel that fits comfortably against the body.
- Empty plastic bottle and lid
- A funnel. You may have to try a couple of different sizes to find the best one for you
Assembly is as easy as putting the funnel in the bottle and then capping it until you can dispose of the contents.
This is the great equalizer and all of us whether man, woman or child have to assume the position. It’s also where things get a little more complicated when considering solutions that can be used in a vehicle.
Many of the DIY designs on the Internet feature a 5-gallon bucket with a plastic bag insert and some other features. That works fine on the side of a lonely road or in the brush but not so much in a vehicle unless you’re using your homemade 5-gallon potty in a van or large SUV.
Quite frankly, it’s hard to figure how anyone would have any success sitting on a 5-gallon plastic bucket in a sedan. We’ll cover a few possibilities and some variations.
One thing rarely discussed is the awkward occasion where someone is going number two in a vehicle while other people are sitting in the front and/or backseats in a traffic jam. A van might allow a little more privacy but not much.
One idea is to include a poncho with your toilet kit. That way the person can drape the poncho over and around them to at least feel a bit of privacy. Even then, you might want to turn the radio on real loud and open all the windows.
3. The 5-Gallon Bucket
This is the porta-potty of choice for campers, preppers and can work on the road as well.
- 5-gallon plastic bucket
- One or two plastic garbage bags
- foam rubber pipe insulation
- Toilet paper
Assemble by putting a plastic bag or two into the bucket and then pressing the foam rubber insulation around the rim.
4. Downsized Bucket
- A hospital tray or short tray you would use to wash dishes on a camping trip
- Plastic bags that will cover the tray
- Foam rubber pipe insulation
Assembly starts by lining the tray with the plastic bag and then pressing the foam rubber over the bag edges and the rim of the tray. Unless the tray is sturdy it will not support an adult so you’ll have to carefully hover.
5. The Coffee Can
The next time someone says they have to go to the can you can hand them one of these. It’s a large coffee can. You don’t want to sit on it. It’s designed to be below you while you squat. Aim well and don’t forget the lid. This also may be best used out of the car.
6. At Least a Shovel and Toilet Paper
It’s not a toilet but the latrine tools of choice for armies everywhere. If you can’t improvise a toilet in a hurry, at least throw a small shovel and some toilet paper in the trunk.
7. Speaking of Luxury…
With a little extra work you can attach an old toilet seat to a sturdy 5 gallon bucket and have a reliable and sturdy option for an instant bathroom anywhere. It also requires use outside although in a van or large SUV could do the trick. Here’s a link to the instructions from a previous article we featured.
8. Sanitation 101
It doesn’t take a scientist to know that all things related to going to the bathroom require effective sanitation. This goes beyond toilet paper because few people have a sink installed in their vehicles. Here are some sanitation items that should be in your kit. Some are optional depending on your level of concern.
The end game with sanitation is to put “everything” both deposited and used after any bathroom occasion into the disposable plastic garbage bag and seal it with a tight knot. A generous splash of bleach in the bag is also a good idea.
Dispose of the bag when the opportunity arises but make sure it’s disposed of properly in a garbage container or dig a hole and bury it later.
Remember the Concepts
Once you understand the basic ideas and materials that define a dependable bathroom solution, you can improvise your own versions. Just look around the house and garage and see what you have on hand to satisfy your anatomy and your needs.
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