Lower-risk bathroom options on I-77 South (US)
January 30, 2021 12:09 PM   Subscribe

We have to drive from Cleveland to the Asheville, NC area on Monday. We are trying to avoid the enclosed, potentially aerosol-virus-laden environment of public restrooms. They might be unavoidable for two adults and a 9yo girl, but I’m hoping that you will have some good tips about less-traveled options, places with great ventilation or some other ideas. We’ve never made the trip before and, you know, pandemic. It is not, unfortunately, optional, so any “don’t travel” advice is not going to be helpful.
posted by chesty_a_arthur to Travel & Transportation around Texas (18 answers total)
At the risk of sounding, perhaps, a little gross, I will be frank with you. Sometimes I must do round-trip drives to appointments at a large medical center 3 hours from my home. I completely avoid public restrooms. I have saved several empty plastic containers with tight lids (canned peaches came in them). I park my car somewhere where others are not around, and then, while sitting in the car, I discretely urinate into the container (I am female, BTW), put the lid on very tightly, and put it in the trunk. When I arrive home, I empty the containers into the toilet, and then clean them well with bleach to use for the next time. It feels a little crazy to do this, but it is worth it to me because it provides zero potential exposure to the virus, and I rationalize that it is akin to chamber pots used in the olden days.
posted by SageTrail at 12:59 PM on January 30, 2021 [9 favorites]

Given you have little time for anything you might be able to order online to arrive:

A really basic solution is reserving an old sheet (preferably a dark color and moderately thick) or picnic blanket you don't care about as a makeshift privacy shield. Many rest stops have woodsy areas - two people hold the sheet up blocking whatever angle might be public, the person that needs to go to the bathroom does their business facing the woods. Obviously clean up after yourself and don't leave anything behind (so bring some spare plastic bags), use wet naps/sanitizer/water bottle for hand cleaning.

While this might be kinda odd during normal times, if anyone hassles you just say "one of us is immunocompromised and we cannot use public facilities."

Now, if possible, you could try to buy a portable toilet tent like this one.
posted by coffeecat at 1:07 PM on January 30, 2021 [2 favorites]

In the other ideas bucket: wear a mask that fits as tightly/securely as you can find and you should be fine (or wear a second, looser mask over a tighter-fitting mask for a bit of added security). Even if you have no control over where you stop to use the toilet, you're not likely to linger for more than a few minutes so adequate PPE is going to be a very reliable risk mitigation strategy. If you want to cut down on the amount of time you spend indoors, bring your own hand-washing station (hand towels, a few jugs of water, a wash basin, and some hand soap—dont just rely on hand sanitizer or wet wipes, although those are good and fine additions to your arsenal). I'm an epidemiologist who has been working on the field for the last year and this is more or less my road kit approach.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 1:10 PM on January 30, 2021 [11 favorites]

If you don't want to buy a "luggable loo" , there are DIY options (ex).
posted by oceano at 1:21 PM on January 30, 2021 [2 favorites]

On recent short trips we’ve found the rest rooms at interstate rest stops to be easily accessible and very clean. Most don’t even have doors but have arched doorway openings. We go in with wipes in our hands to fasten the stall door and then flush and open the stall door. We carry the wipes outside to the trash can and then clean our hands in the car with sanitizer and more wipes if necessary. And we wear masks at all times, of course.
posted by serendipityrules at 1:35 PM on January 30, 2021 [6 favorites]

My sister drove cross-country a few months ago and recommended stopping at the very rural gas stations where the bathrooms are single-stall and open to the outside. Like the ones where you probably need a key.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 1:45 PM on January 30, 2021 [1 favorite]

I haven't done this personally but I've heard car dealerships can be a good and less trafficked place to stop. Often have large bathrooms and really no one is hanging out there right now.
posted by luckdragon at 1:59 PM on January 30, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! This is all super helpful. We do have female urinals (insert barf emoji) but I know someone is going to have to poop and I don’t think I can get the fam to poop in a jar al fresco. Good times!
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 2:13 PM on January 30, 2021 [2 favorites]

I have found highway rest stops (the ones run by the state highway department, not gas stations) to be pretty good. Usually doors are blocked open, and they are set up well in terms of being able to get in and out fast. I found gas station/truck-stop bathrooms much more hit and miss -- you have to walk through the sometimes crowded convenience store first, and then the bathrooms themselves are generally smaller, too.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:27 PM on January 30, 2021 [5 favorites]

There's always the bucket toilet option. A 5 gallon home depot bucket with lid, a $15 toilet seat, and whatever sort of cat litter or sawdust or whatever works to cover it and minimize smell and sloshing.
posted by slidell at 2:41 PM on January 30, 2021 [1 favorite]

Thank you so much for not using the side of the road. I moved from Oregon to California by bicycle during the pandemic last year, and more than one side-of-the-road potential unofficial camping spot had been turned into open urinals. It made the already-challenging task of finding a place to sleep for the night even harder.

Here's instructions for the emergency bucket toilet slidell mentioned.

posted by aniola at 2:59 PM on January 30, 2021 [2 favorites]

My parents are fond of stopping at Costco for this purpose. They know at least they are stringent about masks.
posted by notjustthefish at 3:00 PM on January 30, 2021 [3 favorites]

serendipityrules and Dip Flash have it. Not only are Interstate rest stops infinitely cleaner than gas station stops (ewwww), but they are contact free, extremely low-traffic, and usually well ventilated. Combine that with a mask and thorough handwash and you should be fine.
(source: many many Interstate road trips and multi-year regular long distance commuting. Interstate rest stops are the bomb.)
posted by media_itoku at 3:02 PM on January 30, 2021 [5 favorites]

Yeah, my experience is that Highway rest stop bathrooms are generally cleaner than gas station ones, don’t have people inside them loitering/figuring out what bag of chips to buy, and are better ventilated
posted by raccoon409 at 3:10 PM on January 30, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you are doing one straight trip, a combination approach (bucket + ability to try rest stops) is your best bet. You could also try to plan it out by mapping all potential safe stopping places eveey hour along the route
posted by emjaybee at 4:22 PM on January 30, 2021

I've driven about four thousand miles in the last few months, mostly on interstate highways, and have found the highway rest areas extremely clean. I used disinfecting wipes on doors, on toilet seats, and on flush mechanisms. As others have said the main doors are generally open. Everyone I encountered was wearing a mask. Gas stations and truck stops were not as clean. I'm high risk, mostly because of my age, I felt safe, and I did not get sick.
posted by mareli at 5:20 PM on January 30, 2021

Charmin has an app for phones called SitOrSquat which is actually pretty helpful. It will show you a lot of the public restrooms close to you. I will agree the big truck stops are usually the cleanest, but hotels and hospitals usually have public restrooms in their lobbies that are pretty clean. I would have never thought of a hospital without this app. Of course in these times of COVID it might not be the best idea and most will have people to keep you out these days.

Wear a mask and wash your hands and you should be fine, but even better is to take your own spray disinfectants and toilet paper. Bathrooms are usually designed with surfaces that can be cleaned easily, whereas toilet paper is absorbent so will hold any spray that gets on it.
posted by Short End Of A Wishbone at 5:44 PM on January 30, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I know you were all waiting to find out how our bathroom visits went! We used a lot more public restrooms than I was hoping we would, but we don't seem to have gotten Covid. First, this is a punishing drive especially in the snow. Second, the high point was the West Virginia welcome center on 81, in which a very well-equipped employee was disinfecting every stall after it was used. Third, the low point was a Circle K/BP near Unicoi, Tennessee, in which the cashier was not masked and we played chicken with an unmasked customer trying to navigate the narrow aisles. I actually didn't find the SitorSquat app to be very useful under our circumstances but it probably would be in a more developed area. Thank you for all the awesome help with this annoying problem!
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 11:49 AM on February 10, 2021

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