I still don't feel like an expert on traveling with kids. I like to search for advice on what to pack when preparing for a trip. But when I think about it, I've probably done more traveling with a toddler than most. And since I practice EC full time (day, night, home, out and about), I've also done quite a bit of elimination communication while traveling.
In this post I organized my thoughts on practicing elimination communication while traveling. What should you bring? When should you offer the potty? What about doing EC on an airplane? Train? Road trip?
You can read the whole post or jump ahead to one of these sections:
- My experience with EC while traveling
- Packing for EC while traveling (potties and backup)
- Offering the potty while traveling (planes, trains, and automobiles)
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My Experience with Elimination Communication while Traveling
We traveled continuously from the time our son was 12-months-old until he was 24-months-old. After his first birthday party we packed our bags, said "a hui hou" to our friends, and headed to Vietnam. We lived in Vietnam for three months before traveling around. We used Bangkok, Thailand as our home base and would stay there for a month at a time. From there we visited Indonesia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, India, and Japan. We wrapped up the trip by visiting family in California and celebrating our son's second birthday. Then we headed back to Oahu, Hawaii. Once we were settled into our own apartment we made the switch from using cloth training pants to full time underwear.
With our daughter we took a couple short trips while she was a baby. We headed to California for twelve days to attend a wedding when she was 6 to 7-weeks-old. We visited family in California for three weeks when she was 4 to 5-months-old. In addition to the flight, that trip also included an all-day Amtrak train ride to Northern California (just me and the two kids). Our daughter will also get to explore the great wide world once she is about 13-months-old.
Here's a summary of the times I've done elimination communication while traveling:
- 12 months of continuous international travel with a toddler (1-2 years old)
- A short trip from Hawaii to California with a 6 to 7-weeks-old baby
- A 3 week trip to California with a 4 to 5-months-old baby
- Preparing for a short trip to California with a 12-months-old toddler
- Preparing for indefinite travel with a 13-months-old toddler
Packing for Elimination Communication while Traveling
Let's talk packing! Packing is my favorite part of traveling. Hmm... Maybe I don't actually need to go on the trips!
Packing is extremely important, because if you bring the right tools, you will have an easier time practicing EC while on the road. I heard some excellent packing advice recently:
Test out whichever items you plan to bring while you are still at home.
This hadn't really occurred to me before, but I am taking it to heart and applying it to all future trips. Try out anything you plan to pack for the trip while you are still at home. In the context of elimination communication, this could be a new type of backup (training pants/diapers) that your child has not worn before or a new travel potty that your child hasn't tried before. Start using it right away, so your child has time to get comfortable with it. Find out what is likely to work or not work before you leave!
We didn't have the luxury of testing things out, or even enough time to get the supplies we wanted, before our two short trips to California with our daughter. We weren't even sure if we would attend the wedding when she was 7-weeks-old, since we weren't sure the exact day she would be born or if we would feel ready to travel. We booked those airplane tickets just four days before traveling. And the longer trip to California was for a funeral so we booked plane tickets five days before traveling. If you are preparing for a planned vacation, take advantage of the time you have to prepare!
Pack Your Potty!
The most important item to pack for doing elimination communication away from home is a potty!
Things to think about in choosing which potty (or potties) to take traveling:
- Does your child have a favorite potty that they feel the most comfortable using?
- Is there a certain potty you like to use for nighttime EC?
- Will you mostly be staying at one home/hotel where your child could use their regular potty or seat reducer?
- Will you be spending long days out and about sightseeing?
- Activities: Will you be spending days at the beach or hiking, where there will not be toilets?
- Destination: Will public restrooms charge for admission (ex: Europe)? Will there be squat toilets (ex: Asia)? Will there be child sized toilets or seat reducers in public bathrooms along with children's sinks (ex: Japan, Thailand)?
Types of potties you could take traveling:
- The same small potty you use at home. If you are looking for recommendations of potties to use at home, see my post on the best potties for EC.
- Foldable 2-in-1 travel potty and toilet seat reducer.
- Foldable toilet seat reducer (my least favorite, since it isn't as versatile as a 2-in-1 travel potty).
Best Potty for Travel: Potette Plus with Reusable Liner
I highly recommend bringing the Potette Plus 2-in-1 Travel Potty and Toilet Seat Reducer. Here are some of the ways the Potette Plus is excellent for travel:
- It can be used multiple ways: as a small potty with reusable insert, with disposable bags, as a reducer on a big toilet.
- It fits nicely as a reducer on small airplane toilet seats.
- It folds up compactly to carry in a daypack.
- It can be used as a small potty at your destination. As soon as we would check into a new hotel room, I would set it up in the bathroom and show my toddler son where it was, so he would know there was a potty available to him.
- It can be used at a beach or other location that doesn't have public bathrooms readily available.
- Your child can use it outside public bathrooms that charge an entrance fee or have loud scary hand dryers.
Here's my video comparison of the Potette Plus and the OXO Tot 2-in-1 Travel potty, another option for doing EC on vacation:
Packing a Travel Potty in a Wet/Dry Bag
I like to pack my travel potty in the waterproof pocket of a wet/dry bag. That way I can use the other pocket for storing other items, such as disposable diapers, wipes, and a changing pad, or reusable cloth training pants and cloth wipes. My two favorite bags are the Planet Wise Wet/Dry Bag and the Logan + Lenora Portfolio. Either the folded Potette Plus with collapsible liner or the OXO Tot travel potty will fit in the larger waterproof pocket of either of these bags.
Which Potty we Packed - Long Term Travel with a Toddler
- Potette Plus with Reusable Liner
- We should have brought at least the insert from the BabyBjorn Smart Potty for nighttime EC!
When we traveled for a year with our toddler son we took along the Potette Plus with reusable liner. I hoped that I would be able to squeeze the BabyBjorn Smart Potty into our luggage at the last minute. The BabyBjorn potty didn't fit and I ended up leaving it near the dumpster on our way out...
It was a big mistake to leave behind the BabyBjorn Smart Potty, or more specifically, the potty insert, which we had used for nighttime EC. I tried using the Potette Plus with insert while nursing at night, but it was too wide and awkward. I tried using just the silicone insert, but it would collapse and spill the pee. Not bringing the BabyBjorn potty insert caused me a world of frustration (pun intended)! I ended up resorting to nighttime disposable pull up diapers for a while.
If you have a potty that's working really well for you at home, and you're headed out for long-term travel, bring the potty!
The Potette Plus worked well during the day. We used it as a small potty in hotel rooms. It also worked especially well on all-day travel days (multiple train rides or flying on an airplane). My son was comfortable with me holding him over public toilets in EC hold, so we didn't need to carry the Potette every time we went out.
Which Potties we Plan to Pack - Long Term Travel with a Toddler
We are still working out the details of exactly what we will pack for international travel with our toddler daughter.
I keep wondering, "Do I really need to bring her BecoPotty, or can I get away with just the Potette Plus and collapsible liner this time?" We will sometimes stay at one location for up to a month, so it will be nice to have her BecoPotty to use in the Airbnb/hotel and the Potette while we are out and about. Plus, she is accustomed to using the BecoPotty at night.
Which Potty we Packed - Traveling with a Newborn
When we traveled with my daughter when she was only 6 to 7-weeks-old we took along the top hat potty, since that is what she was using at the time. I carried the top hat potty in my diaper bag in a Bambino Mio wet bag. We used the top hat potty on the bed for nighttime EC. During the day we used it on the potty station that I set up on my niece's changing table.
Which Potty we Packed - Traveling with a Young Baby
When we traveled when our daughter was 4-months-old we brought along only the Potette Plus with collapsible liner packed in a Longan and Lenora portfolio. That worked well for her. I carried the Potette everywhere with us. She used it as a potty on top of the changing table in the tiny airplane bathroom. We kept it next to the bed or at the foot of the bed for nighttime EC and the first morning pee. With my daughter I offer the potty right before nursing, so I don't have to do the juggling act of nursing and pottying at the same time. The Potette Plus was compact enough that it was easy to pack and bring along as we moved from one relative's house to the next.
Choose Your Backup
So you've packed your potty (or potties). Good! Now what are you going to use as EC backup while traveling?
Things to think about in choosing which backup to use while traveling:
- Which type of backup (diaper, training pants, etc) has been working well at home?
- How long is your trip? (Short enough for one pack of disposable diapers? Long enough to wash reusable options?)
- If you prefer reusable options: Will there be laundry facilities to use? Will you have time to wash and dry? Is hand washing or hang drying an option with the type of backup you are considering?
- Will there be an inexpensive laundry service for washing clothes (and cloth training pants)?
- Does it make sense to use a combination of two different types of backup while traveling? (Ex: disposable diapers + cloth diapers)
- To save room in your luggage, could you order disposable diapers or cloth training pants and have them sent to your first destination? Is this also an option for liquid laundry detergent?
- I heard that there are even short term cloth diaper services for travelers. That would be awesome if you are staying somewhere for a month or two!
Types of backup you could use while traveling:
- Disposable diapers. (This makes sense if you already use disposables at home or if you will be too busy to wash laundry.)
- gDiapers with flushable inserts. This is an eco-friendly hybrid option. The outer gPants consist of a cotton outer with waterproof nylon pouch. To dispose of the insert, you tear it open, swish it in the toilet with a swish stick, and flush.
- Cloth diapers that you use at home.
- Cloth training pants. Either waterproof training pants, or cotton training pants with a waterproof cover.
Backup we Used - Long Term Travel with a Toddler
- Cotton training pants + waterproof covers
- Disposable Honest Diapers for the airplane ride
- Disposable pull-up diapers (These were expensive in Vietnam!)
When we traveled internationally with our toddler son we took along about 10 pairs of cotton training pants and four nylon waterproof covers. I figured the training pants would be easier to wash and dry than the bulky prefold diapers we had been using. It also wouldn't look as strange to include cloth training pants with our laundry when sending it to laundry services.
I also brought along a wool soaker and wool shorties, but I was new to wool at the time and nervous about washing and drying them in our cold hotel room. We ended up not using them much until we had done a potty training experience at 19M old and stopped using the nylon waterproof covers.
We took an assortment of brands of cloth training pants. The Hanna Andersson trainers developed holes after a while. Under the Nile organic cotton training pants held up the best during the year-long trip. While traveling we also purchased some cloth training pants with a waterproof layer in the wet zone from Mothercare.
Washing Cloth Training Pants While Traveling
We've used a variety of options for washing cloth training pants while traveling:
- Laundry service (Inexpensive in SE Asia if charged by the kilo. More expensive through hotels that charge by the piece.)
- Washing machine (Often available when renting a condo through Airbnb.)
- Hand washing in the sink
While staying in Vietnam and traveling from place to place in SE Asia we would often send the training underwear along with our clothes to a laundry service. You bring them a bag of clothes, they weigh the bag, a day or two later you pick up your laundered and folded clothes. If we were planning to send the trainers to a laundry service we would rinse them immediately after a miss and hang them to dry.
When staying in a condo in Thailand for a month at a time, we would choose one with a washing machine. After washing we would hang our laundry on a sunny balcony to dry. (The USA is one of the few countries that uses dryers.)
When we didn't have a washing machine and we weren't staying long enough in one location to send the training pants to the laundry service, my husband would hand wash them in the sink and hang them to dry. Hanging clothes near an air conditioner often helps them to dry more quickly!
Backup we Plan to Use - Traveling with a Toddler
Now that I am preparing to travel internationally with my daughter when she is a young toddler and still potty learning, I am thankful that I have done this once before. I am able to learn from the mistakes I made the first time around. I am hoping to rely on cloth as much as possible, so I am bringing more backups this time.
I plan to bring 12 pairs of cotton training pants.
My daughter will wear interlock wool over the training pants as a semi-waterproof layer. I have been using wool diaper covers with her since birth, so I am much more comfortable with them this time around. I'm planning to take along four woolies, which function both as covers for the training underwear and also as clothing. My stash will probably include: one soaker, one skirtie, one pair of capris, and one pair of bubble shorts. I have already started putting together a wool care kit with solid bars of wool wash and lanolin, so I will be able to properly care for the wool while traveling.
I will also be bringing along our set of Flaparaps cloth diapers to use at nighttime and on travel days. We have four shells (one is wool) and 18 absorbent pads. The nice thing about the Flaparap pads is that they are one single layer of cotton, similar to flat cloth diapers. Because of that, they will be easy to wash and fast to dry. If we need to we can hand wash them and hang them to dry.
Backup we Used - Traveling with a Newborn
- Disposable Honest Diapers
When we traveled with my daughter when she was a newborn, I had hoped to use small gDiapers with flushable disposable inserts. I ordered two size small gDiapers gPants from a Buy/Sell/Trade group, since the website was sold out of girly colors. They were too tight on her chubby thighs. I wasn't sure if it was because the gPants had shrunk, or if they just weren't a good fit for her figure. I didn't have time to order from Amazon, which was taking forever to ship to Hawaii at that time, so I gave up on gDiapers.
I considered taking a mixture of her Cloth-eez Workhorse Fitted Diapers and disposable diapers. I knew I would be able to wash the cloth diapers in the coin operated washer in the laundry room at my sister-in-law's apartment complex. But three days before our flight I came down with a bad case of mastitis. I decided to make it easier on myself and just use disposable diapers for the 10 day trip.
I bought a small pack of Honest Company diapers, which we had used previously for nighttime diapers, to take on the flight with us. I also had a large pack of newborn Honest diapers and wipes shipped to my sister-in-law's house. She has super fast delivery from Amazon, so the diapers were able to arrive the same day that we did! The huge pack did last for the trip, but it made me realize the reason I don't normally use disposable diapers as backup for EC. I like to change after every single pee, and so I go through a ton of diapers per day during the newborn phase! I have a super sensitive nose, so I could tell immediately when she peed in the diapers due to the chemical smell.
Backup we Used - Traveling with a Young Baby
When we traveled with my daughter when she was 4-months-old we used a combination of disposable diapers and waterproof cloth training pants. We took some size 1 Honest Diapers with us and bought some more along the way.
I didn't have time to have the cloth training pants shipped to our address before leaving, so I had them sent to the first stop on our trip. We used 8 pairs of waterproof training pants from a variety of brands (Charlie Banana, Super Undies, EcoPosh, Blueberry, Kanga Care). It you want to see more about these various styles, be sure to read our Cloth Training Pants Comparison Review.
I had hoped to hand wash and hang dry the training pants, but it turned out the thick waterproof training pants wouldn't dry outside overnight with the humid ocean air. The set of 8 was enough to last us through the day, so I ended up machine washing them most evenings. Some family members we stayed with had dryers and some only had clothes lines. In areas with less humid air, machine washing and hang drying outside overnight worked. Even if I was planning to machine wash the training pants, I would rinse them with water right after a miss. That way I could wash them along with clothes if I was washing a load of clothes.
I chose waterproof training pants so that we wouldn't need a separate waterproof cover to protect carpets and couches while we were guests at various houses.
Pack EC Friendly Baby Clothes
We also packed EC-friendly baby clothes, like tee shirts, dresses, and long socks. In the photos above my daughter is wearing a tunic from Primary.com and Rock-a-Thigh Baby socks. For the plane flight, it worked well having my daughter wear a dress, sweater, and long socks. That way it was still easy to offer the potty and change her diaper.
Preparing Your Elimination Communication Setup
Prepare a Potty Station
Whenever we arrived at a new destination, I would prepare our potty station. Our potty station had many different forms depending upon where we stayed and my baby's age.
For traveling with a toddler, it was as simple as putting the small potty in the bathroom and showing him where it was.
While traveling with a baby, we set up our potty station in many different places, including:
- Changing table
- Foot of the bed
- Night stand next to the bed
- Floor next to the bed
The photo above shows one of our potty stations while traveling with a 4-month-old baby. My niece had long outgrown her changing table, but it was still in the room where we were staying, so we put it to good use. On top of the changing table I put our changing pad and Potette Plus with reusable liner. That way I could offer the potty and change a diaper at the same time. On the shelf below I stored cloth training pants as well as disposable diapers and wipes. I also hung a wet bag from the changing table, for wet cloth wipes. The training pants I usually rinsed right away.
Our set up looked very similar when traveling with a newborn baby, except we used the top hat potty on the changing table. That way I could stand while holding my baby in EC hold and offering the potty.
Prepare the Bed for Nighttime EC + Pajamas
When traveling with a toddler or baby, I like to bring along a wool puddle pad to protect the bed. For a toddler or mobile baby, it is better to secure the wool puddle pad in place by putting it under a fitted sheet.
When we traveled with my daughter, she was not yet crawling, so I was able to put her Little Bunny Bear wool puddle pad on top of the bedding and then layer a Cloth-eez muslin swaddle blanket on top of that. I liked that it gave her a consistent sleeping surface, no matter where we were sleeping that night.
During our trip we also bought a Slumber Buddies elephant that lights up and plays music. It worked well as a nightlight for nighttime diapers changes and pottytunities.
We also brought along EC-friendly pajamas. In the photo above my daughter is wearing a sleep gown, Rock-a-Thigh Baby socks, and a sleep sack that unzips from the bottom up. When it was time to offer the potty or change a diaper I could unzip the sleep sack and pull up the sleep gown. For more examples of EC friendly pajamas, check out our post on elimination communication clothing for any season.
Now we've covered what to pack for EC while traveling. Whew, that was long! Let's move on to when to offer the potty.
Offering the Potty While Traveling
If you already practice EC while out and about, then doing elimination communication while traveling may not be that big of a change. For us, we have more success with catching pees in the potty and keeping the backup dry while we are out and about. In new or exciting situations my daughter tends to wait to pee until she is offered the potty. Whereas at home, she just seems to pee all the time. So try not to be too intimidated by EC while traveling. It may be easier than you expect!
Offer Pottytunities Based on Natural Timing, Transitions, and Signals
Just like when you are at home, while traveling you can offer pottytunities based on natural timing, transitions, and signals. I didn't include "intuition" here, just because you may be a bit too distracted to tap into your intuition, but if it does strike you that perhaps your baby needs to potty, by all means, do offer!
One of the main ways that natural timing comes into play while traveling is that if your baby tends to poop in the morning, it's worth it to wait to try to catch that morning poop in the potty before heading out for the day. My babies tend to only relax enough to poop while at home (which could be the current hotel room we are staying in). So it's much easier to provide an opportunity to relax, move around, and hydrate while at home, rather than attempting to coax a poop catch while out and about.
Travel can also throw off natural patterns, so it may take some effort on your part to get things back on track once you arrive at your destination. Just try to recreate "home" and your daily routine as much as possible. That's one reason it can be nice to bring along a favorite potty, for the familiarity aspect.
I rely mostly upon offering the potty at convenient transition times while traveling. I will go into more specific details below when I talk about planes, trains, and automobiles.
Some common transition times include:
- Before leaving and upon arriving
- Before getting into a carrier/stroller and upon getting out of the carrier/stroller
- Before and after eating
- Before and after sleeping
If my baby clearly signals the need to eliminate, I will try to take her to the potty if possible and safe at the time. This can be the most difficult while traveling, because you may be on a train in Tokyo that doesn't have a bathroom or stuck in an airplane seat while the "fasten seat belt" sign is on. This is why I really emphasize offering pottytunities at transition times while traveling. When there is a bathroom nearby, take advantage of it, because if you wait for your child to signal, it might not be easy to get to a bathroom at that time.
Pottying on an Airplane and at the Airport
I mostly offer pottytunities at convenient transition times while traveling. I like to offer the potty before heading out for the day. This can be difficult if we have an early morning flight. On those days I like to let the kids sleep as long as possible. I wake them with just enough time for them to wake up enough to pee and change them into their clothes. I have relied upon a disposable diaper before, if I wasn't able to catch the wake up pee before heading to the airport. In general, we try to schedule flights late enough that our kids can wake up at their normal time.
After Checking in at the Airport
When we get to the airport, my first priority is checking in. I usually wear my baby in the carrier during the check in process. Once we have checked in we take a little break. Everyone uses the bathroom and if we have plenty of time we sit down to eat a morning snack. Then it's time to head through security. I usually continue wearing my baby through security and get my hands swabbed or get patted down.
Once we find our gate and set down our carry-on bags we take turns going to the bathroom. I usually take the baby and my husband takes our son. If we have waited a while for our flight, I like to take the baby to the bathroom one more time before boarding the airplane. We usually wait to board the plane last, so our kids aren't cooped up as long. If it was up to me, I would probably board when they give priority to families traveling with small children. But then we would be trapped in our seats waiting for the plane to take off.
On occasions when we had to rush to get through the airport, I waited and pottied my baby in the airplane toilet before take-off.
On the Airplane
As soon as the "fasten seat belt" sign is turned off, I like to get up and take my baby to the bathroom. I do use backups during the flight, but my babies also do very well using the airplane bathroom. With my toddler son I would put the Potette Plus on the small airplane toilet as a reducer. With my baby daughter I place the changing pad and Potette Plus with reusable liner on top of the fold-down changing table. I found this easier for doing a pottytunity plus diaper change, since the changing table often folds down right above the toilet, so it's hard to use the toilet and have the changing table ready to use.
We also visit the airplane bathroom:
- After meals
- Any time we had been stuck in our seats for a while and the seat belt sign was turned off
- Upon waking from a nap
At our Destination
Upon arriving from a flight, my husband goes to get our checked luggage from the baggage claim while I take the kids to the bathroom. Then after the taxi ride (or car ride with a relative) we potty once again upon arriving at our final destination.
Pottying on a Train
Normally we travel all together as a family. Sometimes just the kids and I take the Amtrak train from my in-law's place in Central California to visit my parents in Northern California. With the train + bus + car ride or just train + car, it's an all-day trip, leaving in the morning and arriving in time for dinner.
When we board the Amtrak train I try to get seats with a table. That way the kids can enjoy snacks and play games on the table. We visit the snack car at least once on the trip, to get juice, which is a special treat for us. We also bring our own snack bag, brimming with snacks to last us the day.
The nice thing about traveling on the train is that we can get up to use the bathroom whenever we need to. We aren't restricted like on an airplane. I tend to make bathroom trips when the train is moving along nicely and not when it is at a stop where people are getting on and off the train.
This last trip I was traveling with a 4-year-old and a baby, so I especially appreciated the nice large bathroom. On Amtrak trains the bathrooms are located downstairs on the train and are designed to be wheel chair accessible. This makes them plenty spacious.
When taking my kids to the bathroom, I would let my son have a turn first and then he would help with the baby. There was a fold-down changing table that I would prepare first with the changing pad and diapering supplies. Then I would potty my baby on the toilet with the Potette Plus seat reducer. (Holding your baby over the toilet in EC hold would also work if your baby goes that way.) After using the toilet, I would put her on the changing table to put on a diaper. Then we would all wash our hands and return to our seats.
Trains in India
I have also traveled by train with my toddler son in India. Using the bathroom on those trains is more of an adventure, since the train is sometimes bumping along, swaying and jerking. The trains in India have squat toilets, which can work well for holding a child over the toilet in EC hold while squatting down. The challenge is to not fall over if the train jerks while you are squatting. I just try to get in and out of the bathroom as quickly as possible.
An overnight train in India is actually where I discovered EC years ago, before having kids. We shared a berth with a family with a young baby. The baby was naked without a diaper, and yet the mom's clothes stayed clean and dry during the entire trip. I was amazed and had to find out how that was possible!
Pottying on Road Trips
For long road trips we would stop at a rest stop/ restaurant/ gas station based upon our child's natural interval between needing to pee. For one road trip with our newly potty independent toddler this meant stopping every hour, at his request! I think part of the problem on that particular road trip was that he needed to poop, but it took quite a few stops before he finally did! He also tends to get car sick, so I think he was asking to potty as a way to get out of the car. It was a long winding road through northern California.
To make it easier we would often pull into a parking lot and put the Potette Plus with disposable liner under a shade tree for him to use. That was faster and less hassle than going in somewhere and asking to use the bathroom. You could also have your child potty in the backseat of the car. I prefer not to offer the potty in the front seat of a car, due to the possibility of the air bags deploying.
With pottytunities and breastfeeding breaks, traveling by car tends to be slow going for our family. Sometimes it's nicer to travel by train, so that I am free to breastfeed or get up to use the bathroom whenever necessary.
That wraps up what to pack and when to offer the potty while traveling. If you have any additional suggestions to add, please do so in the comments! You may also be interested in reading our cloth training pants review, tips on choosing cloth diapers for EC, or tips on choosing EC friendly clothing. Happy travels!
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Have you practiced elimination communication while traveling? What worked well for you? Are you preparing for a trip? Which potty and backup do you plan to bring?