Best Travel Carseat Ever (Hint: it’s not a carseat!)

The holidays are coming. Are you ready for holiday travel? In other words, do you have the best travel carseat ever?

I love to start New Year purging before the holidays even hit. Winter is a great time for moving out the old to make way for the new, whether it’s holiday gifts or a winter baby’s birthday haul.

Maybe your growing child needs a new carseat anyway. And the holidays mean you’ve got plane travel on your agenda in the next few months.

And depending on how long you’ve been doing the new carseat thing, you might be sick of the sticker shock of constant carseat upgrades.

This was the boat we were in several years ago, when we flew cross-country to visit Evan and Alicia. Essie was still in an infant carseat then, and we were committed to traveling with her stroller to help free up our hands as we schlepped two small kids and luggage through multiple airport layovers. (I know, multiple layovers + small kids = dumb idea. But three flight segments is literally the only way to get from where we live to where they live.)kimmies-regular-big-kid-booster-seat

But what to do about Kimmie? At three, she’d outgrown an infant carseat but was too small for a backless booster.

My hunt for the best travel carseat

So I started doing a lot of online research on how people deal with the carseat issue when traveling with small children. This sums up the horror stories I read:

Renting a carseat along with your rental car

  • Chances are good it will be gross (i.e., covered in the residue of previous occupants’ snacks and bodily functions) at pickup. Regardless of what the rental company promises about cleaning and sanitizing it for you.
  • You won’t know what brand/model you’ll get until you pick it up, it will NOT come with installation instructions, and the rental agency employees will NOT install it for you for liability reasons.
  • There’s a reasonable chance that they won’t even have what you need available when you get there for pickup, even if you specifically reserved it ahead of time.
Our old toddler carseats: neither fun to haul, nor fun to install
Our old toddler carseats: neither fun to haul, nor fun to install

Bringing your own carseat with you

  • Those todder-sized booster seats don’t fit well into airline seats, and are pretty large and bulky to schlep through the airport with you.
  • Want to check it instead – and risk its NOT being at your location when you get there? Good luck with that. (I remember a flight a decade ago, when my luggage went missing. At the “file a complaint” counter at 11pm, I was in line behind a set of tearful parents with a cranky infant, who were in search of their own gone-missing-in-transit checked item – their infant’s carseat. I swore then and there never to trust the airlines with my own carseat.)
  • And let’s just suppose you DO decide to schlep along your own toddler-sized seat. Infant seats are not that hard to secure in a car even if you don’t bring a base along, IMHO. On the other hand, the toddler-sized ones always took a lot more time, strength, and patience to install correctly than I generally have in my tank after a long day of travel.

Renting one at your destination

  • Sure, there are all sorts of rent-baby-gear-for-your-visit options popping up in cities all over the world. But did I mention that Evan and Alicia live, literally, in the middle of nowhere? (In other words, no services like this available for literally hundreds of miles; we were on our own.)
  • Besides, coordinating the carseat’s appearance at the correct time and place as where you pick up your rental car is tricky.
  • And given that we were arriving late at night, renting a car, staying in a hotel, and then driving another four hours to their house, popping out to the nearest department or baby superstore to just buy ourselves another carseat was not an option, even if that had seemed like the way to go to us. (Some people recommend this. We thought it was nuts, given the logistics of our travel.)

None of the friends I asked had good ideas, either. Their experiences of renting less-than-sanitary-looking seats with their car rental matched up with what I’d seen online. They also agreed that hauling a big kid’s carseat through the airport was about as un-fun as risking its not showing up if you put it through checked luggage.

So what’s the solution?

Finally, as I was about to give up, I stumbled across the answer to our problems. It seemed too good to be true at first, so I read up on it as much as I could. Then we bought one for Kimmie. It worked perfectly, and was SO much better than an actual carseat!

Of all the kiddo gear I’ve tried over the years, this one is by far one of the best-kept secrets I’ve discovered. That’s why it gets my vote as the

Best Travel Carseat Everridesafer-vest-headrest

Here’s the thing: It’s not actually even a carseat!

But it works just like one, AND it’s approved as a carseat substitute.

In fact, if you’ve ever struggled to install a carseat correctly (as I have) – not only according to the instructions, but also securely enough that it does what it’s supposed to – I can assure you that it is actually easier to install than a carseat.

AND it will protect your child better than a carseat that’s not ratcheted down tightly enough.

In fact, it’s so easy to use that my girls can install it for themselves.

It’s a clever invention called

Essie wearing her RideSafer vest
Essie wearing her RideSafer vest

The Ride Safer Travel Vest

These vests, made by Safe Traffic Systems, work just like a carseat in the ways that matter:

  • They properly position your child’s seatbelt so that the waist part is low across their hips, and the chest part is across their chest instead of cutting across their face or neck.
  • They also help the seatbelt work to properly restrain your child in the event of a crash.

For a cost comparable to a new “big-kid” carseat, you can have a vest that is compact, comfortable, and NEVER EXPIRES (unlike carseats). For a family with a lot of kids to go through, this is a worthwhile

And not only that, but it is sooooooo much more portable than a regular carseat:

  • I’ve seen “big kids” lugging their own backless boosters through airports. They don’t look too happy about it.
  • On the other hand, this vest (which comes with an optional, detachable headrest) rolls up to about the size of a travel umbrella. Even Essie can carry her own vest around in the back of her backpack as we’re trekking through airports.kimmies-backpack-with-ridesafer-vest
  • Because it’s so portable, it’s easy to pop the vest into the girls’ schoolbags if they have an after-school playdate scheduled with a friend. It’s also perfect for carpooling; Kimmie wore her Best Travel Carseat Ever back and forth to Girl Scout Day Camp last summer.
  • And if you’re expecting Child #3 and dreading buying a third-row car, consider this vest instead. It fits in the middle of the backseat, between two regular carseats!
Six-year-old Kimmie fits comfortably in the middle spot of my back seat, wearing her RideSafer vest.
Six-year-old Kimmie fits comfortably in the middle spot of my back seat, wearing her RideSafer vest.

The 411 on the RideSafer vest

  • The current version of this vest, the Ride Safer 3, is the model for most situations. It works with all cars that have combination lap-shoulder belts. If you’ll ever be using a vest in an older car that only has lap belts, get the Ride Safer 2, which comes with the option of top-tethering it to the car.
  • The vests come in two sizes. Small fits kids from 30-60 lbs who are at least three years old. Large works for kids from 50-80 lbs.
  • The best prices I’ve found for these vests are direct from Amazon, where you’ll probably pay between $125-$150 in U.S. dollars.
  • Although it’s not yet approved by the FAA for use specifically as a restraint during air travel, Safe Traffic System is working on making the vest FAA compliant, too.

From Best Travel Carseat to Everyday “Carseat”

ridesafer-vests-in-daddys-backseatWe like these vests so much that when we needed to upgrade Kimmie to a bigger carseat in Daddy’s car, we just used her size small Ride Safer vest. As soon as Essie was three, we got Kimmie a large Ride Safer vest, and put Essie into Kimmie’s old vest when riding with Daddy.

We have no problems bringing an extra friend home from school for a playdate, thanks to these vests. And when grandparents visit, it’s super-simple to swap the vests from Daddy’s car to grandma’s.

For more on how the vests actually work, see reviews here, herehere, and here. And this video shows how easy they are to use. (Plus, it also shows how to use the top tether for the Ride Safer Version 2 vest.)

Have you tried my Best Travel Carseat pick, the Ride Safer vest, for your kiddos? Is it your best travel carseat/carpool option, or your everyday go-to child restraint? Let us know what you think in the comments!

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