The Road Trip Guide to Potty Training

It’s the Murphy’s Law of parenting that right when your kid starts to get the hang of potty training, that road trip you’ve been planning is suddenly right around the corner.

How do you tackle long car rides and other pottying-on-the-go dilemmas? Plan, plan, plan.

1. Prepare the pottier

A few days before the trip, begin explaining to your wee one how your adventure will play out. Depending on your child’s preferred learning method, you can explain it with pictures, videos, a book, or just words. Or, to really make it stick, all of the above! I find that asking my son to answer questions about what I’ve just told him helps reinforce the memory.

Prior to our trip, my son would only go potty at home on our toilet or his little potty seat. No amount of coaxing, cajoling, or attempted bribery would get him to go in a public restroom. My goal was to break the public-toilet problem before we left, but he would always wait until we got home. Miraculously, he wouldn’t have an accident between the store and our house. Bladder of steel, that kid. Well, until later.

2. Have a back-up plan

Accidents happen. This should be printed on every little potty sold, as it has become the potty training mantra of our house. What can you do if your little one has an accident en route to your destination? Besides packing a change of clothes (or a couple), what else can you do? Your back-up plan is really contingent on how you’ve potty trained. I realized that if my son were wearing a diaper, he wouldn’t care about going on the potty; he’d just go in his diaper instead. We went straight from diapers to underwear without stopping at the pull-ups station, so we bought a small pack of pull-ups, called them his ‘special trip underwear,’ and told him not to potty in them. This way, if he had an accident on our eight hour road trip, we wouldn’t have a urine-scented car seat stinking up the car.

If you’ve used pull-ups previously, you could try using a cloth diaper as ‘special underwear,’ since they don’t have the look or feel of pull-ups or diapers. There are also special piddle-pads sold online, especially made to protect car seats from potty accidents. When accidents happen, it’s important to be supportive of their efforts, even if they ultimately failed (that time). 

3. Pack it all

Packing lightly and children don’t combine super well, but potty training children require even more. Little potty seat? Pack it. Rewards? Pack them. We brought the sticker chart, the stickers, and the M&Ms we use as a reward. Don’t forget all of the underwear they own, several changes of clothes, and emergency diapers (just in case — but don’t let them smell your fear).

4. Be prepared to stop…and stop and stop

The first time my son finally used a toilet outside our home was in a hotel, four hours away from home. We split the initial part of our drive in two, leaving after work one night and spending one night in a hotel along the way. Our son had to potty when we got to the hotel, but didn’t want to use the toilet in our room. He cried, asking to go home. Poor guy had no idea how far from home we were! We showed him his little potty, setting the seat atop the intimidating hotel room toilet. We brought out the stickers and rewards, and set them up so he could see them. Both mom and dad, and even nine month old baby brother, all sat on that seat to show how not scary it was. Finally, not wanting to soil his ‘special’ underwear, he sat on the potty and went. It helped that the pull-ups come with beloved characters on them; he didn’t want to get Thomas the Train dirty, and that served as incentive.

The following day, his first truly public potty experience occurred. Once he called potty from the backseat, we found the nearest place to stop: a nice, clean rest stop. Once he got into a stall, he refused to go. I tried everything I could, from explaining to bribery to pleading, but he only cried and said no. We got back in the car defeated. Not ten minutes later, he called potty again. We found a nice looking gas station, he decided to try standing up for the first time, and success! Public toilets were no longer so intimidating.

5. Beware the power-tripping three-nager

One the long, eight hour-uninterrupted trip home, our three-nager realized he held a certain amount of power. Every time he called potty, we’d stop the car. This was not a great realization for him to have.

Thankfully, after explaining that we could only stop if he actually had to use the potty, and asking him each time if he was sure he had to go before we stopped, we avoided any extraneous stops. Granted, we were gambling a little bit, because what if he didn’t know the answer? What if he only had to go a little? Tiny bladders are still adjusting to not relieving willy-nilly, so the earlier you are in the potty-training journey, the more you may have to stop. As a mom of two with not the largest bladder myself, I honestly didn’t mind his stopping schedule!

6. Adventure is out there!

Traveling with kids is totally worth the hassle for us. Experiencing new places, people, and food is doubly exciting with kids, as you get your own experience while also observing theirs. Are there struggles? Absolutely. Are there struggles in your hometown, too? Yep. Escorting a tantruming child out of a store is embarrassing, regardless of what city you’re in.

Taking our son’s little potty seat was a huge benefit and accelerated his ability to use a bathroom outside of his comfort zone. Although you may find yourself crouched in a rest stop bathroom, holding a small person on top of a massive toilet, and singing the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse theme song, you’re creating memories you can embarrass them with when they’re teenagers. And you can even pretend that you’ll get to relax when you reach your destination!

What are some of your favorite pottying-on-the-go tips? 

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