Traveling with Cloth Diapers

Baby packing a suitcase

Real Diaper Week
Real Simple. Real Diapers.

Sometimes, it is easier to face an unfamiliar situation with confidence just knowing that others have been there before and have done just fine. Traveling with cloth diapers may sound intimidating—unless you have done it. Once you hear the stories of other parents who have used cloth diapers while on vacation or in other travel situations, you will realize that it just takes a little bit of extra preparation, then it takes very little fuss while you are away. The key is organization.

I’ve done it. I travelled overseas with two in cloth diapers. I didn’t worry too much about it. I didn’t wonder if I could. I just packed all of my best in-law-ready diapers and got on a plane with two small children. And, it worked just fine. I washed diapers first thing every morning, which was a lot more often than usual for us. Daily washing was perfect because I always knew which day to wash, since it was everyday, and I didn’t have to pack a whole suitcase of diapers. I had 12 diapers for a baby and for a toddler wearing only nighttime diapers. I had towels and t-shirts for backup (though I didn’t use them). I’ve also cloth diapered my children when travelling by car, with a 5-gallon bucket in the trunk swishing the diapers around as we went along. When I travelling with babies, I just looked at each situation and asked how best to fit cloth diapers into the trip.

Whether you are going camping, flying, driving, and heading off to a conference, you can take your cloth diapers with you. One of my favorite resources from the Real Diaper Association is their collection of parents’ tips for using diapers while travelling. I love this because it isn’t someone expertly distilling the lowest common denominator from all available information. These tips are from real parents talking about how they made it work for them.

If you are planning travel, make a plan to take diapers with you. Look at the resources you will have available, make a plan, and set off on your cloth diaper adventure.

Real Diaper Association is a nonprofit charity that trains grassroots cloth diaper educators. They are the organizers of Real Diaper Week and of the Great Cloth Diaper Change this Saturday. To celebrate Real Diaper Week, we are posting about cloth diapers all week. Parents at 262 Great Cloth Diaper Change events around the world will change their babies’ cloth diapers on Saturday at the same time in order to break the world record for the most simultaneous diaper changes. bynature.ca and NaturalNutrition.ca will be co-hosting a fun cloth diaper event in Orillia for up 50 babies and their parents.

Real Diaper Week

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Using Cloth Diapers on a Plane

Airplane flying

I hear parents afraid of flying with cloth diapers. They’re only little pieces of cloth—nothing to be afraid of. Whether you are going to wash your own diapers once you arrive at your destination or use a diaper service while you are there, you really can do it!

If you can camp with cloth diapers, you can fly with cloth diapers. No problem. Just plan for the tight space in your bag and the tight space for changing diapers. You and your baby will be clean and happy when you arrive.


Essentials for Flying with Cloth Diapers

Wet Bag

Don’t choose just any old bag or a plastic grocery bag. You need a wet bag with sealed seams because this is going in your carry-on luggage with all of your purse and the novel you never quite get to and your snacks. Make it a really reliable wet bag. The Bummis Fabulous Zippered Wet Bag is double seamed on three sides, and the small size is perfect to hold 3-4 diapers

Simple, Flat Diapers

Don’t use your all-in-one diapers on the plane. They will be more bulky to carry and more difficult to get clean once you arrive. Simple diapers, flats or prefolds, will be the least bulky, since you will likely be able to reuse the cover. Flats are the easiest diapers to clean because you only need to force soap and water through one layer. They rinse easily. Unless you know you will have access to a great washing machine, go with hand-washable diapers on the plane.

Wipe-clean Covers

No matter what covers you use at home, for travel you might find it convenient to have covers that are easy to wipe clean. Bummis Super Brite covers are lightweight and easy to wipe clean because the inside layer is just laminated polyester. It won’t absorb messes. These covers also come in cute colors and patterns, so you might find yourself with a conversation starter if other passengers watch you change diapers.

Spray Bottle

If you need to pack your bottle empty to get through security, you can still fill it in the restroom once you are on the other side. Just be sure that you have an easy way to clean up messes. Hope for no messes, but be prepared. If you travel enough, a big, messy diaper will certainly happen while you are on the plane. Armed with a bag full of dry, reusable wipes, a spray bottle, natural hand sanitizer, and an extra set of clothes, you can tackle anything.

Choose the Front Row

For diaper changes, I found kneeling on the floor in the front row so much easier than juggling a baby between parents in the cramped rows further back. Changing diapers in a tiny airplane toilet is even more difficult. The front row with a big changing pad will make diaper changes much easier.

Pack Your Confidence and Good Attitude

The best advice for travelling with cloth diapers comes from parents who have done it. Don’t let someone who hasn’t used cloth diapers on the road tell you it’s too hard. When the Real Diaper Association (RDA) asked their members for their best travel tips, one mother said, “I am so glad that I decided to travel with cloth. It was much easier than I had anticipated, and when it was over, I felt accomplished.” RDA compiled the best cloth diaper travel tips from parents into one sheet. You can even read all of the original cloth diaper travel tips for details.

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Diaper Service for Extended Vacations

Mother and baby traveling by car

If you are planning an extended vacation in one place or you are attending a long event, you can travel with cloth diapers without actually having to take your own diapers with you. Look for a local diaper service.

Though it is possible to fill your suitcase with dirty diapers and bring them home to wash (many of us have done this), wouldn’t it be more convenient to have someone else wash the diapers while you are busy all day?

Coming up in the next two weeks is the biggest baby product trade show in North America. A thousand vendors will be there, and many thousands of retailers will be shopping for new products for their stores. A lot of the attendees are parents who will have babies in arms. A lot of those parents use cloth diapers, so they want to find a way to continue using reusable diapers while away from home. Talking with some of these parents as they prepare to travel with babies, I have heard that they have plans to make travel much easier. They are using the local diaper service.

What a brilliant idea! (Because I didn’t ever think of it myself when I traveled.)

Most diaper services are able and happy to deliver fresh, clean diapers to your hotel when you arrive and pick them up when you leave. You keep your baby in reusable diapers, and you support the local economy where you stay. It’s a good deal all around.


Tips for Using Diaper Service on Vacation

  • Look up a diaper service that delivers where you are going.
  • Call the diaper service well in advance to make arrangements and reserve your place.
  • Call your hotel to make arrangements for drop off and pick up.
  • Bring your own covers.
  • Bring a few of your own diapers for travel to and from your destination.
  • Encourage the diaper service to leave a few pamphlets for the hotel to let other guests know about this option.

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Camping with Cloth Diapers

Family Camping

If you are going camping with your baby, you may be wondering about the logistics of diapering. Yes, you can use cloth diapers while camping! Many parents are willing to share their experience to help you succeed.

Steps to your cloth diaper camping success include WHAT to take, HOW to wash, and what to do if you run out of diapers.


WHAT Diapers to Take Camping

When I wrote about camping with cloth diapers last year, I was more open to prefolds. I suggested prefolds or flats will work. The more I read about camping success with flat cloth diapers, I am shifting to all-out flat diaper advocacy.

Take flat cloth diapers camping!

These are the easiest diapers to get clean because they are just one big layer of absorbent cotton. Flat diapers are cotton gauze or birdseye squares from 27″x27″ to 36″x36″ with a flat, finished edge—a lot like a large, absorbent dish towel. Or give the Hemp/Cotton flat cloth diapers at bynature.ca a try – a wonderful alternative to traditional flats that are only 2-layers left open at one end for easy washing and drying.

  • 30-40 flat diapers. If you are ambitious about washing every day, make it 20. If you have an older child who doesn’t need frequent changes, you can take fewer diapers. You can double the diapers for nighttime.
  • 4-6 covers.
  • 30-40 cloth wipes.
  • A spray bottle for water to wet the wipes and the baby’s bottom
  • 3 wet bags. 1 bag for clean diapers (can be used to hold dirties in an emergency), 1 bag for wet-only diapers, and 1 bag for soiled diapers.

Yes, other types of diapers than flats will work. If you are only camping for a weekend and don’t plan to wash diapers while camping, use your regular cloth diapers. Just keep in mind that the longer diapers sit without washing, the harder it will be to get them clean when you get home. You may need hotter water, more rinsing, or an extra wash.


HOW to Wash Cloth Diapers While Camping

If you are only camping for a weekend, you may not need or want to wash diapers while you are away. If you are camping for a week, though, you would defeat the purpose of reusability if you had to buy 75 diapers just to cover a week (barely). Wash! It’s not difficult.

If you will be washing diapers while camping, add to your packing list:

  • Travel-sized biodegradable laundry detergent. Be sure it is phosphate free.
  • If you are traveling by car, bring a bucket. I have found that a 5-gallon bucket is perfect for dirty diapers. You can use it as both diaper pail and wash basin. If you aren’t traveling by car, you will still need to have some way to hold water to wash the diapers.
  • Rope for clothesline
  • Clothes pins

If you aren’t washing diapers while out, make sure you have a large, laundry-sized wet bag.

First of all, dump the poop. Whatever facilities you use for yourself, dump the baby’s poop there. That’s a lot better plan than keeping a wet bag full of poop hanging in your tent. This way, you get rid of a lot of the waste before it smashes and soaks into the diapers.

The next choice, how to clean. You can just swish the diapers in bucket of warm, soapy water, but you probably won’t get the diapers reliably clean that way. To kill any micro-creatures that are trying to live in the diapers, you can boil them—just like my grandmother did. You can see a great photo and a description of boiling diapers while camping in EnviroJon’s post linked below.

If boiling isn’t an option, flat diapers become even more important because you can clean them so much more easily than diapers with multiple layers. Swish them, agitate them, beat them, and knead them like bread. Do whatever you have to do to get the diapers clean.

Don’t use too much soap, since it will be more difficult to rinse when camping.

You may have to rinse a couple of times until the water is clear.

Finally, hang to dry. You can drape flat diapers over rocks or in trees, or you can pin them to a clothesline. A breeze will soften the diapers a bit, but you can take care of that softening by hand by rolling the diapers around a bit to help the cotton fibers flex post-wash.


Bother! I Ran out of Cloth Diapers While Camping

Diapers do a simple job: they soak up pee and hold in poop. Anything absorbent will do this job. If you run out of cloth diapers while camping, you have a choice: wash the diapers or borrow other absorbent items from around camp.

If you start borrowing and you have quite a young (small) baby, your husband’s socks (or your socks, for diapering dads) might do the job if the are cotton or mostly cotton. You wouldn’t want to use your own, so just tell him his were bigger so you had to. A big cotton tube sock can be folded over to make a narrow but quite absorbent diaper.

For a bigger baby, you need to make a wider poop catcher. You may need to resort to T-shirts. I have tried this. It’s such a simple diapering solution! Lay the shirt out with the neck at the top. If the shirt is wide (anything but a small women’s shirt), you may need to fold the shirt over then back open again leaving a wide strip down the middle with triple shirt layers (6 layers of fabric). This is a bit like a prefold. If the shirt is long, fold down the hem toward the neck. Fold in the sides much the way you would when folding a prefold. Put the baby on the new diaper, and tuck or tie the sleeves at the waist. If you use a small T-shirt, the diaper will be snug without a cover. If you have pre-folded the shirt, you will need a cover to keep it from unfolding and falling off.

For a bonus, put the back of the T-shirt toward the baby’s bottom and any logo from the chest of the T-shirt will be on the baby’s bottom.

There are also the options of moss and cattail fluff. Native peoples of North America used whatever absorbent material was a hand for the simple job of catching baby waste. In my area, that means cattail fluff. It’s sticky. I could work for you if you have a layer next to baby’s skin, but it would be a big mess to scrap poopy fluff off your baby’s bottom. It’s not a great option, but it’s an option. If you are adventurous enough to camp for weeks with a baby, maybe you want to try it. If you are going to try it, consider a silk liner next to the skin.


Who Has Camped with Cloth Diapers?

Check out EnviroJon’s great photos of boiling cloth diapers in a stock pot on a camp stove and drying diapers on a line outside the tent.

AutumnB’s video talks you through a diaper change in her pop-up camper. She was only gone for a few days, so she put the dirty diapers in a wet bag to wash when she arrived home. She uses a nice-looking, snug wool cover, so YES! you can use wool while camping.

Jessica of VeryBaby took cloth diapers camping with no wash facilities. She has a lot of tips and advice to make it work.

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