Can You Really Travel With Cloth Diapers?

It’s a given that you use spousies when you travel with a baby.

That’s what we did most of the time with our older three, even though we were super duper into the whole cloth diaper thing.

But why can’t you travel with cloth? Since Descartes tells us we have to examine all of our beliefs, reject our assumptions, and follow only what we can verify is certain, I’ve decided to reject the idea that you can’t travel with cloth diapers.

You can.

I’ve taken Leone on one long car trip — for an assignment in Gold Beach, Oregon — and traveled twice by airplane — to New York City and Chicago — using only cloth diapers (and elimination communication).

Traveling with cloth definitely takes advanced planning (which is a problem since we’re going to L.A. tomorrow and I haven’t packed or even reserved a rental car yet) but it’s really not that hard or inconvenient.

We’ll have to save car trips for another post (sorry Mama Em!).

Here’s what you need to travel by plane with cloth:
A dozen or so (more is better) pre-folds and 2 diaper covers for each day that you won’t be doing laundry: Though AIOs are great for home, they tend to be bulkier and not as convenient for travel.
A wet bag for the wet and soiled diapers: two is a good idea but we only own one.
An extra bag for when you run out of space in the wet bag
A plan to do a load of laundry: if you’re going to be gone for awhile, you’ll need to take a trip to the laundry mat with the baby. I actually did laundry twice in New York City, where we spent six days.

How you pack is key.

Now that airlines are charging for ANY checked bags, pack carefully enough so nothing is checked.

I carry the following:
A rolly luggage that fits in the overhead bin

A huge over-the-shoulder diaper (and everything else) bag
A stroller: this doubles as a luggage cart and is gate checked
A baby on my back in a soft Ergo Baby carrier

I use packing cubes and roll my clothes, squinching them down with rubber bands.

Grown-ups need to pack very light so there’s space for the diapers: This is key if you don’t want to check anything. For these trips I only bring the pair of jeans and clothes I wear on the plane plus one fitted work skirt and a pair of tights, two work tops that both match the skirt, undies, one bra, socks, toiletries, pjs, and only one pair of shoes (black flats) that are comfortable enough to walk in and dressy enough to pass for “business casual.”

The rolly luggage contains:

A packing cube with my clothes

A packing cube with the baby’s clothes

A large packing cube with all of the diapers we’ll use when we get there

Toiletries in a pouch in the outside pocket for easy access through security screening

The over-the-shoulder bag (I actually use a huge shopping bag that my friend made for me. It worked perfectly) contains:

A small cube (or you can use a Ziplock bag) with two full changes of baby clothes all rolled and rubberbanded for the inevitable spit-ups and blow-out poops.

Enough food for a ravenous nursing mother to survive 12 hours of plane changes and flying.

A packing cube full of diapers to use on the plane: I think I put ten in here since I’m sort of obsessive about changing Leone whenever she’s wet.

A book to read on the plane when the baby’s sleeping (only either she won’t sleep or you won’t be able to get the book out).

A journal
Boarding passes

A gift for your host, which you buy at the last minute during a lay-over.

You also need an over-the-shoulder purse with your money, cell phone, and government-issued ID.

What about when the baby poops?
On the plane, during take-off! Clean the poop out in the sink or toilet, as appropriate, wring out the diaper, roll it tightly, and put it in your wet bag to deal with later.

Once you arrive you will either do laundry or you can clean the diaper more thoroughly by hand with a little bit of hand soap and hang it out to dry.

What about the babysitter, friend, or cousin who is watching the baby while you give a presentation and has never SEEN a cloth diaper?

You give them a crash course, ignore the perplexed look on their face, and they deal as best they can.

Just be sure to rinse the baby (who will of course poop when you aren’t there) a second time to avoid diaper rash. Poor Leone got a little rashy because the nice young student in Illinois who changed her diaper did not clean in the rolls of thigh fat.

What did I forget? Does this sound like something you could do? If you’ve never traveled with cloth are you ready to try? If you do travel with cloth, what other tips do you have?

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17 thoughts on “Can You Really Travel With Cloth Diapers?”

  1. You make it sound very do-able! Do you bring your own detergent to wash the diapers while you’re there?

    My must-have for flying with baby (in addition to a baby carrier) is a pashmina-type wrap/scarf. I wear it as a scarf until I use it as a blanket, nursing cover, drool wipe, or peek-a-boo entertainment.
    .-= Mama Em´s last blog ..Peek-A-Boo! =-.

  2. Travel with cloth! I will not leave home without my cloth!

    Disposables *always* leak, whereas my cloth never does, so I’d either be looking at needing to do loads of unintentionally soiled clothing, or a planned load of diapers.

    Plus, let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to show off their baby in cute fluff?

  3. While I miss many sweet parts of early motherhood, the diaper issue isn’t one of them 🙂 Wishing you a wonderful Mother’s Day!
    .-= Cindy L.´s last blog ..How poetry heals =-.

  4. Thanks, Jennifer, for some great tips for traveling with cloth diapers! Would you please contribute tips (or even just a link to this blog post) to the Real Diaper Association’s effort to collect and compile tips to make traveling with cloth diapers possible for all families who want to do it in any situation? You can see what other parents are recommending here:
    .-= Heather´s last blog ..Cloth Diapering in North Carolina =-.

  5. I guess I don’t see how all this is worth it. We use disposible on vacation – always – and I’m guilt-free about it. My thinking is, if everyone used disposibles only when they were on vacation and cloth the rest of the time, diapers in landfills wouldn’t be an issue. There would be hardly any (ok, except maybe in those places where the proportion of tourists is really high, like Hawaii). So I feel I am doing enough just using cloth the rest of the time. And there is no way that I would take two afternoons out of a one-week trip to New York City to do laundry!
    .-= Globetrotter Parent´s last blog ..Organic, homeopathic products, dirt cheap? =-.

  6. This does not sound like something I could do. I’m amazed that you manage to travel this way. Afraid I agree with Globetrotter Parent on this one.
    .-= Alexandra´s last blog ..A May Day in the Life =-.

  7. I wouldn’t dream of traveling any other way. We spent 3 months traveling Australia and Fiji with our 4 month old and it was the easiest thing to do. You would do laundry when at home so why not when you are away. Our clothdiapers have and will continue to travel where ever our little girl goes. I use pocket diapers and I guess they do take up a fair bit of space but I just cram them in where ever I can in the suitcase. Happy travels everyone and dont worry about it just go for it!

  8. Do you ever get dirty looks at the laundromat? Before we had a wash machine, we would wash our diapers at the mat and people would look at me with icky faces! It didn’t stop me though.

    Thanks for the travel how-to. I have never traveled with cloth, but might consider it more now.

    Do you have advice about how to hang dry the diapers without them getting super stiff? My cotton pre-folds always come out really stiff when I hang them on the line.

  9. Jennifer,

    I use a mix – it depends on how far, what our situation is, etc. Now that I have four and our biggest priority is to travel as light as possible especially when traveling 17 hours overseas (which we will be doing again in a few weeks), I bring only a minimum of cloth while in transit (i.e. on the plane). I do bring cloth to use while we are at our destination, but it’s in combination with EC. In a few months, things may get even easier for you and it may just be a matter of bringing underwear, which is lighter and more portable.
    .-= Christine at Origami Mommy´s last blog ..Happy May Day =-.

  10. I brought a small tube of Biosuds with me on the trip to New York but I couldn’t find it and ended up just using some goat milk bar soap that I also brought along… It does make sense to travel with detergent though, since eco-options don’t come in the small boxes at the laundry mat (at least not usually).

  11. I haven’t noticed the dirty looks Myra but I was the only one doing laundry in NY! Also our diapers are so beat up I suspect people who see them won’t know that they aren’t rags!

    We’ve been hanging our diapers too. Along with towels they are so STIFF and almost scratchy. In Africa we would iron clothes after line drying but that seems like a lot of trouble. So, sadly, I don’t have any advice but please tell us if you do discover a good way to soften them up.

  12. The only advice I have gotten is to line dry until almost all dry, then throw them in the dryer to fluff them for 10 minutes. It does work, but I rarely catch the diapers before they are all dry. This method saves us 60 minutes of dryer time each load!

  13. we did a combo of cloth/G diapers (with the disposable/compostable insert) when we went away for 3 weeks. we were staying with family, so it was fairly easy (they even had our choice of detergent on hand because they were so nice) – and they even had a clothesline outside so we didn’t have to use their dryer. I basically did a hand wash first in cold water, and then tossed them in the machine for the hot wash – kind of eliminates any concern that someone might have about their washer getting ‘dirty’ and it cuts down on the “hogging the washer” feeling I worried about. G diapers were a little hard to find, and I spent a little more time trying to track them down than I would have liked, but it was a kind of guilt-reducing thing for me. We were in Hawaii, so getting rid of trash is no small eco-matter in my mind. We also did some elimination communication to the extent that we could.

    When we travel on business, we always always always stay at a hotel with laundry facilities (there is always a blowout on a plane, it seems). The hardest part for me there is the detergent. DS has sensitive skin, and I’m unwilling to mess with our system. Next time I’ll bring a supply of our own powdered detergent (hmmm… white powder on an airline? we’ll see…)

    prefolds are definitely the way to go when traveling. I made the decision to cloth diaper on the road at the last second because we had extra space in the luggage. I brought 8 diapers and 2 covers (plus many G diapers and some inserts). we checked bags, but diapers and all baby stuff are always, always, always carry-ons for us. I’ve lost my luggage too many times to be separated from my kids stuff. I can go without easily enough – it’s harder for his stuff.

  14. When doing laundry on a trip, I bring my Flex-o-Line. It stretches out to be up to 7 feet long, and you don’t need clothespins because you can pull your clothes/diapers through the rubber braiding.

    and I love Whole Food’s/EO All Purpose Soap–it’s a laundry soap, a shampoo, a body gel, a housecleaning liquid, dish soap, a hand soap (and it also works as a dishwasher detergent, although hopefully you wouldn’t need that while traveling!). Save a travel-sized liquid bottle and pour it in there. Mmm, Meyer Lemon.

  15. So far we’ve done paper diaps when traveling but my main concern has not necessarily been convenience in the immediate sense of the term but more a concern for the quality of my diapers – at home you can control the temp of your water, your soaps all of that, but at a laundromat not. I use AIOs and cannot risk damaging the waterproofing. What if someone before me used heavily scented soaps, softeners, all that crap? Not to mention scented drier sheets, hate those things! I never dry the covers and cannot foresee packing enough for them to dry in time for subsequent use. I am a conscientious, environmentally minded mama but on trips – unless they involve going to friends/fam! – am not going to give myself a bad conscience for using paper diapers for a few days. (Second concern has been the smell factor – carrying soiled diaps in warmer climes until you are able to wash just does not sound appealing. Esp. when you are packing light and would end up carrying edibles near the diaps. Does not sound right).

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