It’s a fact right up there with death and taxes. If you’re going to be venturing out for more than an hour or two with your kids, sooner or later you’re going to have to find a place to pee. Young children don’t often clue in that nature is calling until their bladders are bursting, so there’s not a lot of lead time involved. Knowing where to go when they gotta go is key.
Locating the nearest loo (ideally a relatively clean one) can be more of an issue when your family is traveling in unfamiliar territory. Most guidebook or tourist maps don’t pinpoint public restrooms – I guess cartographers aren’t necessarily thinking about the urgent needs of toilet training toddlers when pulling together their points of interest. Sure, you can always ask a local stranger on the street, but depending on where you are going there may be language barriers to contend with. Trust me, “where’s the washroom?” is not a fun question to act out with gestural body language.
Even amongst English speaking countries, the toilet terminology can vary greatly. Ask for a bathroom in England and they’ll think you want to bathe. State-bound Brits who ask for the nearest WC will be met with blank stares (water closet is such a genteel euphemism). Restroom, powder room, men’s room, ladies’ room, little boys/girls room, lavatory, privy, toilet, commode, head, can, john, loo, biff, potty… It’s no wonder English is considered the most challenging language in the world.
Luckily, there’s a technological solution for everything. If you travel with a laptop, cellphone, Blackberry or other mobile device, MizPee can help you find the relief you’re looking for. The company has compiled a comprehensive list of clean and convenient restrooms throughout Europe, Canada and the US, topped up with user-added content and reviews (think of it as your TripAdvisor for toilets). It’ll let you know things like hours of operation, whether you need to purchase something to use the facilities, if they are handicap accessible (relevant for stroller-wielding parents) and even if they have a baby changing station. Once you key in your starting address, it will give you a range of options, be it a public library, coffee shop, department store or public restroom that you can use, and they even plot it on a map for you.
In a similar vein, the government of Australia has taken it upon itself to create a National Public Toilet Map, which locates all the public facilities in the country. They don’t necessarily vouch for their cleanliness, however, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Will more governments follow suit on this pressing matter?