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  • Writer's pictureKathy Johnson

Road Tripping: It’s All About the Bathroom

I am a public bathroom expert and, let me tell you, it is an art. Recent family changes have given me more experience as a bathroom sleuth than I ever could have imagined. About four years ago, my dad had a stroke that left him with right-sided weakness and aphasia. He is able to walk slowly with a cane and can understand people, but cannot speak responses (even “yes” and “no” are not always accurate). I give you these details because this blog post is based on the experiences and observations of my mom and me; I’m sure if my dad could speak, he would give us more details and insights. You see, I have no brothers to help dad in the bathroom when needed. My brother-in-law will certainly step in to assist when he’s around—as have strangers—but as women, my sister, mom, and I are not comfortable going into the men’s restroom. This makes finding the right bathroom a bit complicated. However, knowing what to look for can make choosing a location for a road trip pit stop much easier. Location Types

Based on the location type, you can often guess what bathroom facilities you will find inside. Knowing what type of location works best for you and/or your travel companion can greatly simplify the bathroom search.

Gas Stations: Gas station restrooms are typically located at the back of a building. This may be a consideration for people who, like my dad, have diminished lung capacity or other mobility restrictions. Major interstate gas stations/quick marts have more spacious restrooms than urban stations, but it is generally a longer walking distance to get there.

Fast Food Establishments: Bathrooms are generally located near an entrance, but you might have to guess which entrance is best. We have found that fast food bathrooms are generally quite small, making us worry that someone will knock Dad over.

Starbucks: Not only can you find a Starbucks almost anywhere, but they always have a single stall bathroom. Yay! This means I can speak through the door and ask if Dad’s okay, even if he can’t open the door himself. Single stall bathrooms can be helpful for many people, so keep your eyes open for a Starbucks or use their app to locate one. Do note that bathroom location within the store varies—walking distance might be an issue.

Family-style Restaurants: These restaurants generally have restrooms near the entrance. Often, there is more than one stall or urinal. If crowds are a concern, make sure to go during non-peak hours to avoid lunch and dinner rushes (e.g. before 11 AM or between 2 and 4 PM).

Medical Clinics: They usually have an accessible (single toilet) room that allows me to speak through the door. These guys get it. An urgent care clinic or something similar should be quite easy to find on the road.

Churches: Church bathroom facilities are highly variable, but generally easy to find. Call ahead or check out in person before deciding to go.

Movie Theaters: Local theaters often have many cramped stalls with low toilets. It’s easier to go at non-peak hours, such as late morning. Going during the movie (rather than before or after) also guarantees smaller crowds.

Perhaps surprisingly, there are a variety of apps available to help locate public restrooms. Sit or Squat, Where to Wee, Flush, and Bathroom Scout, for example, make “going” on the go easy. Check out the apps before your trip to see which one works best for you and your travel companion. In summary, these are the things we consider when deciding to go out:

  • Has he had a bowel movement today?

  • How far is it from the main entry door to the bathroom?

  • How many doors do you have to open to get into bathroom?

  • Is the bathroom a single toilet or does it have stalls?

  • Urinal vs. stall – prefer having urinal available

  • Is the toilet high enough for him to comfortably go?

  • How far back and down do I have to lean to reach the flushing lever/handle?

  • Are there grab rails for support?

  • Is there enough space so we don’t feel crowded?

  • Is the location going to be busy, meaning we might have to wait for the restroom?

It is not hard to understand how a person’s world can become small when they have specific requirements—it can seem easier to just stay home. Although available bathrooms determine our time out and social interactions, we make sure that they do not prevent Dad from getting out. Knowing what to look for makes our road trips much smoother and much more enjoyable for all.

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