Money Mondays: How Not to Pay for Bathrooms

Money Mondays is a weekly post about how to save money for the things that really matter in life and travel. Enjoy!

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Would you cross this glass bridge above ancient ruins to use a free bathroom?

I was told that I should set aside part of my daily travel budget for toilet money. In mist areas of Europe, “public” restrooms are privately owned, so if course the pass on the cleaning, maintenance, and utlities expenses to its users. On my last day in Paris, I was waiting for my bus to Madrid and wasn’t sure when I’d see a toilet again, so I paid to use a public restroom. But I’ve since widened up and found more ways to find free bathrooms throughout Europe. I haven’t paid to use a bathroom since!

– Years ago, when on a class trip to the East Coast, a local was taking us on a tour through Central Park. When we came across a restroom, he gave us all a brilliant piece of travel advice that I believe still holds true today: “Go when you can, not when you must.” This is helpful when travelling anywhere, even if it’s just across town, but especially true in countries with bathrooms are sparse and costly. When I see any of the following opportunities, I usually take advantage!

– Know what you’re looking for. Across Europe, bathrooms are marked “WC”, even though nobody actually uses the term “water closet”. If you want to ask someone where the bathroom is, ask “Where are the toilets?” The word toilet is more universal, and someone trying to translate the word bathroom may assume you’re looking for a place to take a bath.

– Unless it’s a historic site where adding a bathroom would cause a compromise in historic integrity, you can expect any place that charges an entrance fee to have free bathrooms inside.

-Restaurants always have bathrooms, except for places that are take-out only. If you’re going to eat out, the restroom is included in your cover charge.

– If you want to use the bathroom at a restaurant or bar but not order food, you can try, but it has risks. Most bathrooms are hidden so that you have to ask staff. If you’re caught, you may be asked to buy something. European McDonalds are particularly clever. Their restrooms can only be opened with a code that’s printed on receipts.

– Take a group tour. I don’t recommend an entire guided vacation, but I like to take walking tours on my first day in a city. Your guide will probably know of places, whether it’s an innovative street toilet or a super touristy restaurant where they let anyone use the facilities.

– Train stations typically charge a hefty toilet fee. Wait until you get on the train, where the toilets are free.

– While many historic churches lack public restrooms, some do have them available. Attending a service in a more modern church building basically guarantees a free commode. (And sometimes even free cookies!) At a small church I visited in Florence, Italy, they announced their weekly office hours just so travelers would know when they could access free bathrooms, air conditioning, and WiFi. Great ministry idea!

– If all else fails, you can always run back to your hostel, provided you’re staying somewhere centrally located!

Hopefully all this toilet talk didn’t gross you out too much, but it can make a big impact on a European travel budget. I’ve seen the charge for toilets range from 50¢ to 2€. If I paid for a toilet just once or twice per day, over my three month trip I would spend about €200 just to use the bathroom! Think of all the great European adventures that can be done for €200 when you think outside the stall!

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