To Pack or Not to Pack: the Car Seat
Updated: Mar 4, 2019
Should you bring a car seat on your travels?
We debated this heavily. Do we want to lug a carseat around? How much will we really use it? Ultimately we decided yes on the car seat, but reluctantly.
Basically we knew that we’d absolutely need it at least three times between October and March: 1) in Italy in November when we went to the countryside, 2) in Scotland in January when we go to the Highlands, 3) in Morocco in February when we go to the mountains. Plus on the way to the airport in SF and from the airport to our apartment in Rome, ie our initial leg of travel.
So we were balancing the total pain of schlepping the thing for months with the knowledge that if we didn’t we’d have to pay to rent at least three times for around a week each. And that we’d have to book some specific car service TBD to handle our initial airport trips (and would likely need to continue to do this vs taking cabs). The cost each time for rentals was hard to ascertain exactly but the internet seemed to think that we’d need to spend around $13/day, though perhaps with a cap per rental.
We did also note based on reading online that there is some question about the safety of rented car seats because who knows how they store them or if they’d been in accidents, though honestly that did not factor heavily in to the calculus as I would tend to trust major rental car companies on this front, at least those in litigious or consumer protectionist societies.
We left for our trip when WP was 8mo old and at that point we had been using an infant car seat at home, and the idea of carrying that monster around was depressing. But after some quick research I realized she was big enough for a convertible car seat and there were some very lightweight, if still bulky, options. This really sealed the deal. Lots of folks pointed us to the Cosco Scenera Next, which is super lightweight, and around $40. Once we realized we weren’t talking about a $300 infant behemoth the calculus changed a bit. If we bought and brought the Scenera this meant that 1) we’d be saving money over renting car seats, 2) if we totally hated schlepping the thing around, we could ditch it and we wouldn’t be out a crazy amount of money.
Of course the convertible seat has a downside too. Once your kid moves from an infant car seat to a convertible car seat there is not really a good ‘bring the car seat with you around town’ option - ie no snap-and-go’s/caddies. Which meant that the car seat couldn’t integrate into a strolling option and thus couldn’t be useful for a day out in the city with cabs. We’d still be using public transit all day every day. (Although -- see my note below on cabs with no car seat.)
Now that we’re a few months into the trip, I’m honestly not sure if it’s been worth schlepping the thing to avoid the cost of renting a car seat intermittently. We got a strap that attaches it to our luggage, which is helpful (actually indispensable) when we’re rolling suitcases along in between destinations, but every time we get on or off a train we have to take the car seat off. More schlepping.
We definitely chose the most cost effective option, but in the scheme of the cost of the trip, I’m not sure if it was the right one.
That said, if you’re headed on a shorter trip and you know you’ll need a carseat, I think bringing a lightweight convertible one makes a lot of sense. But if you’re in a “we might need it” or “we’ll need it occasionally” scenario, I think I’d default to renting it as needed so you don’t have to carry it around.
Update! A friend read this post and shared that she has rented cars and carseats in 11 different locations within and outside the US and she would ALWAYS travel with her own carseat moving forward. In her experience the seats are often not installed properly by the rental agencies and then you find yourself YouTubing carseat installation instructions by the side of the road in a foreign country. She'd much rather have a seat she knows how to install and use.
A small note on riding in cabs
The idea of getting in a car with WP without a carseat while in the US was horrifying to me. We drove or took transit everywhere in SF, and if we took a Lyft to the airport we had the carseat with us. But quick research showed that it is legal to ride in the back of a cab holding a child in your lap in Italy and Amsterdam (and all the countries we’re going to so far as I’m aware) and it’s very common. (It’s also what I did as a child, but then again my parents grew up with no seat belts in their cars, so, you know, safety progresses over time.) We do not take WP in cabs often, and we do not do this on the highway, but we do it to and from train stations and occasionally when there is no other practical way from point A to point B.
A German friend gave me a tip, which is to wear your child in a baby carrier, facing inward, and to buckle the seatbelt around you (not them -- so waist belt is under their legs against your lap and shoulder strap is over their head against your chest) so just in case of a crash you’re not just gripping the kid. So, while we still almost always walk or take public transit, occasionally as needed, that’s what we do.