Potty Training on the Road: Learning to Wing It


potty training

The term “plan” was just not up for discussion in my household growing up. We would wing it every chance we got. Getting in the car on a weekend? We could be going to the flea market, we could be headed to HEB, we could be going to San Antonio or Las Vegas – you NEVER knew. Ok, so maybe I am exaggerating slightly. If we were packing a bag we knew we were at least going out of town, but where was always up for grabs.   

A Spontaneous Upbringing

Neither of my parents were from the Rio Grande Valley, so every weekend it was either a school function, Austin, San Antonio, or who knows where. I vividly recall one weekend where we were told we were going to grandma’s house in Sabinal, Texas. After my traditional road trip knock out, I awoke only to find my vision filled with the cacti and desert of West Texas.

“What happened to Grandma’s?” I asked.

“We decided to go to Vegas!” my parents exclaimed.

Well, ok… (Side note: This would have been much more exciting had I not been 17 years old at the time.) 

A Planner Instinct

Naturally, I have grown up a true rebel. I love to plan. I plan like nobody’s business – amid the toys, crackers and pens in my purse are not one, but TWO planners I cart along with me like my life depends on it. Going to Disneyland and Los Angeles this summer I was a master. I had the costs of all of the attractions written down and categorized, the routes to the respective hotels prepared, lists of restaurants that were “musts.” Then… I realized something. My eldest son was yet to be fully potty trained.

We thought we had it all covered. There was a little potty area fixed neatly in the back of the SUV, complete with portable potty, baby wipes, and Clorox wipes. Extra clothes, an abundance of perfectly planned snacks, drinks, and small meals were in the cooler (which was easily accessible from the passenger seat.) Our route was planned with knowledge of all the rest stops and hotels along the way. Truth be told, our tactic was to plan, plan, plan some more, and then make like a bird and “wing it.”

Potty Training on the GoThings That May Occur When Your Travel Plans Go to Poo:

  1. Your child will always need to go whenever you are in the middle of nowhere. 

No rest stops, no gas stations, no sign of civilization whatsoever. If it is dark, there will be no street lights (again, you are in the middle of nowhere.) Inevitably you will be left holding on to a flashlight pulled over on the side of the road, terrified by every sound, and envisioning the mutants from The Hills Have Eyes closing in at any second.

    2. The pee and poo will be shy.

As your husband tries to coax your son to aim in the direction of your (let’s be honest) glorified chamber pot setup in the back of the vehicle, the pee is suddenly shy. Ugh. Of course it is – there are probably murderers and rattle snakes lurking in the dark. (A branch breaks) You swear the broken down car you passed earlier is creeping up next to you. Good golly kid, just pee already!!!

   3. No matter how many snacks you packed  there will never be enough.

I was so proud of my beautifully packed and carefully planned snack bags with well thought out pairings of foods. Yup, that lasted all of a couple of hours, if that. 

Reality: 70% of all carefully planned and packaged snacks will end up on the floor, smashed into a car seat, or thrown at a sibling. The rest may be fed to Mickey, or picked apart and eaten faster than you can turn and yell, “stop fighting with your brother!” 

  4. Cups are little hollowed out vessels of magic.

I gave all snacks to my boys in small plastic cups. This limited spills to only the amount of snacks the cup could hold. Weirdly, the kids also liked to hear the rattle of goodies in said cup. Sadly, I didn’t figure this out until halfway through the trip. At this point pretzels, m&ms, gummies, and half chewed apple slices already festooned the floor of our lovely SUV.

   5. ALWAYS have at least 2-3 extra pairs of underwear and pants available. 

I don’t care if the child has been amazing and held their bladder across the entire state of Arizona. As soon as you get out of the vehicle and close to an actual building, proudly holding your big kid’s hand, the floodgates will release – just short of the door to the bathroom. By the end of the trip our little guy was a pro. But at the beginning of the two-day road trip the accidents came with a vengeance. Sitting still in a car seat is not something a toddler takes kindly to, and their bladder will let you know this, loud and clear.  

  6. ALL drinks will find a way to spill. 

Yup, even those overpriced, no-spill cups with the built in straws that close “automatically” if your kid’s lips are not wrapped around them. These too, will somehow find a way to spill. Your children are masters of proving guarantees wrong. Not to mention, they are literally a captive audience, with nothing better to do other than figure out the cup’s weaknesses. Our cups lasted a good while, but as we were on our way back, less than a day away from home the boys cracked the code.

I was happily talking with my husband about how wonderfully our trip had gone when I was struck in the eye with a spray of apple juice. “What the – !” I turned to see my sons pinching the straws of their non-spill expensive cups spraying each other with pure joy (and apple juice.) 

So, general consensus – do you have to be a planner to travel cross country with a potty training toddler? Not necessarily, but it helps. Was our experience perfect? Nope, but despite the hiccups in our plans the trip was an absolute blast.

At least we have some great stories, and know what we may encounter on our next big trip. Of course, every kid is unique, and our experience may be completely different with our second son, who is currently potty training.

On that note… anyone up for a road trip!?!


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Jennifer is the lucky mother of three boys, Dean (3) and Dante (2) (yup, back to back), and Diego (2 months). So life normally resembles either a crazed, juice-fueled dance party, or a giggle powered wrestling match. When she is not prowling around the house like a t-rex she teaches high school AP Social Studies, coaches UIL and is a self proclaimed "fit-ish mom" (translation: food is heaven, but the gym is therapy.) She grew up in Edinburg, and is a graduate of Florida State University with a degree in Political Science and Theater. After college, she bounced to Los Angeles where she began acting, print modeling, and worked for a high profile mortuary. After about 5 years she came back to her roots in the RGV, met her incredibly sweet husband, and the rest, as they say, is history.


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