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When tourists have to go, some cities just won't play along. Finding public bathrooms on the road can demand some serious detours, especially when you're walking the streets of seemingly restroom-free New York City. "Urinetown" isn't just a play about a water shortage, it's a joke about how there's never anywhere to pee in the Big Apple.

That's probably why an entire cottage industry of Web sites and magazine articles has cropped up suggesting places to tinkle when you're traveling.

Our top four cardinal bathroom venues for practically anywhere you go in the USA are:

  • Starbucks. Starbucks coffee shops almost always have bathrooms. They usually require a key to get in, that you can get from the counter. Baristas don't care whether you're a customer or not.
  • Barnes & Noble/Borders Books. The dueling bookstore chains typically have bathrooms near the children's section.
  • Department stores. You bet these big stores have bathrooms, though you may have to walk a quarter of a mile through the building and ascend six stories to find 'em. Look at the store directory near the entrance for the bathroom location and/or the in-store cafĂ©.
  • Hotels. Hotel bathrooms are far nicer than any of the above -- and take far more chutzpah to enter. Stride into the hotel purposefully, and don't ask directions. Look like you belong. Almost all hotels have bathrooms near the back of the lobby, and you won't need a key card to get in.

The Real Pooh-Bahs

By far the best Web site for finding bathrooms is The Bathroom Diaries (www.thebathroomdiaries.com). Run by entrepreneur Mary Ann Racin, this site got a lot of press a few years ago, and it's still going strong. Racin lists 10,000 bathrooms around the world, everywhere from Cambodia to Antarctica, with a focus on the USA. Her readers submit bathrooms and rank them according to cleanliness, safety and aesthetic beauty. Every week or two, Racin goes through the submissions and puts the best ones on her site. Unfortunately, she saves some US listings for pay-only access through Vindigo (see below). She says that within the US, her site's listings for New York, Houston, Philadelphia and Detroit are the most comprehensive.

I'll be in Iceland when you read this, and I can't wait to check out the men's room in Reykjavik's City Hall, where "the outside wall is covered in lava on which moss grows, and water trickles over it," according to Racin's site. Check out more amazing loos at Racin's Golden Plunger Award page (www.thebathroomdiaries.com/GoldenPlungers.html), featuring such oddities as the solid gold toilet.

Racin syndicates TheBathroomDiaries over at Vindigo, so you can get bathroom info on your Palm OS handheld computer, Pocket PC, or Verizon or AT&T mobile phone. Vindigo is a comprehensive city guide application covering dozens of US cities and London with great maps, restaurant reviews and movie listings -- a good complement to a Frommer's guide. Vindigo's neatest feature lets you punch in your current location and get walking or driving directions to the nearest bathroom (or other attraction.) You can try the service out for free for 30 days; after that you must pay for it, and the price depends on what portable device you're using. Find out more at www.vindigo.com.

A rather low-rent alternative to The Bathroom Diaries, AddYourOwn (www.addyourown.com) shows 148 publicly accessible restrooms in Manhattan, and a few in other cities, too. Unlike The Bathroom Diaries, AddYourOwn is unmoderated -- fill in a form, and the bathroom you suggest will instantly appear on the site. Submissions are totally anonymous; they don't even want to know your e-mail address. If you know restrooms in Boston, Chicago, London, LA, Paris, San Francisco, Washington or Vancouver, log on and give the site some help.

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