Bathroom Hunt: the Age-Old Traveling Dilemma

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Cape Paliser loo
A loo with a view in Cape Paliser, New Zealand

The Art of Finding A Bathroom When Traveling

By Kurt Jacobson
GoNOMAD Senior Travel Writer

Traveling the world is not an easy endeavor. There are plane, train, and car rental reservations to be made. Plotting a course to the destination needs to be considered, and documents for foreign travel must be current and easy to access.

Once on the ground in a foreign country, there is a blur of new challenges and experiences confronting the brave traveler. One of the trickiest can be the art of finding a bathroom.

In some countries, public restrooms are difficult to find. I remember the first time I had this challenge was in Paris. My wife and I had set a brutal routine of seeing everything possible on that first trip. It was on the Champs Elysées we realized both of us needed a bathroom break.

Vespasienne Arago
The only surviving Parisian pissoir, photo courtesy of LPLT

In Paris, travelers don’t just trot into restaurants or shops and expect to use the restroom. We hadn’t seen a single public restroom anywhere that day. It was then I got an all-American idea.

We headed to the McDonald’s on the Champs de Elysées, waltzed right in like we were in the U.S., and quickly located the restroom. This strategy works well in several European countries.

Peeing on the Sidewalk

On subsequent trips to Paris, I saw my first modern pissoir, an out-on-the-sidewalk urinal that is partially screened for privacy.

No, this is not a oui oui joke, it’s for real, but it seems that some women have complained that they should have equal rights when it comes to emergency sidewalk peeing facilities in the City of Light.

Since my visit to Paris over three years ago, the pissoirs have been removed after reports the units were flawed.

They have since been replaced with eco-friendly open-air urinals, or “uritrottoirs” according to CNN.

Since I’m a guy who has not peed in every country in the world, I asked some of my fellow travel writers their methods of finding a toilet and they were kind enough to share.

Cape Paliser loo
A loo with a view in Cape Paliser, New Zealand
GoNOMAD Travel writer MaryGo gives her advice for finding a bathroom: I walk in like I’m supposed to be there. In a city I’ll look for an upscale hotel. I find the meeting room area there’s always a restroom there and usually no questions. Another good city bet is a modern office building.

There are typically restrooms listed on the directory. Sometimes security can be a problem, but asking politely in the local language can usually overcome their objections. I always carry ‘supplies’ no matter where I am.

And this from Karen Padilla:  In Iceland, downtown hotels or restaurants would let us use the restroom. No matter where I am I always carry some supplies.

Peeing in the Land of the Kiwis

I’ve been to New Zealand multiple times over the last twenty years. My favorite restroom break is at the i-SITE tourist information centers in virtually all towns and cities.

Not only are the restrooms usually clean and in good working order, but all the information one could want for exploring the area is in the same place.

If you can’t find an i-SITE, there are coffee shops or bakeries in abundance, where to be polite, a coffee or drink purchase will gain entrance to the loo.

Bus stations are a good place to scoot in and not have to buy anything for access to the toilet. New Zealand has an excellent bus system and most towns will have a bus station with public restrooms.

Japanese restroom at Mont Blanc
A modern Japanese restroom at Mont Blanc bakery in Tokyo.

Hiking, or tramping as they call it down under presents its own challenges. Out on the trail, you might get lucky finding a bathroom in the most surprising places.

We did on our hike to see the lighthouse at Cape Palliser on the southern tip of the North Island in New Zealand, and it even had toilet paper!

Land of the Rising Sun

Japan is a land of well-behaved people and breaking the rules of conduct is frowned upon. The land of the rising sun is definitely a place you don’t just stroll in and invade the restrooms. Luckily there are many tea houses throughout the country.

Tea is not expensive and doesn’t take long to order or consume. These shops almost always have clean public restrooms.

If they don’t speak English, politely ask for the “resta-rooma” or “toileta” and hope they understand. You could also try and ask the polite way in Japanese and blurt out, “wa doko desu oteari.”

In some upscale bakeries like Mont Blanc in Tokyo, you might get an ultra-modern toilet with a bidet seat. These can be a bit tricky to learn how to operate as all the signage is usually in kanji.

Half the fun of foreign travel is experiencing new things, even when it comes to toilets!

Narita visitor center
The visitor center in Narita is a good place for find a bathroom.

If all else fails in locating a squat-spot, American fast-food to the rescue again; McDonald’s has also invaded Japan as-well-as Krispy Kreme Donuts.

I’ve even seen an occasional Arby’s to use as a quick stop. Train stations and visitor centers are also a go-to potty break travelers can count on in Japan without having to buy something to gain access.

On my first trip to Japan some 18 years ago, I was shocked to see men relieving themselves on a wall near a fairly busy street on two occasions! Apparently, it was no big deal?

As a visitor to Japan, I would always prefer finding a bathroom.

Finding a Bathroom in Alaska

Alaska is not a foreign country but can feel like it at times due to the lack of infrastructure. There are numerous opportunities to duck into the bushes in Alaska, but with the chance of finding a bear.

If you are on the road, a gas station is your best bet for safety and comfort.

Homer bathroom
Free restrooms near the center of Homer Alaska.

When you are in coastal Alaska and near a boat harbor, quite often there is a public restroom for the boating community, sometimes with showers.

A local visitor’s center is a good bet and occasionally, a stand-alone public restroom, or outhouse can be found.

My favorite public restroom find in Alaska was in Homer, near the center of town. These loos were artsy, clean, and free.

Wherever you travel, surprises come and go. When it comes time to “go” I hope this information provides comfort on your next trip.