Dear fellow travellers! It's me again, Vera, and today I am going to talk to you about finding public toilets.
A task that is somewhat essential to a smooth travel experience, yet hardly addressed – until now.
There is of course a chance of the odd TMI happening, so brace yourselves! However, we have to be courageous here, because not finding a public toilet when you need one can seriously cast a dark shadow over your otherwise delightful travels. Or over your pants. Right.
Luckily Loz already did a post about scenic toilets, and possesses a multitude of loo-pictures, hence you are not going to lack the eye candy (I heard that sigh of relief!).
So let’s get down to it – and I am sure you can relate to the following scenario: wherever I roam, sooner or later I am faced with somewhat of a dilemma. I feel recently taken in fluids stretching my bladder in a fashion that indicates the necessity of immediate relief, and rather suddenly, I get very nervous to find a loo. Then I get very upset upon realizing all WCs seem to have magically vanished while I was happily admiring sights.
I am glad to announce that I have never weed myself (Loz keeps telling me that it is actually a hard thing to do), but I am not saying that I wouldn't have liked to, just to prevent an implosion. I have even toyed with the idea of carrying a catheter (I am sure people who have to have one would rather not have it, but there must be moments of appreciation), because I am pretty annoyed that my otherwise glorious travel experiences are being affected by the much less glorious (but by all means equally exciting) need to urinate.
As us travelling folk come to learn, the state and distribution of public toilets varies a lot throughout the world, and it can be a pleasantly surprising experience ("There's a free and clean public toilet everywhere I go!"), a somewhat confusing one ("What do you mean, I have to PAY to use a public toilet??"/ "What's the hose for? -Oh.") or a rather repelling one (“Hm, by the sight of this it seems that the aim is to NOT hit that hole. Interesting!").
I do believe, though, that everyone everywhere does it the best way they can and the way they are used to do it, so if the situation seems less than ideal to you, it's nothing to judge a culture upon - it's just a different approach! Once again, it all boils down to how well we deal with the challenges which are thrown at us.
Since a proximity to mother nature, aka the country-side, usually somewhat minimizes the dependence on a public toilet and therefore the challenge, let us focus on towns/cities here.
So now, without further ado, comes the handy list of my bag of tricks!
Vera’s take on finding a public toilet
Not drinking is not an option, in case you were promoting this as a solution. I'm happy for you if you get by like this, but I don't support it, as I believe in the importance of staying hydrated, and in the burning unpleasantness that is a urinary tract infection.
Preparation comes in handy - keeping some change in case you have to pay & tissues, in case your hand, reaching for that toilet paper, comes back shockingly empty. Sanitizer if you wish.
You can actually browse the Internet for public toilets in a specific city (for the whole of Australia, there is for example this: http://www.toiletmap.gov.au/map.aspx) or you can even get an app (e.g. http://www.elbatrop.com/toilets), whereas I have the impression that these have not evolved equally everywhere, depending on which continent-country-town you're dealing with, so you might get lucky - or not.
Public buildings, like libraries, courts, hospitals, universities, administrative offices are a good option (the ace up my sleeve I like to call them).
Museums, galleries, etc., sometimes deeply disappoint you by having their toilets cunningly located past the admission.
The fact that often the tourist information in bigger cities does not have a public toilet never fails to surprise me –but at least they can point out to you where you can find one!
Train stations are worth the shot, but can let you down with toilets that make breaking out of prison seem easier when trying to figure out how to enter them.
Indoor markets sometimes offer toilets, too.
Malls, shopping centres, big stores, Fast-Food-chains - there's a chance you might have to pay, but it's better than...
…automatic to-pay-for public toilets, which don't work both of the two quite desperate times you actually want to use them ('want' maybe being a bit of an understatement), which is very, very bad for your wee-mentality which was convinced and prepared to be able to let go more or less NOW, and not in another 15 to 20 minutes, which is hopefully the maximum amount of time you need to find something else. Ugh.
Cafés, bars and restaurants are a possibility, but the staff often DON'T like it when you degrade their work-place to your public toilet (and that's their right absolutely), so I either order a drink ("Hooray! More wee to come!"), or sometimes I'll ask if I could use their toilet and offer some change for it. I can't remember exactly, but I don't think I was ever denied access to the porcelain gods using this method.
Train your ability to casually register and remember the location of any potential public toilet opportunity - I tend to create a map of a place in my head with a net connecting various public toilets (because they don't hand you one in the tourist-office, do they?); as in: "I know exactly where I am - basically in a Bermuda triangle of three public toilets, which is two more public toilets away from my hostel". Bonus: it helps you with your overall orientation, too!
An option that is not for me that much, but I will mention it, since it might be useful for somebody else or in a specific situation, is asking at a private house if you can use their bath-room.
- But what if there just isn't a toilet? I actually found a last resort, but since I don't want to promote public weeing and am not so sure that this proposal doesn't require an awful lot of comfort zone violation and practice, I'll hand it to you more as a fun thing and hope you don't find it offensive: this link (NSFW) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2MsEaRbVuzs takes you to the video "How to pi** in public".
...and it made me think about how it is 'unfair' that men always seem to be better off when it comes to weeing - until I stumbled about loads of information how women can actually wee while standing, too; either with the help of funky objects (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_urination_device) or just like that (http://www.wikihow.com/Pee-Standing-up-Without-a-Device). Pretty intriguing stuff - I can think of situations where this ability would be helpful, although I am not that keen on the part where you need to practise the whole shebang...
Last words: I've seen public toilets come and go, and they often go because the maintenance is too hard to keep up with, with people vandalizing the place repeatedly, or just having that "devil-may-care" attitude, resulting in unpleasant experiences for others, and I would like to encourage everyone to respect existing toilet facilities, as they are built for all of us.
Seeing how differently towns can handle this challenge makes me think that there are people with good intentions involved, and I can understand why they would give up on their project that they are investing time and money in when the beneficiaries seem to, frankly, sh*t on it. I know, that's not you, but resist the drive of adding to it "because it doesn't matter anymore, anyway" - it does make a difference if you do. Preservation is the underestimated ingredient to successful loo-finding!
So this was my take on that! I sincerely hope it might have included a point that is of interest to you, and maybe we all will deeply enjoy more proud moments when finding a public toilet like a secret agent would find the location of a mole.
However, I still do not exactly feel like an absolute pro with this task, and I still experience myself vehemently cursing when AGAIN I need to wee and have no clue where to go. Which is why I am now shouting out to you people: if you have additional advice, let it go and pour it all out... in the comments! Share away –and thank you!