The Poop on Potty Training While on the Road

To train or not to train? That is sometimes the question when traveling with toddlers.

When I looked at my daughter’s newborn face just minutes after she was forcibly removed from my body by the butcher—umm, I mean my obstetrician—I never once thought I would someday spend hours sitting with her in my living room while she squatted on a plastic toilet.

And I certainly never imagined I would have to take that plastic toilet in my car, across three states and what seemed like 19 million miles.

So when the time came to depart for Ohio, New York and Massachusetts last summer, I made an executive decision. (I get to do that, you know, because I’m the Mommy. Can you tell I’m drunk with power?)

We brought the potty with us. Still, the little blue chamber pot sat dormant for four weeks while we traveled, demolishing what little progress we’d made in that arena while still at home.

Avoiding Accidents While Driving 

“Are you sure you don’t want her to sit on the potty?” my husband regularly asked, eyebrows raised.

And boy, was I ever sure.

Especially when I saw that dude by the side of the road along Route 6—the busiest highway in Cape Cod, Mass.—clutching a naked, screaming toddler and a wad of toilet paper while we all sat parked in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

“Oh, that poor guy,” I moaned, bladder contracting in sympathy. “I’m so glad that isn’t me!”

I was especially glad to be me when my sister told me how her son peed all over the cargo area of her minivan while attempting to use the potty on a trip from Wellfleet, Mass., to Rochester, N.Y.

The poor little guy was trying to do his business in private—or as privately as possible in the open bay of a minivan—when his older sister pointed and laughed at him.

He turned around, and that, as they say, is all she wrote.

“Now I have to figure out how to get it out of the carpet,” said my sister, chagrined.

I became even smugger about my maternal wisdom after spending some time with Diane Ryals, family life educator with the University of Illinois Extension in Jacksonville, Ill.

I told her about my decision to derail the potty train, and she agreed with me 100 percent.

“That’s the best thing you could possibly have done,” says Ryals, who has worked in child development for more than 24 years.

Did I mention how excited I am to show this to tell my husband?

Training Tips From a Pro 

After validating me, Ryals went on to add that if you’re knee-deep in potty training, you can try a number of different techniques to keep your child on track while you are traveling.

Dress your child in simple clothes that are easy to remove quickly, and make rest stops every few hours. Teach your kids to recognize the symbol for rest areas and how to use that skill to remind the adults to stop.

“Then everyone can stop and use the bathroom,” Ryals adds. “That way it becomes a routine thing.”

If you are traveling in an area that does not offer regular access to restrooms (remember that poor guy from Route 6?), or even if you are stopping at rest areas, you should definitely bring your own potty with you.

“Some kids are terrified of the automatic-flush that you find in most restrooms now,” says Ryals. “And they may just not want to go in a strange place.”

There is a special place in hell for the person who invented those auto-flush thingies. My daughter—and just about every other kid I know—believes she’s in mortal danger every time one of those things goes off.

I mentioned this to a girlfriend recently, and she had a most ingenious solution: Band-Aids.

That’s right. She carries a purse full of Band-Aids, and when they need to go potty in a public place she slaps one over the mean little sensor that triggers the flush.

I like to call her MomGyver. It bugs the—dare I say it?—crap out of her.

If you’re fresh out of adhesive bandages, you can also scope scan the area for a family restroom. These rooms are popping up in malls, airports and rest areas all over, and most of them include a chair, baby-changing station and—mercifully—a manual-flush toilet.

Delayed Satisfaction

Even if you take all these precautions, Ryals warns that potty training outside of your normal routine and environment is going to be extremely difficult.

“Kids are going to have more accidents when they are on vacation, traveling or in an unfamiliar place,” she says. “There are so many new sights and sounds, and frequently the child gets so engrossed in these things that they can’t even sense that they have to go anymore.”

Basically, they’re little kids who are learning something pretty hard to master, and it is easy for them to get overwhelmed.

“If you are right on the cusp of potty training, or if you are having a lot of struggles, even far into it, stopping is sometimes a far better decision than forging ahead,” Ryals says, adding that the adults in charge can make matters worse by stressing out about it.

So stop stressing and leave the potty at home.

Did I mention how much I love being right? 

Themes: Family Travel

User Comments

Potty on the Go Elizabeth on The View (okay, okay...I admit it: I watch The View!) just popped this out, telling the audience that she uses it. (Maybe Fisher Price paid her to say that.) While the article advocates putting aside potty training while on vacation, if you're going to forge ahead, one of these may be a good investment.