Heavy Doodie Travel: Diaper Bag Basics
One of the first pieces of baby equipment you acquire on your journey as a new parent is a diaper bag.
If you ever plan to leave the house, you need some kind of tote to schlep all the necessary supplies and incidentals you might need for the little one while away from home.
If you plan to travel as a family, be it a day trip, a week’s vacation, a month at grandma’s or a longer excursion, you’ll need a bag that’ll go the distance. Here are some considerations for choosing a travel-worthy diaper bag.
First, determine whether you need a small or large diaper bag. If you will most likely be carting other cases and carry-on luggage with you when you travel, perhaps a small, handy, lightweight tote with room enough for basic diaper changing essentials is all you need. However, if you want your diaper bag to double as your carryall for changing, feeding, clothing, toys, parent items and beyond, something a little more substantial is in order.
If flights are in your future, make sure the bag’s dimensions comply with carry-on regulations, which can range depending on the airline. Most stipulate that the bag cannot exceed 45 linear inches (115cm) or weigh more than 11 lbs (5kg) to 22lbs (10kg), and can fit in the overhead compartment or underneath the seat in front of you.
Determine what style of diaper bag suits you. This is not just in terms of fashion (although that’s a legitimate factor, too!), but in terms of how on your body you like to carry things. A backpack is ideal for travel as it comfortably distributes the weight and leaves your hands free for other responsibilities like carrying the baby or other travel paraphernalia. The downside is, you don’t have easy access to items without stopping to take it off your back.
A shoulder bag is the most common style, as you can simply sling it over on one side and, once your fingers become nimble to it, quickly access items with one hand (you can never grab a bottle, pacifier or spit-up cloth fast enough). Make sure it has a wide, padded shoulder strap for comfort.
Messenger bags and sling bags can be more ergonomic as they distribute the weight across the body better plus they don’t dangle and flop around so much. Dads tend to think they look cool and masculine, too.
Saddlebags that hook onto a stroller are great for zipping around with wheels, but unless your stroller is ever-present you’ll need one that comes with a shoulder strap, too. A roomy tote, satchel or duffle-style diaper bag are some other options that lend themselves well to travel.
And finally, a word on the fashion factor. Determine if you are designer devotee, an urban trendster, a sporty sort, a practical parent or a cutie pie. You’re going to be carrying a diaper bag for at least a year or two (more if you want it to take you through multiple babies) so make sure the color, style and design reflect Mom and Dad’s sensibilities. There’s a lot of great stylish models out there these days so you’re no longer limited to frills, polkadots and Winnie the Pooh motifs.
Pockets Pockets Everywhere
The term “diaper bag” is a bit of a misnomer, as there’s usually a lot more than diapers in there. Having a place for everything helps you maintain some degree of organization and sanity while on the go with your baby – the last thing you want to do is fumble around blindly or empty out your entire contents in search of an urgent item. Multiple pockets, zippered compartments, elastic straps, pouches, mesh holders, hooks, loops, bungee cords and Velcro fasteners are what separate diaper bags from just another carryall.
First and foremost, you’ll want ample space for diapers, a removable change pad, wipes (a hard travel case that prevents these from drying out is a nice-to-have) plus travel size bottles of ointments, lotions, hand sanitizer and the like. Room for a small first aid kit is handy for day trippers and travelers alike. A removable tote bag for small accessories or a one-off change kit is convenient for times when you don’t want to bring the big bag with you (ie. airplane bathrooms).
You’ll want a large inner compartment for bulkier items like a change of clothes, a blanket and a jacket or sweater. Look for a bag that has a separate space for “dirty duds” and soiled diapers you can’t dispose of properly while you’re out and about – plastic bags are a good first layer of defense, but a having a dedicated holding area helps keep things sanitary.
Think about your parenting choices when selecting a diaper bag. Are you going to be using cloth diapers or disposables? Cloth diapers take up more room plus you’ll need a larger compartment to cart soiled items home. Are you going to be breastfeeding or bottle feeding? You may need to think about padded pockets for breast pumps and accessories or insulated pockets for bottles, formula and related paraphernalia.
As your baby grows you’ll want room for spill-proof cups, juice boxes, snack containers, prepared food jars, spoons, bowls and bibs. Cooler compartments plus hot and cold packs can go a long way. Space for toys and diversions become increasingly more important as your baby develops. You’ll want space for a few lightweight, travel-sized distractions – rattling plastic toys that can hook onto a loop are particularly handy. Later on in the life cycle, you may need room for a portable potty and other toilet training devices.
Don’t forget a place for parent items, too – sunglasses, cell phone, keys, money, water bottle. For travelers, a safe, easy-access pocket that can hold passports, tickets, pens, maps and a digital camera is handy.
Other Key FeaturesYour diaper bag is going to be dragged through a lot of use, so make sure you choose something made of durable material with solid construction. A water-resistant, wipeable surface is ideal. You want strong, smooth-gliding zippers that don’t catch and clasps that stay shut. Look for wide openings so you don’t have to struggle to retrieve items, and clear or mesh inner pockets so you can easily see the contents at a glance.
Diaper bags come in all shapes, sizes and price points. You might be tempted to go for something cheap and cheerful, but you get what you pay for and these tend to fall apart with wear and tear. It pays to invest in something that’ll serve you well through years of travel.
Here are a few suggested diaper bags brands for hardy travelers.