How to Deal With Potty Training on Car Trips

Maybe you’re the lucky parent of a toddler who took to potty training like fish to water. If so, congratulations! This article isn’t for you. For most of us, potty training is one of the toughest parts of having young children!

For most kids, potty training comes in fits and starts. Rides in the car (even short ones) can wreak havoc on the process, since you can’t just stop and find a bathroom when you’re in the middle of traffic!

Lots of parents resort to diapers or training pants for car rides. Unfortunately, many children know the difference between diapers and “big kid” underpants. For these families, it’s especially important to keep reinforcing the potty training message,--you have to keep the child out of diapers whenever possible. Every instance of diaper-wearing seems to set the process back days or weeks.

Potty training consistency is one of the main reasons we invented the NIKO Car Seat Cover. Around the same time that our inventor realized she needed to protect her car seat from the mess of trips to the beach, her son had a massive blowout on the way to daycare. Not only did she have to go back home to clean him up, but the car seat was ruined!

Avoiding Potty Training Accidents in the Car

Some of these might seem obvious, but they’re worth repeating! Here are our top suggestions:

  • Potty training is a long process—don't start and expect to be done days before a big trip.
  • Get your toddler familiar with the travel potty in advance. Using something new for the first time while on a road trip may make your toddler uncertain to go. 
  • Avoid giving your child a lot of liquid right before a car ride. 
  • If your child is thirsty, hand them water instead of juice (so they only take as much as they need, rather than the amount their taste buds crave). 
  • You can also give hydrating foods before car rides, which help your child stay hydrated without flooding their system with liquid.
  • Prepare for the worst—bring a change of clothes, make sure you have a changing mat in the car, and have some wipes for cleanup. Also, have a plastic bag to isolate dirty laundry.
  • Use a NIKO car seat cover to keep the mess from ruining your car seat. If your child has frequent accidents, you might want to keep two handy—after you remove the soiled NIKO, you’ll need a clean backup.

This article isn’t about the emotional aspects of potty training, but remember that it’s important for caretakers to stay calm when an accident happens. Anger just makes the situation worse, and children are already experiencing a lot of feelings around this change.

It's normal for toddlers to regress or lose new skills, and that includes using the toilet. Naturally, parents feel frustrated and sometimes even upset when their potty-trained child has an accident. You should keep in mind that in many situations, regression is a healthy emotional response to feelings your child isn't yet able to express. So, the best way to handle a potty training setback is to stay positive and take steps to help your child make progress again. 

You may not be able to avoid all of the potty training accidents, but smart preparation can keep them from ruining your day (and your car seat).


Training Pants or Underwear? Pros and Cons

 Keep in mind that the type of undies your toddler is wearing will affect how you approach traveling in the car while potty training. 

Normally, there are two options: regular underwear or training pants ("pull-ups"). Most of the time, training pants keep the mess in one area when there is an accident. They are usually very simple to work with. 

If your child wears underwear, it is going to call for a few more supplies to give you peace of mind. 

Let's take a look at both options.

Training pants 

There are two types of training pants: washable and disposable. Here are the advantages and disadvantages. 


  • Training pants are efficient at catching accidents as they occur, which means less cleanup for you.
  • Cloth training pants are washable, which saves money.
  • Disposable training pants are easy to remove and throw away, getting rid of the need to carry around wet undies. 


  • Disposable training pants have the same texture as diapers, so they can sometimes confuse a toddler.
  • Your child may depend on them as a crutch rather than make an attempt to reach the bathroom.
  • You may take more risks and go longer stretches of time when you forget to prompt your child to try using the potty because you know your toddler is wearing them.


If you opt for underwear while traveling in the car, here are a few things to think about. 


  • There's a huge possibility your toddler won't like the feeling of sitting in her own "mess" and so may try harder to stay dry when wearing underwear.
  • Your child probably knows the difference between the feeling of underwear and diapers, which probably motivates them to try and "hold it" until you reach a potty.


  • Your child and their clothes will have to be cleaned and changed.
  • Potty accidents are extremely difficult to clean out of car seats.

It is clear that there is no perfect solution for everyone. So, it's best to select the type of underwear that suits your situation.

  • Is your toddler dressed up to head somewhere fancy? Or is it a casual outing, and it's no big deal if you need to change them?
  • How much time do you have to clean up if there's an accident? 

Ask yourself these questions to determine what will work best for you. And remember that you can always use training pants or plastic undies OVER normal underpants. This gives your child most of the feel of normal underwear, but protects clothes and the car seat from the worst of the mess.

Car Potty Training Checklist

We've already mentioned a lot of this, but for your convenience, here's our complete list of car trip essentials for families going through potty training:

  1. Wet bag for soiled clothes
  2. Extra pair of clothes and shoes
  3. Wipes to clean your toddler
  4. Travel potty
  5. Disinfecting wipes to clean your car and car seat
  6. 1 or 2 protective car sear covers per child (like the NIKO)
  7. Portable folding toilet seat to place on top of public toilets
  8. Toilet seat covers (for using public bathrooms)
  9. Large towels for cleanup

Good luck and happy travels!

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