A Tourist’s Guide to Finding Clean, Free-To-Use Toilets Abroad

Bathrooms are something that everybody uses, but they are sometimes hard to locate, especially in a new city.  

This handy guide will tell you everything you need to know to find clean and useable toilets while on your travels across the globe.

Additionally, we have included items that you should be carrying at all times, just in case you can’t find a clean bathroom.

First, here are some of the precautions you should take when you do find a bathroom:

The Problems of Using Public Restrooms

1. Hygiene. Hygiene is a major issue in most public restrooms around the world. In certain places, weeks can go by before the toilet or washroom undergoes proper servicing and maintenance.

It is a common sight to find leaky faucets, no faucets, broken sinks, no running water, or a toilet that you cringe just thinking about.

2. The Tech. (Or Lack Thereof). Sure, the facility is equipped with automatic flushing, motion-sensing faucets, and a fancy air-powered hand dryer.

But, chances are that none of these features work. This is one of the most frustrating things about public restrooms. The so-called “amenities” actually turn out to be hindrances.

Even opting for the use of a paid lavatory service will not alleviate the concerns, as they are often just as poorly maintained.

3. Disgruntling Doorknobs and Lengthy Lines. You may come across a poorly maintained washroom, and then again, you may come across a washroom that has clearly not been serviced in quite some time.

These are the actual nightmares. The doors won’t lock so you have to hold them shut, the sinks are without soap, the toilets don’t have seats, and there horrifyingly long lines to use them.

4. The Odor. Being famously low on maintenance, public toilets tend to have a certain unattractive stench.

If you are ever in a spot where you think there is a public bathroom nearby, but cannot seem to find it, just follow the smell of the public restroom.

So how do we actually go about finding these toilets? And what are the steps that we can take to increase the chances of getting a decent, or semi-decent lavatory to use while traveling in a strange city?

How to Find a (Useable) Toilet in a Strange City

How much you are willing to compromise depends on your personal situation at the moment, of course.

Here are some handy tips for finding a bathroom in a strange city:

1. Location is Key. Malls, departmental stores, museums, and fast-food restaurants will usually have well-enough maintained facilities.

As an added bonus, they seldom say no to anyone who wishes to use their bathroom, even if that person is not a customer.

In malls and museums, you do not require any sort of permission to use the restroom. Some places, however, only give you access to the bathroom if you are a customer, so be prepared to buy something small like a bottle of water or a coffee.

2. Find Public Buildings. The term “public buildings” encompasses everything from train stations to bus stops, and everything else in between. In these locations, the probability of finding a lavatory is very high, but it will likely be filthy.

However, hotel lobbies also have restrooms that are usually spotless. If there is a decently sized hotel around, head over there and try to blend in with the lobby crowd. Chances are that no one will bat an eye even if they do notice you.

3. Use Paid Bathrooms. In lots of major cities, like London and Amsterdam, there are chargeable, coin-operated water closets at regular intervals along the streets.

You can usually use these by paying the local equivalent of an American quarter. If you do decide to use one, make sure to stick to the ones located on well-trodden routes, as they are likely to be better maintained than those off the beaten path.

Tips When Out in a New City

1. Memorize the local words and/or sign for toilets. When traveling in a place where you don’t speak the local language, memorize the signs, characters, and words associated with “toilet.”

This makes getting relevant information from a local way easier, should you need to ask around for the location of a restroom.

2. Carry a survival kit. This is a must, especially when traveling in places that are known to have unsanitary toilet facilities.

An ideal kit includes several wet wipes, an alcohol-based sanitizer gel, a bottle of water, a small bar of soap, and some balm.

The balm is for dabbing under your nostrils to avoid the stench of public restrooms. This trick works like a charm should you ever be forced to use a public toilet.

3. Use available apps. There are numerous apps on the iOS app store, or on the Android play store that allow you to find nearby bathrooms.

Most of these are local-based, meaning that they rely on area locals for the most relevant information.

These apps are a great way to get yourself out of a sticky situation, with some apps listing up to 280,000 toilets worldwide.

Planning Ahead

Finding a toilet used to be a difficult task, but not anymore. These days, the main concern is finding a toilet that we would be happy to use. If you follow these tips, you should be able to find a decent bathroom in about 20 minutes.

However, in certain situations, you may be forced to use a facility you’d rather not think about. Unsurprisingly, filthy lavatories are full of germs. Little acts like using a public restroom are often the reason we get sick when traveling. For the possibility of you contracting an illness that is serious enough to require treatment, you’ll want to make sure you have travel insurance or travel medical insurance in place in advance. An international insurance plan for travelers can allow you to get the medical treatment you need with less worry about a large doctor’s bill.

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