Traveling around the world there is one challenge that seems to regularly show up and that’s where to go? I don’t mean as in travel but really go. When at home it’s something we take for granted. Americans believe it is a public right and resent any effort to place a charge on access. Elsewhere around the world it can be a challenge to find one and in some places understanding how to use them is a serious issue and public restrooms are rarely free. We’re talking about restrooms, WC, toilets, lavatories, wash rooms, privies and you’d think for a room with so many names just in English they’d be everywhere?
America is pretty restroom friendly with lots of options and almost all for free. Similarly are Canada, Australia and New Zealand and while Europe has improved somewhat, free restrooms are rare and real public restrooms are often difficult to locate. Other issues as you travel are what is the procedure for accessing them and how to actually use the facility. Are you likely to find toilet tissue and what forms of payment are expected?
Asia seems to have evolved a completely different approach to toilet design and while they modernized over the years they often remained consistent to the original tradition. In many locations in Asia a floor level hole is the norm and squatting is the method of use.
With the increase of Asian tourists in the United States the National Park Service has started installing graphic instructions in park restrooms to prevent accidents in using the Western style toilet.
The good news is things are changing around the world with airports and hotel room facilities becoming more westernized.
It’s a good idea to have a game plan for when you’re out in public in a foreign country. Our first option is to look for a bar, cafe or coffee shop. Bars and coffee shops are a fixture of urban life everywhere in the world and almost all of them have restrooms, many cleaner than average. While often access isn’t public we get in the habit of simply buying something in the bar (cafe or coffee shop) and then ask to use the bathroom. A coffee in a bar or cafe is often under $2 or 1€ and most have private bathrooms for customer use.
Another good option for locating free public restroom is to look for department stores, shopping malls, and hotel lobbies. Another great option, because they’re American companies, is to look for the ubiquitous McDonalds and Starbucks which are reliable locations for free restrooms. In that vein you can also look for Burger Kings and in Asia Jollibee, a good fast food restaurant which is now opening stores in America too.
Most people have made Google on their cellphone a must when traveling internationally and Google maps is an invaluable resource for helping find restrooms. Bring up your Google map for your current location and add restrooms to the search bar. You’ll find a map marked with public restrooms. Tapping go will give you walking directions to the nearest location. Unfortunately the app doesn’t normally indicate if there’s a fee or actually on what floor.
Every country seems to have their own approach to restrooms and public use and even different European countries vary. Before traveling do a little research on what to expect where you’re going and a couple of phrase cards in the local language asking where are the restrooms can come in handy. Google translator is also a good app to carry and use.
Italy – Today you can find some pretty clean public bathrooms in a few places around major Italian cities. They are called “p-stops” and they are run by the City of Rome, Florence, Venice and several others. The cost is 1€. WC is also a common marking in Italy.
France – Public urinals, or pissoirs as they’re known in French, have a long history dating back to the late 1800s and Paris has recently installed a series of new outdoor urinals creating a bit of controversy. In addition Paris has more than 400 public toilets, called sanisettes, located on the public footpaths around Paris. They are free to use and all have access for the disabled. Many of the sanisettes are open 24 hours.
Amsterdam has had public urinals for years, and cities in Belgium and Australia have also recently started installing modern versions.
A French company called EUROmodul has gone global and is designing and installing public toilets around the world. Their modern freestanding units are intended for use in urban locations where necessary infrastructure is available (water and sewage connection). These toilets are equipped with different quality levels of sanitary equipment with toilets having anti-vandal characteristics in order to ensure the safety and longevity of the equipment and the toilets themselves. Their revenue stream is based on per use fees, usually about 1€.
Japan – you’ll often find traditional Japanese-style toilet as well as some Western toilets. Depending on the size of the city you may find only Japanese-style public restrooms with major cities providing a mix. Japanese commodes like much of Asia are at floor level. On the bullet trains the handicapped stall is a Western-style toilet. Get in the habit of keeping a copy of the Kanji symbols for 男 men and 女 women for easy identification.
As you travel internationally the best approach to being prepared is always carry some small change in local money for getting access to WCs and be sure and have some tissues on you in case the facility has no paper.
Italian “stanza da bagno” French “salle de Bains” Hungarian “fürdőszoba”
Spanish “baño” Greek “λουτρό” (loutro) Dutch “badkamer”
German “Badezimmer” Swedish “badrum” Japanese 浴室 (yokushitsu)