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Review: TravelJohn™ Disposable Urinals - Pragmatism Is In

"An Ode to Practicality in the Face of the Icky"


Summer is upon us: time of camping and festivals. I know you may not feel comfortable talking about this, or even thinking about it, but it's something we all face when out at our favorite festival, road-tripping across the country, or trekking our favorite countryside. That's right: toilets. This dread topic is perhaps the most annoying and deromanticizing aspect of travel. Figuring out how you're going to *ahem* "relieve yourself" in those off-the-beaten-path excursions can kill the wanderlust mood like no other, but mastering this pragmatic process puts you in the upper echelons of "pro" travelers and makes your vacation time a breeze. So how do I do this? The TravelJohn™.

Oh, yes. It's time to "Review & Recommend."

First, story time (you can page down to "Pros & Cons", if you're in a hurry): I pee a lot in the night. Actually, I pee a lot all the time, because I have what I liken to the bladder of a toddler at a movie theater. This seems to be a common issue on my mom's side of the family. Back when I actually was a young child, I learned that road-tripping also meant bringing an empty jug along....just in case. This also applied to things such as camping, hiking/backpacking, and moving (which we did a lot). 

Disturbing as some may find it, the "pee jug" was one of the best things about those times. Learning about something so fundamental as where and when I can stop to go to the bathroom, made me much better at planning ahead for trips, even just a particularly hellish commute. I got good at things like checking the map for the next rest stop, planning drinks accordingly, avoiding peak drive times, and how to spy a good gas station toilet from the highway.

As such, I moved into adulthood without a general need for the pee jug, and it was retired.

That is, until I started going to Burning Man.


Burning Man and the Dread Porta Potty


Burning Man has many great things going for it: art, music, spiritual connection, a kickass philosophy...and so much more. It also has it's downsides, like anything. Perhaps the biggest downside for a lot of people is the porta potties. 

The porta potties are both blessing and curse. After all, there could be no porta potties, and - considering that this festival occurs on a protected prehistoric alkali lake upon which we can leave no trace, and therefore must carry out all waste when we leave - that would be...bad. Still, a daily clean-out and an upturn in responsibility haven't completely eliminated the smell and the more-than-occasional evidence of an "accident". If you're out near the music camps at night, this becomes nightmarish. Many of us will trek across a mile or two of desert to find cleaner porta potties, myself included.

Thankfully, Burners are an inventive lot (Seriously, if you've never heard of it, check it out here). If we can't find it, we'll make it, but first we prefer finding the best products to turn a rugged camping experience into near luxury. So, while the TravelJohn™ was likely invented for medical purposes more than recreational, it lists among one of the better suggestions from fellow Burners a luxury item.

Peeing in your tent is weirdly comforting...


I came across the TravelJohn™ via a friend of mine who was also disinterested in being slave to the porta potty gods. I'd seen people walking their own version of my childhood pee jug to the porta potties to dump each morning, but I had thus far declined to take the practice up for myself (visions of spilled jugs in tents dance through my head at the very mention of it). I had tried the pee funnels given out on the Playa, as well as ones I had researched online, and was generally dissatisfied. It's a great idea if you have access to running water, but on the Playa, where there is no running water and the things you use while wandering camp to camp go right back into your bag after use, this option almost creates more hassle than if you just brave the porta potties. Like many women, I lamented this situation. There had to be a better way.

It all changed when one afternoon my friend invited me, secretive and conspiratorially, into her tent and showed me a couple different methods she used. Some I'd seen before. Then she unfurled a small plastic bundle into a longish, skinny sack with a molded plastic mouth. 


I was entranced. It was so simple in design, and the method of collection involves a permeable packet of powder that turns to gel upon being soaked with liquid. The gel is thick, so it doesn't run out. You basically have a malleable solid inside a plastic bag. No fuss, and most importantly, no muss.


She gave me a brief tips & tricks description and demonstration (clothing on) of how to hold it in use. Then she rolled it back up, neat as you please, and handed it over to me. My very own sample. 

That very night, I used it after my evening of revels. I had hit the porta potties near our camp on my way in to go to bed, so I didn't use it right away. As usual, I got the urge a few short hours after going to sleep. I didn't want to put on extra clothes, pull on my boots, rummage for my headlamp and trek into what was now a very chilly desert evening (it gets cold in the desert, y'all) to a tiny, smelly closet. I wanted to go back to sleep. 

Then I remembered. It was in my camel bag. I dug it out, unrolled it, used it, washed my hands, and curled back up in my sleeping bag. Just like that.

You were waiting for a detailed description, weren't you? Pervert. The instructions are on the package, ya weirdo.

I was in heaven. It was so simple, and I got to be comfortable, something I very rarely am. Furthermore, there's something almost...regal...about peeing in your tent, surrounded by your comforts. No need to hurry so the next person can get in there, no need for awkward positioning to make sure absolutely no extraneous part of your body or clothing touches the inside of the tiny space, (and mama likes her space, y'all), no need for anyone to know you're peeing at all. It's incredibly freeing.

After that Burn, I have purchased enough for at least two uses per day/night, and I don't regret the money spent. 

Pros, Cons, Tips & Tricks


So, the real question: how to get the most out of your TravelJohn™? Here are a few things to keep in mind when deciding if, when, and how to use the TravelJohn™.

Pros:

  • They're unisex, but geared toward women. Guys will have an easier time using them by virtue of their anatomy, but these are actually made to contour to a woman's body pretty well. (see photos of product below)
  • They're small; rolled up, each one is about 1.5.x 2 x 3 inches. So they pack up nice and compact.
  • Once they hit the powder and gel up, there is virtually no smell. That's a glorious thing if your tent routinely gets hit by 100+ degree sunlight for about 8 hours of the day, or you're on the road somewhere. 

Cons:

  • You will have to dispose of it yourself, and it can't go in porta potties or toilets.
  • The powder may not be environmentally-friendly; the plastic certainly isn't. If you prefer to stick with your pee jug in this instance, I couldn't blame you.

Tips & Tricks:

  • They're relatively inexpensive, but I do recommend buying in bulk if you can. Do a search on Amazon to see the latest price listings. 
  • Make sure to create a good seal. This is for the ladies. Unless you've got the aim of an archer, you're going to make a mess unless you cup this thing to your body, and create a seal. Don't push too hard, though, or you might get the opposite effect. (Don't ask.)
  • Have baby wipes on hand for after. You don't want to go digging once you've finished. A bottle of water and tissues works in a pinch, and if you're graceful enough.
  • Do not use while driving. I can't believe I have to write this, but I will not be implicated in a lawsuit where someone read my article and decided to do something stupid. Let's use common sense, people. Toilet-going should be pretty much stationary and free from running machinery like threshers, yes? Just stop it.

Twosies: Now, I will admit that I haven't tried TravelJohn™ for anything beyond peeing. (Apparently, it can be used for numerous toilet situations and motion sickness.) I brave the porta potties for that. As a pseudojournalist and reviewer, I do feel a bit bad about not doing my due diligence here, but I feel that this is a personal choice, the kind of thing you try if there is literally nowhere else to go ....on the planet. Frankly, I can't see how you'd make it work, so you'll have to do that experiment on your own.

Final Takeaway


This is one of my favorite convenience items for travel. I carry it in my toiletry bag, and bring them with me to Burning Man. Yeah, they cost more money than I like to spend, but if I can justify a $5 box of movie candy... Of course, there can always be improvements to a product, but for now, this works just fine. When they come up with a personal porta-john that wipes your own ass for you....well, that will be weird. My point is that nothing is perfect. But this comes pretty damn close.


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