A travel system, a combination of an infant car seat and stroller, offers convenience and cost-effectiveness for families on the move. Here’s a detailed travel system guide with seven steps on how to choose the best travel system for your baby and family.
QUICK GUIDE: IN THIS ARTICLE
- Step 1: Understand Your Lifestyle ↓
- Step 2: Check Compatibility ↓
- Step 3: Consider Safety Features ↓
- Step 4: Set a Budget ↓
- Step 5: Consider Comfort and Convenience ↓
- Step 6: Test Drive Before Buying ↓
- Step 7: Check the Weight and Size ↓
Travel System Guide Step 1: Understand Your Lifestyle
The first step in our travel system guide is considering your lifestyle. Your lifestyle should dictate the type of travel system you choose, and specifically the type of stroller that will work best for your family. With a variety of stroller options available, we recommend identifying the type of stroller that best meets your daily needs.
For example, for active parents who enjoy outdoor activities, we recommend a travel system with a jogging stroller like the Graco FastAction Fold Jogger Travel System. City dwellers who rely on public transportation or have limited storage may prefer a lightweight, compact system such as the Maxi-Cosi Zelia 5-In-1 Modular Travel System.
For families always on the go we recommend a car seat stroller like the Doona Car Seat to Stroller. For larger families we recommend looking into getting a double stroller for convenience. Whether it is a side-by-side or a front-to-back setup like the Graco Ready2Grow LX 2.0 Double Stroller or the Baby Trend Sit N Stand Travel System, consider if you will be walking in narrow spaces like going in and out of smaller doors.
Travel System Guide Step 2: Check Compatibility
The car seat and stroller should fit together seamlessly for easy transitions. We recommend getting complete sets where the brand for the car seat and the stroller are the same, but often we find families love certain strollers and infant car seats that are not the same brand.
If you fall into the category of having non-matching brands for your stroller and infant car seat, check out our Car Seat Stroller Compatibility Guide to ensure your car seat and stroller are compatible or if they require additional adapters or not.
Travel System Guide Step 3: Consider Safety Features
Safety is paramount in any baby gear. In our travel system guide we like to recommend travel systems that meet or exceed safety standards outlined by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA). With that being said we still recommend checking specific features on the stroller, on the car seat, and on the overall travel system when the stroller and car seat are together.
Stroller Safety Features
Here is a list of safety features we recommend in our travel system guide that your family should consider before deciding on what stroller you want for your family:
- Sturdy Frame: Ensure it feels solid, not flimsy. Ensure it is able to securely lock open before putting your child in.
- Restraint System: A good stroller should have a sturdy restraint system with a five-point harness that includes shoulder straps, a strap between the legs, and waist belts. Ensure the latches and locks work appropriately and are built from strong material.
- Brakes: Look for strollers that have easy-to-operate brakes that lock within the wheels. Always check the brakes and the swivel lock mechanisms before buying. Additionally, some strollers include a tether strap that can prevent the stroller from rolling away if you accidentally let go.
- Wheels: Your baby’s fingers should not be able to reach the stroller wheels. Also, consider the size and type of wheels based on where you’ll be using the stroller most often (e.g., larger, air-filled tires for uneven surfaces).
- Warranty and Certification: Ensure there are no recalls and understand the return policy. Check the certification to ensure the stroller complies with the mandatory federal safety standards, for example check the product for the AS/NZS 2088 label, which ensures it meets certain safety standards. And, of course, no matter how safe the stroller may be, never leave your child unattended in it.
Infant Car Seat Safety Features
When buying an infant car seat, safety is the number one priority. Here are some key safety features to look for:
- Side-Impact Protection: Look for a car seat with side-impact protection. This usually involves extra padding or special foam in the sides of the car seat to absorb energy and protect your baby’s head and chest in case of a side-impact crash.
- Restraint System: A five-point harness is the safest restraint system for an infant car seat. It consists of straps that secure over both shoulders, both hips, and between the legs.
- Base and Installation: A car seat that is not installed correctly can compromise your child’s safety. Choose a car seat with clear instructions and indicators that show when the seat is installed correctly. Ensure it has a strong base that can lock into your car properly with use of the lap belt, latch system or other mechanism.
- Age Appropriate: The car seat should be appropriate for your child’s size. Infant car seats are typically rear-facing and designed for babies up to 35 pounds. Once your child outgrows this, you’ll need to switch to a convertible or forward-facing car seat. For newborns and small babies, look for a car seat that comes with inserts to ensure they are snug and secure.
- Expiration Date, Warranty, and Safety Certification: Car seats expire every six years, so double check the car seat expiration date to ensure it has not expired. Check the manufacturers warranty and return policy, and as always we recommend registering your product to be updated of any recalls. You can also confirm it is certified by the JPMA, which indicates that the car seat has been tested and meets the safety standards set by the federal government.
Travel System Safety Features
In addition to the items we outlined above for checking the stroller and the car seat individually, we wanted to recommend checking the following for when the car seat is attached to the stroller.
- Secure Attachment: Ensure the car seat is securely attached to the stroller. It should click into place and not move or wobble when touched. Some systems have visual or auditory indicators to confirm secure attachment.
- Stability: Check the stability of the travel system once the car seat is attached. The weight of the car seat and baby can change the center of gravity of the stroller. It should not tip over easily.
- Car Seat Direction: The car seat should always be attached to the stroller in a rear-facing position, so you can keep an eye on your little one. This is the safest position for a baby to travel in.
- Brakes: Make sure the brakes work effectively even when the car seat is attached to the stroller.
- Canopy Alignment: If both the car seat and stroller have canopies, ensure they align well when the car seat is attached to provide maximum protection from the sun, wind, or rain.
Remember, it’s essential to read the manufacturer’s instructions for attaching and detaching the car seat from the stroller. If you’re unsure about anything, contact the manufacturer or consult a child passenger safety technician.
Travel System Guide Step 4: Set a Budget
Travel systems can range from affordable options like the Evenflo Vive Travel System which costs around $300, to luxury models like the UPPAbaby Vista V2 Stroller and MESA Car Seat Travel System, which can cost over $1000. Determine what you’re willing to spend before you start shopping, but remember, the most expensive model isn’t always the best or the safest.
Determining what features are most important to you can also help you prioritize what you are looking for and how much you are willing to spend. A budget is not the first item in our travel system guide, but we do know that it can often be a constraint if features aren’t prioritized.
For example, when we purchased our first stroller it was really important to me that it had a nice size storage basket, but not too important that it had cup holders. Additionally, it was really sunny where we lived so I knew a canopy that provided maximum coverage was a must!
Travel System Guide Step 5: Consider Comfort and Convenience
Look for a travel system that can provide the most comfort for you and your little one. Consider the features of the stroller as well as the quality of fabrics used on the car seat and the stroller. Consider a stroller with a reclining seat for napping on the go. Consider the wheel type (plastic or rubber) and good suspension to ensure a smooth ride.
The Baby Jogger City Mini GT2 Travel System offers both reclining seats and excellent suspension with rubber tires, along with ample padding in the car seat for comfort. For parents, features like easy folding mechanisms, large storage baskets, and adjustable handlebars (like in the Graco Modes Nest Travel System) can make life easier.
Travel System Guide Step 6: Test Drive Before Buying
We highly recommend taking your ideal travel system for a test drive before buying. Stores like Buy Buy Baby or Target often have floor models you can test. Push the stroller around, fold it up, adjust the seat positions, and attach and detach the car seat. Make sure everything feels sturdy and operates smoothly.
Here is a short checklist we put together when test driving different travel systems:
Travel System Guide Step 7: Check the Weight and Size
Lastly, for the last step in our travel system guide we recommend checking weight and height limits on both the stroller and car seat. The stroller should be light enough for you to push and lift easily. The car seat should be light enough to carry comfortably, and even for short periods of time.
We recommend checking the back seat of your vehicles to ensure the car seat can properly be installed. We have found that some infant car seats are very long and don’t fit well into smaller back seats of cars.
We also recommend checking your storage space for your stroller. Whether you plan on storing it in the closet or transporting it in your trunk, make sure you have the proper space to fit your stroller.
We hope our travel system guide helps you in your decision making process. Remember, the best travel system suits your lifestyle, fits your budget, is safe and comfortable for your baby, and easy for you to use. Happy travels!
Megan is a wife and mother of three, as well as an experienced foster mother. She loves building and testing new products, and helping identify what works best for readers and clients. She has her degree in Computer Software Engineering and has been a Product Lead with over 8 years of experience designing, building, testing, and selling products to companies ranging from sole proprietors to the largest retailers in America!