Updated: Jul 1, 2020
Inside: Travel tips and potty training tips for traveling with toddlers in the car.
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Some tough parenting moments stick with you, even when you can laugh about them later on. I still remember the time a stomach virus started in our car.
In my daughter's car seat to be exact. Just a disaster.
Cleaning out a car seat tests your gross-out meter for sure. Those blasted things are hard enough to unhook from the backseat, without having to sort out sanitizing straps and hidden plastic crevices...wondering if the washable cover will ever fit back on the same way again.
So I get why parents feel nervous about putting their toddler in a carseat, diaper-free.
Whether you're planning your next family roadtrip or you're wondering whether car rides with your potty training toddler will ever be possible again, here's how to set yourself up for success in the car with your potty training toddler.
Let's talk roadtrips. We've done a lot of long car rides with the kids, since they were both newborns. We have family in Maine and in New York/New Jersey, so no matter where we're living, we've been doing that drive a few times a year since my daughter was 6 weeks-old.
But potty training toddlers and long car rides are a different kind of challenge.
First thing to remember: your toddler can't be trusted to *hold it* long.
Even after you're through the initial *potty training zone* of the first couple weeks, and your child is successfully peeing and pooping in the potty, your toddler still won't be able to hold their pee till the next rest stop.
So how do you handle stops on your roadtrip?
Here are some car travel tips..
1. Pack a travel potty
That way you can pull over on the road and honor your child's call for the potty. Our go-to travel potty that has held up to 3+ years of use is this potty with this comfy silicone liner. Your toddler likely won't be able to wait 24 miles till the next rest stop, so come prepared.
Long bouts of sitting can also bring on a poop, so again, you'll want a potty handy within reach.
2. Keep a cup handy
Many parents also love to have a red solo cup in the car for quick pee emergencies (especially with boys). He can simply pee in the cup if you can't make it to a potty in time.
3. Don't forget wipes!
Nothing is worse than doing a potty break at the car or in a rest stop, and seeing you only have rough toilet paper (that tears easily) to clean your child's bum after a sticky, almond-butter consistency poop. I like to pack my wipes in the wet pocket of our wet/dry pouch and then keep extra dry clothes in the other pocket.
4. Don't ask your child if he has to go pee. Ever!
That includes car rides and potty training. When you're prompting your child to go pee, you don't want to phrase it as a yes/no question. Because, toddlers.
So what do you do if your child doesn't want to go pee and you're at a rest stop?
Bring your child with you to the bathroom while you go pee. Then simply do a little reverse psychology. It works like a charm, especially with the stubborn, strong-willed toddlers.
Mama is going potty, and I'm going pee FIRST!
Related: Seeing a lot of resistance to your prompts? I talk through solutions for how to handle behavior and prompts that set you up for success, and bring down resistance, in my e-course Potty Training Solutions.
When a toddler hears that he'll be second in doing something, that's likely to perk up his ears. And as you make your way into the bathroom, you may have a toddler who suddenly wants to go potty.
If not, the sound of you going pee is likely to trigger the sensation for your child.
Start with that trick, as you don't want to get into a power battle with your toddler about going potty. But you also can't trust your toddler when he says "no potty" and you know the next stop is an hour away.
That's a recipe for an accident. Or an emergency pee on the side of the road.
Related: I love this potty book for normalizing what public restrooms look like and how toddlers can feel safe going pee in a toilet.
5. Pack a small bag with extra supplies, separate from your main travel bag.
You don't want to be digging through your duffel or suitcase for a spare set of pants, underwear, or layers. Especially if weather-wise, it starts to get cool during your drive. Toddlers can get car sick, just like us, so you also want to be prepared if suddenly you need to get to an extra set of clothes.
What's inside my bag of supplies?
Besides clothes, I also like to pack a few cloth diaper prefolds which are helpful to pad up the car seat in case of accidents. There are also waterproof liner pads designed for carseats. And I keep a roll of papertowels and some plastic bags, that serve as garbage bags in case of disaster.
What about if your child is super new to using the potty? Do you just put them in the carseat with undies and pants and hope for the best?
No, not really.
Here are more tips on traveling with a newly potty trained toddler. And here's a simple answer: If your child is still in the zone of peeing every 30 minutes and is not self-initiating when she has to go pee or poop, then do bring in pull-ups for a long car ride. Use the pull-ups just for the car ride and call them *travel pants* so your child knows this is a special thing.
Here's something else I learned after being stuck without any car radio, waiting on a radio replacement for 6 weeks (with two kids doing long drives in the backseat, not fun).
Silence is not golden when you're riding around in the car with kids.
You need something for them to listen to, something to engage them, something to DISTRACT them.
What about keeping the sanity in the car with toddlers and long car rides? Are there any solutions besides the iPad? Yes, there sure are! Our kiddos don't watch videos in the car (no screens in our car and we don't have iPads to share).
Here's my secret trick to keeping them entertained, which has worked well since they were toddlers, around 2 years-old.
It requires no packing, no extra device to buy, and the possibilities are endless.
Yep, Audible Kids has saved us through many 9-hour long road trips. My kids LOVE Audible. They get to choose their stories and listen to unlimited books through the car ride. We load up our Audible library before any long road trip and it's the golden trick that keeps our kids entertained, happy..
No whining, no complicated toy setup in the back, just easy-peezy entertainment.
My suggestion for the younger crew (under age 3.5 years old) is to choose lots of short stories on Audible. Ones like the Gruffalo, the Cat in the Hat, or Amelia Bedelia. As our kids have gotten older, I rely on Audible Kids even more for long car rides. Now the difference is my kids love listening to the chapter books, and we've listened to Peter Pan, Charlotte's Web, and Frog and Toad on car trips.
Are you driving through bedtime on your roadtrip?
There are even bedtime stories on Audible Kids, to help your toddler fall asleep to stories in the car, just like at home.
My other travel reminder, that's simple but true, be sure to have snacks!
I can't say how many times we've done a long drive and been shocked at the lack of rest stops with food courts..or regretted taking an exit that winds and winds to one sad little convenient store miles off the highway. I overpack snacks for roadtrips (and never regret it).
If you're looking for some snack inspiration, my friend Amy of Yummy Toddler Food is always on her game with packing snacks for traveling with her family. And I personally love these containers for older toddlers and snacking bowls for being on the go.
Keep in mind we all tend to run constipated when traveling.
Happy travels with your kiddos! And may the force be with you in keeping that carseat clean.
Illustrations: Citrus and Mint Designs