16 July 2013

Potty Trained in Europe, or, "I gotta go NOW!"

While in between posts about our travels with our most recent visitors (conclusion coming soon, I promise), I started thinking about how our mindset has changed just slightly now that we're out and about with a Little Man wearing big boy onderbroek (underwear). When we moved to Tilburg last summer, the Little Man was still in Pull-Ups and we were potty training halfheartedly because there were just way too many other big changes going on at the same time. But now, Little Man has mastered the potty - which is great, because we have been released from the financial shackles of diapers! But the flip side is now we always need to know where you might go when someone utters "I gotta go now."

At one point, these were essential potty training tools - but we
never carried them around with us on day trips.

Europe is a bit different from the States when it comes to the public toilet. In Chicago, I could count on my local Target, CVS or Walgreens pharmacies, or even grocery store to have designated toilets for patron use (though not the CTA train stations). Now in Tilburg, my local HEMA, hypotheek (pharmacy), and Albert Heijn have nothing I can see, and the train stations require the 50 eurocent payment to get through the door. Restaurants usually have free bathroom use for patrons, and some will allow walk-ins to use the facilities for a minimal (i.e. 50 eurocent) charge. Our library used to charge 10 eurocent for patrons and walk-ins alike, but have since removed the coin slots by the doors.

The difference comes in part from the use of old and sometimes smaller buildings and in part from different cultural expectations; so you learn to work around the set up you live within. Here are some of my survival tips (through experience) for living in the Netherlands (and Europe) with a young, potty trained child.
  • Always carry a 50 eurocent coin. There are almost always public pay toilets at the train stations, and sometimes there are public toilets in smaller city squares and/or libraries. But their existence doesn't do you any good if you can't pay to get in, any many will only take one type of coin.
  • Even if there's no obvious toilet in sight, don't be afraid to ask/plead if they'll make an exception. The worst that can happen is that the store/business says "no" and you continue to search elsewhere. But I've found that most people take pity on the small child doing the pee-dance. Some restaurants that usually ask for 50 eurocent from non-patrons will even insist on waiving it for a child. That being said, I also try to make record-time use of their restrooms so as not to tread too much on their kindness.
  • There's probably a fast food restaurant somewhere. This is especially true in the bigger cities. McDonald's, Burger Kind, KFC... I usually can't stand these places but if someone's gotta go, it doesn't matter. All these places have public toilets, and just like in the States, they are too busy to notice someone coming in just for a potty break. Even if they do happen to care, the small pee-dancing child is likely to soften their hearts.
  • Some big cities have outdoor public urinals. Now, this doesn't do you any good if you have a daughter, but potentially a good emergency stop for a son. We haven't actually become desperate enough to use one, but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures.
  • Invest in a travel potty. I haven't done this, but in some more rural areas or in places of long commutes or kids that give minimal warning time, this could be a pants-saver, and the little bags can just be tossed in the nearest waste can when you're done.
  • Museums and tourist places will have toilets. So if you're around these places, fear not - they are used to having lots of people, even families. And I'm not above using my Museumkaart just to get inside without paying admission to use a toilet, either.
  • When you're on red-alert, use a discreet corner/bush. Sometimes, there's just no avoiding it. And with small kids, people will generally understand as long as you're doing your best to keep it out of the way of foot traffic.
  • There's no shame in always carrying an extra set of clothes and a plastic bag. I still do this - including extra socks - because accidents can still happen and it doesn't hurt to be prepared.


  1. I find that asking my recently potty trained daughter "do you need to pee" every time we pass an establishment with loos, also keeps accidents to a minimum. Incredibly, all her accidents thus far have been at home!

    1. Thanks for the excellent tip! Getting "emptied out" as often as possible definitely keeps those accidents down.


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