Transportation with a baby on vacation is quite the conundrum. How do you get around the city without a car seat? If you bring a car seat, what do you do with it while you’re adventuring? Are there other safe options?
This has always been one of the toughest parts of trip planning for me – figuring out our transportation and how to transport a baby without car seat. There are so many elements to take into consideration, and there will always be some level of risk.
There’s no one right answer, and everyone will have a different comfort level – and opinion – about this one.
But these are the things that I’ve learned over the years about how to travel without a car seat, and how I deal with this issue now, with my baby and toddler.
Research before you go, and make a plan.
Whatever that plan is, know what you want to do before you get there so that you don’t feel forced into a decision you’re not comfortable with.
Read the blogs and the travel forums and try to get a solid idea of what transportation with kids looks like where you’re going. How do the locals travel? How have other visitors dealt with transportation for babies? What is the culture around car seats – will they be easily accessible, and will taxis allow you to use them? Will taxis even have seat belts?
If you’re planning to stay at a resort, find out what they offer for transporting little ones. They might have car seats available, or you might do all of your excursions on a charter bus.
The more you understand about what you’re getting into, the better you can plan to minimize risk.
Take public transport into consideration when you book.
Traveling by monorail or train is my first choice, in terms of safety. After that, buses. When I am booking our lodging, I always take these things into account.
For example, from my research I knew that it wasn’t reasonable to bring a car seat to Thailand (no seat belts). So when we stayed in Bangkok, I booked a hotel that was a short walk from the monorail stop. We took the monorail from the airport, and were able to get almost everywhere we wanted to go without needing a taxi.
Similarly, Amsterdam has a fantastic bus system. When we stayed there, it was easy to find a flat with a bus stop outside. Our only taxi was from the airport to the apartment, and they are car seat-friendly in Amsterdam, so we were of course allowed to use it for that ride.
Can you take a baby on a bus without a car seat?
Yes, buses are considered very safe. In fact, in most buses, it is not possible to install a car seat. But traveling by bus, even on freeways, is a comparatively safe way to travel.
Consider renting a car and bringing your car seat.
If you’re staying somewhere that it makes sense to rent a car, great! Bring your car seat or buy a lightweight car seat for travel. This is my favorite low cost option and it is incredibly popular as an occasional travel car seat. If you are a family who travels often, you may want to consider something more expensive and higher quality like the Wayb Pico. I have not tried it personally, but here is an expert review of the Pico.
I’m a big fan of bringing the car seat on the plane for kids under 3. Not only is it safer in take-off and landing mishaps, but it keeps your child contained and comfortable during the flight.
Do you have to pay to check a car seat?
Even if you don’t want to bring it on board, car seats are always free to check in the US and most countries (just be sure to use a car seat bag or box to keep it protected).
Most car rental companies do have car seats available for rental, but there are some horror stories out there about this. For one thing, they probably have a small selection, and you may or may not get the right size. And you might get a seriously disgusting one.
More importantly, you have no idea if that car seat has been in a crash and has been compromised. While I have gone this route and the car seat we got in Mexico seemed fine, you truly don’t know. The cost to rent is often more than the cost of the Cosco car seat I linked above, so you’re better off just bringing your own.
I have heard of people buying a car seat at their destination and then donating it before they leave. Definitely an option, but probably not any easier than just bringing it with you.
Look into hiring a private driver.
If you’re staying somewhere that doesn’t make sense to rent a car, or you’ll be moving a lot during your trip, consider hiring a driver for part of the time.
In some places, this is actually incredibly affordable. Consider clumping a lot of short excursions into the days that you have a driver, so you’ll get to see more without taking several taxi trips. We did this in Indonesia, and got to see lots of temples and sites on different parts of Bali for a great price and without hassle.
As with renting a car, I recommend you bring your car seat from home if you plan to do this. Check with the driver hire company ahead of time to be sure that it’s okay. If you don’t want to bring your car seat, a lot of these companies do offer ones you can borrow, though again you do not know exactly what you’re getting.
We also usually book a private transfer from the airport to our accommodations. You can take a hotel shuttle or any other airport shuttle with baby. It’s a comfort at the airport to know that you’ll have a driver waiting for you, with a car seat ready if you’ve reserved one. This is definitely our preferred way to travel from airport to hotel with baby.
Rent a car seat on arrival from a local family.
There is a growing segment of companies that rent out baby gear at travel destinations. BabyQuip is my favorite, and while it is primarily in North America, it is quickly expanding. There are similar options around the globe.
With a rental from somewhere like BabyQuip, you will be renting from a local family, and you can read reviews and know that you are renting high quality, safe products. This is a great way to ensure that you get a car seat that fits your child’s age and weight, as you can find all of this information on the website.
You can arrange to have a car seat waiting for you at your hotel, or in some cases have it delivered to the airport.
One consideration, if you go this route, is how to get to airport without car seat. Remember that you still need to get yourselves to and from your home airport, and that trip will require a car seat. This is where having a friend or family member who can drive you (in your car, or one with your car seat installed) would be great. But we’ve also just parked in the airport lots, even though taking a taxi would be cheaper… it’s less hassle if we are traveling without a car seat.
Can you Uber with a baby?
Yes, but with some stipulations.
You can usually bring a car seat in an Uber, but ultimately that choice is up to the driver. You typically will want to call the driver as soon as you book to let them know you have a car seat and will want to install. Many times, we haven’t had the time to call, and we’ve never been turned away.
That being said, keep in mind that the car seat will take up the space of an adult. Don’t book a 3-person ride if you have two adults, a child, plus a baby in a car seat. We always pay a little extra to have Uber XL (we have two kids so it’s necessary) and there is plenty of space to install car seats.
Traveling with a baby in an Uber without a car seat is no different from a taxi as far as safety (see tips below), but the legality varies from state to state in the US, and around the world. You would definitely want to call the driver before they arrive if you are bringing a baby or toddler without a proper restraint.
See if your location has family-friendly rideshare options.
There is a growing market for rideshare services that include a car seat, and some companies are starting to step up.
UberCarSeat allows you to request a car seat along with your ride. It adds $10, and it is only available in select cities (and Uber’s website is not clear about which cities, but you can find it by opening Uber for your destination city to check). Lyft is also working on rolling out this option.
If you’re traveling to Southeast Asia, check into GrabFamily. Grab is the Uber of SE Asia, and some countries have the car seat option via GrabFamily.
With all of these companies, babies must be at least 1 year old to use the car seat. I look forward to this service rolling out to more cities!
Take a taxi only when you need to.
Sometimes, taking a taxi is unavoidable. Maybe it’s the initial trip from the airport, and then you’ll be able to use public transportation when you get to your lodging. Maybe it’s a short trip across the city with a tired toddler. Maybe you’re just out for the day and have no intention of carrying a car seat everywhere you go.
It is legal to travel in a taxi without a car seat pretty much everywhere. Even in most states in the US. That obviously doesn’t mean it’s any safer than traveling in a car, but at least you don’t need to worry about the legality aspect.
So how do you travel with a baby in a taxi, safely?
Well, honestly, you can’t. But on those times that you need to travel in a taxi, there are a few things you can do to make it somewhat less risky. First, try to limit it to short trips and avoid freeways. We needed to taxi quite a bit around Rome with our baby, and while it made me super nervous, the traffic was such that we never really got going much faster than 15 mph. Safe? Absolutely not. But not as dangerous as cruising on the freeway.
If you do find yourself in a taxi without a car seat, the safest thing to do is actually to put your baby next to you with his own seat belt. Pull the lap belt tight across the tops of the thighs – not on the stomach. The shoulder belt should not go under the arm pit – leave it across the front of him (even if it’s rubbing his neck). [Sources: Safe Ride 4 Kids & The Car Seat Lady]
This might not feel like the safest option, but in reality, that seat belt will still be able to do a belt’s main job: hold your child in place in an accident so that he doesn’t go flying out of the car.
If you hold the child on your lap and then buckle around you both, you’re actually putting your baby more at risk. Your weight multiplies by the g forces of the car when you crash, and all that weight pushes into your seat belt. If your child is between you and the seat belt, she can be crushed, even in a low speed accident.
In Tel Aviv, we traveled some in sheruts, which are minibus-like shared taxis. In a minibus, your best bet is to sit at the back of the bus and, once again, buckle your baby into her own seat belt.
Some people will buckle themselves and then wear the baby in a baby carrier. I admit that I used to do this, before learning more about how to travel with a baby in a taxi, thinking it would at least help her to not go flying in a lower-speed crash. While this is better than buckling her in with you, she is still better off in her own seat belt. The baby carrier is not designed to withstand the forces of a crash, and very well may not hold her.
This is perhaps an option if your baby is so young that sitting on the seat next to you is truly impossible. In any case, try to avoid taxis without your car seat.
If you’ve brought your car seat for use on the plane, a lot of airport taxis will allow you to install it to use on your way to your destination. This is great, since often the trip from the airport is the longest taxi trip you’ll take. If your first taxi driver says no, don’t be afraid to refuse the ride and ask at the taxi stand. In some cities, most taxis don’t have seat belts in the back, but you can usually find someone who does if you ask around.
And if you can’t, try Uber or the local equivalent. They will almost always have seat belts (but check when you get in to make sure they actually work… we’ve definitely encountered broken seat belts!)
How to travel with a toddler without a car seat: you might have more options.
There are some products out there that are designed to minimize taxi risk for toddlers without taking up much space. The RideSafer Travel Vest is for kids weighing 30 – 60 lbs, and we have used this with our oldest and love it. You can read my full review of the RideSafer here! The Hifold high-back booster is a super portable booster seat for kids 33lbs. and up. Once they turn 4, kids can use any one of a host of travel booster seats.
We have also installed our RideSafer in numerous taxis and Ubers. Again, we prefer Uber for this, as we have found them to more consistently have working seat belts, and in our experience, they tend to be more patient. The RideSafer vest is quicker to install than a car seat, but it still takes a good half-minute (when you’ve got it down) that some taxis do not want to wait.
Look at the alternative options. How do the locals travel with kids?
Everywhere you go in the world, there are children. And they somehow manage to get around. How do the locals do it where you’re traveling?
In Amsterdam, where everyone travels by bike, we saw many families with baby seats attached to their bikes. This is a great option in a city that is built for safe bicycle travel.
Throughout Southeast Asia, pedicabs and tuk tuks are a common mode of transportation. While they might not be the safest way to go, we would just ask our driver to go nice and slow so that we could enjoy the scenery.
Sometimes things are out of your control.
Unfortunately, you can’t plan for everything, and you may end up having to sacrifice safety at some point. Being a parent is one big game of calculated risk, and that is especially true when you travel.
We recently dealt with this when we traveled to Malta with our kids. Malta, as it turns out, just doesn’t really care about car seats. We had reserved a private transfer from and to the airport, and while we had lots of problems with finding our initial transport driver, the biggest problem was the trip back to the airport.
Of course, it was 4am and we were on a time crunch to make our flight, and our driver showed up without the car seat that we had reserved – and paid €8 for. We had to get all the way across the island to the airport. We didn’t have a choice, and had to settle for the driver’s promise that he would “drive safely”. He thought it odd that I cared so much about it.
Plenty of people drive without car seats every day – including most of the population of Malta. But it’s not within my comfort zone to do so, and so it really threw me off to have planned for a certain level of safety, and not have it.
But this is part of traveling. Sometimes you do as the locals do, and sometimes you roll with the situation that you’re in. Make the most of it, and get out there and make memories.
What are you favorite tricks for how to travel with a baby without a car seat? Any questions that I didn’t answer? Let me know in the comments!
to pin for later:
Originally posted November 2019. Updated April 2022.