Monday, January 10, 2011

Traveling with Cloth Diapers

My collection of wet bags, packed and ready to go.
I recently took Daniel out of town for his first time on an airplane, and his first trip away from home for more than one night. I went back and forth on whether I would take the cloth diapers with us, or just rely on disposables for a week.

I ended up deciding that I'd take our cloth stash, and if using cloth wasn't working out, I'd go out and buy a small pack of disposables and call it a successful try anyway. I figured that once we got there, cloth diapering wouldn't be any extra work than it is at home. My main concern was what we would do for the travel days, as being on the plane with only cloth diapers made me a little nervous. Turns out, I didn't have anything to worry about. I had heard others' accounts of having major blow-outs on the airplane (due, in part, to the pressure changes) and other such horror stories. For that reason, I brought a few disposables along with us in our carry-on, just in case we ran out of clean cloth and needed a back-up.

Leavin' On a Jet Plane

On the morning of our flight, I put Daniel in a cloth diaper, and packed three more in our travel-size wet bag. I also packed a few extra inserts for re-stuffing after pees. I ended up using only one of the extra insert on the plane. I have a wet bag with a dry pocket on the front (Planet Wise brand) which I love. It's incredibly convenient to store the clean diapers, wipes, and rolled-up changing pad in the front pocket, and then just put the dirty diapers in the back pocket. The bag kept me from having to lug the bulkier diaper bag back and forth from the airplane lavatory, too, which was a bonus.

I flew Southwest airlines, and (as far as I know) all of their planes have a changing table in the front lavatory, but not the back. This means you'll have to be assertive about getting up for the bathroom to change your little one, since there's no congregating or forming lines at the front of the plane. On the four flights I took, only one time did someone (another passenger) give me a hard time for jumping up to change Daniel in the lavatory. He insisted it was his turn, since his wife and daughter had just visited the bathroom. Uh...whatever you say, Mister Grumpy-Pants.

The flight attendants, however, were very helpful. They showed me how to fold down the changing table, even though I already knew how to do it. Several of them also tried to push plastic bags on me for disposing of dirty diapers. It took a lot of convincing for a couple of them to understand that I was using cloth diapers, and that I would absolutely not be throwing them away!

When it was time to change Daniel, I put him in the Ergo and grabbed the wet bag. I thought airplane lavatories felt small when I was pregnant, but they feel much smaller when there are two breathing people in there. The photograph above was taken with my back pressed up against the door as far back as I could go. It was pretty darn tiny! I definitely recommend having a changing pad to put down on the fold-down changing table surface, as you never know what's on those things. If you have a cloth one like ours that can roll up small and fit in your bag—that's even better. As it is, Daniel scooted up above ours so his head was on the table, but it still protected most of him from whatever was left from all the other babies who've been changed there before. (Gross.)

I intentionally dressed Daniel in a onesie with baby leggings, to facilitate diaper changes. I also didn't put any shoes on him, and generally tried to keep the clothing simple, so there was less to mess with throughout the day. I basically just changed his diaper as I usually would when we're away from home, and returned to our seat. It was no big deal—just a little extra cramped in the lavatory compared to a regular public restroom. I didn't end up having to use any disposables on the airplane. Daniel also didn't happen to poop on our travel days, so that made it much easier.

Arrival at Our Destination

Our diaper-changing station (From top left: stuffed diapers,
flushable wipes, flushable liners, Bac-Out, laundry supplies,
dirty laundry bag. Middle left: extra inserts, changing pad.
Bottom left: hanging wet bag)
When we got where we were going, our bags were delayed, so I was grateful for the few disposables that I had brought with us. By the next morning, we had gotten our bags back, and I was able to switch back to cloth at that point. Cloth diapering on this part of the trip was pretty much the same as being at home. We use all pocket diapers now, and I don't have a huge stash (I think I have eighteen, and Daniel is usually wearing the last clean one when I'm washing diapers). Because of this, I'm accustomed to re-stuffing my diapers with clean inserts after some pees to stretch out time between washings. (I usually only re-stuff once before washing a diaper, but it depends on how wet it has been.) I find that with the synthetic inner fabric of most pocket diapers (like bumGenius and Fuzzibunz) the moisture wicks through that inner layer onto the insert, so when I re-stuff the diaper, the shell is pretty dry. If the shell is just a little wet, sometimes I'll let it air dry while I use a clean diaper, and then I'll re-stuff that one for the next diaper change, after it has dried out.

I set up a diaper changing area in the room where Daniel and I were staying with all the things I needed there. I used a large hanging wet bag for the dirty diapers. The hanging wet bags from Planet Wise have a large dry pocket in front (just like the smaller to-go version) where I stored all my clean diapers when I packed them in the suitcase. If it had been a shorter trip, I wouldn't have unpacked the clean diapers from the hanging bag. Instead, I would have pulled a clean one out and put a dirty one back every time I changed Daniel, as I do with the wet bag in our diaper bag. I brought flushable "toddler" wipes instead of cloth, which is what we normally use at home. I used flushable paper liners for poops, and we did elimination communication (EC) part-time, so I ended up having only one dirty (poop) diaper to wash while I was there.

Laundry Time

We were staying with relatives, so, fortunately, I was able to use their washing machine and dryer. I did diaper laundry twice while I was there (same as I would have at home). I tried to mimic my washing routine as closely as possible, as I know it works well for us. At home, I normally do a cold rinse with no spin, then a hot/cold wash with an extra rinse, since we have a HE washer that needs to be tricked to use extra water. The home where I was staying similarly had a HE washer, so it was easy to maintain a similar washing schedule and routine.

I brought a small amount of Charlie's soap powder with me in a plastic sandwich bag, along with a small bottle of Bi-O-Kleen brand Bac-Out enzymatic cleaner (which I use to spray dirty diapers down), and my lavender and tea tree oils. I also used a little baking soda from my family's kitchen as a laundry booster. When it came time to wash diapers, I dumped the contents of the wet bag out into the washer, then threw the bag in, too. I washed the whole lot together, and I didn't have to touch any stinky diapers in the process. (This hanging wet bag method may actually be a little easier than my at-home method, where I have a dry diaper pail with a washable pail liner that goes into the washer with the diapers.)

If you're traveling somewhere where you won't have access to a free washer and dryer, check out Hobo Mama's tips for cloth diapering for apartment dwellers. Most of her tips can be easily adapted to apply to traveling with cloth: using laundromats, hand washing, line drying, etc. If you're going somewhere where you'll be staying in a hotel, look for one with laundry facilities. Keep in mind whenever you use public laundry facilities that others have probably used scented detergents and fabric softeners in the machines before you got there. Consider doing a load or two of your family's clothes with a fragrance-free detergent and no fabric softener before you do your diaper laundry, to prevent them from getting coated with detergent build-up from previous users.

Top Traveling Tips:

  • Try to streamline your diaper bag, especially if you're traveling by airplane. If you have a small wet bag with a front dry pocket, use that for trips to the lavatory to change your baby's diaper.
  • Bring a compact changing pad with you for your trip.
  • Bring a large, reliable wet bag, preferably a hanging wet bag with a clean (dry) pocket on the front.
  • Use flushable liners and wipes to make cleaning up poop easier.
  • Practice EC, if that's something you already do at home.
  • If you feel comfortable doing so, re-stuff your pocket diapers after pees, it'll stretch out a smaller stash and keep you from having to wash as often.
  • Try to mimic your at-home washing routine as best you can when you're away from home.
  • Cloth diapering is not all or nothing! If using disposables on the plane or at night time makes it easier to use cloth for the rest of your trip, do it. You never have to feel guilty about deciding to use a few disposables because you're going out of town. Traveling with a baby is tricky enough without being hard on yourself about your diaper choices.  
  • Be gentle and patient with yourself!
I hope reading about my experiences traveling with cloth inspires someone to give it a try! I really love cloth diapering, so I was highly motivated to make this work for us. It ended up being fun to have all of Daniel's cute cloth diapers with us, and we got a lot of compliments on them. (He even received a new one as a Christmas gift while we were there!) I feel confident that the next time we travel, our cloth diapers will definitely come along with us for the ride.

Have you traveled with cloth diapers? What are some of your best tips/tricks for being away from home with cloth? I'd love to learn some new things from you!


  1. I've travelled with cloth too! Since I have three (and a half) kids, reducing bulk on a plane is a pretty big concern, so I usually pack a suitcase just for diapers and paraphernalia, use disposables on the plane, and then cloth when I get to my destination. I like the 7th Generation chlorine free disposables; they make me feel less guilty about occasional use!
    But when I get to my destination I have a setup similar to yours, but I really like your descrptions of your wet/dry combo bag: hello? Ingenius. I'll have to look into those!

    Also, I washed my own with the first 2, but got a service with #3 and will use them again when #4 is born. So I just bring all the dirties back with me in the same diaper suitcase and leave them on my front porch on the following Friday morning.
    This next time I'm going to try some EC too, which makes the dirty diaper bag less stinky esp. if you're catching poops in a potty!

    I've actually found blowouts better contained by cloth: disposable blowout on the airplane would be a disaster. My #3 was a once a week pooper, so when it was pooping day, it was POOPING DAY! If I put him in a disposable on pooping day he'd have it in his hair and around his neck and down to his ankles. Lol. So I'm not so sure I'd opt for disposables to deal with blowout potential, although every baby poops differently, right? It could work!

    The only thing I'd add is that for long car trips (or if you were cloth diapering on the plane), sometimes you can't get to the toilet during takeoff/landing or during a longer stretch between rest stops, so I double diaper for those transitions. Not sure how that would work with pocket diapers: double stuff, I guess?
    Also, if all my covers are wet/dirty I double diaper to prevent leaks.

    Good post!

  2. p.s. I LOVED your recommendation to do baby legs and a diaper shirt. Another ingenius move! Esp. with an ergo; baby will stay plenty warm and changes are a cinch. You're brilliant. =)
    (I'm Rachel's blogfriend)

  3. p.p.p.s.
    my family and friends check me out here if you like

  4. @Melissa: Thanks for de-lurking! =) For this trip I (like you) packed one suitcase full of baby gear, most of my cloth diapers, some toys, and another suitcase full of clothes and my things. I sort of accidentally stumbled upon the wet/dry bag option when I was shopping for a second regular wet bag. It really does make things so much easier.

    Thanks again for reading--now I'll go check out your blog.

  5. Thank you!! We haven't flown yet with cloth diapers, but after your tips, we're going to give it a try!!

  6. @Kelly: That's great! I'm glad I could help out with future trips with cloth. =)

  7. This is very helpful! I am bookmarking this post to refer back to when we take our first trip with our baby, who will be 10 months old in August when we go. Thanks for the tips!

  8. Everyone agrees that switching from disposables to cloth diapers will save you a lot of money, but there seems to be a bit of a debate going on within the cloth diaper community, as to which type of cloth diaper saves you the most.

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