How to travel with a potty-training toddler

"It wasn’t until I woke up to poo smeared all over the couch, that I really started to panic about our upcoming road trip."

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My husband and I decided to go with the untraditional naked-from-the-waist-down approach to potty-training. Yep. I was tired of diapers, and many of our friends had used this method with success, so we dove in. We picked a start date, stripped her down and tracked her urination with obsession for the first week. No surprise, my daughter loved being naked—and I got really used to using carpet cleaner. But it wasn’t until one particular morning, when I woke up to poo smeared all over the couch, that I really started to panic about the upcoming road trip we were taking to visit family.

little girl with pink potty 9 cool potty training products that are totally worth tryingPotty-training is a time of both focus and obsession. Everything you do revolves around your child’s bathroom habits. While the idea of a road trip during the early stages of potty-training may seem unwise, my daughter was showing all the signs of being ready to potty-train—she was interested in other people going to the washroom, wanted to sit on the toilet before her baths, and hid in a corner when she needed to poo. We knew we couldn’t put it off, so it was time to start planning. Here’s how we potty-trained on the go.

Bring a travel potty

If you don’t have one of these, go get one. We opted for a travel potty seat that can be placed on top of a regular toilet or used as a standalone potty, with small fold-out legs. It even came with plastic liners to help with mess-free disposal. In the beginning, my daughter struggled with using public washrooms because of a traumatic automatic flush incident, so putting this on the floor of the bathroom helped avoid meltdowns and got her used to the idea of being in that space—complete with all its noises. We even used it on the seat of our car when we had to pull off the road. When your toddler is working on bladder control, you need something convenient to use at a moment’s notice.

Make frequent stops

We knew potty-training is really all about bladder-training, so in the beginning, when our daughter was going frequently, we made sure to stop every hour to bring her to the potty. Whether it was finding a gas station or rest stop, or pulling out her travel potty for the back seat, we made sure she always had an opportunity to relieve herself.

Pack extra clothes and wipes

It’s a good idea to keep a potty-training emergency kit in the back seat so it’s in easy reach. Stock it with several changes of clothes, extra towels or pads, and wipes. Accidents happen, so it’s best to be prepared to clean it up and move on.

Line the car seat for accidents

Buying a pack of incontinence pads for the car was a lifesaver. Or, at least, it saved us from completely taking apart the car seat to wash it every time there was an accident. We made sure she was always sitting on one of these when we were driving, and that way, if she had an accident, we could change her and spread a new pad in her car seat without having to make a big deal out of it.

Give them confidence

No one enjoys cleaning up pee, but if you need to take a long trip and you’re stressing about accidents, chances are your kid is going to pick up on that. Dr. Maureen Healy is a child development expert and author of The Emotionally Happy Child. “You want to be clear with them, make sure they’re ready, and use encouragement and praise,” she suggests. If they make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. Let them know they’re a big kid and that you know they can do it. Using pull-ups during this time may seem like a good last-resort tool, and honestly, we kept some in the car for that reason, but the truth is, I’m glad I never broke them out. “If you use a pull-up, you’re sending the message that they really can’t do it,” Healy explains. “It just confuses them.”

While my daughter did have a few accidents leading up to our trip, she managed to stay dry the entire time we travelled. Admittedly, we had some close calls—like when she discovered how fun it was to tell us, “I peed!” and watch us swerve into the nearest rest stop only to find that, no, in fact, she did not pee. But for a toddler who made A LOT of trips to the washroom each day, I was surprised that she learned how to hold her bladder when we told her to, with promises we were stopping soon. With this successful road trip behind us, we all have the confidence to do another again soon.

Read more:
6 worst mistakes parents make when trying 3-day potty training
Potty training tips: 7 strategies used by daycare teachers

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