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Potty Training & Toddler Travel

Potty Training & Toddler Travel

By Amalah

Dear Amalah,

I want to talk about potty training and toddlers and travel. My husband and I (and our toddler and new baby) are planning a trip to New York in (tentatively) September to visit his sister and her husband. My older daughter will be just over two and half. She is currently exhibiting a few signs of being ready to potty train (she occasionally tells me before she has to poop, but usually only when she’s in the bathtub, otherwise she just announces “I pooped!” She is clearly making some connections about how all this stuff works, but when we gently suggest that she could be done with diapers and use the potty like Mommy and Daddy she wants nothing to do with it). Anyway, my concern is I don’t want to miss the window for training, but I am worried about taking a newly trained toddler on a long flight and around a city where I imagine bathrooms are hard to find, both for the inconvenience for me and the potential trauma or embarrassment for her. I’m not in any rush to potty train, but it seems from your 347 columns about this that sometimes kids have their own timeline!

Should I try to wait to potty train? Should we postpone the trip until next spring and hopefully she’ll have total mastery of the toilet? (But, by then we’ll have a one year old to wrangle instead of a six month old). Or, and this is probably the real question, are we completely insane for taking a six month old and a two year old on a long, red eye flight to the most expensive city I can think of? (my general philosophy about air travel and kids is even if its horrible, its only a few hours and everyone involved will get over it. This was, of course, before two kids, and also a midnight to six a.m. flight is pretty unpleasant even for grown ups). I want to be the kind of mom (or at least the kind of couple) who can totally handle two tiny kids in Manhattan, and be up for adventures and expose my kids to new places and travel opportunities and all that, but really it sounds like a ton of stress and money, particularly for a trip that neither of my kids will really remember. On the other hand, we love those guys (my SIL and her husband) and it would be so nice to see them, and they haven’t met the new baby yet, and my husband assures me that New York is not as crowded and hectic and stressful as I think it is. It is possible that my (wonderful!) MIL could meet us there, so we could have more hands on deck. I did love traveling in the pre-kid days, and especially with her help my husband and I could even get some kid free time to explore the city, which sounds really fun….

so, to sum up: 1) how/when/should you travel with kids? 2) what, if any, impact should potty training have on said travel plans?

(Just quickly, this (and this) is me! Two and half years later and we’re all doing super awesome. Husband is sober and happy and an absolutely amazing dad – patient and fun and just a daily inspiration to me. I’m now a SAHM (which I love), he works 4am to noon just so he can be home with the girls as much as possible. I am incredibly grateful that our “big problem” is when to take a vacation.)


Ahem. Sorry. What was your question again?

Ah yes, so this is interesting, because we took a big family vacation early last month — all three kids on an international flight, with the airports and customs and long lines and craziness. Our youngest had just turned three, and had potty trained about three months prior, give or take. (It’s not really an exact science in regards to being “done” with potty training, if you know what I mean. It remains an ongoing process even after the big breakthrough/A-HA moment.) I packed some disposable diapers in our luggage for naps/nighttime, and the morning of our departure I suddenly realized I hadn’t even thought about what he should wear during the flight. All the disposables were packed and loaded in the car and I didn’t have any Pull-Ups. Cloth diapers would have required rethinking my already overloaded carry-on, I had no idea where a wet bag was, plus it was four in the morning and I made the snap decision to screw it, I’ll just put him in underwear and hope for the best.

He was fine! Totally, 100% fine. We made sure he at least “tried” to go potty at the airport whenever we saw one and we knew there would be a delay or restriction of access (pre-security line, immediately pre-boarding, etc.). He was unhappy about the lack of a potty seat (also packed in our checked bags) but he’d already had enough experiences with public restrooms that it wasn’t a dealbreaker. We just…held him over and let him go. I’d packed changes of clothes for him and dressed him in junky old playclothes that I could ditch in the trash in case of a disaster.

Honestly, it was my OLDER kids who were more likely to turn down a potty opportunity and then suddenly announce that they had to go right when it was super inconvenient. On the trip home, I refused to take no for an answer and stayed more on their case about it, instead of focusing just on my toddler. So, you know. IT NEVER ENDS.

(And then right after we returned, a story hit the viral news circuit about a 3-year-old being denied the restroom on a flight and having an accident in her seat. And in every comment section I saw about the story, people were questioning the wisdom of taking a child that young on a plane without AT LEAST keeping her in a Pull-Up, just in case, no matter how potty-trained she was at home. And I retroactively questioned my sanity for doing the very same thing, even though our trip was totally accident-free.)

That was by no means our first big family trip, by the way. And we definitely didn’t plan potty-training around it and (CLEARLY) I barely gave it a second thought, otherwise I probably would have picked up some Pull-Ups. We’ve taken planes, trains and very long automobile trips with all the kids, across all of the ages. Nursing, diapers, potty-training, all of it. We’ve been to New York, more than once. You’re not crazy and shouldn’t give your trip a second thought, if you ask me. (Which…you DID. So THERE.)

(A stroller might be inevitable since you have a baby and a toddler, but I will say that I personally found babywearing to be the way to go in NYC. I felt less in the way of everybody and parts of the city are admittedly not stroller friendly. If your toddler is still in the Ergo-backpack stage, DO IT. If you have to bring a stroller, make sure it’s a sturdy one with good wheels and steering for navigating curbs and crowded sidewalks.)

Traveling with babies and small children isn’t always the most fun, but it rarely ever becomes the worst-case scenario you worry about, and even if it does (like your 3 year old peeing in an airline seat), it still remains such a small part of the overall trip and you just…deal with it and move on. Out of all our flights and travels, there was exactly ONE that I would deem unpleasant — Ike was still a lap child, there was a lot of turbulence so we had to stay in our seats, and he was bored and tired and cried for some time. And there was simply nothing I could do for him. He didn’t want to eat or drink or play with anything I’d brought to amuse him and he DEFINITELY did not want to be restrained on my lap. And you know what? People were SO NICE TO US. The people in my row took turns holding him, gave him their keys and random stuff from their bags, other people made funny faces at him and assured me that oh yeah, they’ve been there too, or understood how he felt, because flying just isn’t very fun anymore for any of us.

So, IN SUMMARY, to answer your two specific questions:

1) How/when/should you travel with kids?

Whenever you want or need to. Don’t be intimidated. Do your best to plan for a variety of experiences, but in the end accept that you can’t plan for everything.

2) What, if any, impact should potty training have on said travel plans?

None. If she’s ready to train, let her train. Don’t push or treat your trip like some kind of hard-limit deadline. She can always wear Pull-Ups (and not to mention you can buy diapers/Pull-Ups/potty seats PRETTY DARN EASILY in New York, should anything become an issue), or it could be the experience that sort of…seals the deal and demonstrates to you that she’s got the potty thing down. (Not only did my kid remain accident-free during the travel portions of our trip, he also started staying consistently dry overnight, and then as soon as we eliminated that diaper, pooping on the potty when from a 75% success rate to 100%. BOO YAH.) Or, you know, she might NOT train and you’ll pack diapers for both kids and learn the joys of trying to change a toddler on the tiny, tiny airplane bathroom changing table. Good times. Good memories.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Stephanie

    July 9, 2014 at 3:56 pm

    So I was just in New York two weeks ago. My husband and I took a red-eye, and it was challenging for us. We slept a little, but not much. It’s not very comfortable, and I didn’t even have to deal with any children. I’m assuming you live somewhere on the West Coast like I do.  So just plan that you, in particular, might not get much sleep.

    If you’re going to go to NY, do it now before you have a toddler. And a stroller is a must for the 2 year old, even though, as Amy states, it’s not always stroller friendly. The subways in particular are really not ADA-compliant. Very few have elevators (not that it mattered to me since I didn’t have my kids with me, but as a mom, I still pointed it out). The DC Metro and the Boston Subway are much better equipped for  strollers.

    My younger daughter is the same age as your older one, and she did horribly on the plane ride at 18 months. She did better more recently at over 2, but it was only for an hour. A 6 month old is much easier than a 12 month old, at least for traveling!

    As for potty training, my younger daughter is at the same stage as yours. I’m not sure when she’s going to actually potty train, but as Amy stated, it’s not an all or nothing proposition. She might be kind of there, kind of not. Just make sure you have someone around to throw the baby at when you rush to find a bathroom, which it sounds like you will.

    Finally, plan that you’re doing, more or less, your normal routine in a different place. Your kids won’t know or care that you’re in NY, they’re going to want to nap, eat, etc. on their regular schedule. So keep your plans super flexible!

    Ad of course, New York is the best. And hundreds of thousands of children actually live there, so there are plenty of parks, and other things (a children’s museum, the Central Park Zoo, etc.). 

  • Rachel

    July 9, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    I second the advice. Our daughter started showing interest in using the toilet just before we left for a pre-planned trip to Disneyland. I was very concerned about how we were going to handle the long drive there and navigating the park with a just-starting-to-potty-train-but-refusing-to-wear-diapers toddler. But we forged ahead and things went fine, much better than my fears. We were prepared with spare clothes and diapers, but she handled it all like a champ – told us when she had to go and held it until I got her to the nearest bathroom. We did have a portable potty seat in the car with us, just in case we had to make a quick pull-off the road potty stop during the long drive, which was a great tip from a more experienced parent. Have a great trip! Even if your kids don’t remember it, you will 🙂

  • M.

    July 9, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    I just wanted to chime in about New York. I lived there until very recently with a toddler and can tell you that it’s more kid-friendly than you would think. Tons of yuppies have kids and want to take them along to nice restaurants, museums, shopping, etc. I personally have pushed a stroller through the MOMA, taken my daughter to eat at various fancy restaurants, and had her in the dressing room with me on several shopping sprees. And, as the prior commenter pointed out, there are lots of kid-centric things to do too. Certain parts of the city are a mess – Times Square comes to mind in particular – but frankly those parts are miserable for adults too. It is also true that most of the subways (particularly the local, non-express stops) are not ADA compliant, but just stand to the side, get the kid out of the stroller, fold it up, and walk down the stairs. Or carry the whole contraption down. I second Amy’s rec of baby-wearing if you can, but would advocate a SMALL stroller for ease of manuevering. Crowds and stairs and curbs are a bigger issue than potholes, and while many people have kids there, you generally won’t see a stroller bigger than the City Mini.

  • Dana

    July 9, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    Life long NYC area Jersey girl here…quick tip about finding a bathroom. You can walk info
    almost any hotel in NYC and use their bathroom, no questions asked. I’ve done this more times than I can count. They are almost always clean and empty. Enjoy the city. There is simply no place on earth like it!

  • Amy

    July 9, 2014 at 6:24 pm

    I’ll second Amy’s recommendation about dressing a potty training kid in clothes that you wouldn’t think twice about trashing. My almost 3 yr old had a blow out in a pull-up on a flight. It was a tiny plane and saving anything was impossible between the mess and the cramped potty. I had a shirt but somehow didn’t have spare shorts so he walked down the gangplank in his pull-up. No shame in his game. I will say that I was so so thankful I had a couple of gallon sized ziplock bags to contain the mess that I tossed in the planes trash otherwise the whole plane would have smelled. Ah good times. Can’t wait to potty train my second.

  • Liz

    July 9, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    I actually prefer the overnight flights. I’ve been traveling by myself with my son since he was 4 months. At 5 months we traveled to San Francisco from Micronesia (where we live) that’s a 12 hr plane ride and then a 6 hr plane ride. Most people were really helpful and because it was overnight he slept most of the way on both flights. Now my son is almost a year and we are making the trek to NY in August. That 12, 6, and 6 hour plane rides. He’s walking and I have a feeling that it’s going to be a lot harder this time. So I bet your 6 month old will be a lot easier on the plane and probably sleep the whole time. 

    Also I grew up in NYC and you can find a bathroom when you need one. 

  • IrishCream

    July 10, 2014 at 10:46 am

    Seconding (thirding?) the comments about kids in NYC. I’m a native New Yorker with two kids under 4 in Manhattan. If they see you’re making a reasonable effort to be considerate (not stopping in the middle of the sidewalk, holding your toddler in your lap instead of giving her her own seat if the subway’s crowded), you’ll find New Yorkers to be really friendly.

    My recommendation would be to wear the baby in a comfy carrier, and to bring a lightweight umbrella stroller for your big girl. It’ll be easy to lift over any high curbs or flights of stairs, and easy to fold and carry or check when you’re not using it.

    Bathrooms can be found in any Starbucks, plus hotels, libraries, and most big stores. My personal go-to is an Apple store, if one is handy…always clean, never crowded. Enjoy your trip, and thanks for the update on your earlier letter…awesome news.

  • AKD

    July 10, 2014 at 11:38 am

    I never used this, but I remember a particularly techy and adventurous friend of mine had a “Find A Bathroom” app on her cell phone when her daughter was potty training. That could be a help in NYC. Another tip about potty training is that it can be two steps forward, one step back. Think of it as a gradual process, so you might as well start now. It’s also possible that you will have a kid who takes to potty training like a duck to water (mine was like this, even though he’s a boy!) There is so much angst about potty training – I think not enough people talk about that sometimes it can be easy! (Probably because they don’t want everyone else to virtually throw things at them.) Probably a lot of our situation was just luck, but I think the soft start helped… we introduced a potty chair and daycare was working on it with other kids… by the time we officially “trained” there had been a lot of practice leading up to it.

  • Caroline

    July 10, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    I would say if the options are going soon or waiting till it’s better from the viewpoint of when the kids are older… go now. 6 months is much easier than gnarly toddler-age. Re the potty training, it really doesn’t sound like she’s *that* ready to be honest. Now. I know this can change and September is 2 months away, but they often do go through a long phase of being ”interested” and telling you what they did / didn’t do re bowel movements, and then parents get excited and think their 2 year old is ready!! And she/he isn’t!! Not at all!! Were it me, I’d leave it till you’re back from NY and then revisit it. You will not ”miss a window”, essentially they just have to be ready… and they can stay ”ready” for a little while, there’s no deadline. I would, unless she literally trains herself (some kids do this!) just leave it till after the holiday. If potty training (day time, not night) is taking anything more than a week to be pretty much ”there”, the kid aint ready. These wise words were imparted to me by a wonderful nursery teacher and after 2 boys, I know it to be true! They both trained within a few days, with only a couple of accidents in that time and very rarely thereafter. That kind of deadline is just extra pressure. Rather get your m-I-l onboard and have a wonderful trip!

  • Angela

    July 10, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    Another New Yorker with toddler in tow. This is a website we lean on HARD for activities (both on their daily calendar and overall suggestions in longer articles) and resources (eg best kid-friendly restaurants). If you are trying to plan some family-friendly activities, this is a great place to start!

  • Karen

    July 10, 2014 at 8:58 pm

    True story: a friend of mine took her newly 3 yr old and already potty trained daughter on vacation to India. Her daughter got a little off routine, so to speak, and the day they were visiting the Taj Mahal, she just dropped her pants and pooped on the ground. Definitely go and go with the flow, so to speak, it will be a lot of fun! And congratulations to you and your family.

  • Claire

    July 11, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    For what it’s worth, my newly potty trained daughter wore pull-ups on flights for a bit (I also had a newborn and was flying alone with them, so bathroom trips would be difficult).  She (amazingly) just didn’t go in her pull-ups.  I took her right before the flight and as soon as she got off, and her pull up was dry (4 hour flight).  But most importantly, I was not worried about it (there’s enough to worry about with travel!!), and she suffered no potty training setbacks by wearing a pull-up on the flight.  

  • A.L

    July 12, 2014 at 4:54 pm

    Don’t let your trip get in the way of potty training. If you think your daughter is ready, give it a try and see how it goes. If it works, keep it up, even on the trip– she may surprise you. And if it becomes too stressful, it won’t ruin things to put her back in diapers till you get home.

    When my kids were about your kids age, my husband went on a month long business trip, and the idea of being alone with the kids 24/7 for a whole month was incredibly daunting. So we went to stay at my mother in law’s house for about two weeks.

    My oldest was just just starting to get the hang of potty training when we went (he was by no means ‘trained’ but was making progress). The new place kind of freaked him out and he was not nearly as willing to go to the potty there. Plus there were so many distractions (my husband’s whole big family lives within a few miles of each other so there were people in and out of the house the whole time, trips to the park and zoo and pool, a baseball game, a family birthday party, etc) it was difficult to keep focus on taking him to the potty. He started having accidents all the time and I was simply too overwhelmed to deal with it. So only a couple days into our stay, I put him back in diapers for the duration of the trip (I took him to the potty if he asked, but didn’t bother prompting him anymore). It made life so much easier and we were able to enjoy the trip much more.

    When we got home I went right back to potty training and it was totally fine. We lost a little ground and he had some accidents, but after just a day or two back on our normal schedule, he was doing fine.

    So my suggestion is to give it a try if it doesn’t work out, have no shame in putting a diaper on her butt so you can enjoy your vacation! I don’t think it will completely derail the process.

  • meg in VT

    July 13, 2014 at 1:33 am

    I have taken both my kids to NYC at various stages, and it was always fine! We travelled with an Ergo and a Chicco folding stroller, which is super-light and can be carried over your shoulder instead of having to haul the kid down subway stairs. BUT also when I lived in NY I many many times was the stranger who helped a mom tote her kid down those stairs. People will help you!! Also there are so many great things for kids to do! Central Park, the Natural History Museum, etc. You’ll discover some great playgrounds and see the City from a whole new perspective with kids.

    Also I flew cross-country with both my girls right when they were potty training. They both did GREAT on the traveling legs of the journey, although I remember a few accidents when we were doing fun things like playing at new playgrounds etc. My oldest took much longer to get competent and there were a few accidents that we just dealt with at the time. I say, bring wet bags, a change of clothes, and be brave! And, as Amy said, it’s real easy to find a place to buy pull-ups if they become necessary. What’s the worst that can happen?