Potty Break: Preparing Your Child for Toilets Overseas
It would be a shame to tackle saving your points, planning your travel, getting the time off work and school and surviving a long-haul flight with kids only to arrive on the other side of the world and realize that your child is ill-prepared to use the bathroom in an unfamiliar setting. I've taken my two children under 4 to Asia and Africa and learned this lesson the hard way.
I also reached out to the ever-growing TPG Family Facebook group for their wisdom for all things international-potty-break-related. With these tips, you can prep your kids to squat, stand or sit to go potty worldwide. And yes, overseas travel may require all three.
Discuss Before You Go and Pack Appropriately
Much like any prep before a trip, it can help ease little minds to know how they will go to the bathroom, especially if it is going to be dramatically different than at home. Before you leave, talk with your child about what the toilets might look like where you're going and show them photos or YouTube videos of what they might encounter (making sure to preview the videos yourself first). It might be a "squatty potty" or a fancy Japanese toilet with all the buttons, bells and whistles. Because we stay in both high-end and budget accommodations, we have to prep our older son for different experiences on the same journey.
Depending on your destination, consider packing clothes that make it easier to pop a squat. Shorter dresses, loose pants and shorts are easier on the squat-style toilets that may be found some parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East — especially once you leave the more Westernized or developed areas.
Bring a Few Items to Become a 'Traveling Bathroom'
If you are worried about a new type of potty break, you may also want to stock up on a few Western products before heading overseas so you can transform any toilet you come across in your travels. Travel mom Erica Weber of the blog The Worldwide Webers says that she carries a small tissue pack, flushable wipes, hand sanitizer and travel-sized disinfecting wipes with her at all times.
"My kids could poop in a bucket and we'd be fine," she said about her recent one-month trip around Asia.
Other parents on the TPG Family Facebook group suggested packing items such as urinal bags, disposable toilet-seat covers and a travel potty. (Make sure to use the best cards for Amazon purchases if you plan to pick up a few of these items.) Several also mentioned bringing your own toilet paper, as it is customary in many countries that individuals bring their own to use in public toilets.
Find a Western Toilet or Go Outside
When you have to find a toilet quickly in any city, the upside of globalization is that you most likely can rush to a nearby McDonald's, Starbucks or hotel, just like at home. (Plus, you can check your email with the free Wi-Fi and get a drink with ice while you're at it.) Remember to have local currency with you, because many restrooms charge for entrance or require you to tip the attendant. (And if you plan to make other purchases on your pit stop, make sure you use a card with no transaction fees.)
Stopping at a nice bathroom when you get the chance is usually a good idea when such luxuries can be few and far between. (We often forget this rule, so, depending on the culture and location, we sometimes let my oldest pee outside when we can't find a bathroom fast enough.)
Watch Out for the Spray Nozzle
The many aspects of bathrooms around the world can confound adults and children alike. Sometimes you can find a family stall with a changing table, a small child's toilet and an adult toilet. Other times, it's just a hole in the floor.
Make sure to size up your circumstances. I had a shock from my then-2-year-old son when he was in the stall with me while I sat on the toilet in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He found the washing hose (a small hose found in most bathrooms in Asia) and sprayed me in the face, soaking my clothes, before I could stop him. My husband had a good laugh when we emerged. Luckily it was hot outside, but it made for an uncomfortable few hours while my clothes dried. Lesson learned.
When All Else Fails, Put Them Back in Diapers
While this won't work well with a 7-year-old, I agreed to put my nearly 4-year-old son back in diapers during a recent trip to Ethiopia after he just refused to use the toilets on our stay. We talked about it for a while, and he said he would be more comfortable in a diaper like his 18-month-old brother than using local toilets, due to their smell. I accepted this bit of regression, since it meant he felt more comfortable, as he was already coping with a lot of change on our trip.
We travel with our children to show them another way of life and thinking, and that even extends to the bathroom. While many parents report having a harder time with an aggressive auto-flush in the US than with the variables of overseas toilets, it still helps to plan ahead.
Hopefully, these tips can help you feel more comfortable so you can prepare your children to do their business anywhere in the world.