Strollers and carriers are almost always travel essentials when you are traveling with a child under age three. Nancy and I both shared our experience separately. Check out her post at Travel with Infants and Toddlers: Stroller and Carriers Take Two.
Strollers are travel necessities simply because it can be too cumbersome to carry an infant or toddler and all your family’s stuff for long periods of time. Even as a huge fan of my Beco baby carrier, there are limited circumstances where we did not need a stroller when traveling with an infant or toddler. There are innumerable stroller options, but features to consider when traveling are size, weight, ability to lay flat, compatibility with your infant seat and how easy it is to collapse and storage capacity.
Strollers are wonderful because they can contain your baby and baby gear (and honestly, your extra coat, water bottle, snacks and packages, too). Most babies and toddlers love their stroller and can easily nap there during the day if going to your hotel is not an option. Our main stroller was the Peg Perego Aria, which I believe is discontinued (the new version of the Peg Perego Vela). We loved it because it was compatible with our Graco SnugRide infant seat, had good underneath storage and was an ultra light 9 pounds. It has definitely seen better days, but on occasion, we still use it over nine years later.
You will need to get comfortable with abandoning your stroller in public at times, particularly if you are visiting Disney where there are large stroller parking areas. After you remove any valuables, you can be relatively confident that no one is going to steal your wheels.
Handicap accessibility is a Godsend for stroller users, but you will not always find stroller ramps or elevators available. There are times when you will need to carry a stroller down a flight of non-accessible stairs or take your stroller onto an escalator. We had to take our stroller onto an escalator so many times in London and Barcelona where infrastructure pre-dates accessibility requirements that we occasionally would do it in the US as well. If you look like you know what you are doing with a stroller, you rarely get stopped.
We used a side-by-side double stroller for many years because we found the tandems too unwieldy. It could be awkward getting through doors at times, we were very happy with our Baby Jogger. I believe we only brought it on an airplane when we went to Disney World with children aged one and three.
There are a few times where a stroller is not a travel essential with infants or toddlers. Due to uneven pavement, we found that the stroller we brought to India was not necessary. After we gate checked it, we did not get it back until we retrieved our baggage, so it was not overly useful in airports, and the pavement was so uneven that we could only use it in a mall. Because it was more cumbersome than useful, we wished we had left it at home. Also, Iceland was so remote that there were very few places other than airports and Kringlan, the country’s only mall, where you can actually use it. We were glad that we did not bring a stroller. Also, if you are visiting family domestically and do not plan outdoor walks or trips to the shopping mall, a stroller may not be needed.
I almost always traveled with my Beco carrier when I had an infant or toddler with me. Because it was soft and very packable, I usually tucked it into the front pocket of my carry on suitcase so that I could access it easily and use in the airport if necessary. There are many times when a stroller is impractical or impossible to use due to uneven terrain, uneven pavement, stairs or a fussy baby. My children all loved riding in the carrier even more than the stroller and found the carrier to be an ideal napping location. My Beco carrier could be worn on my front or back, but my personal preference was to keep the baby in front of me.
Carriers are helpful because they help distribute the baby’s weight on your shoulders and back and also allow you to be hands free. Carriers are ideal in warmer weather or indoors because it is challenging to wear a coat, but I discovered on a windy day that a nursing cover can serve as great protection from the elements. The downsides are that carrying can lead to back pain, and there is no easy storage for any baby gear.
There are some important safety concerns related to carriers. First, the carrier should position in a seated position rather than hanging so that their weight is on their bottom rather than crotch. Also, the baby should not be worn too low. If you are not able to kiss the baby’s forehead, you are wearing them too low. If the baby falls asleep, you may need to support the baby’s head.
The baby’s body can block your peripheral vision downward, so you have to be careful to watch your step, particularly on an uneven walking surface. I often find myself using the “extra care” while walking that I used when pregnant. But, I’ve used the carrier on numerous hikes, walking in a rocky lava tube and exploring the cave behind a waterfall in Iceland. For us, our carrier was a great way to keep a baby or toddler close, comfortable and happy when traveling. The only reason we did not use them more or exclusively was that the stroller did a much better job of carrying stuff, and carrying for long periods of time did lead to fatigue and even pain, but for us, a carrier was definitely a travel essential.
Check out our other Travel Tips for advice about traveling with kids.