I’ve decided that potty training is a lot like having a child: if you wait for the perfect time, it will never happen. And this is especially true for families that travel a lot. I’d read enough—and had enough friends with preschoolers—to be highly skeptical of the so-called three-day method. But looking at our travel schedule, I was having a hard time finding even three days when we could stay home for potty training, much less a week or more. And I definitely didn’t want my “potty trained” child having accidents a few times a week in strange cities (or on shared modes of transportation).
But despite our heavy travel schedule, we did it. And although there were certainly mistakes along the way, it wasn’t that bad. Here’s how we made it happen, and how you can to.
Our Potty Training Story in a Nutshell
Even before Luca’s second birthday, I’d decided that I was going to potty train him when he was 29 months old. With several months to go before I actually had to do it, the timing seemed perfect. After reading the Oh Crap! Potty Training book (which all the international moms in Prague swore by) and listening to a podcast on the (small amount of) research regarding potty training, I’d decided that between 27 and 30 months was when it would be easiest to potty train. And although that wasn’t great timing in snowy Oslo, we were planning on being in Mexico visiting Fernando’s parents for a full month in the middle. Perfect.
Fast forward six months and my outlook started to change. As I reread my potty-training books and started lurking in Facebook groups dedicated to the topic, I suddenly realized: potty training Luca at my mother-in-law’s meant that he would almost certainly poop on her floor. What was I thinking?
Between this realization and a sudden increase in tantrums, I decided to move potty training up a little. The only problem was that we had less than a month until we traveled to Mexico, and we’d be in Italy for a week in the middle. So I cleared my calendar to the best of my ability and braced myself to try to complete the task that very week.
Like many (most?) potty training stories, ours involved multiple starts and stops, one step forward and two steps back. The first day went great, and the second involved explosive diarrhea. The next two days went smoothly, even with a trip to the vet, and the one after he had a pee accident at the indoor playground. Then we got nervous and put him in Pull Ups while in Italy, just in case. But when we got back we started over and basically finished day-time training—while sending Luca to barnehage—before we left for Mexico. The entire (derailed) process took less than a month, plus another 3 weeks or so to ditch the nighttime diapers.
Our best tips for potty training while traveling
Pick the right time
Although the average age of potty training has increased dramatically during the past generation, there are good reasons for doing it earlier. Best one in my opinion? Assuming your younger child has the necessary physical control, the earlier you potty train the less likely you will have to deal with power struggles. Not wanting to deal with power struggles or a four-year-old in diapers, the second Luca’s tantrums—and thus resistance—increased I knew we had to potty train promptly.
For those of you with fourteen-month olds thinking “But my daughter is already having tantrums! Does this mean it’s too late?” Don’t worry. One-year-old tantrums are very different than two-year-old tantrums. #justsayin So you’re probably okay.
Set aside at least 3 days at “home” to kickstart the process
As I mentioned before, I don’t believe that you can truly potty train a child in only three days. But if you don’t have at least three days to dedicate yourself completely to the process, it probably isn’t going to happen. And this stressful activity will be (slightly) easier in a familiar environment with as few activities as possible.
If being at home isn’t possible (or you don’t really have one) try to stay in as home-like of an environment as possible—in this case, apartments or houses are definitely superior to hotels. (Although I can certainly understand the appeal of having hotel staff clean up after your child…) And don’t plan on doing a lot of sightseeing in those days. Regardless of where you are staying, you’ll be spending most of your time there these first few days. Sure, some short outings are okay, and even encouraged, but the emphasis should be on short. Trying to spend all day sightseeing is a recipe for disaster.
Get a travel potty and a portable toilet seat reducer
Prior to beginning our potty training journey, we bought this travel potty from Potette. One of the big appeals was that it could be used as a toilet seat reducer OR a travel potty. If you are using it as a travel potty, you just set it up off the ground, throw a plastic bag that catches the poop and pee on it, and then your little one sits down. That’s the only way Luca ever used it—he screamed every time we tried to use it on the big potty—but I think that’s actually better because that meant we could always keep bags on it, rather than scramble to put one on when he announced he had to go potty.
Although the Potette comes with a carrying bag, it is still a little large to lug around. So once your child more or less has the hang of things and is able to hold it for more than a couple minutes, get a portable toilet seat reducer. Luca has this “Owl Potty” that he absolutely loves. And I like that you can fold it up, toss it in its bag, and then toss it in your purse.
Two more tips for pottying on the go: (1) If you forget your seat reducer, set your child backwards (facing the wall) on the toilet seat so she is better balanced and more comfortable. (2) Many toddlers (including mine) are afraid of automatically flushing toilets. Keep the toilet from flushing while your toddler is sitting on it by placing a Post-It Note over the sensor.
Minimize your use of Pull-Ups
I firmly believe that the reason it took us a full month to day-train Luca is that we relied too heavily on Pull-Ups, particularly in Italy. Initially, we only used them at night and during plane rides. (Which I highly recommend because the last thing you want is for your toddler to start screaming that she needs to potty during takeoff or landing.) But then I got nervous that he wasn’t going to be able to hold it or we wouldn’t be able to find a bathroom while sightseeing around Verona. And then I got SUPER worried that he would pee all over my 96-year-old grandmother-in-law’s house. As a result, he wore Pull-Ups pretty much continuously for a week before he was fully trained. So while we weren’t exactly starting from scratch when we returned to Oslo, it sure felt like it.
The thing about Pull-Ups is that they feel like diapers. Who cares that you can pull them up and down? Your toddler certainly doesn’t. (After all, there’s a good chance she already has the experience of pulling her diaper off herself.) Which means that Pull-Ups will, at a minimum, prolong the potty training process, even if they don’t completely derail it.
Don’t call Pull-Ups “special underwear”
In addition to being mindful of how often you use Pull-Ups, also be mindful of what you call them. And whatever you do, don’t follow the common advice to call them “special underwear,” “nighttime underwear,” “travel underwear,” or any other name that includes “underwear.” I’m convinced that doing so does not make your child feel more grown up or remove the confusion that might otherwise arise if you had told them that you were throwing out all the diapers. All it does is tell them that it is okay to pee and poop in underwear. And you do not want them thinking that. Or worse, telling you that as they stare you down and pee their pants at the same time.
Buy Piddle Pads
Who else has the experience of taking a dog on a transatlantic flight? Or even just housebreaking one? In both cases, there is a good chance that you bought these diaper-like sheets in the hopes that he would do his business on it, instead of on the carpeted floor.
Unless you have decided to forgo night training (which many people do) it’s time to break them out again. Whether you are staying in a hotel or a rented apartment, the last thing you want to do is have to tell the management/owner that your child ruined their mattress.
Let the Trainee Go Commando
This “secret” comes from Julie Glowacki’s book Oh Crap! Potty Training and it is brilliant. As I experienced with my son, underwear feels a lot like a diaper to a young child, and that makes accidents more likely. Pants (and especially skirts or dresses) are looser, however, and thus don’t provide the illusion of protection that underwear (and especially training pants) often does. So after your little one has bare butt pottying down, put on pants but skip the underwear for a while. (We did about 3 weeks, which is the recommendation in the book. Some people (especially in the U.S.) are required by their daycares to put their kids in underwear much sooner.)
Be Prepared for Setbacks in Case of Jetlag
One thing frequent travelers know all too well is jet lag. And as I’ve recently learned, toddlers (and their parents) suffer from it a lot more than babies. And it doesn’t just mess with your sleep cycle, it messes with all of your bodily functions. So don’t be surprised if your child suddenly needs to poop in the middle of the night.
And may you be lucky enough that she wakes up first.
Do you have any other potty training tips that frequent travelers need to know?