Traveling with children is known to be Kind Of A Thing. Snacks, blankies, diaper gear, extra shoes (how are they always getting their shoes wet?), small backpacks, activities… does the list of gear ever end?
And then there’s the car seat. This trusted safety device flies under the radar while you’re at home, sitting placidly in your car waiting to protect your child on the road. However, when you’re leaving the car behind, it becomes a bit of an issue:
Should I bring it? Should I leave it behind? Should I rent another car seat? Should I maybe just kennel the kid along with the puppy and call it good?
All right, no one’s kenneling kids around here. (Although, tbh, many a 5-year-old would love to be left at doggy daycare for a few hours.) And since the kiddos are definitely coming with you, that means you need to figure out what to do with the seat.
In today’s post, let’s take a look at car seats as they pertain to various forms of transportation. We’ll also consider renting car seats, protecting them en route, and some FAQs.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: The Basic Breakdown
There are different factors to consider depending on how you’re traveling.
First, let’s take a quick detour to discuss the options for traveling with small children on airplanes. Most airlines allow children up to 2 to sit on parental laps for free, without having to pay for an additional ticket.
As soon as they turn 2, the “lap infant” rule expires and you must buy them their own seat. In my humble opinion, though, I don’t think children past 18 months should sit on their parents’ laps if possible.
They are much harder to contain at this age and will have an easier time falling asleep on long flights if they are sitting next to a parent rather than on them.
However, that is a decision that depends on finances and individual choice. Knowing this, some parents choose to bring infant car seats onto the plane.
If you purchase an individual ticket for your child so that they can have their own seat, you will have to pay no matter what age they are. Car seats are considered luggage, so they will have to meet the dimension requirements in order to go into the cabin.
You can also bring car seats on a plane but put them in the hold.
To do that, you simply check the seat at the ticket counter or curbside when you get to the airport. It is free, and you can pick the car seat up with the rest of your baggage upon arriving at your destination.
Traveling by train? The most important note here is that trains do not have seat belts or latches. That means there’s nowhere to secure an infant seat, unlike on a plane or in a car.
If you choose to go by train, you can either sit your children in the seats beside you or, if your infant is in a car seat, place that on the seat.
However, if it rocks, you’ll need to make sure it’s secured by hand when the train stops, starts, or stutters. Otherwise the seat may fall off, taking the baby with it.
Sometimes you just want a good old-fashioned road trip, which makes traveling with your car seat a lot easier – it’s already right there!
However, if you are taking a road trip that leaves from somewhere else, then you must ask whether to bring your seat with you or rent one. Let’s take a look at that next.
Renting a Car Seat
Many car rental companies offer seats for rent. This can save your back en route and make traveling with kids that much less burdensome.
However, there are a few caveats here:
- You should not count on salespeople knowing how to install car seats. You will need to do that on your own and ensure that it is installed correctly
- Your child may not like a different car seat. If you plan to do this, try to test out another car seat at home first – say, a friend’s or sibling’s seat
- Car seats cost between $10 and $20 a day, plus tax. If you have multiple children, then the extra hassle of bringing seats is probably worth it to avoid the fees, considering checking them is free
Leaving the Car Seat Behind
On some trips, you can get away with leaving your car seat behind entirely. If you plan to take public transportation, for instance, then bringing car seats isn’t any safer than leaving them, since there is no way to secure them on buses, trains, and metros. This is also a personal choice.
How to Protect Your Car Seat in Transit
If you do plan to bring your car seat, beware. Tarmac employees do not have time to lovingly place your seat in a secure area where it won’t get bumped, bruised, and scuffed.
They load it onto the conveyor belt, where it tumbles down into the hold – and the chips fall where they may.
Most parents want to avoid dirt and scuffs, which is where car seat bags come in. These are extremely useful, allowing you to protect your bag by pulling a sturdy layer of nylon or canvas over your seat before traveling.
I am perfectly happy with this car seat cover, though I will say that it’s sometimes hard to lug around because the handles aren’t that easy. Other models have other designs, fabrics, and so on.
A word of caution: make sure when choosing your bag that you size it correctly. Infant bags and those for older children are not the same size or dimensions, so they’re not interchangeable. Do your research and you can avoid the hassle of having to return something.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions when traveling with a car seat:
Do I need to bring a car seat for my child(ren)?
Whether you bring a car seat on your trip is up to you. You can rent them in America at almost all car rental companies, and can often do so abroad as well. Many people choose to take their own, however, since they know how to operate them correctly, which leads to a higher level of safety for the child.
Can I take a car seat on a plane?
Yes. If your child still sits in an infant car seat, you can take it right onto the plane and put it in a seat, assuming you’ve purchased a ticket for them. If you don’t want your car seat in the cabin, you can check it.
How do I check a car seat?
To check a car seat, simply bring it to the luggage counter or a curbside check station. Fill out a tag for the seat, attach it to a handle, and give it to airport personnel to run through the X-ray machine and load onto the plane.
If you’re going to use a bag to protect your seat, put it on before you get to the counter. It’s a bit of an ordeal and the people behind you won’t appreciate waiting.
Do I need to pay to bring my car seat?
No, you don’t need to pay to bring your seat on a plane. It is free to check it.
Travel Smart with a Car Seat-Proof Plan
So… have seat, will travel? Yep, it’s pretty much as simple as that. Think it through ahead of time, do tests if you need to, and decide on the smartest course of action for you – then enjoy your vacation without stress!