Traveling With a Car Seat for Your Kids: What Are Your Options?4 min read
Any parent who has traveled with a child who still needs a car seat knows what a nightmare it can be. Tell me if this sounds familiar: A few years ago, my wife and I arrived in Mexico with our 5-year-old son. We wait—and wait—for the car seat we packed to come through baggage claim. As the conveyor belt eventually emptied out with no car seat in sight, we had to come up with Plan B. The rental car service we planned to use was sure to have a seat. However, since we hadn’t reserved it, there were no spares available. Cut to us standing at the curb in front of our transportation to the hotel with a tough decision to make.
It’s never good to start a vacation with a risky car ride in a foreign country with your little guy or girl in a less-than-secure seat. Here are a few of the options you should consider, pros and cons of each, and what to do if your plan doesn’t work out.
Bring a Car Seat
The advantage of bringing your own car seat is that you know it’s going to fit your child like a glove. If you’re traveling with a really young child, you can even bring it on the plane and strap it into the seat (as long as it’s FAA approved).
If you’re checking it, the good news is that car seats fly free. Invest in a good tote to protect your car seat en route, so it’s not all dirty and banged up by the time it reaches your destination. If you don’t have a tote, most airlines will have sturdy bags to cover it for you. In either case, don’t plan on loading a bunch of other stuff in the tote to avoid checked-bag fees; the airlines are on to that trick, and will do a quick inspection before putting it on the conveyor belt.
The disadvantage of “BYOSeat” is that they are heavy and hard to lug around a new city or locale in a foreign country.
Rent a Car Seat
Another option is to rent a car seat through your car rental agency. Of course, do it well in advance so you don’t run into the same last-minute scramble I did. The advantage here is obvious; you don’t have to do all the lugging yourself. The one thing that you will want to be sure of is that the car seat is properly installed so it’s not a bad idea to triple-check.
The disadvantage is that you never know what you’re going to get, especially in non-Western countries. We’ve been given some pretty janky-looking car seats that seemed almost more dangerous than not having one at all. If possible, give the car rental agency a call before you arrive to learn the make and model of the car seats they offer.
Bring a Booster
Car booster seats are a great option if your child is older and big enough. They are a little smaller than a full-sized car seat, so the lug factor is significantly reduced. The disadvantage is that you’re limited in using the booster seat; it’s only appropriate for children who have exceeded the weight limit on a full car seat (65 pounds) and are under 4’9”.
I’ve used the Bubblebum inflatable car seat for a few years with good success, which is perfect because it deflates for easy packing.
Invest in a Travel Vest
This option is new to me and on the list of upgrades to explore for my summer travel with our son. Travel vests like Ride Safer offer all of the safety advantages of a car seat or booster without any of the bulk. The only disadvantage I can see is that they may take some getting used to; there’s a strap that extends between the child’s legs, which looks a bit uncomfortable.
If you’re planning to try a vest, practice at home since online reviews say it’s not necessarily intuitive and may need adjustment. It’s also a good idea to have it on your child before the rideshare or taxi pulls up to avoid delays (and angry drivers/cabbies). But if it works out this summer, you can be sure the vest will be in my regular rotation outside of vacation; imagine the freedom of taking Uber or Lyft in your hometown without worrying about safety issues or car seats.