At first thought, buying a diaper bag for travel doesn't seem like a big deal. Change pad -- check; pockets and compartments -- check. And so on. But after going through four different bags within the first 10 months of my son's life, I can factually say they are not created equal -- nor do they serve the same purpose.
I am a firm believer that sometimes you have to purchase something that might not be ideal for "everyday" but it makes your life easier in irreplaceable ways. On that note, here are some guidelines to finding a great diaper bag for travel.
(1) Horizontal, rectangular shape. Storing your bag by your feet is easier above you in luggage compartments. For this reason alone, horizontal, rectangular bags work best because they fit. If you've ever been on an airplane you know that the room by your feet is precious so make the most of it with a bag that fits.
(2) Wide opening. Often times, when traveling with a toddler or infant, you've only got one hand free to dig around in your bag. Make sure yours has a wide opening so you can easily access items. Although multiple internal compartments might work well for everyday, when you're traveling it isn't always the best way to go. I use large storage baggies to store separate items and then I just reach in and grab that baggie. For example, all rubber teething toys are cleaned and put into a bag. It is fun for my baby to look at and sort through and I don't have to dig around trying to find a small set of infant keys within the abyss of a bag.
(3) Convenient closure. I never thought the top of a diaper bag would matter much until security officials tip, scan and toss around your bag. Look for something that you can fasten up with one hand. Test them out and find something you can do quickly and with ease. I prefer and end to end zipper that doesn't hang over the edge of the bag. A button or tick often isn't enough to withstand all your bag will go through.
(4) Choose washable fabric. Remember, you'll often be storing your bag at your feet and setting it down in some questionable places on your voyage (public restrooms, security conveyor belts, airplane floors, sidewalks and so on) so select a bag that you can wipe down after your trip -- especially the bottom panel.
(5) Comfortable to carry. When your diaper bag is all packed up it tends to take on a life of its own. It'll slide off your shoulder at inconvenient times and somehow grow too large to stow under your stroller. Make sure your bag is comfortable to carry for long periods of time. If traveling by public transportation there's a good chance you'll be holding it while waiting in lineups and moving through cues to get to your plane/train/bus. Choose a strap option that works for you and your partner. I find back pack styles or mid-length over the shoulder straps ideal.
My list of top travel diaper bags:
(1) Fisher Price Fast Finder Pocket System
This is the Rolls Royce of Diaper Bags in terms of functionality. The feature that won me over is the side pocket specifically for wipes that is accessible with a touch, without removing the wipes container from the bag - huge bonus points, especially for travel (wiping down a plane or train seat). As a Type-A mom this makes me very, very happy.
The size is ideal, it's easy to wipe down, and the interior is spacious enough for all of my sorted storage bags. The exterior pockets are great for snacks, extra wipes and any other frequently used items. And there's bottle storage which holds two small/med bottles. The only thing I would add to this is a narrow zipper pocket along the outside as a separate area for the change pad. The germaphobe in me likes everything to be contained. The top closure zipper can get a bit twisted up as well but the pros far outweigh any issues we encountered. This brand and style also comes in a back pack option.
(2) The 7AM Enfant Barcelona Bag.
I am a huge fan of 7AM Enfant products. We use the igloo sac, the stroller mittens, infant boots, the adjustable car seat liner and so on. I was thrilled to discover their Barcelona Diaper Bag - the hardest part was choosing one of the vibrant colours.
When it arrived by mail (I shop a lot online) I had just had my c-section so the super lightweight fabric was a bonus. The bag can be folded up for easy storage or travel and it's easy to wipe down. If you're concerned about your back or shoulders, this is a great bag. It's a no-fuss bag -- what you see is what you get. Two exterior pockets, one small insert and a change pad. Not a lot of bells and whistles.
On the flip side, the Barcelona felt slightly cumbersome due to the vertical length. Crucial items would fall to the bottom of the bag and I could never seem to find them without unpacking everything at the top.
Price: Approx. $85 (depends on colour)
(3) Hula Hoop Carry-All Messenger Bag by LUG
Many favorite brands (like LUG, Burberry, LeSportSac, Lole etc) design bags that function well as diaper bags without being overtly 'baby' -- like the Hula Hoop Carry-All. This was one of the first bags my hubby and I got and we still use it as a great every day bag. I love the separate change pad compartment that keeps the pad away from the rest of the bag. There is a special zip pocket at the bottom of the bag (that can be used for gym shoes if no longer needed as a diaper bag) that is perfect to hold soiled clothes or diapers.
There are clips to fasten it to your stroller and a special strap to secure it to your luggage when traveling. The price range varies depending on the colour choice. It's compact and great for one child and we use it most often for quick outings and play dates.
(4) Back Pack diaper bags
From Skip Hop and Okkatots to Fisher Price and The Jeep Perfect Pocket, back packs are popular options for travel bags. I am a huge proponent of these arm-free bags simply because they're snug and secure on your back leaving your hands free. My husband and I still use our Oakley and Herschel bags, respectively, and haven't bought a knap sac style baby bag yet. But I've checked them out in store and a lot of the tips and functions I mentioned earlier in the post are available in your favorite brands back packs.
When all is said and done, travel diaper bags are a breed unto themselves. Just like adults need and buy suitcases that fit their needs, the same applies for infants. Selecting the right shape, fabric, straps, weight and style can greatly impact the ease at which you travel.
Enjoy and safe voyage!