One of my very good friends and I are planning a weekend getaway with our two little girls this winter. What could be more fun than lounging on the beach, margaritas in hand, while our daughters kick sand in each others faces? (On accident, of course.)
Though I’m not sure what to do about June’s car seat. Do I lug it aboard the plane and schlepp it all over Florida with me? Or should I rent a car seat from one of the car rental companies? To be honest, I’d rather rent a car seat because traveling solo with a toddler is challenging enough without the added burden of lugging even more gear from home.
Thankfully, many airlines (Delta, Continental and JetBlue to name but three) let you check a car seat for free, which is nice (and almost surprising in this age of air travel horror stories). But I definitely plan to double check the specific airlines’ policy before heading to the airport.
Most mainstream car rental companies (Thrifty, Avis, Hertz) rent car seats (hooray!), but this is not a complimentary service. The average rate is around $13 per day…not a big deal for a quick weekend getaway like the one June and I are planning to take, but that can add up over a longer vacay.
Not surprsingly, the American Academy of Pediatrics leans toward traveling with your child’s own car seat because you never know how well a rental has been cared for. But they don’t specifically advise against it either as they must know that bringing a car seat from home is not always possible. In that instance, they recommend doing some safety checks of your own at the time of rental. They specifically recommend never using a second hand seat that:
- is too old (look for the label showing the date it was made; if that is missing, consider it past its prime)
- shows visible cracks (a bad sign)
- does not have a label with the model number (this will allow you to check if the seat has been recalled)
- does not come with instructions (since how will you know how to install it?)
- is missing parts
- was recalled (you can find out by calling the manufacturer or by contacting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)
If you do decide to go the rental route, it’s highly recommended to call the car rental place at the pick-location beforehand to confirm there will be a car seat waiting for you upon your arrival. Be sure to note the seat’s make and model so you can verify for yourself it hasn’t been recalled (which you can do by visiting the NHTSA link above).
Also,car rental companies won’t install a car seat for you because of liability. And there is no guarantee the instruction manual will be available to you at the time of pick up. So it’s a good idea to download the product’s instruction manual yourself before getting on the plane; most reputable car seat makers like Graco provide instruction manuals for free on their websites. Nothing sounds worse for the start of a vacation than wrestling a complicated car seat.
And if you do decide to rent, by all means, bring sanitary wipes so you can give it a good wipe down before strapping your child in. I’ve read horror stories of some rental seats feeling sticky to the touch or smelling faintly of mildew or even vomit! Ewwww!
You know what? I think I’ve answered my own question: I’m bringing June’s car seat from home. My arms may fall off from lugging stuff, but at least I know she will travel safe without any faint odor of who-knows-what.
Are you baby safety savvy? We’re giving away two Graco SnugRide Click Connect infant car seats! To enter for a chance to win, simply comment on this post with a personal tip on how you keep baby safe in the car.
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