For Catherine’s take on strollers and carriers, visit her post, Travel with Infants and Toddlers Strollers and Carriers.
As anyone with kids knows, what works for one family frequently doesn’t work for another. In my experience, what has worked for one kid hasn’t worked for the other kid and so, I thought I’d add my two cents on what worked for us and didn’t work for us when traveling with infants and toddlers in terms of strollers and carriers.
My oldest child was not a fan of strollers. He never really cared for them and was fully out of them by 18 months, preferring instead to walk or push the stroller. As you can imagine, fighting with an 18 month old over whether or not he could safely push a stroller in a public space quickly became more trouble than it was worth and we essentially stopped using it at that time.
Although the stroller was never a big part of our life with him, we did find that it was essential for one trip that we took to California, prior to his first birthday and before he could walk. Since we were visiting family in Los Angeles, I decided to purchase a stroller and have it sent to my mother’s house prior to our arrival. Knowing that we would use the stroller in limited circumstances (malls!), I wasn’t too worried about the stroller’s ability to maneuver in rugged terrain or its ease of handling. I did, however, want something 1) inexpensive, 2) small when folded up, and 3) light. A quick amazon search and ~$40 later, I ended up settling on a Jeep umbrella stroller which served us perfectly for our week in Los Angeles.
Although this stroller was perfect for that trip (and a subsequent trip a few months later), it did have certain limitations. First, as a bare bones umbrella stroller, the stroller did not recline and thus was not suitable for children who are unable to sit upright and support their bodies. The stroller also did not have a telescoping handle and was too short for my brother, who is 6’3″, to use comfortably. Nonetheless, for $40, I was happy to have it for the handful of times we needed it in California.
Six years later, I found myself in a similar predicament of needing an umbrella stroller for a trip with a young toddler. Although I considered purchasing something inexpensive like the Jeep stroller, I decided to purchase a Maclaren Mark II stroller instead. Weighing in at less than 8 lbs, this was the lightest stroller I could find on the market and, importantly, it had a carry strap. As I was traveling alone with my toddler from our home base in Washington, DC to Alaska, I wanted something light and portable – that I could maneuver without too much difficulty.
The Mark II ended up being the perfect stroller for use in the airport, as it provided my son with a spot to nap during our long layover in Seattle, and it was also easy to fold up and throw over my shoulder, thus freeing up my hands to wrangle my squirmy toddler.
I am a huge fan of the umbrella stroller for traveling with older infants/toddlers as they fold up small and are lightweight. However, these bare bones strollers are limiting in that the child must be able to sit upright and support their head (6+ months is the typical manufacturer recommendation) and umbrella strollers require both hands to push and don’t maneuver as well as other more robust strollers.
For a trip to Disney World when my youngest was 10 months old and not walking, we elected to bring our usual stroller, the Baby Jogger City Mini. Knowing that we would be using it extensively at both Disney World and Legoland, I was happy to bring along the larger stroller for its ease of use and also for added comfort. We also traveled to and from the airport via metro on that trip, so it was nice to have it to push on the uneven sidewalks and pavement to/from our metro station.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have a love/hate relationship with baby carriers. My oldest son hated all carriers. I tried quite a few with him – the Peanut Shell, the Moby Wrap, a Baby Bjorn, but he only ever screamed bloody murder when put in a carrier.
I remember having one successful carrier experience with him and that was at the airport on his first trip to California. Although he didn’t love the carrier, he seemed to like knowing that he was close and the surrounding environment was different enough that he was easily distracted.
When my second was born a few years ago, I was willing to give carriers another try, but wasn’t overly optimistic.
Cue the angels! My second child loves the baby carrier.
We started with the original Ergo Baby Carrier, which he was happy to ride in during any number of walks we took around the neighborhood or through the grocery store. I also loved that the carrier had a handy zipper pocket in the back center that I could stash my phone and keys in. The limiting factor to the Ergo, however, is that even though it carries children up to 45 lbs, I found that once my son was 9 months or so, he liked to swing his arms over and out of the carrier. I frequently worried that it didn’t keep him secure enough and that he would come tumbling out.
I’ll admit this was paranoia on my part, but I ended up purchasing a Tula Toddler Carrier just prior to our trip to Alaska. The Tula Toddler carrier has a higher back and even at almost three, my son will happily ride forward facing and the back fabric comes up to the base of his neck.
Although the Tula carrier fits us much better, the one pocket it has is located on the waist belt instead of the back center, where the Ergo pocket is located. The pocket on the waist belt is difficult to reach and I stopped using it after I found myself frustrated from trying to reach it.
As Catherine mentioned, carriers are limiting in that they restrict downward peripheral vision, so be careful when walking! I always hold onto the rail or use the wall for a guide when walking downstairs with a child in a carrier, just for added security.
In addition to soft carriers, we have also used a hiking backpack for our kids.
We purchased the Deuter Kid Comfort 3 when my oldest was a toddler, but given his general dislike of being carried, it was rarely used.
My youngest, however, has used it extensively for nature walks with our four legged friend, Wilson, and also for longer hikes around town and in Alaska.
I cannot recommend the Deuter carrier enough. Although it is large and expensive, it allows my son to sit high up and see the sights during our hikes and walks and he’s supported in an upright sitting position. As an added bonus, this carrier still looks brand new, despite being nearly 8 years old!
As you can see, what works for one family or child may not work for you and what works in one situation might not work in another. Luckily, all of the gear identified in this post can be found at your local stores – Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, REI. I encourage you to take your child to the store and test out the gear to see whether you like not only the look and feel of the item, but also the fit. And know that in the world of revolving baby gear, you will likely be able to purchase whatever item you decide on used from your neighborhood listserv! I certainly know that I have bought and sold my fair share of strollers on craiglist, just looking for the perfect solution to my particular situation!