Potty Training While Traveling

Tips to be successful with potty training during family vacations.

Potty training is a phase of development that can go fairly smoothly or become a roller coaster ride of false starts, temporary successes and setbacks. Training at home should follow a consistent and familiar process, but what if you have to leave the house for a few hours or travel for several days or more? What happens when the routine at home is interrupted by the use of strange toilets in public places?

Like many things, you need to try it to discover the answer. Your child needs to learn by experience too. Let’s start with the car. Taking a potty break before leaving the house is simply common sense. What about longer car rides? My advice is to invest in a car seat cover — a liner used to keep wetness from being absorbed by the car seat fabric that is easier to remove and clean. 

Jump in with both feet for faster progress. Let your child drink fluids to create opportunity rather than withholding it. Frequent stops are great. Take your child to the restroom when they ask or have a “family potty break” since children start asking later in the training process, once they learn how to feel and control their bladder.

Remember to Ask

Just like you would ask your child if they need to use the potty at home, you need to regularly ask them while you are out of the house. It can be easy to forget when you are on the run, but you also need to lead by example — take your own frequent breaks and invite your child along — encourage them to learn to ask and know that making a stop is not an inconvenience, it’s necessary for everyone.  

Children may feel intimidated by public restrooms, so be understanding and treat it like a common activity to remove anxiety. If your child resists, you may want to be prepared to let them experience the mild discomfort of waiting for the next available stop. If they don’t make it, don’t shame them. Calmly explain you will get them to the next potty as soon as you can. They will learn more quickly about the level of control they have over their body. Make a big deal when they get it right. Praise is important whether it’s a high-five, a sticker, or small cookie.


You may be worried about sanitary conditions. We all have our misgivings about using public restrooms for this reason. Sometimes you have no choice, but there are things you can do to minimize germs. You can use a toilet seat liner provided, you can bring one of your own, and you can carry a travel potty or a travel seat insert with you. Aside from that, kids will still put their hands everywhere, but if they don’t have some exposure to germs, their bodies don’t learn to fight infection. It has to happen sometime. Relax.

Travel Training Gear

Collapsible travel potty training gear like small step stools and seats can fit easily under a stroller or in a bag to have with you everywhere you go. You can then control the level of cleanliness and your child can have something familiar from home to relate to in this strange environment. Familiar tools and consistency are always better when teaching a child new things.

Stability is the bigger problem since children don’t fit properly on a standard size toilet without an insert. Again, travel potty gear is the answer to this, otherwise teaching them to sit close to the front of the potty and lean a little forward. You can try having them sit sideways on the larger seats.

Public Transportation

The toilets used on planes, trains, and buses are another hurdle. If you are a commercial traveler, don’t let potty training get you down, just be prepared. These are not normal size toilets; they look and operate very differently and you will be in very small space. The first try here may be met with wide-eyed wonder, timid curiosity or downright fear. Knowing your child’s personality will help you gauge the initial reaction and attempt to offset it if necessary.

Flushing and sink operation will be unusual for them and you will need to explain and help them learn for future excursions. The gray metal seat, blue fluid, and vacuum flush are all foreign bathroom experiences. Resistance is expected. Encourage curiosity.

The Personality Factor

Many potty training experts advise starting training at least a month before any major travel plans. You and your child may feel the need to get a solid routine started before adding unfamiliar territory into the mix. However, it is possible to potty train within a few days and there are experts available to explain this process.

Potty training can begin during travel. You and your child can adopt a flexible attitude about the process whenever your child becomes curious and wants to try. Incorporate your potty stops into your travel itinerary, or a makeshift map of your day, and have the family involved in accomplishing each stop made. Making it a planned and important part of the trip is encouraging to your child and keeps you and your family mentally prepared for the necessary side trips and possible delays.

Adriana Vermillion is a mother of two who is pursuing her doctorate in psychology as she continues to work in the field of advisor and trainer for parents, educators and professionals. Her favorite topic and expertise is potty training, especially with children that have special needs as well as families with multiples. Learn more at the Potty Whisperer.