Surviving the dreaded… festival toilets!

Toilets at Chilled in a Field 2012 (c) Naomi Jones
The Toilets

As much as you try not to think about it, your children will need to use the festival toilets.

I sometimes wonder how we coped with three small children. The truth is that I gritted my teeth and thought of all the good times we were having in exchange for a little bit of ‘messy’ work.

Isn’t that what parenting is all about?!  We should all be able to cope with this – after all we’ve looked after newborns and nothing will ever be as much work as that!

But still, there are many ways you can make the experience less painful, and for this reason I would like to share with you my top tips for surviving family festival toilets.

I’ve separated it by potty training stages as you will need to change your approach depending on what stage your children are at.

My top tips for all children

Packing list:

Take a little bottle of liquid soap (bars of soap are more difficult to carry around) and make sure they wash their hands each time, or use hand gel if there’s no water.

It’s worth finding out which of the toilets on the site are nicer, and then if your children are finding it difficult you can return to the same ones each time. This works better at a small festival but even at Glastonbury some are much better than others.

Even before I had children I used to walk back to the clean ones at the top of the theatre field (whatever you do, do not use the ones near the dance tent!).  Some festivals now have special kids only toilets in the kids’ fields – if you look at our festival factsheets you can find out if your chosen festival has them – these are usually kept cleaner and always have paper and hand soap.

The other problem that arises when you have children is how you go to the toilet yourself?!  If you haven’t got someone to watch them for you the only things you can do are 1) go with the door slightly open or 2) start singing a song with them while they’re standing outside and make sure they carry on singing until you’re out. I’ve used both of these options in emergencies and option 2 works really well.  In an absolute emergency you can always go back to the tent if you have brought a portable toilet for the children – it can be a lifesaver for you too!

Potty training toddlers

Packing list:

  • Potty, travel potty or bucket with lid
  • Compost bags
  • Spare pants (lots) and leggings or trousers
  • Bucket & travel wash in case you need to wash some clothes
  • Nappy bags
  • (Optional) A bottle of wine and a sense of humour!

Potty training is a bizarre and often gruelling part of parenthood. I try to keep my sense of humour at all times, especially when dealing with twins on my own – and yes it is true that twins always need the toilet at the same time!

Think of it this way – you would need to deal with the same problems if you were at home and at least at a festival you won’t have to clean a carpet or a car seat. And at least at a festival you don’t need to rush as there’s nowhere else you have to be. Take your time, listen to the music, laugh about it as you’re wiping up the poo and have a glass of wine afterwards!

Keep them in nappies if you can!

Put off potty training for a few months or, as we intend to do this year, keep them in nappies at night for a few months longer. Admittedly this is the coward’s way out but nappies are so much easier. I’ll take the coward’s way anytime!

Take their normal potty or a travel potty and avoid the toilets altogether

We used to bring their potty with us, although it needed cleaning out a lot. It was fine with a bit of disinfectant spray but we found it was far easier to stick to the travel potty and line it with compost bags. They work fine, they’re much cheaper than the bags you get with the potty and best of all they’re not bad for the environment – you can even put them into the compost loos!

Take a bucket with a lid or a travel potty for the tent

The trusty bucket!
The trusty bucket!

Honestly this is so much easier than taking them to the toilet in the middle of the night. If they’re too little to use the bucket directly they can use the potty and then you can empty it into the bucket. We’re lucky though as we invested in a lovely large Outwell tent which has a separate porch we can zip up to make into a toilet cubicle. If you don’t have this you may choose to go and empty it at night time – a bit annoying, but then potty training is annoying!

The other option is using a travel potty such as the Potette. This has bags with an inner lining that absorbs the liquid and every time they go you can tie up the bags. Just make sure you have enough bags to last the festival!

Use a travel potty or toddler seat for the festival toilets

Potette travel potty
Potette travel potty

The Potette is fantastic because it converts into a toddler seat so they can use the real toilets. At our first festival this year our toddlers quite happily used the portable toilet cubicles on the Potette. This is the best option for this age as long as your child doesn’t mind, and the toilets don’t become too grotty.

Potty trained children

Take a bucket with a lid or a ‘Boginabag


Our five year old completely refused to use the drop toilets at one festival, I don’t blame her as they really stank!

So she went back to the tent every time she needed to go, and used the bucket happily. It’s amazing how easy it is for a small child to sit on a bucket, the camping ones are quite sturdy and stable on level ground.

The other thing I have been recommended is the Boginabag, which is a stool with plastic bags so you don’t need to empty it. We didn’t want to use that because of the expense of the plastic bags and it’s not a big deal for us to empty a bucket.

But you may want to explore the Boginabag option if you’re a little squeamish – you can tie up the bags after each use so they don’t smell.

If the children can’t sit on a bucket, there are other options such as this camping toilet which is very sturdy and has a toilet roll holder! You can put some disinfectant in, and if you keep the lid closed it doesn’t smell.

Older children – girls

Teach them how to wee outside

I am always surprised when women tell me they don’t know how to wee outside. For me it was something I learned at an early age as our family loved to go hiking, and I think it is an important skill to have.

Of course at the same time you need to teach them about responsibility – that you need to do this only as a last resort and go far away from where people are.

However many of the smaller festivals have female urinals, essentially a hole that you crouch over, which requires this skill. The main things to remember to tell them are: a) to lean forward when crouching, and b) to make sure you’re facing downhill!

The Shewee

The Sheewee
The Shewee

The Shewee is a liberating invention that allows women to wee standing up. It’s surprisingly small, with a shaped funnel and a spout and made of liquid repelling plastic.

You can also get a small plastic travel case making it easy to carry around. This means that women can now use the normal festival toilets without having to sit on them.

I have personally tested this and found it surprisingly easy to use and it is wonderful to know that I won’t have to sit on those horrible festival toilets so much anymore!  I wish I had discovered the Shewee when I was pregnant with the twins as I really struggled with providing all those urine samples – it would have made aiming a lot easier!

Anyway it’s going on my festival packing list from now on and I will teach my children how to use them as soon as they’re old enough. I’ll write again when I find out how this goes!

Older children – boys

TravelJohn (junior)
TravelJohn (junior)

The TravelJohn

I have heard great things about the TravelJohn disposal urinal. It’s all biodegradable – it is a bag containing liquid absorbing gel, which means you can use it in the tent or car very easily without any chance of spilling.

It can also be used in conjunction with the Shewee for girls, but I would personally use a bucket or the Boginabag as it is easier for them if they sit.

However I have heard stories of both boys and girls using them in emergencies (e.g. in a crowd in front of the main stage at a large festival) and although it’s not something I’d want to encourage my children to do I can see the appeal!

Now that you’ve read my top tips, share your (not too graphic, please) festival toilet experiences! 

Many family friendly festivals (e.g. Latitude, Camp Bestival, Wychwood) have flushing mobile toilet blocks. So these days you can avoid ‘traditional’ festival toilets altogether if it’s a big problem for you.

But I wouldn’t want to choose a festival based on the toilets! My favourite festivals have a mixture of blue portable cabins and drop toilets (seats over a tank or composting ditch) so it’s these ones I wrote about.

21 thoughts on “Surviving the dreaded… festival toilets!

  1. We’re going to Glastonbury with our newly potty-trained two year old. I know she won’t cope with the toilet queues so I’m planning to buy a travel potty. Can’t decide between the potette and the my carry potty. The carry potty looks more robust and less likely to result in spills but the potette seems easier to dispose. Any tips or suggestions? Thank you

    1. Hi I haven’t used the carry potty, but it looks like you need to clean it out? I think that might be difficult at a festival. We still use the potette because even though our twins are now 4 they can’t always wait too long to get to the toilet! We use compost bags in it, they’re cheap and you can put them straight into the compost loos without worrying about the environment. It is annoying putting the bags in, but we always put a clean bag on it just after we’ve used it so we can open it out and use it again. Would welcome comments from other people who’ve used either?

  2. Natural Event supplies compost kids loos for festivals A great comment from parents at Camp Bestival last year ” Jonny wouldn’t go to the loo at all last year.. This year the problem is he likes them too much and has been 5 times today!”

  3. I see what you mean. Yes that’s not a problem I have with the girls! They are young enough to go in with my husband as we have to q for the cubicles anyway… I’d love to hear what Glasto was like with kids though. With 3 little ones we’ve never tried it, I find it exhausting even on my own! Me getting old maybe

  4. I just mean if he is using urinal type areas at glasto. At Shambala last year he was within sight of me and using the main compost drops by the sand pit iyswim and there was a power cut and he couldnt find me. He’s old enough to go back to the tent and wait but it is more that aspect of it ie the inbetween age of cant go in with you, bit young by himself.

  5. Kate do you mind saying which festivals your son can’t go in with you? If he’s too young to be on his own I’m sure people wouldn’t mind. I admit that as I only go to small festivals I haven’t had that problem. Naomi

  6. I don’t mind them myself I was trying to help parents with young children – a 2 year old cannot sit on a compost loo they’d fall in! Kate I’m hoping my kids get used to it as they get older – by the 3rd festival my eldest was fine in the cleaner ones. Naomi

  7. Oh I know Naomi, I was the opposite as a child and my mum could never get me to go behind a bush etc so I see any loo as a luxury! I would probably change my mind if I experienced the facilities at the bigger festivals a few days in 😉

  8. Mine dont mind the compost drops etc but cant cope with the enclosed nightmare of the portaloos and will avoid them if possible. We take travel johns for night time. Mine arent that fussy though to be honest. Its the queuing thats the problem and the loos in the main areas where I cant see what my son is doing yet hes too old to go into the ladies with me.

  9. Viv Morley my five year old refused to go anywhere near the toilets and I didn’t want to force her! Everyone’s children are different I’m just suggesting possible solutions…

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