Public restrooms in airports, train stations, gas stations, restaurants, hotels and stores serve a very useful purpose. When away from home, travelers and locals alike rely on the availability of public restrooms.
Unfortunately, public restrooms aren't always completely safe or clean. Before you leave on your next road trip, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with public restroom health and safety issues.
Petty theft can be a problem in public restrooms. In fact, some rest stop managers post signs in restrooms, warning patrons to guard their valuables. Typically, thieves either grab a purse or bag while the owner is washing her hands, or they reach over the top of a restroom stall door and snatch a purse from the hook on the inside of the door.
The easiest way to keep your purse safe is to wear it while you are in public restrooms. Never hang it from the hook in the stall, and do not set it on the sink while you wash your hands. If you must set down your purse, find a spot far from the restroom door (on the trash receptacle lid, for example), or set it on the floor between your legs, with one foot through the strap, when you are at the sink. To prevent the spread of germs, consider placing a paper towel on the floor before you set down your purse.
While muggings and assaults in public restrooms are rare, they do occasionally happen. Often, the victim is approached from behind and grabbed or tackled. The criminal takes the victim's wallet or purse and runs from the restroom.
Sexual assaults sometimes take pace in public restrooms, too. Again, the typical scenario includes a grab from behind. Sometimes the assailant hides in a stall or tries to crawl under a stall's door or wall.
Whenever you enter a public restroom, look around to see who else might be inside. If you are approached by a suspicious-looking person, leave the restroom, if possible, and call loudly for help. Should an attacker grab you, make as much noise as you can.
Young children should always have an adult with them in public restrooms, and pre-teens should be monitored from a short distance.
Consider using family restrooms if you are traveling with grandchildren; you can bring children of both sexes into the restroom with you.
Public restrooms are usually cleaned regularly. However, many people use these facilities each day, making it almost impossible to keep all disease-causing bacteria and viruses out of a public restroom. Fortunately, there are things you can do to minimize your risk of catching a disease.
- Understand how to use the toilets in your destination country. Not all public restrooms are created equal; some have "squat" toilets, while others have Western-style toilets.
- Wash your hands after using the restroom, before eating, after touching animals, wounds or trash, before preparing food, after changing a diaper and after you cough or sneeze.
- Use appropriate hand-washing techniques. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have published an excellent guide to hand washing.
- Avoid touching handles and knobs after you have washed your hands. If your public restroom has doors, use a clean paper towel to cover the door handle as you open it. Discard the paper towel after you have left the restroom.