Apart from my fabulous husband and son, my two great loves are travelling and cloth nappies! The problem is that these two things (travelling and cloth nappies) seem like an impossible blend. I'm not talking about a weekend visit to granny's house (in which case, simply chuck them into the wetbag and wash when you're home). I'm talking about intercity bus trips, hotels, public beaches, train rides, airports, city squares, famous buildings and a backpack.
How can I possibly backpack the world with a baby on cloth diapers? Here's how:
1. All-in-2 systems
We have found that the most space efficient system is an all-in-two system, with wipeable covers. The insert snaps/lies inside the cover and when wet, you can simply replace the insert and reuse the cover. This means we travel with less nappies overall. At night time, we boost with two inserts (or use a GroVia Ai2). If you have a very heavy wetter, you could take 3 or 4 fitted nappies for night time. Hybrid fitted nappies are also best as the inserts snap out, allowing for faster drying time.
2. Quick-drying material
Although I love using very absorbent natural fibres like cotton, bamboo and hemp, generally they take longer to dry. Microfibre is quick drying and sufficiently absorbent for day time, provided you change regularly. My very favourite are indian cotton prefolds (good for night too!) When folded in three it is very absorbent but when unfolded, it's thin and quick drying. Pockets are another quick drying option and also, once stuffed, very convenient. Changing a nappy on a public bus needs to be quick and easy. Although old school terry flats (or receiving blankets) are also quick drying, most of the time I don't have time to fold and snappie.
3. Set up a washing line in your room
We always take along a travelling washing line which we string up between curtains, windows or the bed posts. Although the balcony chairs or the shower rail work just as well, you want as much drying space as possible. We try to wash at night, hang up before bed and then allow them to dry all day the next day while we're on the beach or exploring the city. Of course, if you're going to Russia in the middle of winter or on a skiing holiday, you might need to take them to a laundry service to tumble dry them.
4. Use biodegradable inserts
I always take biodegradable disposable inserts with me as backup. They are great for flights or train rides when you don't really want heavy wet nappies in your hand luggage. They're one step above disposable nappies these days because at least they are biodegradable and won't sit in the landfill for the next 500 years.
5. Take enough nappies
This obviously depends on how long you are going away for and your laundry options.
If there's a washing machine and tumble dryer available, it's as easy as washing at home. Just bear in mind that baby poop is gross to everyone except the mother, so make sure you rinse them well before tossing them in to someone else's machine.
I always wash everyday when on holiday (actually I have a fabulous husband who washes for me.) This just means that I am better prepared for the unknown: a sudden increase in output and hence an increase in changes; a spell of bad weather leaving nappies wet or a change in my itinerary.
We were once stuck on a tropical island for an extra week due to heavy rains and a ban on ferries leaving. We were running out of dry clothes and laundry powder and ended up joining a chartered speed boat off the island. The unexpected does happen!]
My general minimum guide for holidays is 6 covers and 24 inserts. Assuming you use 8 inserts a day, you'll have 8 dirty ones, 8 drying and 8 clean. But this depends on where you are going. If you are going somewhere with good weather (or a tumble dryer), you can afford to take less. If you're going somewhere cold, drying time takes longer and you'll need more options. Cold places are an extra challenge because most babies wee more in winter which means you'll be changing more often.
Your travelling style also affects how many nappies you need. If you're staying in one place the whole holiday, you have more time to wash and dry. However, if you're on the move, you can't dry nappies in a backpack.
Some tips on hand washing inserts:
Soaking the inserts can help. If possible, use a wet pail (a bucket of water) rather than a dry pail. Don't soak your covers though as it can ruin the elastics.
After washing, make sure you rinse thoroughly. I usually do two rinses otherwise I struggle with detergent build up. I know I'm done when the water is no longer soapy.
Wring out: this is the hardest part of handwashing and is a good time to call in strong husbands. Unfortunately, our hands will never meet up to the efficiency of a spin cycle, so our inserts will take a little longer to dry.
If your inserts dry 'hard', just rub them together a bit.
6. Be prepared.
I never leave home without the following things:
A wetbag for dirty nappies. (Although I have had wee nappies in my handbag somedays, I wouldn't recommend it.)
A wipeable changing mat. 9 out of 10 times I've found that dad's lap is the most hygienic place to change. However, sometimes I've needed to change on the floor of an airport or a bathroom in a restaurant. The changing mat offers peace of mind when you're changing somewhere with potential germs.
Certain parts of the world, like Asia, have toilet sprayers (bidets) which are used instead of toilet paper. These make excellent diaper sprayers and can be used to spray off any non-floppable poop. Otherwise, you might need a plastic knife to scrap solids into the toilet.
7. Be gentle on yourself
And lastly, a holiday is meant to be enjoyed. If you have to use disposables for a day or two because of bad weather or a long ride somewhere, just do it. You can still be a responsible disposable user: continue to dump solids into the toilet (as human waste is not intended for landfills) and dispose of them in proper dustbins.