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Vacationing with Cloth Diapers
By Heather Sanders
Fall 2005

Will you try them on a road or in a plane? This reminds me of my favorite Dr. Seuss book. I can hear the familiar rhyme slightly altered . . ."Would you, could you on the road? Just as in your own abode?" Or how about "Would you, could you on a plane? So luxurious and humane!"

Bear with me now, I'm usually not so strange (well, okay, there are moments when I'm not so strange). Still, cloth diapering really doesn't have to stop when you pass over the threshold of your front door.

On-The-Road? Storing and washing cloth diapers while traveling.

This is one that we have encountered over and over in our cloth diapering experience. When we lived in Georgia, we didn’t have the convenience of living close to relatives and friends for a good while, so there was always a road trip every few months or so, usually from Georgia to Texas or Colorado. Read on and you will see how simple the whole process can be!

What will you need

  • First, as with any other trip you need to consider how long you will be gone. If it is a full-fledged road trip, you probably have a minimum of 14 hours or so of 'road-time' to consider when adding up diapers. Plan ahead NOW by counting your baby's daily diaper usage while at home.
  • While figuring in time away from home, also figure in your location. Are you going to be staying at your parents or other relatives? Will you be staying in a hotel? Will you have access to a free washer or dryer or need to use a laundry-mat? These are important things to figure out ahead of time to best pre-plan for the amount of diapers you will need. If your road trip is 2 days and you can wash as soon as you arrive, then you will probably only need 2 to 3 dozen for the trip. However, if your road trip is 2 days and you'll be staying in a hotel and are unsure about laundry facilities, you may need to take a dozen more. You will also want to select diapers/covers that pack down easiest (tip: flatfolds and prefolds are nice and flat), and don't forget the cloth wipes!
  • Another thing to remember is that you are dealing with car seats and that means that your baby's diaper is going to be 'compressed' as they sit for longer periods of time than normal. Now is not the time to try out a new diaper or diaper cover! Take your most absorbent diapers and leak proof diaper covers (whether they give your baby bubble butt or not) for the road. You can adjust their clothing for the ride according to the diapering system you need to use to keep them dry and comfy!

Absorbency tips for car seats

  • If you prefer fleece diaper covers, make sure that you are using a high-quality fleece. We suggest that it be a 2-layer fleece, preferably made out of 200 weight fleece - you just can't get a better made fleece. They will withhold moisture, but will breathe as well. This helps fight against diaper rash and discomfort on long car rides.
  • Another diapering system that is great for car trips are pocket diapers with an absorbent prefold tri-folded into the pocket. Bulky? Yes, but highly absorbent and leak-proof when they are fitted correctly. Baby feels dry and cozy as fleece wicks moisture away from the baby's bottoms and genitals.
  • Wool covers, if made from a high quality wool, can function with just as much breathability as the double-fleece diaper covers, however, with long-term compression, they may eventually wick moisture to the car seat, so you will need to check them more often.
  • Any diaper cover used over a diaper that is not truly absorbent will wick or leak at the legs and waist. Make sure that you are diapering in quality diapers when on the road. Diapers peed in while in a car seat will 'saturate' and that leaves baby feeling clammy and uncomfortable, so be attentive and change regularly.
  • Also, make sure that baby's clothing is loose. Clothing that is tight at the waist and legs will compress even more. Not only is this uncomfortable for baby, but will also increase your possibility of leaks at the leg and waist. We often just leave our children in shirts and their diaper if weather permits with clothes handy to pull-on for our stops.

Storage tips

Storage is always an issue. You will need a waterproof - or water resistant - tote that is large enough for you to carry your soiled diapers in while traveling and for storing soiled diapers when you arrive at your destination. Clean diapers and wipes, of course, can be carried in the bag of your choice. We always take a large, rectangular laundry basket. I assemble and fold-down my diapers and corresponding covers ahead of time and stack them in neat little stacks. This saves me time and frustration when we make our stops at gas stations or rest-stops along the way. The basket gives me room to put my squirt bottle of my favorite traveling baby wipe recipe (2 drops Tea Tree Oil, water and a squirt of Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap), a Snappi® if needed, and my cloth baby wipes as well. We will lay a large towel over the top to keep them clean and an additional towel to use for diaper changes (usually on the carpet between the seats in the minivan). Having it organized this way gives me a sort of 'diaper station' for wherever we are. I continue to keep the clean diapers in the laundry basket even when we reach our destination. It transports easily and I don't have to seek out my diapers - nor does anyone else. The only time the laundry basket doesn't work is when there is a plane-ride in the picture. Then things are folded neatly in a large nylon tote instead.

Basic traveling list

  • Diapers - 2 to 3 dozen diapers (depending on the age of your child, the length of your trip and the facilities that will be available to wash/dry your diapers). Flatfolds and prefolds, as suggested earlier, as they are the easiest to pack down flat and the easiest to clean and dry.
  • Diaper Covers - 6 to 12 diaper covers. Using a nylon pull-on pant is a wise and space-efficient idea as they fold down very flat and are cool (remember you aren't going for stylish - you are going for durable, breathable and space efficient). I love that you can rotate them out between diaper changes - letting them air a bit if they aren't soiled. Pocket Diapers work great for car seats, BUT you have to change them with each diaper change and that can take up a lot more storage space both in the soiled diaper bag and in whatever you carry your clean diapers in. Fleece Covers are good and can be rotated between diaper changes - airing out easily. However, they too would need to be bagged with the soiled diapers if your baby has a blow-out or is an extreme wetter.
  • Wipes - 2 to 3 dozen (remember, these pull 'double-duty,' and will not only wash your baby's bum, but their hands, faces, bodies, noses, etc. . . as well). Take a bit of Peppermint Essential Oil in a squirt bottle with water for yourself. Spray the solution into a baby wipe, wiping it along your neck, face and arms for a quick 'pick-me-up' on those long trips where minimal rest is obtained. It will refresh you and give you some more 'get up and go.'
  • Large Nylon Diaper Tote or some other kind of waterproof or water-resistant drawstring bag. You can take plastic bags or Ziplocs® if you like, but once they are soiled . . . it is often difficult to clean for re-use. Do NOT use canvas or a cotton based material for your soiled diapers. They will soak through the bag and leave you with a mess.
  • Small Nylon Tote, handful of plastic grocery bags or a few Ziploc® bags to transport poopy diapers/wipes from vehicle to public restrooms for proper disposal of solid wastes.
  • Laundry Basket (rectangular is best) if you want to go with our suggestion for organizing it all together.
  • Squirt Bottle (for your baby wipe mix and your own Peppermint Essential Oil Mix if desired.)
  • Plastic Bag or container of your detergent.
  • Small Bottle of Tea Tree Oil
  • Diaper Pins or Snappi® Diaper Fasteners (if you'll be needing them)
  • A roll of quarters (if you will be staying at a hotel - for laundry)

Changing, Washing, Drying

All you need for your diaper changes is a fresh diaper, a baby wipe, your wipe mixture in the squirt bottle and a good attitude. Change your baby as you would at home. If you notice that your soiled diaper tote is getting a little acrid-smelling along the road, place a few drops of Tea Tree Essential Oil on a baby wipe and place in the top of the soiled diaper tote. This will eliminate the odor

Dealing with the poop. If your baby's diaper is poopy and you are able to stop at a place where there are restroom facilities, change as you normally would and then transport your baby's solid waste in a small nylon tote/plastic grocery bag or a Ziploc® to the restroom to flush it away. DO NOT DUNK . . . just shake off what will come off and then roll the diaper up and place it back in the bag you used to transport it to the restroom. Don’t forget to wash your hands!

If you make a diaper change at a rest stop without facilities, fold the diaper over the solid wastes and store in a small nylon tote/plastic grocery bag or Ziploc® and close securely. You will need to travel with this diaper until you reach a facility where you can properly dispose of the remains. DO NOT put this diaper in with the other wet-soiled diapers until you are able to empty its contents. The small tote will be able to be washed once you reach your destination, but if you do use a plastic grocery sack or a Ziploc®, toss it in the trash once you are able to dump the soiled contents and place the diaper in the larger tote with the other wet-soiled diapers. Wash your hands with a few squirts of the baby wipe recipe mentioned above.

Urine-Only Diapers. Simply throw them into the large nylon tote for washing later! WASH HANDS!

Washing And Drying. This obviously depends on your destination. If you will be arriving at a relative or friend's home, most likely they will let you use their washer and dryer for your diaper washing needs. However, do not assume this . . . there are some that find washing diapers less-hygienic than clothing. Whether or not you are able to clear that up, you will still need to be respectful of their feelings regarding the matter. In which case, just follow your normal washing/drying routine.

If you will be staying at a hotel, then either the hotel will have laundry facilities, or you will need to locate a local laundry-mat. Here's a tip: hotel laundry facilities can be .25 to .75 cents more expensive per load to wash. So, consider taking a couple of hours to wash at the laundry-mat. Take a good book or a crossword and just RELAX!

Laundry-Mat Washing/Drying

1. You can use your regular method of washing, but avoid the pre-soaking by doing this in the bath-tub or sink in your hotel room. Rinsing and wringing out your diapers ahead of time will keep you down to two loads.

2. If you can't stand the idea of pre-washing in the tub or sink at the hotel, then expect to do three loads.

3. First load: This is simply to rinse your diapers clear. They could have been 'sitting' for 1 to 3 days. Use a cold water/cold rinse setting and put in 1/2 cup of baking soda to neutralize acidity. Let the water fill to full and start agitating the soda in with the water before adding diapers. Make sure you unroll your diapers and covers (pull soakers/prefolds out of pocket diapers) - they need to go into the wash 'open' and ready to be cleansed. Throw in the nylon tote as well - inside out - to be cleaned. Close the lid and WASH.

4. Second load: Use a hot water/cold rinse setting, allowing the water level to fill over the top of your diapers before adding a regular scoop of your detergent.

5. Third load: Again, this is to ensure you've rinsed out your diapers thoroughly. Set water on cold wash/cold rinse and add 3 to 4 drops of Tea Tree Essential Oil once the water level has risen up over the diapers/covers.

6. Pull out your covers and the nylon tote for air-drying and toss your diapers into the dryer. Expect to pay for two runs through the dryers - usually they are only 30 minutes each and not always as effective as your dryer at home. If your tote isn't drying enough to transport your diapers back to the hotel, throw it into the hot dryer for no more than 10 minutes.

Final Note on Car Rides. Once you do it once, you will learn what works for you and your family and what doesn't. It becomes easier the second time and you don't even give it a second thought on future trips. Fact is, disposables are HOT and your baby will be so much more comfortable in cloth on long car rides. Can you imagine sitting for hours in a paper pulp and plastic diaper waiting for the next stop to be changed? Sure they are trimmer, but they do not breathe. You think they are 'quilted' because there is that soft layer on the exterior, but it is a disguise atop a plastic layer - and that plastic is what will keep your baby feeling wet and clammy and hot.

"Leaving on a jet plane?"

This system is something of a repeat of the one above with a few minor changes.
In your preparation and packing, consider checking-in another suitcase that is simply diapers and baby wipes. Because your plane trip will not be anywhere near as long as a road trip (unless you are flying overseas), then the majority of your diaper stash for your trip does not need to be carried on the plane with you. Remember to include the necessary 'dry' items that you will need on your trip in your suitcase that will be checked. Any 'wet' items - like your Tea Tree Essential Oil, your squirt bottle of baby wipe recipe and the like, will need to travel with you aboard the plane. It would be horrible upon arrival at your destination to discover that your cloth diapers neatly stored and 'checked' in the suitcase were saturated from a leaky squirt bottle or broken Tea Tree Essential Oil bottle.

You will still deal with car seats on the plane, but you are in a better position to take baby out of the car seat more regularly, so you need not worry about 'compression' issues as much. However, not being in your car, you may want to keep baby fully dressed . . . so please remember to dress your baby in comfortable loose-fitting clothes for their comfort and to decrease wicking/leaking at the legs and waist from their diapers.

You can transport your diapers one of two ways. You can use a large nylon tote that can easily be carried on and stashed in the storage bins above or shoved under your chair. However, we recommend that you only bring a medium sized nylon tote for your soiled diapers and bring a large, formed diaper bag for your diapers, baby wipe mix in your squirt bottle, cloth baby wipes, etc. Most likely you will be bringing toys and maybe even snacks (depending on baby's age), so you'll need a place for those too. There are several great diapering bags out there, but our favorite has been a simple tall tote (not diaper bag) from Target. It can carry up to 10 diapers neatly folded and stacked, along with our diapering accessories, a medium sized nylon tote for soiled diapers and a couple of toys.

One advantage to plane rides is that you always have restroom facilities to flush your baby's solid wastes. I would not recommend you trying to rinse out any diapers in the sink (heh heh - as if this can be done in a plane's vanity-sink), but instead just dump whatever will shake off into the toilet and flush. You can rinse it more thoroughly upon reaching your destination.

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