In the recovery period of an exhausting family activity day, I realized I still have some things to learn about taking my baby out. I've done several shorter or less involved outings that went pretty smoothly, so I thought I had this covered. But there were a few differences that made it a whole different ball game. First, I'd never done cloth diapers on a long day away from home. My son started getting a rash from wearing disposables while the cloth diapers were in the wash, so I decided to bite the bullet use cloth. Second, I'd never spent a day out that wasn't primarily at someone else's home, especially not at a large, crowded, noisy restaurant with a long wait for everything because of the holiday. Next time I'll be ready!
Do expect to take 2-3 times as long as anticipated. Our impromptu Father's Day gathering involved the meeting of several of my extended family members and their children for a mini family reunion with a total of 14 people. The wait at the restaurant pushed us 30 minutes past our reservation. Even though we sat at two separate tables, the high business volume made all of our courses run 10-15 minutes later than usual. The talk between our two tables and oohing and aahing over the baby made everyone eat slower than usual. It took three times longer than was typical to close out our tabs because of the busyness at the restaurant. Then there was the after meal catch up session at my uncle and aunt's house during which almost everyone got caught up in watching Avatar, a 2.5 hour movie, on my Uncle's big screen HDTV.
Do bring more outfits than you think you'll need. I almost didn't do this. I thought for sure the most he could possibly need was 2 extra outfits, so I almost put the third one back in the drawer. He spit up all over the first one at the restaurant. Then while visiting with my family, my son decided to bathe himself in his own drool. So I ended up using the third outfit, which I originally believed superfluous.
Don't wear the heels. You know all the walking around you do at home to offer comfort and succor to your fussy baby while you wait for his bottle to warm up, to convince him that he's sleepy, or when he's randomly upset for reasons unbeknownst to you? Enough said.
Do invest in a wet/dry bag. If you plan to cloth diaper full-time, this is the way to go. I used the little green dirty diaper sacks which are basically mini plastic bags. I don't have a sack dispenser, so I had to search for the wad of bags every time I did a diaper change. Only 2-3 cloth diapers fit in each, and you have to knot them off to make sure they don't escape in your diaper bag. After a full day out, I ended up with 4 tightly knotted sacks floating around which I had to rip open when I got home. Do yourself a favor. Get the wet/dry bag. They come in a dizzying array of sizes, styles, and patterns. You can use one side for all your clean diapers and changing items while keeping the dirty diapers safely sealed off in the other compartment. It's more organized, convenient, and less waste. They also double as great swim bags, so you'll be using it long after your child is out of diapers.
Do bring extra diapers, formula, and other basics. When it comes to diapers and food, it's always better to have more and not need it than not enough. I brought much more than I needed because I expected that we would take longer than everyone insisted was the maximum. Because we took longer than even I anticipated, however, I used every single cloth diaper and diaper cover I brought then had to use the emergency disposables and I used almost all the formula I brought with me.
Do bring the travel bottle warmer. If you bottle feed and you're driving longer than about an hour, these are absolutely indispensable, especially if you drive these kinds of distances regularly. I live in a rural area, so this is definitely true for me. You can find good travel warmers for under $15, and I'll definitely be getting one before my next road trip (4 hour drive to a wedding in July). Use the bottle warmer to keep the water heated up for the next meal. When baby gets ready to eat, just add formula, dissolve, and feed. Easy!
Don't be shy to tell people when it's time to leave. No one knows your baby like you do. You know her routine, and you know when she's had enough socializing. Leave before your baby reaches her limit. It's better to cut the visit short than to have a long drive home with a crying, hungry, sleepy baby who's too cranky to eat or fall asleep. Once you're on the road, it's not as easy to comfort your little one. Drive separately if that's what it takes to avoid staying out too late.