Maybe you drank too much coffee. Maybe you’ve got a chronic condition such as Crohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome. Or maybe you’re suffering from an acute case of traveler’s diarrhea. Sooner or later, every traveler will feel the need to find a bathroom—fast.
How to Find a Bathroom When You Travel
When the urge strikes, you don’t have the time or inclination to trek all over an unfamiliar city trying to find a bathroom. Get relief with these practical tips.
Research Before You Go
Before you leave home, learn how to ask where the nearest bathroom is in the local language. Even if you’re traveling to an English-speaking country, keep in mind that other terms may be more common than “bathroom”—such as “washroom,” “toilet,” or “W.C.” (for “water closet”).
If you’re traveling in a country with an unfamiliar alphabet—such as Japan or Russia—try to memorize the characters that make up the local word for bathroom so you can recognize it on signs.
Do a Google search for “bathrooms in ____” and you’ll turn up plenty of information and tips specific to your destination. For example, the New York City tourist board has a whole page on public restrooms, including an unexpected tip: “New York City Police Department stations will let you use their bathrooms if you ask.”
Use a Bathroom App
Looking for a loo? Yes, there’s an app for that—several, in fact. Keep in mind that the majority of bathroom apps rely on crowdsourcing, so they’re only as good as the travelers who use them. You may want to download more than one bathroom app in case one has better intel about your destination than another.
Charmin’s Sit or Squat lists more than 100,000 bathrooms in locations around the world. Better-rated bathrooms are called “sits” and marked in green, while others are called “squats” and marked in red. You can filter your results to show only free bathrooms, or only bathrooms that are handicap accessible or equipped with baby-changing tables.
Where is Public Toilet (Android only) has even more listings—about 280,000—and more filters, including options such as showers, sharps disposal units, and left- or right-handed transfers from wheelchairs. The app includes opening hours for some toilets.
Refuge Restrooms helps transgender, intersex, and gender-nonconforming travelers find a bathroom that’s safe for them.
In a pinch, you can often find bathrooms by typing “public toilet near me” into a Google search or “public bathroom” into your favorite mapping app. Keep in mind that results may vary, depending on where you are; one such Google search produced more bathroom fixture stores than public restrooms.
Get Creative—and Come Prepared
Some places to find a bathroom are more obvious than others. Standard spots to look include train and bus stations, rest stops, gas stations, and major chains such as Starbucks and McDonald’s.
You’ll often find nicer alternatives in malls, department stores, and the lobbies of large hotels. Public libraries, visitor information centers, and parks are also good spots to check. Many big cities have public restrooms in downtown areas.
As you attempt to find a bathroom, keep in mind that you may need to pay a fee to use some public restrooms, so you’ll want to keep some small change on you at all times. Many shops and cafes only allow customers to use their restrooms; be prepared to buy something inexpensive such as a bottle of water or cup of coffee.
It’s always a good idea to bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer, just in case. Women who have trouble peeing while standing might also want to pack a portable urination device, which can be helpful when camping, hiking, or traveling in a country where squat toilets are standard.
One final word of wisdom, learned over many years of traveling: If you have the opportunity to use a clean, comfortable bathroom, do it—because you never know when your next chance will come.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 5 Tips for Bathroom Preparedness
- 10 Gorgeous Hotel Bathrooms Around the World
- 7 Things You Should Never Do in an Airplane Bathroom
Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.