Car Seats on vacation: rent or bring your own?

in-car-seat-october-2009If you're planning to fly anywhere and drive when you reach your destination (in a rental car, in a taxi, or with friends), you have three options:

(1) You can rent a car seat from a car/baby rental company when you arrive.

(2) You can bring your own car seat and carry it on the plane with you (if you buy a plane ticket for your baby).

(3) You can bring your own car seat and check it as luggage for use at your destination.

We decided against option #1 because we couldn't get over the "yuck" factor of borrowing a used car seat (a seat that likely wasn't cleaned with care after its last use...if at all). Since my baby's face was going to be in that fabric all weeklong, I figured we might as well bring our own.

We decided against option #2 because our 6-month-old isn't a big fan of car seats (and we are taking advantage of the free "lap baby" option as long as we can manage it) and our 3-year-old would go cray-zee in a car seat for 3 hours.

We settled on option #3 - checking our car seats as luggage. The good news is that most airlines allow you to check car seats free of charge. The bad news is that airline employees aren't exactly "gentle" with checked luggage. Thus, it's important to protect your cargo somehow...preferably with a specially-designed car seat bag.

westport car seat bag rover gearRover Gear was kind enough to send me the Westport Car Seat Bag ($59.99-$79.99) for review - and it passed the "traveling-through-three-different-airports-test" with flying colors. The heavy-duty nylon is high-quality and extremely durable - protecting your seat from bumps and bruises. It also features internal and external pockets. Best of all, the whole thing is on wheels so you can roll it through the airport rather than lugging it over your shoulder. If you prefer, you also have the option to wear it as a backpack (sweet!). Plus, the black/green color scheme is fresh and professional-looking (not that it matters a whole lot, but still...).

Our one minor critique was that it would have been nice if the handle was extend-able for easier pulling around the airport.

The bag is a bit pricey, but it's also "reusable" and heavy-duty. I have a feeling we'll be using this bag for many years to come.

rover gear logoWIN IT! One winner will receive a Westport Car Seat Bag ($59.99-$79.99) from Rover Gear. To enter, leave any topic-related comment on this post prior to Wednesday, October 14th at 11:59 p.m. (Don’t forget to follow the rules…all generic comments like “Enter me!,” “Love it,” and “Cool stuff!” will be disqualified.).

*UPDATE* The winner is #1 Melissa. Congratulations!

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79 comments on “Car Seats on vacation: rent or bring your own?”

  1. Hi admin, i must say you have hi quality articles here.

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  2. We're planning our first plane trip and I've really been nervous about whether to bring our care seat or to rent one. I'd never heard of a car seat bag before. A great idea! I hope we win in time for our trip!

  3. I think the bag idea is great! Such a simple idea but would help out so much. One of those inventions you have to wonder why you didn't think of it way before!

  4. This looks like a really nice car seat. Durable which is so important! I'm amazed at how quickly kids can shred things especially when they're in a confined space.

  5. I don't miss lugging around all this kind of stuff on a regular basis! Now it's just for the grand kids. I'm amazed by how many products make life easier now.

  6. It's so hard to check all the baby gear now that a lot of airlines are requiring paying for checked baggage. Like it's not expensive enough to travel with little ones! I don't know how people with multiples do it.

  7. I think the bag is a great idea! As Dad I'm the resident baggage handler and anything that makes that a little easier is huge for me. Thanks for the great idea!

  8. It seems like you need your own Sherpa when traveling with kids! I never realized a human being that small could require so many things!

  9. When we travel, we check our car seat too -- when K was small and could travel in the "bucket/stroller" combo, we would check both the car seat and the stroller at the gate. Now that she is larger (but not quite 2), its a lot tougher -- but still not tough enough that I would risk dealing with a rental. A car seat cover is a great idea!

  10. Our family travels too much not to have this kind of useful, high quality product available. It's hard to imagine the way luggage is sometimes treated...

  11. This would be great for future vacations.. I agree, I wouldn't want my baby in a rental car seat.. kids drool, eat messy food, and they could have leaked through their diapers- yuck!

  12. AWESOME! We're planning on doing a bit of flying with our little one - she needs to go visit family in England and Scotland at some point - and we've been dreading how our carseat would be mistreated by the Throwers at the airport!

  13. I never knew these bags existed! Thanks for writing the post. We could definitely use the bag with all the flying in the near future.

  14. i am always worried when traveling on planes with checking in the car seat that it will get dirty and also damaged during the flight so this is perfect!

  15. Oh my gosh, we could use this. We don't own a car, and always take our car seat when traveling. In fact, we take a stroller just to cart around our big heavy car seat. The baby goes on our back. This bag would make our lives so much easier.

  16. I didn't know such a product existed. I have had two car seat covers get ruined due to being put in thin plastic bags when I fly with my kids so I am going to get one of these for my son's seat for the next time I fly.

  17. We would never choose the rented car seat. We have tried bringing carseats on the plane as well as checking them. It mostly depended on the age of our kids. The bag would be wonderful though as we still have 2 in carseats to tote around!

  18. This would have come in so handy with the summer traveling we did. I had to check out car seat at the gate and it was so filthy when we got it back that I did not want to put my daughter in it. I had to take it all apart when we got to our destination and wash the pad. This bag would have protected it from dirt and other ickyness.

  19. Wow! What an awesome carseat!
    This would be such a HUGE help.... we usually bring our own....THanks for the chance!

  20. We took our carseat when we flew last time. (For the first time with the baby!) We took it up to the gate going, and covered it with a trash bag last minute. On the way back we checked it at the curb, and the skycap had a better plastic cover for us. (It got a little wet one way, but I can't remember which!) I'd rather get a cover that we know works, and the wheels are a bonus!

  21. This would be a big help! I would much rather bring my own carseat, because we're all used to it - baby and parents alike.

  22. I had no idea that you could check a car seat in for free on a plane. That makes a huge difference for us, being that we have 2 in car seats. Thanks for the info!!

  23. When we travel by plane we bring our car seats as luggage as well. This cover looks pretty great! We usually ask the attendant at the counter if they can put our car seat in a big plastic bag (which they do), however now that both kids are in the larger car seats they don't fit into the plastic bags as well and often times when we get our car seats back, the bags are a bit ripped in places. A cover like this makes so much sense!

  24. How great is this. I would love to win for my little niece. This summer it was a hassle to rent a car seat and travel without her seat for my friends. I would love to get this for her to make the holidays easier.

  25. I too am getting ready for a plane trip with my two little children. I will be flying alone and am a little nervous about the luggage and two carseat situation.

    A small umbrella stroller is a must! You can wheel it right up the the plane and they store it for you during the flight and give it back as you get off the plane. I have a Chicco umbrella stroller and it folds up small enough to allow room for your other luggage once you get to a car.

  26. I'm sort of a car seat safety freak so bear with me here.

    Do not ever rent a seat. For one, you have no idea if the seat has been in an accident. If a car seat has been in an accident, it needs to be replaced as it is no longer safe. Secondly, it may be expired and again, no long safe to use!

    The second option you presented is considered the safest. You should actually have all children in carseats on a plane because if the plane went down, hit turbulance, they could fly around and get hurt or worse. Yes, I realize it is more expensive and I do realize that it isn't convient for the little ones who don't like it, but it is the safest.

    The last option actually is not very good either for the same reason you stated. Airline workers are not the best with carseats and can damage your carseat by throwing it around. Now I'm not sure if this bag has protecting foam around it or not, but typically, it is not the best idea to check them.

    Ok, rant over! Sorry.

  27. we could really use this. My mother in law lives about 6 hours from us and we go often and have taken every mode of transportaion possable. This would be perfec t for however we travel

  28. We did not bring our car seats when traveling to S Korea to bring home our children as we ended up using the subway exclusively. If we had considered this option, it definitely would be a bag to look into.

  29. We could use this for our five-year-old's car seat. We bring our own car seats also, but we also always bought our children their own seats. We feel very strongly that paying the extra money is very much worth it. Especially, after reading some years ago about a emergency/crash landing where the woman's two-year-old was ripped from between her crossed legs (airline procedures), thrown to the front of the compartment with everything else from the compartment being thrown and piled up against her. She died as a result.

  30. Oh my goodness, I LOVE this idea! I've lugged a kid, a diaper bag/carry-on, and a ginormous car seat through an airport by myself multiple times, and it was kind of horrid. I always carry the car seat all the way up to the plane because sometimes they'll give you a seat for the baby for free if there's an available seat, plus I don't want to check it fully just in case our luggage doesn't make it to the same place we do! If you take it up to the boarding ramp they'll check it right under the plane and bring it back as soon as you get off the plane (strollers, too!). Again, though, they're not always gentle. And the wheels/backpack options make this genius.

    Renting one? Ew. No thanks.

  31. When we traveled with our then 1.5-year-old, we were fortunate (I guess) to be going out of the country where car seats weren't required. So, we just held her on our laps on the plane and then in the short taxi rides afterward. Looking back it was definitely not the safest thing to do, but it worked. On our next trip, I would definitely want to bring our seats with us for the girls and boy, does a bag like this look handy!

  32. We decided on option #1 this summer. We ended up getting a nicer carseat than we have!, but if I had this carseat cover I would have checked ours in.

  33. As big and cumbersome as carseats are to travel with we always bring out own. We went to Disney last summer (stayed an extra week in Kissimmee and rented a car so carseats were needed). We took a booster for my 5 yr old and our Britax Marathon for my 3 yr old. I actually used the marathon on the plane and it worked out great!! My kids are happy in their carseats. My daughter barely made it through take-off before she was asleep and she stayed that way the entire flight. I don't think I'd need to put her in her seat for travelling anymore so this bag would be perfect. She's 4 now and her marathon would definitely get checked. I'd love to win that bag!!

  34. This is perfect with all the airline regulations these days. And it's heavy duty which is exactly what every traveling parent needs when they bring their child on a trip!

  35. Our days of traveling with just a lap child are over now, and I for the first time will have to start taking a car seat, uhg. Since I only have one at this point I would like to keep it protected from damage the best I can, this looks like a great bag for just that.

  36. I have looked into purchasing one of these before, but i decided not to spend the money and just have my daughter sit with me on the plane and had to have my sister buy a car seat for when i arrived. But now that my daughter will soon need to have her own seat this would be great

  37. Renting a car seat? I suppose other children aren't as messy as my son. That just sounds kind of disgusting. We wash our seat cover several times a week to get all of the apple juice/ milk/ ground in cheerio/drool/ doggie drool out of it.

    This is a lovely invention (as long as you're not flying US Air, really, just throw the bags out of the plane when you're circling the airport, they'll get there in better shape). We're hoping to get back into traveling again, the Grandmas really want to see their first and only grandson; I'd love to have something like this.

  38. What a great idea to have a carseat bag. I'm always amazed at how carelessly luggage gets treated -- it's so great to know a product like this exists.

  39. SUCH a great post, and themed weekend! I'm totally taking it all in. Nobody talks about these things, and I feel like traveling with babies and toddlers is one of the most stressful things I've ever done. We fly a lot with family out of town, and I would love to have this bag with our HUGE Britax car seat! It's beautiful. With all the luggage we usually have, check in is so hard because there is no way to roll or carry the car seat, and it such a nightmare. This would make it so much easier, and we wouldn't risk ruining our very expensive car seat. Thanks for the great giveaway!

  40. This past summer we flew from Ca. to Wi.- 5 HOURS toatal including a plane change in Chicago. We chose to lug our car seat onto the plane for our 3yo. This is not an expedition for the faint of heart! We bought a GoGoKidz Travelmate which converts a car seat into a stroller. It was very convenient for wheeling through the airports but on the plane the ailes are so narrow that our Britax had to be carried over head by my husband. We felt that having a car seat was the safest way to go and we didn't bring a stroller on the trip. We had a pretty bad experience on one of the planes as our son is 39" he had NO leg room & his feet touched the seat in front of him- Its occupant was VERY uninterested in why his feet were bothering her & at one point turned around and got in his face!!! At which point I wanted to get in her face! Luckily we were traveling w/ family and switched seats away from the rude girl! Next time we fly he'll be big enough to simply check the car seat-

  41. Option #1 is definitely filled with yuckiness :) We would probably go with Option #3 as well - checking our own car seats, this bag does sound like just the trick to making that easier and safer for the car seat!

  42. A great option is to check the car seat and then once your child has her own seat at 2 years old uses C.A.R.E.S.. We have two, one for each girls (though Princess A at 6 does not need it any more and I am going to sell the extra one which we never used). It is only about a pound and it holds a toddler much safer than the airline strap. We used the CARES when we went to Disnyland in May and it was so nice not lugging a carseat on the plane. We always used carseats after they had to have their own seat at 2 years old. It was so nice not having to buy a ticket when they are less than 2, now we have to buy them and it adds up.

  43. I like option 4, check car seat at the gate! That is what we always do. I think it is handled less and a little more gently than if you check the car seat. We also have a cheaper, travel car seat (this is also the seat that is in my husband's car, which my daughter rarely travels in) so we don't have to check our expensive Britax one and risk it getting damaged.

  44. We travel a lot with our little one and we always bring our own car seat. We have even gone so far as to buy a car seat to leave at my parents house so we don't have to bring it when we travel there. We are concerned about how our car seat is handled by the airlines so a good sturdy bag is a must!

  45. I've used an inexpensive bag from Babies R Us - it was about $20. I've also used the airplane provided plastic bags. Depending on the length of the flight, we either do lap or buy a seat. With overseas flights, it's definitely worth it to buy a seat!!!!!

  46. We've checked our seats with good success even with just the airline provided plastic bags. I would like this bag to make it easier to check the seat at the gate and save it from some of the rough handling!

  47. I guess it is silly, but I didn't realize this existed and now I realize that everyone should have one!!! I was curious about how the bag secured around the car seat and realized on their site that it explains that there are 'Internal tie-downs for a secure fit'. (Good) Car seats are expensive and deserve to be cared for properly. This is an excellent solution to those wild baggage handler ways!
    I can see how an extend-able handle would be a huge benefit when you are scurrying through a crowded airport and trying to drag this behind you. This is an excellent giveaway! Thank you so much for the chance to win and for the new found product knowledge. I feel a little sheltered....and I KNOW I need to travel more....your travel is awesome...maybe it should be your next e-book!

  48. Thanks so much for the tip. I was wondering how to travel with a baby. I haven't gone anywhere for a year due to fear of dealing with the hassle. This car seat bag sounds like the perfect solution!

  49. Does the bag have padding? I'd be worried about it getting thrown around (aren't you supposed to discard the seat after any collision? How is that different from rough airline handling?)

    The fourth option I've heard of is checking the seat at the gate. Some airlines stow this stuff in the cabin, but even if they don't, the cabin crew often are in charge of retrieving these particular checked items (so they can be returned as you leave the plane) and are therefore much gentler.

  50. This looks like a great product. It just seems so complicated to travel with a baby. The car seat thing is a big worry -especially with airlines. I remember when my sister and my 6 month nephew came to visit we actually had to borrow a car seat from a friend because there are different car seat laws in US and Canada. (Canada actually has stricter rules so you are not allowed to use an American car seat here).

  51. It would have been nice to have something like that when we were still trudging through airports with car seats. We checked a carseat once that arrived at our destination with a ripped shoulder strap (thus making the seat totally useless). The airline wouldn't reimburse me because it was a loose strap and they can't be responsible for any strap that is not contained within the luggage (at least that's what they said). I tied them all up before we left and I thought that was good enough, I was wrong.

  52. I used to have a carseat bag but I can't seem to find it! So worth the money though when you buy nice carseats to protect them. My stroller got ruined from sticking it under a plane so I'm always wary now of sticking other things through baggage!

  53. I've done both option 1 and 2. They were both fine. We just had my MIL pick up the rented carseat early and wash the cover, so that worked out. It was risky, so on the next trip, we let our little one sit in the seat on the plane. He didn't complain... it was like we were on a car ride and getting up wasn't a choice (in his mind) so he was great! :) Option 3 sounds great to take advantage of the free ticket as long as possible!

  54. That a great product! Last time we checked a car seat we only protected it with the huge plastic bag they gave us at the check-in counter. When we pulled it off the baggage claim we discover huge tears in the car seat cover, and even a large gouge out of the plastic. It looked as though it had been dragged across the tarmac. We haven't gone with your option 3 since then.

  55. This would be FANTASTIC to use at Christmas when we'll be sending a car seat through checked baggage. I hadn't thought about it, but I bet you are right that the car seat might get really banged up!

  56. Oh my!! I need this!! Our huge britax car seat is SO hard to handle at the airport!! This would def solve our problem AND keep the seat clean too!! Perfect!!

  57. That car seat bag is a great idea. My in-laws spend the summer in Florida and really want my husband and I (and of course and most importantly our 6 month old son) to come visit. All I keep thinking is... how do we get all the baby gear down there. Stroller: no big deal, the umbrella one will fold up nice and tight and be enough for a few days at the beach, or they are cheap enough we can just buy one down there to leave with them in case of future trips. Pack-n-play: no need, our little guy can co-sleep with us for a few days. Car seat: big deal! I knew we could check it on the plane... but am so worried about it getting ruined. The cover/carrier would be great :) Awesome post, your site is always filled with great advice and products!

  58. I know I have said it all weekend...but Oh My Gosh!!! Your themed weekend couldn't have come at a better time for me. My hubby and I were just talking about what to do with our sons car seat on the plane. I knew we could check it, but didn't know if I needed to get some type of bag for it. You answered every question I had & I really need this bag now. Crossing my fingers I win, not sure if this bag is in the budget right now, but I have to have it.

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