Tips to traveling light

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When it's travel season there is always the perennial questions about baby gear—namely, do I really have to schlep all this stuff with me on the plane and if so how do I do it?—are popping up on the PSP list-serv.
 
Tips to traveling light
 
Before my daughter was born and carry-on rules were considerably more lax, my husband would pressure me to not check luggage for any trip shorter than ten days.
 
Now, I consider my preschooler to be my “carry-on” and nuisance fees be damned I check the luggage. But I still pack from the point of view of “what can I get away with leaving home” and am mortified (perhaps overly so) at the prospect of being that disorganized person with too many things holding everyone up at the security check-point.
Here are some tricks I’ve learned—some I’ve tested, others not—to avoid being too much of a sherpa.
 

Great for cars and the plane -- but heavy.

photo credit E P Gunn

Stroller

I do bring a stroller. It carries kids and/or bags down long airplane terminals and ferries sleeping toddlers through customs and baggage claim.
Most airlines will let you check a stroller at the gate for free and will hand it back to you when deplane (though in Mexico I had to retrieve it at baggage claim).
But my travel stroller has to be light enough to carry up a flight of stairs with one hand while holding a squirmy child in the other. I have to be able to fold it with one free hand, and it has to inexpensive enough that if it gets lost of broken I won’t be upset.
Chicco, UPPABaby and the First Years all have strollers that fit the bill, with sun canopies and some storage.
 
Car seat
If you really feel you must bring it, many airlines will let you check it for free at the gate or check-in counter. But check with your carrier for specifics. Some say that you can check it free as your first or second piece of luggage (which I take to mean that if you have multiple items they will start charging at some point). I would also print out the airplane’s policy from its website;, don’t rely on airline staff to know all the rules.
If you primarily need a car seat for the plane, consider a CARES harness. It seems pricey but if you can get four or five uses out of if before your child outgrows it, the per-plane-ride cost seems worth it to me.
If you only need it to get to your hotel and back look car service that has car seats. Ask your hotel for a referral. If that doesn’t work try one of several new taxi reservation apps, like Taxi Magic. Last chance: Google your destination and word taxi. A car service that’s big enough to have a website it likely to have child seats.
If you’re renting a car, consider a AAA membership. One of the perks is a free car seat rental at Hertz, which all by itself justifies the $58 membership fee.
If all else fails consider this travel-friendly booster seat from Graco or this safety vest that makes a regular seat belt work for a child. I haven’t tried either, but I think the booster seat is in my future.
 
Portable cribs
When you have a newborn it’s easy to believe that you’re going to be using baby gear for years. But between ages 2 and 3 the pack-n-play starts getting a little cramped and improvising becomes more realistic. Given this, it’s hard to justify buying a portable crib unless you really plan to travel a lot.
Just about any hotel will have cribs or pack-n-plays, usually for free. They aren’t always the newest models, but I’ve never felt unsafe with anything I’ve been offered.
If you really must bring your own, this website has some neat solutions, including an inflatable bed rail and inflatable toddler bed.
When we rented a condo in Mexico the rental agent referred me to a local concierge service that rented a Graco pack-n-play to me for $15 for 5 days, a small price for enormous convenience.
In fact, you can rent baby gear almost anywhere these days, though prices will vary according to what you need and where you are. This parenting blog and this baby travel website are good sources.
Happy—and light—summer travels.
Eileen