So, one burning question that most parents of young children ask: do you need to travel with a car seat?
If you’re a parent and you live in one of the 96 countries where car seats are legally required, you’ll need to have an approved car seat installed for journeys on private vehicles if you have children.
This isn’t just something to inconvenience you as a parent.
It’s a very important safety issue.
Did you know, for example, that car crashes are the leading cause of death for children ages 1-13?
It is vital that you look at the available research so you can make an informed choice, not only regarding what car seat to use (forward vs rear-facing) but also if you should use it at all (just because you live in a country where you’re not legally required doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother).
If you want more information, you can check out this video on car seat testing below:
So, because this is a very important piece of baby equipment, it should ideally travel everywhere your littles go unless you can guarantee an appropriate car seat when you get to your destination.
You might ask, “But why can’t we just get a car seat when we get to where we’re going?”. It’s a good question, especially if you’re travelling from one part of the country to another and you can hire a car seat when you get to wherever you’re going.
Let me list a few reasons why taking your own car seat might be a better choice.
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Car seats make travel safer.
One of the strongest reasons why people don’t bother taking car seats is that they are either taking public transport or flying to their destination.
But even if it’s not legally required to use a taxi on public transport, it’s still (obviously) far safer for your children to travel in a car seat.
The only exception would probably be a bus or a train, which don’t normally have seatbelts so car seats would be superfluous.
If you’re hiring a car though or taking a taxi, then yes, a car seat is a must even if it’s not a legal requirement.
As for flights, did you know that you can use car seats inflight and that it is, in fact, highly recommended?
Neither did I until my son hit two and we were travelling to the Philippines, which didn’t require car seats. We’ve been there before and had a nightmare trying to get an appropriate car seat for the four weeks we were there.
Our car seat had just gotten involved in a car crash and the insurance company had told us that they were going to replace it. Whilst I was Googling to see which car seats would be best, I came across a few articles that made me realise that not all crashes are fatal and that in the event of turbulence, most children who are not secured don’t stand a chance.
Kate Williams survived a plane crash that killed everyone on board because she was strapped to her car seat.
22-month old Evan died after her mother (and other parents with lap babies) was told to put him on the floor and assume the crash position in a crash where over 180 people survived.
This lap child died of multiple injuries after being ejected from his mother’s arms in a runway overrun crash. All other adults were strapped securely in their seats and survived.
These three babies were injured when their flight hit severe turbulence and they were thrown from their mothers’ arms among adults who also weren’t strapped securely.
When I discovered these articles, I decided that I was going to get a flight-approved extended rear-facing car seat for my son.
You can’t guarantee that there are car seats available in your destination.
Of course, we highly recommend that you use car seats when you’re on the plane or a car anyway. But let’s assume you’re on the train or the bus and you want to leave your car seat behind and just hire a car seat when you get to where you’re going.
If you’re only travelling from one end of the country to another, then you might get away with just hiring your car seat at your destination.
Same if you’re travelling from one European country to another or maybe from Canada to the US.
Once you start going international, it becomes a bit more complicated.
What if you’re visiting a country where car seats are not a legal requirement?
Car seats won’t normally be available for hire so you then have the option to buy. But car seats are expensive as we all know and if you’re going to be spending that much then you might want to take your brand new car seat back with you. In which case, you’ll end up with two car seats at home. And in this case, you might as well take your own with you.
Of course, some car seats that you can use in your country are not acceptable in another so you still need to do your research and decide if you should just travel with a car seat or bring your own.
You can’t guarantee the quality of the car seats that you will be hiring.
Did you know that car seats that have been involved in a major crash may have hairline fractures that could impact their ability to protect your child in the event of future crashes?
It doesn’t matter if it looks intact.
The USA’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends that car seats be automatically replaced if they are involved in a moderate to severe car crash.
This is why it is not recommended to use secondhand car seats unless you know the history. If you are considering using a secondhand car seat, then please be sure to follow this used car seat safety checklist.
This is why, if you’re hiring a car seat, you need to ask for its history. Has it been involved in a crash before and if so, what kind of crash? Is it minor or major? And you can use the used car seat safety checklist in this case too.
Car seats can make travel more comfortable for all.
When you have a flight-approved car seat, you install it on the chair and your child gets to sit comfortably in a place they are used to.
That means your lap is free, your hands are free and you don’t then have to frantically keep trying to juggle your child and everything else you’ll need to accomplish.
Have you tried eating with a lap child?
I have and let me tell you, it’s incredibly stressful.
When I first travelled to the Philippines from the UK with my 4-month-old, I didn’t bring his car seat.
I chose a bassinet seat and then placed him there, thinking it would be the most convenient.
Safety aside (because the bassinet is NOT safe for obvious reasons), it was the opposite of convenient.
I felt really cramped because the bassinet took up so much space. It was a tight squeeze whenever I needed to leave my seat.
If I wanted to stretch (14 hours can make you stiff), I had to go to the aisle and do it there – where everyone saw me.
And most importantly, every time there was turbulence, I had to remove my little boy from the bassinet and hold him. And for some reason, that always seemed to happen just as he was drifting off to sleep.
And (thank you 4-month regression), he’d wake up and remain awake.
And he’d cry. A lot.
I suppose it was like sleep torture for him.
I’d have cried too (another secret: I did cry while I was in the toilet, I was so exhausted).
The Last Thing You Need To Know
Now that we’ve established that yes, you probably (almost certainly) do need to travel with a car seat, the question is how the heck are you supposed to manage that on top of everything else already?
Well, don’t worry because, after 4 international flights (all return trips, mind, and in half of those flights it was just me and the child because my husband was working), I finally cracked it and I’m sharing my best tips with you on How To Travel With A Car Seat.
Have you traveled with your wee ones before and couldn’t figure out if you needed to travel with a car seat? What choice did you make and why? How did it go?
What are your best tips for parents who love to travel but feel terrified because they now have to go with children in tow?
Let me know in comments. I’d love to hear from you!