Do you need to bring a travel car seat with you?

We are often asked the question, “Do I need to bring a travel car seat with me on my trip to XYZ destination?” We also asked this question many times when we first started traveling with young kids. 

It’s a tough question to answer because it depends on a few factors: (1) where you are traveling, (2) how do you intend to move around during your trip, and (3) what options are available at your destination. 

Surprisingly, traveling with a car seat is a contentious issue for many. Some parents have VERY strong feelings about car seats and they’re not afraid to share these intense feelings with complete strangers. There’s much debate over how car seats should be used (ie. front facing vs rear facing), what products are acceptable and not acceptable, and when it’s time to make the switch to a different model (ie. when your child is too big for the current model). This post is not about that. 

To be clear, the question is not should you USE a car seat when you travel. We believe you should always use a car seat when traveling by car. It’s simply not worth the risk.

We wrote about this topic a few years ago, when our boys were very young (3 and 1 years old). Most of what we shared in that post is still applicable and relevant today (give it a read, here).

Now that our boys are 7 and 5 years old, we thought it was time to share our updated thoughts about traveling with car seats. 

Where are you going? What are you doing?

The question of whether you should bring your car seat, or not, is essentially a question about how much stuff you can tolerate on your trip. The amount of stuff you need to bring with you when traveling with young kids can be overwhelming, so every opportunity to lighten the load is worth exploring.

The destination and itinerary will heavily influence your decision. 

Will you need to travel by vehicle often? Or will you stay in one place? 

What activities do you plan to do on your trip? How will you get to these activities or attractions – by car, train, bus or walking?

If your plan is to stay at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico, you likely will not need to bring your car seat with you. Most vacation packages include bus transfers from the airport to the resort. You don’t typically need a car seat for bus transportation (reminder – we’re talking about traveling with young kids here, not infants or toddlers – that’s a whole different conversation).

If airport transfers are not included, consider booking a private service ahead of time and ask the company to provide a car seat for you. Most private transfer services have car seats available at no additional cost. However, some companies do charge a fee for car seats, so make sure you ask at the time of booking. 

Note – if you’re from Canada or the US, you are likely using the LATCH system. It’s important to note that not all countries use this system. Do your research to make sure your car seat fits the country/destination’s standard. If you’re not sure, here’s more info about the LATCH system.

Do you plan to use taxis or ride sharing?

If you plan to use taxis or ride sharing during your trip, we recommend you bring your own car seat with you.

Don’t expect taxis or ride sharing drivers to have car seats available. In fact, most will not have car seats available unless you book with a specific company or driver. And even that’s not a guarantee.

On multiple occasions, we’ve confirmed with a taxi company that a car seat be provided. But, when the driver arrives, there’s no car seat to be found. If you’re trying to catch a flight or train, and you don’t have a lot of time for error, this may create unnecessary stress on your travel day. 

We prefer to use our travel car seats because we know they are clean. Think about car sickness for a moment. How often do you think drivers are cleaning their car seats?

Another thing to consider is the availability of the right size for your child. Car seats are not one-size-fits-all, so it’s rare that taxis have a variety of models to choose from. Are your kids over-sized or under-sized? 

We used the Evenflo car seat (pictured below) when our boys were younger (aged 2 to 5 years old). We like this model because it’s very lightweight and inexpensive (less than $70 each).

Our oldest boy currently uses this model. He just turned 7 years old but he’s small for his age.

Should you rent a car seat instead?

We prefer to bring our car seats, however, sometimes renting is the best option. For example, when we did a road trip through the Canadian Rockies a few years ago, we first took the train from Vancouver to Jasper. We needed to travel light because the overnight rooms on the train are small. We opted to include car seats when we picked up the car rental in Jasper. That was the right call for that particular trip.

If you decide to rent a car seat, make sure you call the company prior to your arrival to confirm availability. It’s also important to confirm the car seat is the right size for your child.

We’ve heard stories of families arriving at their destination to find the promised car seat was not available. That’s a tough situation to problem solve. In some cases, you may need to purchase a car seat at the destination, which is an unnecessary expense and headache.

Depending on your kid’s height and weight, you may want to consider a portable booster seat.

Do you even need a car seat?

If you’re traveling to a major city and plan to use local transit, you might not even need a car seat.

When we visited Germany a few years ago (picture above) we traveled by train and local transit. We strategically picked hotels that were located within walking distance to the train stations. Most major cities in Europe have very good train systems, so you can get around easily without needing to take a taxi. 

If you’re vacationing at an all-inclusive resort and you purchased an airfare plus accommodations package, you’ll likely transfer from the airport to the resort on a big bus. If that’s the case, and you don’t plan to leave the resort, you will not need a car seat. 

When we were in Mexico last year, we decided to visit Xel-ha Park and Xcaret (two separate days). We needed transportation from our resort to the attractions, so we booked a private service that provided car seats. This isn’t the cheapest option, but it’s the most convenient. 

Consider how you will get to the airport

We typically drive to the airport and leave our car at long-term airport parking. This is the easiest solution to the car seat dilemma. However, if we’re gone for more than 10 days, we don’t typically park our vehicle at the airport because it gets expensive.  

We usually drive to the airport entrance and drop the luggage and kids off first. Then one of us will take the car to the parking lot and catch the shuttle back to the airport. Whoever gets dropped off at that airport will start the check in process. We’ve found this process works well. 

If you are taking a taxi or ride share to the airport, you will need to have a car seat. Even if you don’t need the car seat at your destination, you may still need to bring it for the drive from your home to the airport.

Another option is to have someone drop you off at the airport using your vehicle. That way, the car seats are already in the vehicle and you avoid the headache of transferring the seats. 

Traveling through the airport with a car seat

Dragging multiple car seats through the airport is a pain in the a$$!

If you plan to bring your car seat on the airplane, you may want to consider a travel cart. Here are a couple of examples – GoGo Kidz Travelmate or Britax Car Seat Travel Cart.

These carts essentially add wheels to your car seat, so you can pull it like wheeled luggage. Depending on how heavy your kids are, they can also sit in the travel car seat while you pull the travel cart. These carts fold easily and can be stored in the overhead compartment on the airplane.

Another option is to strap the car seat to your luggage. This is less expensive and requires less space. 

Most airlines will allow you to check your car seat and stroller at the gate. When you gate check, your car seat and stroller should be waiting for you as soon as you get off the plane.

This option reduces the risk of your car seat getting lost or damaged.

If you don’t plan to bring your car seat on the airplane, it’s best to check the car seat when you drop off your luggage. Most airlines will provide a plastic bag for each car seat. Ask for a bag if it’s not voluntarily offered. The bag will protect your car seat from getting damaged or dirty.

We prefer to bring our own travel car seat bags. We use the Weelee by Clek (pictured below). It’s durable and has wheels. And, we can sneak a few extra items in the bag, like dirty laundry or blankets.

Related – Should you bring a baby car seat on the airplane?

Do you bring a travel car seat with you?

Share your feedback in the comments section below. 

Related – The perfect Ireland road trip itinerary for families

Should you bring a car seat when you travel with kids? is a post from: Traveling Canucks