Jane Wilson-Howarth

 

How to Shit Around the World

 
 
how_to_shit03_lrg
Publisher: Travelers Tales, Palo Alto, Calif., US
Author: Dr Jane Wilson-Howarth
Page count: 167
RRP: $12.95
ISBN: 978-1932361322 / B0050IGW9U
2nd edition 2006 (updated 2011) ISBN: 978-1932361322
1st printed edition 2000 Shitting Pretty ISBN: 978-1885211473
A version for kindle and tablets is also available
 

There's no way, and probably no good reason, to be subtle about it - diarrhea, parasites, and other gastrointestinal unpleasantries can be part of the price travelers pay for trying to see the world. Fortunately, this frank, witty guide lets world-explorers fight back against their invisible assailants. More than just a how-to (though it is that) Dr. Wilson-Howarth takes a humorous, sympathetic approach to one of the most basic of human activities, interweaving anecdotes from fellow travellers with sensible tips and techniques.

A noted traveler and writer, she explores such issues as sanitizing unhealthy water, safely consuming exotic foods, avoiding dehydration, keeping good hygiene on the road, and immunization. A special section details the dreaded creatures - spiders, leeches, worms - that can put any tour into a tailspin. With special advice for children and elderly travelers, as well as ways to dodge ailments such as malaria, typhoid, and hepatitis, How to Shit Around the World is the perfect, if not the most polite, traveling companion.

 

The phone rang. I was in Kathmandu and the caller was in California. Sean O’Reilly from the publisher Travelers Tales introduced himself and asked if I’d be willing to write a book with ‘shit’ in the title. The idea had struck Sean (not literally, fortunately) after seeing the success of Bugs Bites & Bowels, a title that is considered risqué in the US.

I said I had no problem with the word, indeed I admitted that the topic was a particular interest of mine – especially given that I was at the time living in the diarrhoea capital of the Old World. But what did he envisage within the pages of such a book?

We emailed back and forth for a while and eventually settled on a little book of advice and tips of the kind one might resort to when marooned in the ‘necessary room’ by nature calling a bit too often. It would even help to stave off boredom when performances run a bit slow.

Then, once the word was out that Dr Jane was collecting crappy stories, I was inundated. Travelers Tales, were keen for me to keep my English 'voice' in my writing but they also decided that US spelling would be used - in line with their house style. I hope therefore that my British readers will be tolerant, and not report me to SPIT: the Society for the Prevention of Inadvertent Transatlanticisms.

The first edition of the book was called Shitting Pretty and was a great success and seems to have found a place in many 'smallest rooms' around the world. The book appeared in Spanish and Dutch translations as Salud y Viajes: Manual imprescindible para minimizar los riesgos sanitarios de cualquier viaje (published by Viajando con Océano) and Buikloop, busreizen en bloedzuigers (BBNC Uitgevers). Then I revised the text and added a completely new chapter and it re-emerged as How to Shit Around the World. It continues to be an amazon best-seller.

 

Fayre Cloacina, goddess of this playce
Dayli resorte of all ye human race
Graciouslie grant my offerings may flow
Nor rudelie swifte not obstinatlie slow.
– Sir John Harington

I became aware of my eight-year-old shouting and it took me a while to realise that his calls came from the Gents. We were looking around the fine medieval Castelo Lindoso in north-east Portugal, and he’d rushed off to play Crusaders and Saracens with his elder brother. As I got closer, I understood he was shouting, ‘There’s no paper!’ The castle was close to the cottage we’d rented for a few days and, not recognising that the local microbes had made my son’s bowel habits unpredictable, I hadn’t put toilet paper in my pocket. There was none in the Ladies either so I shouted, ‘Use the bidet!’

‘What’s that?’
It transpired that there was a bidet in the Ladies but not the Gents; he was horrified at my suggestion that he come into the Ladies to get cleaned up. The indignity of entering the Ladies though was far more appalling than being ‘caught short’ with a surprisingly messy BM. The poor lad was traumatised – for at least five minutes.

Travel is a joy, full of surprises and delightful new experiences. Perhaps some of the best times are those where one comes close to some disaster; the risks add spice, and make for great stories when you are safely back home again. But what are the risks and what is predictable in travel? Wherever you are, you’ll be eating daily and needing to go to the bathroom… but will you be able to identify the necessary “facilities”? And will the commonest of travelers’ ills have you needing the bathroom rather too often? This little book will – I trust – allow you to enjoy your adventures with the minimum of forced gastrointestinal stops. Within these pages you will find strategies to avoid illness and ensure a healthy trip, if you want. Exotic eating is a delight of travel and I offer information to allow you to judge the risk of eating any particular food so that you can decide whether you want to live (relatively) dangerously.

The last time I was memorably ill with traveler’s diarrhea was when I broke my own rules. I was out in the tourist quarter of Kathmandu. I didn’t feel like eating in the busiest, most popular restaurants and picked one on the edge of Thamel. Inside, it was pretentiously decorated but deserted, and I wondered why I was going to eat in a deserted restaurant: their food was likely to be stale and perhaps there was a reason for its unpopularity. I chose a Mexican meat dish, served on lettuce, garnished with cold (probably unpasteurised) sour cream and raw chopped tomatoes. I awoke in the small hours knowing I was about to be very very ill, and lay awake most of the rest of the night waiting for the vomiting to start. I ignored my own rules, enjoyed the meal, and paid for it, albeit for a mere 24 hours. However much you know about avoiding traveler’s diarrhea, you may–out of adventurousness or good manners–accept food you would rather have avoided.

 

Top tip

The first cubicle in a public toilet is the least used so likely to be the cleanest. It also often contains plenty of loo paper.

Which meat to choose

(from page 8)

Pork and dog are the riskiest kinds of meat. Pigs and dogs are often the local rubbish disposal consultants where environmental hygiene is poor.

The squatty

(from page 37)

Wet the pan of a squat toilet before use; this makes flushing easier and less messy.

Smells

(adapted from page 47)

Dispell smells from stinky lavatories by lighting a couple of matches and burning them down as far as you can. Never hunt in a bathroom cabinet for unused scent to spray around; the combination of perfume and pong is an effective emetic.

Coping without Paper

(from pp 75-7)

Whatever you think of the technique, if you are traveling for months in a remote toilet-paper-free-zone, anal cleansing with water is a skill worth mastering. Just think of the trees you are saving: in a life-time, the average Westerner’s toilet paper use consumes about 22 trees.

I am now fairly comfortable with washing rather than wiping although my left-handedness caused me some dilemmas at first. I wondered whether I should follow the local convention of reserving the left hand for the bum and the right for food: when traveling in Asia, it is good to be proficient at eating rice and sloppy vegetable curry without cutlery. At first I rinsed my bottom with my right hand and stuffed rice into my mouth with my left, until one dignified Indian lady took me to one side.

‘Look, my dear… I don’t mind, but here in India orthodox people will be shocked if you eat using your left hand. You do know what we Indians do with our left hands, don’t you?’ Thereafter I washed my bottom with my sinister hand and was less than dexterous in conveying rice to my mouth with my clumsy right hand.

Reviews

  • Dr. Wilson-Howarth, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, has a finely tuned sense of humor and, courtesy of our Victorian ancestors, our language is thick with euphemisms for this most basic of deeds.

    Don't dismiss her timely and important information just because she's funny, she has a lot to teach us. You will learn how to:
            -- avoid minor & major intestinal disruptions & diseases, as well as symptoms & cures.
            -- eat, drink & be safe in a foreign place.
            -- tame your bodily functions on those long rides.
            -- travel with children & keep them well.
            -- make environmentally & hygienically sound deposits
            -- cope without toilet paper.
            -- identify the critters who thrive in dark & moist areas.
    Then set about discovering the amazing variety of foreign toilets...and so much more!

    A seriously informative and amusing book with a host of helpful hints from well-traveled world trekkers.
    Rebecca Brown (Clallam Bay, WA, US) posted on amazon.com


  • A very informative book packed with essential information for any traveller. As well as brilliant humour this book gives tips and essential advice on amongst many things serious issues like avoiding diarrhoea, parasites, global delicacies, child travellers, immunisations and the importance of rehydration. Dr Jane Wilson-Howarth offers a very clear and easy to understand approach to a subject sometimes not often talked about, yet faced by travellers on a day-to-day basis! In addition the book is packed from cover to cover with travellers own entertaining experiences from across the globe. A fantastic book, waiting to be bought and read. I can't recommend it enough.
    Claire (Ipswich, UK) posted on amazon


  • This is a very interesting book written by a physician. The advice is sound and many of the anecdotes are laugh out loud. My favorite was the one about the ziggurat of colonic filth.
    Sean O'Reilly (Washington Metro Area) posted on amazon.com


  • "helpful tips on how to have trouble-free vacations"
    The Arizona Republic


  • Featured in the Bookseller alternative review of the year (Dec 2000) as the June highlight.
    The Bookseller


  • "The book’s strength lies in the very personal quotations of real people who aren’t afraid to share their experiences."
    Chigago Tribune


  • "A cheery and commonsensical guide"
    The Independent


  • "enlivened by colourful crappy tales"
    Independent on Sunday Book of the Week


  • "likely to remain the definitive guide..."
    The Bookseller


  • The title of the book may sound somewhat crude, however, if you are a traveler, I am sure you have at one time or another being a victim of "Montezuma's revenge" or "Tourista."
    No doubt most of us are aware that these are common terms used for an awful attack of traveler's diarrhea. Dr. Jane Wilson-Howarth, a fellow of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, in her book entitled, Shitting Pretty, How to Stay Clean And Healthy While Traveling, was daring enough to write freely about a topic we find revolting to discuss.
    Nevertheless, we must be realistic, and if we plan to travel anywhere in the world we must be aware of the various risks involved pertaining to the food we eat and the water we drink. As the author mentions in the introduction, "this little book will-I trust- allow you to enjoy your adventures with the minimum of forced gastrointestinal stops." The principal objectives of the book are to provide the reader with strategies to avoid illness and ensure a healthy trip.
    One warning I have is that some of the author's descriptions as well as the various sidebar antidotes provided by fellow travelers can at times be humorous but at the same time somewhat obnoxious. In fact, the reactions I received from my wife and friends upon reading the book were, "Oh My God!"
    Nonetheless, Dr.Wilson-Howarth uses everyday language devoid of medical jargon in order that we can easily comprehend what she is explaining to us.
    The topics expanded upon in this medical advisory guidebook include the various kinds of diarrhea, their causes and how to avoid it. We are also apprised about toilet facilities in various countries, particularly in third world countries, and how to cope with them. Other issues such as, how safe is the water, weird foods, how to cope when on a long voyage and bathing are likewise expounded upon in order that we have a general knowledge of the risks inherent in traveling to various countries. The ending of each chapter highlights in summary form the principal topic of the section.
    The author also enlightens us about certain subjects, such as the history of toilet paper. I bet you did not know that toilet paper is a recent invention. According to the author, the first Gayety's Medicated Paper was produced in England in 1857 and came in flat packs. It was a product for the rich, and one that people were embarrassed to purchase: it was kept out of sight under the counter and euphemistically called curl paper. It was only in 1928 that toilet paper appeared. This certainly can prove to be an interesting bit of information when you are trying to make conversation at a cocktail party!
    Norman Goldman "Editor of Bookpleasures.com" (Montreal) posted on amazon.com


  • I just wish someone had given me this book before my last trip to India where I caught giardia. I like to think that this book may have helped. I had to bribe a bus driver to stop the bus in open country near Jaipur, but couldn't perform under the bemused gaze of about 50 Indian travellers. When I got back on the bus my bowels exploded when the bus hit the next pot-hole in the road and I soiled myself. If that was not enough, half an hour later I vomited on an elderly woman sitting next to me who had until that point been polite enough not to mention the horrendous smell. I'll remember to pack this book next time I travel in the hope of avoiding a repeat of this ghastly experience.
    Lloyd Grossman (London UK) posted on amazon.com


  • I'm a typical middle-class US urban-dweller. I tend to take for granted our plumbing and sanitation systems, even though I remember my childhood stays on my grandparents' farm: outhouse, hand-pumped water, and all.
    Therefore, I need the information in this book, and I'm delighted that it's so well written. So far, my world travels have been mostly in developed countries. But I hope to travel more extensively in the future, and I'll consult this book before each trip.
    It's easy and fun to read, and the information just might save your vacation - if not your life. Highly recommended.
    S. Saunders (Rocky Mountains, USA) posted on amazon.com


  • Looking for a book on squat toilets, getting the runs, and getting the runs while using a rough squat toilet? Not the best mealtime read, but good preparation for what the road throws at you. There's a wealth of info on eating right, drinking right, the risks of seafood, and keeping the little ones healthy. The differentiating factor for this book though is it doesn't stop there. Where else can you get a whole chapter on toilet paper and the lack thereof, bathing in a stream, or what to do when it's that time of the month and you're on a mountain ascent?
    Throughout the book there are short snippets from doctors, from aid workers, and from others with life experience combating nasty bugs and diseases. If you're a parent wanting to make sure your about-to-leave child knows how to keep healthy, or you're the type who likes to be ready for anything, this is a valuable book. Anyone about to go off on a long-term volunteer assignment in a rural environment should make room for it in the pack.
    Tim Leffel, author (Nashville, TN US) posted on amazon.com


  • One of the most interesting reads and had me in fits of laughter through most of it! 'm possibly one of the most hygienic people out there and yet this book still managed to open my eyes further than I could imagine! It's a must read and a book any traveller should have on their travels as it contains crucial information on symptoms, reasons and solutions.  A pleasurable read.
    On Amazon.co.uk


  • "Lots of really good tips on how to avoid getting sick while travelling, and what to do if (and when!) you do. Plus, many of the stories are laugh out loud funny in that gross, commiserating, I can't believe that happened, type of way. Really good and fast read to get a ton of tips for when you are travelling in less than sanitary conditions and how to stay healthy. I recommend it for all globe trotters!"
    Good Reads


  • "Charming"
    Mandala


  • "I rarely write letters, but I just had to send you a note to thank you for your How to Shit Around The World book. I still smile at the stories and learned a lot. I’ve had my share of dysentery, cholera, campylobacter, etc. and it was nice to get down and dirty with the details in your book..... Actually, I am planning on re-reading it again in a few months to give the brain cells another chance to absorb the information."
    Mark P by email


  • My friend in Holland to whom I'd sent a copy of "Shitting Pretty" in Dutch was thrilled with it. I thought it might be of general interest to her as she's a keen traveller but something you, Jane, had written about warm food reminded her of a distinctly dodgy breakfast she'd eaten in Tanzania years ago. She reckons that at last she may have got to the root of long-term digestive problems.
    Helen Culnane of Cambridge Writers


  • "worth digesting."
    Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel


  • If you've ever had any gastro issues then you'll enjoy this book, especially if you travel abroad. Of course there are areas of the U.S. that are like third world countries. Good entertainment value, but solid and useful info too. I'd recommend it.
    F. Fletcher (Atlanta, US) posted on amazon.com


  • "an evacuation manual of sorts.... gives straightforward advice… a great bathroom read. But the best reading, if you are into potty humor, are the travelers’ anecdotes."
    The Washington Post


  • This is a well written, thoughtful, informative book that provides real life examples on taking care of your natural functions in strange places. It also provides significant data on how to stay healthy in these strange places.
    Howard L. Martin (Pahoa, Hawaii) posted on amazon.com


  • Even if you never venture forth to "go" into the wild, this is a great read. Dr. Wilson-Howarth's style is very, very entertaining. The trouble is, you'll have all these fascinating titbits of conversation starters, but when to use them?
    "redhamlet" (Natick, MA US) posted on amazon.com


  • Where to buy

    IT'S AVAILABLE ONCE AGAIN. If someone tries to tell you it is out-of-print, they're telling pork-pies. An updated reprint including new information and stories appeared in September 2011 (although it is still dated 2006) and a Kindle e-book containing this new material was also launched in May 2011. Order from any good bookshop or e-bookshops including
    www.amazon.co.uk | www.amazon.com| www.blackwell.co.uk