Traveling with a Toddler: Potty Training and Travel

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A few days ago I got an email from a reader asking if I had any suggestions regarding traveling with a toddler who was potty training.  I have had the fortune (or misfortune?) of traveling several times with Little C while she was potty training, so I am happy to share some of the things that I learned during that process since I know this is an issue that almost every traveling family will face at one time or another!

As I’m sure almost everyone knows, potty training is about consistency and routine, so obviously throwing travel into that mix can create problems.  Your child won’t be on their normal routine, won’t have their normal bathrooms available, etc.  However, potty training on a trip doesn’t have to be too stressful or messy if you keep a few things in mind and adjust your expectations accordingly.

  • Wear pull-ups.  Unless your child is “fully potty trained” I highly recommend putting them in pull-ups at least during crucial travel portions of the trip.  This is true even if they are wearing real underwear at home.   In my mind, there is just no reason to tempt fate and risk having a real accident on a plane, in the car, etc. when a pull-up can prevent a little accident from becoming a big accident.  In fact, when I traveled with my daughter from Houston to the Outer Banks in August I put her in a pull-up for our travel days there and back even though she was pretty much fully potty trained.  We didn’t need it, but it made it much less stressful knowing that if she couldn’t hold it at least there wouldn’t be a huge mess.
  • Continue to encourage the potty, but don’t make it a huge deal on the trip.  My own personal advice is to not make the whole trip about potties.  Continue to encourage your child to use the potty as you would at home, but don’t obsess over the potty training aspect, especially if your child is newer in the potty training journey.  Have them in pull-ups/diapers, and don’t let the trip be ruined by a little potty training regression.  Hopefully the trip won’t be a set-back, but even if it is, it is likely to be a minor one if you quickly return to your old routine when you get home.
  • Consider bringing a portable toilet seat.  I personally don’t like having a bunch of potty training “gear” as I want to just be able to plop my kid down on any potty and have her go, but I know that doesn’t work as well for every kiddo.  So, if your child is used to a portable potty seat, then consider bringing it on the trip.  That isn’t something I did, but I know other families who have.

  • Consider bringing a portable potty.  I didn’t even know these existed until my friend, Pizzaman sent me one after reading about Little C’s roadside potty adventure a few months ago.  If your are planning a road trip or outdoor activities like hiking, camping, etc. where restrooms might not be readily available, then you might want to consider bringing a portable potty such as this one.
  • Bring extra clothes.  Despite all your best planning and intentions, real accidents may happen so always be prepared.  Always have a change of clothes available in a backpack or purse that is easily accessible.
  • Pack some large ziploc bags to safely store any clothing that may get wet from accidents that happen while you are out and about.  These are also helpful to help dispose of diapers so that they don’t sit in your hotel room.  Please don’t just leave nasty diapers/accidents in hotel rooms – yuck!
  • Buy diapers or pull-ups at your destinations.  If you decide to just go with diapers or pull-ups for the whole trip, it can get a bit tight to pack enough for longer trips.  In that case, consider shipping some ahead of time to your final destination, or just go buy some at the store when you arrive (assuming you are going somewhere that has stores easily accessible).
  • Make it a game to explore new bathrooms.  While I don’t think you should obsess about potty training on the trip, it is still important to give kiddos a chance to use the restroom, so make it a fun game.  Airplane bathrooms can be kind of weird and scary for kids (heck, even for adults), so try your best to make it sound like a fun and exciting game to try out new “special” bathrooms.  More often than not, if i get excited about something my kiddo is going to get excited about it.

I’d love to hear what other advice parents have for those who are now facing the “traveling while potty training” dilemma!

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  1. One thing we learned at daycare was to put underwear on after the pull-up. It saved us a couple of times on long trips and our boys were still happy to be in underwear.

  2. We had brought a small potty chair on our car trips, that worked out well and we were able to pull over to the side of road several times. Otherwise we worked with pullups. Incidently theres a great Potty Training video out there called ‘Potty Power’ that helped our kids get through the training phase. Google it for reviews by others. Warning-songs will get stuck in your head from video.

  3. Ziplock bags are your friend. Plenty of empties for accodent containment. Have the spare (or two) full change of clothes in a their own ziplock easily accessible (i.e. not in the overhead, not in the trunk).

  4. Road trip advice: plan to stop every two hours. They’ll be happy to use the potty if it’s associated with getting out of the car and running around

  5. My sister in law still remembers when we visited Boston with my daughter in about 2002 who was training and we looked over and she was peeing in my purse. I guess it was the most familiar thing in my brother’s apartment.

    My suggestion is with automatic toilets (which really freaked out most of my kids). Use a purse or bag between the sensor and the child to fool the toilet into not flushing until you are ready.

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