Traveling with smaller children brings added challenges and baggage. I hate over packing and one of the things I dread dragging along most is a car seat for my toddler. I would never suggest compromising safety for convenience, so here is how I determine when to rent it, when to bring it and even when to buy it new.
Rent: Car Rental Agencies
There are a few ways to rent car seats while traveling, one of the easiest ways is by adding it on to a car rental. Most car rental agencies have car seats available for adding on to your car rental reservation. Typically adding on a car seat will cost about $8 to $12 per day and some car rental agencies will have a weekly discount available. AAA members can receive one free car seat rental per reservation when booking through Hertz.
The car seats I have come across while renting are usually pretty basic, feel flimsy and rarely have I seen one I would consider my preferred brand. While car rental agencies will guarantee the safety of the car seat, every time you rent through the agency we are really taking their word for it. Dollar Rent A Car says this about the safety guarantee of their car seats:
“Thrifty purchases safety seats centrally through the company’s Purchasing Department to ensure that they meet Federal or State Regulations. Upon return, each car seat rental is checked for defects (to ensure proper functioning) and missing parts (i.e. straps, buckles, etc.). Child safety seats are always stored in plastic storage bags to ensure they remain in good condition.”
How could we ever be certain that a car seat was not in an accident, cleaned thoroughly and safely, or how did the previous user treat the seat?
If we are on a super quick trip where we fly to our destination late on Friday and are heading back home early on Sunday, I may choose to rent a car seat over checking our personal one in, though these short trips are rare. Lugging the seat from the car to the airport and waiting at baggage claim on short trips is never a fun process – but it’s a matter of weighing out frustrations versus the uncertainty of installing an unfamiliar seat.
Rent: Third-Party Options
If you are not renting a car but would like to rent a car seat upon arrival at your destination, there are some companies both locally and nationally who will rent you a car seat (among many other items) for a daily, weekly or even monthly rate.
Sites like babysaway.com specializes in equipment rentals for traveling with a child if you are traveling to the cities they have available. The prices are similar at around $10 per day or $60 per week. If you are headed somewhere for a longer period of time and would like some say on what brand of seat you like, some of these places are able to offer various styles and brands and may be able to better accommodate specific needs over a car rental agency.
On an extended trip to Florida (a destination that we frequent to visit family) my mother in law suggested we rent a car seat from a local shop that specialized in renting out baby equipment for traveling families. When I looked at the prices for our length of trip I realized that I could buy my exact car seat for my daughter for almost the same price. I just couldn’t justify paying the money to rent a seat that may not be what I am used to and that I would have to give back after spending all of that money.
That’s when I decided that I would buy an extra seat to keep in Florida.
Buy It: Sometimes it’s Cheaper
Now this may not work for everyone, but with some planning this worked out for us. The part where this can get a little tricky is upon exiting the airport at your destination with out a seat. There are a few ways to accomplish this task:
If you are already renting a car, add-on a car seat so that you can safely leave the airport with child. Find a Target, Wal-Mart, or other store that sells car seats, the closer to the airport the better, (because you will be headed back there). Find your preferred seat, install and then head back to the airport to turn in the rented car seat. (You will still be charged for one day, but then the car rental agency should drop the daily charges from rest of the rental agreement.)
We were able to purchase a new car seat before we arrived in Florida. I searched for a seat online and had it delivered to my mother’s house since she would be our ride from the airport. She put the seat in her car and when she picked us up I installed the seat and we were quickly on our way.
The bonus of knowing someone in a destination you frequent is helpful, it allows us to store the seat while we are away and use it every time we return. If my mother is not there to pick us up we either use the rent and return a seat for one day trick (as stated above), or we have other options such as splitting up where two of us take the bus to my mother’s house while one person drives the rental car. We have never done it this way personally, but public transportation could be a helpful solution for some. If you do not know someone who you could leave the car seat with, it still seems more economic to purchase a seat and fly it back home with you where you could have an extra seat on hand, or donate it to someone in need, owning it just seems to make more sense to me.
Most of the time, it makes sense to put up with the hassle and bring the car seat along. Long term holidays make it a no-brainer, but it is in the middle term (4-6 day trips) that are a little tough.
Bringing your car seat along isn’t always an easy decision. On a trip to India (our stroller was a combination of car seat and wheels) both units suffered heavy damage. While those sorts of stroller/car seat combos mostly make life easier, they are very expensive and incurring damage reduces the value when you go to sell it after your child has grown out of it.
One way to mitigate damage caused by traveling to your expensive car seat is via Southwest. I am not suggesting you fly them (though we sometimes do and find it to be a very easy airline to fly), but rather that you pick up one of their car seat/stroller bags. For $15 you can buy a reusable zipped bag that will hold any car seat, stroller or combination. This keeps the elements off of your gear (sometimes bags and car seats get wet when transferring from the cargo hold outside to the baggage cart). It also keeps all of the elements of your car seat and stroller together.
Though it is branded Southwest, we still use this no matter who we are flying and have never had an issue, though we are sure that some baggage handlers probably get a confused look when they pull it from the hold with an orange priority tag.
Alternatives to Renting, Buying or Bringing
Lucy is old enough now to use a Cares Safety Harness on board. The requirements state that children need to be able to sit upright and weigh between 20-44lbs. For those that find themselves in this category, it’s an affordable, safe way to transport children without using a car seat on board the plane. Upon arrival, hotel shuttles may keep you away from ever needing a car seat.
On the subject of hotels, some may provide a car seat during your visit. Quality hotels like the Park Hyatt Beijing will send a car equipped with a child seat for a fee (our [then] Hyatt Diamond status made this option affordable). However, you may come across similar issues as renting a car seat that were discussed earlier. We tried this on a quick trip to Beijing and while I was excited that my hotel had this option available, the seat had no chest clip and was forward facing while I still had my daughter rear facing at home, so it may be smart to clarify certain standards of the seat before arriving. Using the concierge can also help you locate family friendly taxis or transportation options so that you may not need to bring one at all.
Do you have any tips or tricks for traveling with a car seat that I have missed?