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Most travel skills are superfluous. Finding the cheapest flight or hotel, getting upgrades, or being able to travel to new, exciting, or numerous places are voluntary tasks.
An essential travel skill, however, is being able to find convenient restroom facilities. This is especially important when exploring unfamiliar locations, being unable to access your current temporary residence (many hostels and inns close during the day), and on road trips.
For those times when a tree or bush will not suffice, here are 8 great general places that usually provide reliable restroom facilities.
- Visitor Centers. Whatever the name–tourist office, information center, convention bureau–locations that cater to visitors almost always have clean restroom facilities. In addition to doing your business, you can find deals and information on dining, lodging, and sightseeing for local businesses.
- Public Areas. This is a catchall category which may include libraries, bus and train stations, conventions centers, universities, police stations, attractions, churches, parks, and museums. Any venue where the general public visits is surely to have at least one comfort station.
- Grocery Stores. I prefer supporting small businesses and typically shop at smaller grocery stores when traveling. However, the larger chain grocery stores are more likely to have convenient restroom facilities. Allow time to visit both!
- Department Stores. In the United States, large chain stores such as Target and Wal-Mart are convenient pit stops. Places like Home Depot and Lowes work, too. In other countries, large stores can include supermercados (and hipermercados) and multi-story units with cafeterias.
- Gas Stations. While getting fuel for your vehicle, make use of their restroom facilities. It is a time-honored road trip tradition.
- Fast Food Restaurants. If any road trip tradition competes with the above, it is stopping at a roadside McDonalds or Burger King to use the bathroom. The modern, city dweller equivalent might be Starbucks.
- Hotel Lobbies. When exploring large cities, hotel lobbies are fantastic places to take a break. Large lobbies are wonderful for resting and, of course, their restrooms provide relief. More elegant, prominent properties have superb holiday decorations.
- Recreation Centers. Public (or private sometimes) rec centers are often great places for restroom breaks. When I lived on the Monterey Peninsula, I usually stopped midway through long bike rides at the Pebble Beach Pro Shop. Countless other times while traveling, I have taken breaks at pools, tennis and sports facilities, and public parks.
Charles McCool is an independent consumer travel advocate.
© 2012, Charles McCool
A recent post covered my road trip rules, including not driving on interstate highways and not visiting chains. I admitted that I sometimes break my own rules.
Specifically, on road trips I do sometimes drive on interstates highways and visit chains. Although I really, really try not to do so, there are instances that warrant it.
Here are some exceptions:
Interstates. On my last road trip I was caught in a weather system. It was raining where I was and for several hundred miles in every direction. The forecast showed rain for at least the next two days. Luckily it was the end of my road trip and the interstate was a straight shot back to my home. Normally, if the weather was nice, I would have driven smaller, country roads.
I will also break this rule and drive on an interstate highway to get between scenic drives. Or if I am in a hurry to get somewhere. After all, that is the real purpose of the interstate system.
Sure, every once in awhile, there is an interstate highway that is marked scenic but there is usually a nearby (often parallel) road that has the same or better scenery. When there is an alternative to an interstate, I will take it!
Chains. I most often break my self-imposed chain rule by staying at a chain hotel. If the quality and price are comparable, I prefer to stay at independent lodging properties. After a long day of driving, I consult my iPhone apps (Hotels.com, HotelsByMe, HotelPal, and RoomSaver). If the best rate happens to be at a decent chain property, I will stay there.
My second most common chain rule breaker is large grocery and sundry chains (like Target and WalMart). Again, I try to support local, independent shops but I often find it too convenient to bypass the biggies. On road trips, I can make one stop for a gallon of water, some groceries, suntan lotion, a pillow and towel, cleaning supplies, and so on. It has been a couple of years for me to do so but WalMart parking lots also serve as an emergency lodging option.
The biggest temptation, however, are restaurant chains. I absolutely 100% try to avoid the ubiquitous, omnipresent chains. One, it is never the healthiest option. Two, it is the same taste and experience, whether in Miami or Madrid. I travel so that I can experience different flavors. For instance, on my last road trip, I bought a local cheesesteak grinder from the local “Joe’s Subs” rather than the major familiar $5 sub chain.
That said, I infrequently make exceptions. One is for regional chains, like El Pollo Loco, Pollo Tropical, or even Biscuitville. If the chain is not near my home, then I can somehow justify a visit to a road location as a treat. On my last road trip, I visited Skyline Chili in Louisville, Kentucky. It was after 9pm and everything else was closed. Another exception is for Krispy Kreme.
Still, I really try not to visit chain restaurants as a rule. Even with the almighty Krispy Kreme, I have not visited one in a couple of years. I have bypassed them for local doughnut shops.
Charles McCool is an independent consumer travel advocate.