If you have missed out on the distinct pleasure of traveling with kids who need car seats, count yourself lucky. It is a logistical nightmare. If you are traveling through more than one country, you will encounter more than one set of transportation laws tempting you to just call the whole thing off. I don’t blame you; it is difficult. But you are a parent! Difficult is your middle name! Here are a few things to consider when traveling with car-seat-aged-children to smooth the ride!
The first thing you must do is find out the laws in the province/state/country where you will be traveling and take this as your bare minimum standard. In Canada our standards are very strict but that doesn’t mean it it’s wise to follow the more lax laws in other jurisdictions. Each Canadian province and territory has their own laws for car seats, but Transport Canada recommends keeping children rear-facing until they have outgrown the manufacturers’ height and weight limits, and keeping them in a forward facing five point harness until they have outgrown the manufacturers’ height and weight limits before moving them to a booster. We recently took a Caribbean cruise that left from Galveston, Texas, ultimately visiting 3 countries. The only part of the entire trip we needed car seats, according to the law, was in Texas while the other countries left it to the discretion of the parents. In Texas we took a shuttle from the airport to our hotel, a shuttle company that would not have transported us if we hadn’t brought seats with us.
Take public transportation
True busses rarely have seat belts, much less tethers or UAS anchors but it is generally accepted (even under Canadian laws) that car seats on public transportation aren’t necessary. If you are going to be on the bus, you likely don’t need a car seat. However, to make it tricky, taxis and minicabs are sometimes considered public transportation, but not always. That means you may not be legally required to have a car seat in a cab in Alberta, but you are in Nova Scotia. Again, this falls back to research.
Car rental agencies usually have car seats available to rent to their customers and in larger cities baby equipment rental companies are pretty common (and may deliver your rented car seats to the airport!) which is a great way to avoid lugging your car seats through the airport. The downside is it can be expensive (even more so if you have to rent more than one!) and they are not always up to your exacting standards. While I don’t speak from personal experience it seems car rental agencies have received harsher reviews than the companies that rent baby gear. Going through the comments on a website like Yelp or TripAdvisor, you will find anecdotes of dirty car seats, car seats that are not there even though they had been reserved, or even car seats that have passed the expiry date. It is definitely enough to make one pause for thought.
Travel car seats and alternatives:
Some car seats travel better than others. I recently tried the RideSafer® Vest from Safe Ride 4 Kids, and I am sold. It is a vest that uses the existing safety features of the car (i.e. seatbelt and cushion) but instead of raising the child up like in a booster, it keeps the centre of gravity low. It is handy because it is approved for use in a slightly younger/smaller demographic than booster seats are: three years old and 30 lbs minimum for the small size, max of 8 years/80 lbs for the large size. My son was pleased to put on the “astronaut vest” for the car rides and we got the hang of clipping it in very quickly. Unfortunately the RideSafer is not approved for use in Canada yet, (although according to the company they have legal Canadian customers who have a doctor’s prescription for their children with special needs that are unable to use a traditional car seat.) It is approved in the US and many Asian countries, and in 28 European Union member countries (when used in conjunction with the RideSafer booster.) Other examples of travel car seats are the inflatable/collapsible Bubble Bum –again, not cleared for use in Canada, and the Radian seats by Diono which are heavy due to their steel frame, but fold flat for storage. The Diono seats are approved for use in Canada, so while they are more expensive than the others, they could function as your regular car seat at home, and they are rated for infant use, which the others are not.
Bring your own
Yes they are awkward to lug, but the upside is you already know how to clip it into your car, you know it is a safe seat, and the mystery stain is your mystery stain. There are several products out there that make it easier to bring your own seat: bags to protect the seat in transit, straps to enable you to sling it over your shoulder like a backpack, and wheeled frames that turn the car seat into a stroller. Most airlines do not count car seats against your baggage allowance so consider checking it to avoid hauling it through the airport. When you check in, the agent will bag it in a huge plastic bag and attach a luggage tag to the strap. We found you need to re-adjust the straps on the other side, I suspect the car seats may be picked up by the straps in baggage handling, and I have heard people tell of seeing seats being tossed onto conveyor belts at the airport. One downside of checking your seat is the possibility it won’t arrive at your destination when you do. Considering the amount of luggage handled on any given day, it is amazing that lost luggage is the exception rather than the norm, but a lost car seat means you are stranded at the airport until you can find an alternative. Another option is to bring the seat with you on the plane and strap your child into it. A car seat approved for use on airplanes (check the manual) will protect your child from being thrown around the cabin if something goes amiss. It also will boost them up so they can see out the window, and the comfort of familiar surroundings may ease anxiety, even encourage them to sleep!
Traveling with car seats adds a whole new layer of planning and possibly cost. But as with most things, you will find a little legwork beforehand will pay off in spades once you finally get (safely!) to your destination.
Family Fun Canada strongly urges you to research the laws in place at your destination and always use an appropriate car seat. The material in this article is for informational purposes and is not intended nor implied to be professional advice.