While bathroom stops are always a bit of an inconvenience on road trips, especially when traveling with young kids, proper planning can make things less stressful for everyone. These 8 must-know tips for scheduling bathroom breaks on a road trip with kids will keep the entire family more comfortable and make those longer drives less nerve-racking for parents.
1. Make Sure Kids Use the Bathroom Just Before Heading Out for the Day
As parents, we all know this one, but it can actually be easy to forget in the moment. When getting ready to leave, there are a multitude of things to remember. We often find ourselves running around checking whether we’ve left anything behind, packed enough snacks and water, gotten all the kids dressed adequately, cleaned up any messes, and so forth.
In all of this bustle, it’s actually not difficult at all to forget about that crucial bathroom reminder. It’s a good idea to try to help your child develop this habit themselves, so if you forget they will still remember.
One effective method for creating this habit in younger children is to put them in charge of remembering. Tell them that you may be apt to forget because you’re managing a lot of other things and that the best way they can help out is to remember to use the bathroom themselves just before it’s time to go out for the day.
When framed as a way to help out and contribute to making the trip run more smoothly, the chore of remembering is something that kids will often develop as a habit fairly easily. Even kids as young as two years old will sometimes proudly announce that they’ve remembered to use the restroom all by themselves.
Another method of ensuring that you don’t head out before everyone has used the bathroom is to use sticky notes (or even a little piece of paper with tape on it). Stick a small, but conspicuous reminder note on the door so that it’ll be the last thing you see before leaving.
If you don’t have sticky notes, or prefer not to use them, try leaving your car keys (or something else you’re sure you won’t leave without) in a safe place in the bathroom. When you realize you don’t have your keys, remembering they are in the restroom will prompt you to remember to make sure the kids have used the bathroom.
2. Figure Out in Advance the Location of the Cities or Larger Towns on Your Route
When road tripping in the United States, it’s common to encounter fairly long stretches of highway without many cities or towns. While you may find small truck stops or tiny towns with one gas station bathroom, it’s often preferable to schedule bathroom breaks for when you’ll be hitting the larger towns on your route.
In a pinch, you can always use those smaller bathrooms, of course. When traveling with kids though, it is often much more comfortable to use the superior bathrooms that larger gas stations have specifically established for those traveling along the highway.
Not only will this reduce the chance of having to wait in line for a free bathroom stall, it also significantly increases the chances that the restroom itself will be cleaner and better stocked. As parents of young kids are well aware, toddlers and preschoolers are often inclined to touch new things they see when they are out and about.
It can be stressful trying to stop a small child from touching the walls and doors of particularly unsanitary public bathrooms. Of course, even in the cleanest restrooms, we try to avoid germs by reminding them not to touch surfaces, but it’s always preferable to take them to tidier places whenever possible.
As noted above, restrooms geared toward those traveling along major highways are also more likely to be adequately stocked with all of the essentials such as toilet paper, paper towels, soap, and toilet seat covers. Of course it doesn’t hurt to have a small baggie in your purse or pocket containing these necessities just in case, though.
3. When Passing Through Large Cities Avoid the Downtown Exits
While the previous tip is essential when choosing between tiny towns and somewhat larger ones, this pointer can save you time when passing through big cities. For the unseasoned road trip traveler, it can be tempting to take the big highway exits when passing through large cities.
It makes sense intuitively because certainly there are a lot of restrooms in big cities, but it can actually make things significantly more difficult for a few reasons. First of all, it can be much more burdensome to find parking. Circling around busy downtowns trying to find a place to park while an anxious child is waiting to use the bathroom is unnerving to say the least.
Secondly, it can be more difficult to even locate the nearest gas station or other suitable place to use the bathroom. Depending on the exit, in larger cities, you may immediately find yourself surrounded by office buildings or apartment complexes, as opposed to businesses likely to have public restrooms.
Additionally, even if you do quickly find parking and locate a bathroom, when compared to bathrooms specifically geared toward travelers, it is less likely to be clean and well-stocked.
In order to avoid these potential issues, when driving near big cities try to stop at exits further away from the downtown. Most big cities are surrounded by suburbs, and these can be much easier places to stop. Even in cases when there are any suburbs, you can usually find much less busy parts of the city to stop off in, as opposed to downtown or business districts.
4. Make Use of the Informational Road Signs on Large Highways
The road signs along major highways can truly be lifesavers when scheduling bathroom breaks for kids. While looking at maps and the GPS is also helpful when trying to figure out places to stop, these simple road signs are often all you need. Generally speaking, on more rural drives, the larger towns are announced more than a hundred miles in advance. There will often be signs saying the town’s name and the number of miles remaining. These signs will continue, showing the decreasing distance, until the town is reached.
Checking these signs can help you gauge how long you should drive before looking for an exit suitable for finding a restroom for the kids to use. If no one is asking to use the bathroom, and you see a bigger town coming up in an hour, for instance, it’s a good idea to avoid stopping at smaller exits and wait until you hit the bigger town.
Likewise, looking for restroom highway road signs can help you choose the best exit to take once you do reach that town. Although most larger town exits on major highways will have bathrooms somewhere near the exit, I prefer to take the bigger exits in these towns. These bigger exits are the ones with multiple information signs indicating things like bathrooms, hotels, fast food restaurants, and of course gas stations.
I like these larger exits because they usually have a major gas station specifically geared toward highway travelers. This means there will be a convenience store attached to the fuel station which will usually have a large, well-stocked restroom.
If you’d like further information on how some of these informational signs on the interstate work, this article provides some interesting insight.
5. Schedule Snacks and Lunches Before Hitting Bigger Towns
Although not always possible, when it makes sense on your route, try giving the kids snacks or lunches to eat in the car about 30-45 minutes before hitting the city that you are targeting for a bathroom break.
If my kids are napping, I’ll often wake them up for lunch or snack time just about an hour before I plan to stop somewhere for them to use the bathroom. I time this by looking at the road signs as described in Tip #4.
Once awake and alert after a nap, kids are generally more than happy to eat. During the time it takes to have their snack or lunch, they are also usually preoccupied nicely. Once they are finished eating, they almost inevitably begin to ask to use the bathroom.
Of course there are no guarantees that everything will go as expected, but when timed successfully, these requests for bathroom stops will coincide fairly closely with reaching the town you were planning to stop off in.
Now that they are fed, and younger children have napped, it’s a great time to get out of the car for a while, use the restroom, stretch, and maybe even walk around a bit.
6. If One Child Asks to Stop for a Bathroom Break, Bring Siblings Along Too
When forced to make an unexpected stop for one child who needs to use the bathroom, it can be tempting sometimes to leave siblings in the car with one parent. Sometimes other children will even insist that they don’t need to use the bathroom.
Despite the inconvenience of unbuckling multiple kids from their car seats and taking everyone inside to use a public restroom, the hassle is generally worth it. This helps avoid the even bigger inconvenience of a second child asking to use the bathroom 30 minutes later.
7. Don’t Get Stressed If Things Don’t Go as Planned
Even with the best laid plans, taking a road trip with kids will always lead to some detours and unexpected stops along the way. That’s all part of the experience and shouldn’t be a source of stress or anxiety for parents.
In spite of perfectly scheduled trips to the bathroom, most parents will–at some point–encounter a child who needs to use the restroom again 15 minutes later. Nearly every child will make such a request at some point. Instead of getting flustered or frustrated, try to accept it as the inevitable small inconvenience that it is.
8. Don’t Overplan for Bathroom Stops
This one ties in with the previous tip. While trying your best to schedule bathroom breaks for convenient times makes sense and is absolutely recommended, resist getting too attached to whatever plans you’ve made. If you try to micromanage all of the restroom stops on your trip, you’ll end up disheartened when things don’t go as planned.
Rather than mapping out all stops before heading out for the day, focus on using the tips in this article to plan scheduled stops as you drive. This allows more flexibility for all of the various issues that may come up on a road trip.
By not overplanning for each stop, you allow yourself the freedom to enjoy the trip more fully. Maybe you’ll see a beautiful park or scenic point off the highway, and decide to take the next exit to enjoy the scenery for a bit. This can be a great time for an impromptu bathroom break, even though it wouldn’t have been something you would have planned in advance.
Though not the most fun part of taking a road trip with kids, bathroom breaks are definitely essential. By using these simple tips, you can make traveling easier and more comfortable for the entire family.