Car Seat Travel Dilemma: Rent or Carry?

This is a guest post from Debbie Dubrow of She has blogged extensively about the safety of car seats and the corresponding dilemma parents face when traveling around the convenience/risk of renting vs. the hassle/peace-of-mind of bringing your own.

We’ve done both over the years and in the end, the best solution for us during the toddler stage was to bring a sit-n-stroll car seat specifically geared for traveling (today, we bring our booster seat.) The best feature is that you can easily transport a sleeping child from the airplane or car without having to wake them up—caveat, our son is a very deep sleeper. Seamless transfers are critical on international flights where the hours spent on a plane and time zone changes are extreme. I wish we had something like this for our 6-year-old today!  The other note is that these strollers are lousy for cities since they don’t recline or have sun shades, i.e. they are good for airports, but you still need to bring a decent stroller to use at your destination.

To Debbie’s point, we’ve also had our share of rental disasters. Note, the seats we rented in Europe were nicer than those we renting here in the United States, so don’t assume that just because your rental is with Hertz in Kansas that all will be well.  Thanks for the post and information Debbie!

Two years ago, our local news station came out to my house to interview me for a story on rented car seats. Why? Thinking ourselves clever, we had arranged to rent car seats with our rental car rather than lugging them through the airport. Instead we found ourselves stranded at the rental agency sorting through a scrapheap of aged, damaged and dirty car seats to find two that could be used to transport our tired kids to our hotel.

I had stumbled into one of the big “open secrets” that car seat professionals all know, but few parents realize – it just isn’t safe to rent a car seat. Some of the seats were up to 10 years old, others were contaminated with fecal matter, and still others were missing critical parts. Sure, you might get lucky and find yourself at an agency with plenty of brand-new seats available, but why take that risk?

Still, there’s good reason to want to avoid or reduce the hassle of lugging along a car seat on every trip. Not only is a car seat heavy and awkward to carry, but checking it in means risking damage or loss. Here are some alternatives:

  • Plan to use public transportation at your destination
  • Borrow a car seat from a friend at your destination, or if you visit regularly (for example, a trip to Grandma’s house) consider buying a car seat to keep at your destination
  • Carry your car seat on board using a car seat carrier. This option has the advantage of also giving your child a familiar seat and a safe five-point harness in flight.
  • Buy a special travel car seat. There are many options, including vests that can fit in a backpack and a carseat that converts into a stroller.

Finally, if renting is your only realistic alternative, here are some safety tips for renting a car seat

Have you ever rented a car seat? What was your experience? Let me know in comments.

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Debbie Dubrow is a mother of three (ages 4 1/2, 3 and 6mo) living in Seattle,WA. Her blog, is about traveling with babies, toddlers and kids, and is filled with personal travel stories, family friendly city guides, and lots of tips and advice for traveling with kids. In October 2009 DeliciousBaby was ranked as the #1 most popular blog by Technorati.

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  • The London minicab comparison site Cabhit makes it easy to book infant car seats, child or booster seats and see a variety of minicab quotes. It is particularly helpful for going to the airport and longer trips that you book ahead of time. The quality of the companies and drivers can vary widely, so check the ratings and reviews.

  • We are traveling to Florence, Italy next week. Where is the best place to rent of obtain a car seat when we arrive?

  • We were fortunate enough in the past to borrow a car seat from a relative during our trip. Honestly, I would rather bring my own. My kids do much better traveling in their own seats. I have seen rental seats and would never consider putting my kids in one.

  • We rented a car seat in Key West a couple of years ago and it was downright unsafe. The selection and condition at car rental companies is usually poor. Since then, we always bring our own.

  • We just recently traveled to San Diego and we brought our own booster seats. It wasn’t as bad as I thought in carrying them. But I know for parents of younger child, the big car seat can be a real hassle to carry. But sometimes, with the rental price from the car rental company, you might have a better chance buying a new car seat at your destination and donate it.

  • Another car seat rental option is to rent from an actual baby equipment rental company. Unlike car rental companies, baby equipment rental companies are in the business of making travel more convenient for families with young children. A great source for locating a baby equipment rental company is The companies associated with Baby Travel Pros agree to adhere to best practice guidelines which set forth safety and cleanliness standards. These companies rent more than just car seats and can help you pack lighter for your trip. Most companies will even meet you at the airport or car rental counter.

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