Where Are the Best Bathrooms on a Road Trip?

Ask The Drive, and we shall answer.

Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Q: When you’re on a road trip, how do you find a good, clean bathroom? I’m driving across six states—big states—this Christmas season to visit my parents.—Phan Tom, Morgan Hill, CA

A: No guarantees here, but our franchised, standardized, regimented, and corporately arranged nation has made several outlets safe bets for those desperate for bowel evacuation while traveling. Here are my five favorites.

5. McDonald’s—Love or hate the food, McDonald’s usually has clean-ish restrooms. Sometimes they get a little messy simply because of the enormous volume of poopers using them, but it’s almost always bearable. McDonald’s is a particularly good bet if you’re dealing with multiple small children who would be troublesome in more dignified surroundings. And, let's be honest here, if you’re at McDonald’s any scrap of dignity has long been surrendered.

4. Starbucks—The restrooms at Starbucks are almost always clean. But they’re usually small, single-chair installations and there may be a wait. Worst of all, many are protected with coded access devices and you may feel guilty about asking for the code. Don’t be. Just order a bitter, over-roasted latte (which will help the whole process along), drown it in half-and-half and thank them for the relief.

3. Nordstrom—These large department stores have vast, marble lined lavatories that are likely nicer, cleaner and better smelling than anything you have in your house. You may want to spend your entire vacation in a Nordstrom can. But there are only 121 of these full-line stores in North America, so they’re not always convenient. Also, consider that it is a temple of temptation—your significant other can easily drop seven bills on a pair of Jimmy Choo pumps while you’re indisposed. And, no, I’m not assuming anything about your partner’s gender.

2. Chik-Fil-A – Cleanliness is apparently an obsession with this chicken chain. You may or may not agree with the owners’ politics or religious beliefs, but I’ve never been in a Chik-Fil-A toilet that wasn’t sparkling clean. Alas, despite the fact that your colon goes 24/7, all Chik-Fil-A outlets are closed on Sunday. Ruling: an ideal weekday option.

1. Mid-price Hotel Chains – I’m loathe to share this, because it’s something I’ve discovered during my travels and I don’t want it ruined. But all those chain hotels—not motels, but hotels with lobbies and meeting rooms—have reliably great bathrooms in their common areas. I’m talking the Courtyard by Marriott, Hampton Inn, Hilton Garden Inn, Holiday Inn Express, and Wingate by Wyndham. They’re all over the place, usually near Interstate on- and off-ramps, and the facilities are impeccably maintained. (Also: use paper towels for hand drying instead of those moronic air blowers.) Sure, the restrooms at a Ritz-Carlton will be even nicer, but then you have to deal with doormen, bellhops, and a concierge, all of whom are trained in the art of identifying imposters. At a Courtyard, all you do is walk in, wave at the desk drone, act like you’ve got a room there, ask where the downstairs water closet is located and, viola, you’ve secured an excellent bathroom experience. But this is our on-the-road secret. It’s just between us. So shut up already.