One monkey wrench that often gets thrown into traveling with young kids is potty training. Some families, even ones that love to travel like ours, might take a break from traveling around potty training time. An accident at home can be very annoying, an accident on the road can be all that and more. We’re in the middle of potty training my son and considering he literally just lost his underwear (I searched the house, no idea where it went), I’ve got concerns about traveling with this kid while potty training. (Note: This is what happens when you put dad in charge :D). But sometimes as a family you have to travel while potty training, or maybe you just want to. So here are some of my best potty training travel tips, and I’d love to hear yours in the comments! Note, the portable toilet seat I recommend below is an Amazon affiliate link and may pay me a small commission.
(Related: Traveling alone with young children)
1. Know your child’s personality
This first tip is both common sense parenting and a caveat. No two kids are the same, so take everything this website (and others) says with a grain of salt. Only you know what works best for your child when it comes to amount of praise, rewards, need for scheduling, and degree of sarcasm necessary. (Joking.) But make sure you tailor your potty training strategy, whether at home or on the road, to what makes your child tick. This obviously becomes much easier when you’re potty training a second or third child, but you can still bear this in mind with the first.
For example, different children need different amounts of reminding and scheduling. Every kid probably needs to reminded to go to the bathroom when you start potty training, but children learn to tell you they need to go themselves at different rates. That’s just one of a million examples of how a child’s unique personality will require a unique strategy. So make sure when you’re employing any travel strategy to bear in mind your child’s personality.
2. Start early (both age-wise and before you travel)
I delayed potty training my then three year old daughter because we had a big trip to Disney World coming up. My reasoning, which I still think was fairly sound, was changing diapers would be easier than worrying about timing toilets. That delay proved unnecessary for two reasons. First, Disney World has incredible bathroom facilities for kids. In retrospect, this should have been obvious to me. Secondly, I’ve heard recently that people say that 20-30 months is the ideal potty training time. The reasoning goes, “the kid can’t hold it yet, so if you have them go regularly, they get used to it, and they figure it out.” Or some mess like that, IDK. So I could have potty trained my daughter long before the trip.
We’re trying that with my 2.5 year old son and aside from the aforementioned disappearing underpants, potty training is going very well. We’re also at least a month out from any large trips, so he should be potty trained in time for wherever we end up traveling in April. If you just started potty training but need to make an emergency trip, I’d recommend just reverting to diapers for a little while to prevent stress. If it’s an emergency trip you probably have bigger things to worry about anyway.
3. Use diapers for long stretches and to prevent bad accidents
I’m sort of over pull-ups as a concept, at least at home. I think children, especially young ones, understand more viscerally what is happening when they wet their underwear. However, I think diapers, pull-ups or otherwise, should still be part of your potty training travel strategy. A couple of examples to illustrate why:
- When the seat belt sign is on, you just don’t have any idea when you can get to the bathroom. A diaper prevents you from having to try to navigate an airplane toilet in bumpy air.
- In foreign countries, you may not always be able to reliably find a bathroom.
- On road trips you don’t have to stress about waking someone up from a nap.
Obviously, when potty training you will be bringing an extra set of clothes (preferably two) in your go bag, but diapers will minimize your stress since you have a backup. Things like jet lag and overall exhaustion are tough for adults to handle, so I like to take the stress off a child in the middle of potty training.
Do pack a ton of plastic zip lock bags, though.
4. Use timers to keep on track
One thing about travel is that it can be stressful. (Related: Family Travel Conflicts). There can be so much going on that parents might not even have the mental bandwidth to remember a potty break. I find timers to be super useful both at home and on the road. Technology is great and frankly I need the assist to keep everything straight in my head, especially on the road. A bonus, in my experience, is that kids love timers. You can download the fun apps or just let them pick the ringtones or whatever.
Either way, timers help keep you on a schedule which helps prevent accidents. Obviously this may not work as well on a plane when there is drink service, lines, turbulence, etc., but that’s why you combine this with the diapers.
5. Try to keep your home routines as much as possible
Another thing the timer can help you with? Maintaining home routines. We try to keep home routines the same as much as possible when traveling, since traveling introduces so many new variables. Potty training is no exception. Routines help kids feel comfortable. They prevent potty issues as well as behavior issues.
When you’re on the plane, if your child goes potty once an hour, try to get them to go once an hour. At your hotel, same thing. And when you’re out and about town, try to do whatever you do when out and about your hometown. Routines don’t prevent disaster, but they help.
That also means if you use a portable toilet or toilet seat at home, bring it on the road too. Public bathrooms can understandably be strange and daunting to young kids, so bring what they’re familiar with from home to make them comfortable. (Looking for a portable toilet seat? Try this one!)
6. Don’t stress the small stuff
I’m a big offender, but it’s really not worth stressing about the small stuff, especially when traveling. Kids feed off their parents energy and if you constantly stress about anything, especially potty training, they will just feed off that negative energy. Go into your trip expecting a few accidents: they’ll likely happen. That’s okay! Just make sure you keep doing what you were doing at home and supporting your child positively. (Again, I need to remind myself of this often).
Remember, potty training is about winning the war, not any individual battles. Prepare yourself accordingly before you travel.
Like I said at the top, I totally understand not wanting to potty training while traveling. I definitely have avoided it when possible, but sometimes it’s not possible. Overall, just like at home, patience and firm guidance should win the day. If you have any tips for potty training while traveling, I’d love to hear them in the comments.
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