Where To Go When You Gotta Go?

Maybe I have high standards when it comes to public restrooms: clean. But I refuse to sit down on a grody ass toilet. Combine this with my small bladder and a penchant for road trips, and finding suitable bathrooms can get rather tricky.

I tried to give fancy technology a chance, with apps/websites like: Have2P, WhereToWee, WC Finder, and Imodium’s Bathroom Finder. (And while I did enjoy that Charmin’s SitOrSquat asked me if I had been potty trained, as a ploy to get my birthday, I was less than charmed with its attempt to access my Facebook info.) Overall, I found all these lists to be weak alternatives to logic. Because no, I do not consider a list of all the restaurants in town to be a useful restroom map. If I wanted to spend $10 on a meal just to pee, I wouldn’t be looking up bathrooms in the first place.

So I use the following guide instead:

Public Buildings (Libraries, City Halls, etc.)

Personally, I consider libraries the absolute best public restroom option. I’ve always found them easy to find, free, and blessed with great parking. Thank our well spent tax dollars for providing you with this clean, guilt free bathroom location.

This can also apply to any public government buildings (City Halls, County Court Houses, etc.). Be warned, sometimes these buildings, particularly in larger cities, may require you to go through some sort of security. Another option, if you’re not intimidated, is to walk into any police station and ask to use their restroom. (I’ve never tried this last one myself, but it’s definitely worth a shot if you’re desperate.)

Keep in mind though, depending on where you are, the downside to all of these is their hours.


These are not my go to spots (see my standards above) but they are usually the best (and sometimes only) road option.

If you have the choice between a rest stop or a gas station, ALWAYS choose the rest stop. Rest stops were made for this activity! If you are lucky enough to find yourself in one that also includes food sellers and kitschy stores, bask in the comfort and enjoy its (hopefully) clean bathrooms.

If you’re stuck choosing between a myriad of gas stations, two good rules: (1) a convenience store increases the chances for a clean bathroom exponentially, (2) if the gas station looks 90% sketchy their restroom is probably going to be 99% gross.


I’m all about the independent coffee shop, but you can’t always guarantee they’ll have a public restroom. So, for purposes of alleviating your bladder, you might want to stick to the chains (Starbucks, Peet’s Coffee, Coffee Bean, etc.) I usually go for Starbucks (they say there’s one on every corner for a reason.) If their bathroom needs a key, prepare yourself for a $3 drink surcharge or that awkward I’m just here cause I need to pee moment at the counter. Good rule: the smaller the town, the less likely the bathroom will require a key.


Ranked below coffee shops only because these might not be your fastest options. Bathrooms in stores like Target, Barnes & Noble, Kohl’s, grocery stores, etc. can sometimes be buried in far corners, on 2nd floors, or in basements. But if you don’t mind walking (and even a little shopping) these can be great, clean options.

Hate talking to people? If so, I don’t recommend using a grocery store. Their bathrooms are usually inconspicuous and you’ll often have to ask someone to find it. (Though, I’ve found Whole Foods to be the exception to this rule.)


If all of the above have failed you, consider any of the following, but be warned, you might have to pay for these options:

Fast Food Chains

Swift and easy to find, these are a standard bathroom option, particularly when traveling. They will probably be the cheapest if you are forced to buy something (remember most McDonalds still have a $1 menu.) But, like gas stations, your basic fast food chains can rank pretty high on the disgusting scale.

I like to lean towards the slightly classier options: Chipotle, Panera, Panda Express etc. I usually approach Panera like I approach Starbucks: if I can sneak in great, if not (or if my guilt has set in), I’m quite partial to their strawberries and cream scones.

Sit Down Restaurants

Unless you’re planning to eat at said restaurant, accessing these bathrooms can be difficult. If you’re attempting to just run in, aim for chains (guaranteed bathroom and lowered guilt factor), establishments without a dress code, and places with lots of families. I like the Olive Garden, bathrooms are usually located right by the front doors and long wait times provide excellent crowd cover.

Do you have a favorite place we missed? Let us know below! 

Photo by Meaghan Morrison

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  1. Excellent advice!

    For me, especially when I’m in an unfamiliar area, I also try to take into account how old the fast food/gas station/Barnes & Noble/etc are. In my experience, it’s usually the newer buildings that have the better bathroom, even if it’s not a place you would normally go!

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