If you’re a parent who’s constantly on-the-go, I’m sure you’re aware of how hard it can be to travel with little kids and infants. For one thing, you need to make sure that you bring along their car seats or boosters wherever you go.
In fact, federal safety standards set by the NHTSA emphasize the importance of car seats and booster seats. When used properly, car seats can save as many as 325 children under the age of five in one year.
According to the NHTSA, there are four types of car seats available:
- Rear-facing car seat: Best for infants to age three
- Forward-facing car seat: Best for children aged one to seven
- Booster seats: Best for children aged four to 12
- Seat belt: Best used for children aged eight to 13 and above
Rear-facing and forward facing car seats can have different types, such as a convertible seat, all-in-one seat, and a combination seat. Booster seats can be high-back boosters, backless booster seats, a combination seat, or an all-in-one seat. In using any of these seats, you need to consider the weight and height of your child.
Convertible car seats are a typical choice for parents as this type of car seat has a rear-facing mode and a forward-facing mode. According to Consumer Reports, some states like California, Oklahoma, and New Jersey require children below two years old to be in a rear-facing seat. This is because it’s the safest way to position your children until such time they can fully control head and neck muscles.
But eventually, you’ll have to decide when to forward face a car seat and transition to an option that provides this position, like a convertible car seat.
For First-Time Parents: Infant Car Seats or Convertible Car Seats?
Parents would usually be faced with the dilemma of getting infant car seats vs convertible car seats. A convertible car seat can be a popular choice among parents, and for good reason. Here’s a quick comparison between the two:
|Features||Infant Car Seat||Convertible Car Seat|
|Correct position||Rear-facing position only||Rear-facing position and forward-facing position|
|Can accommodate?||Infants and toddlers||Infants, toddlers, and older kids depending on the weight limits and height settings of the convertible seat|
|Convenience||Portable car seat; ease of installation with most strollers||Not a lightweight seat; isn’t usually compatible with strollers|
|Cost||Might not be a cost saver since you’d have to transition to a convertible car seat or a dedicated forward-facing seat when your child passes the seat’s weight and height limits||Can be a cost saver since you would not have to buy another car seat|
But while convertible car seats can have advantages, the primary downside is that they’re not the lightest car seats around. Their weight doesn’t make them a fantastic option, especially during air travel. Are there alternatives that you can choose from?
Convertible Car Seat Alternative
Fortunately, there are alternatives to convertible car seats even if your child isn’t big enough to transition to booster mode yet. Keep in mind that there are stringent federal safety standards for children while traveling, especially when it comes to the use of car seats or alternatives. Below is a summary of the most convenient alternatives and their safety features:
- Suitable for kids at least one year old
- Your child must be between 22 and 44 pounds
- Specifically made for airplane travel, the CARES Harness is FAA-approved for all flight stages (taxiing, take-off, landing, and turbulence)
- The harness weighs 1 pound and can be easily brought onboard a plane
- Can also be used in other vehicles, such as public transportation, as it takes the place of a car seat
How it works: The CARES Harness can be used alongside the plane or another vehicle’s seat belt so it can secure your child similar to that of a car seat.
RideSafer Travel Vest
- Suitable for kids at least three years old
- Your child must be between 30 and 100 pounds
- Meets the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard for child safety restraints, making this vest legal in all 50 states
- Not approved for use during air travel
- Lightweight and can be stored in a small bag
- Available in three sizes
- Is also suitable for special needs children
How it works: The RideSafer Travel Vest reinforces the position and tightness of a seat belt. Kids can wear the vest first then put the seat belt on. For a more comfortable position and added safety, the vest also includes a headrest, a crotch strap to prevent slipping, and a five-point harness.
Doona Infant Car Seat
- Suitable for traveling with infants
- Your child must be between 4 and 35 pounds
- Has a 32-inch height limit
- Can be used in airplanes, vehicles, and as a stroller when the base is installed
- Is a legal rear-facing car seat
- FAA-approved for flying without the base
How it works: The Doona Infant Car Seat is an all-in-one car seat and stroller. It only takes mere seconds to transform into one or the other. You can leave the base then just fold the car seat stroller into the mode you want it to be. While this isn’t strictly a convertible car seat alternative, it’s one of the most convenient options you have when traveling with an infant since you can take it anywhere.
Should You Just Rent a Car Seat?
With all this information at hand, you might be wondering: wouldn’t it just be better to rent a car seat while traveling?
It’s certainly an available option but it isn’t entirely recommended. Though this can be convenient, renting a car seat may compromise your child’s safety. Here are a few reasons why you shouldn’t just rent a car seat:
- There’s no way you can verify if the car seat is expired or has been in an accident. Keep in mind that car seats age and even have expiration dates. If the car seat has been in an accident, this voids the warranty and should be replaced by a new one.
- You should have a clean baby car seat, which you won’t always get when you opt for a rental. If your child has sensitive skin, they might risk getting an allergy if the rental company used harsh chemicals to clean the seat.
- Some rental companies or transportation providers like Uber only have forward-facing seats. As I mentioned earlier, there are some states that require children below two years old to be in a car seat with a rear-facing position.
- Many aren’t aware of proper car seat strap placement or secure installation. There’s a big chance the rental company doesn’t either. Unless they can provide you with the correct manual from the seat manufacturers, avoid renting altogether.
Safety should always be your primary concern when choosing car seats, whether these are infant seats, convertible seats, combination seats, or all-in-one seats. Though some choices can seem more convenient, not all turn out to be safe or suitable for your child. It’s best to consider your child’s weight and height and how you’re going to travel when choosing a convertible car seat alternative.