In many ways, car travel is simple. You don’t have to clear customs or security like an airport. You don’t have to worry about other passengers, as you would on a train or plane. It’s often way more convenient than public transport, at least in Australia (happily, many other countries’  public transport systems put Australia’s to shame; if you’re one of those places, leave the car behind). And of course, if you are taking your own car, you’ll probably already have the issue of baby carseats well and truly sorted.

So it’s not surprising that when parents are thinking about one of their first family travel experiences, the idea of a road trip with a baby seems smart.  (For the ins and outs of preparing for, packing for and going on a road trip with a baby, see our post specifically on road trips.)

But what do you do about baby carseats if the car isn’t your own?

If you are hiring a car, what do you do about baby carseats?

If may not be the most practical option, but it’s often far easier to take your own car, as it takes a lot of  complications out of the equation. You know how much will fit, you know the car seat is installed correctly and safely, and you simply walk out the door and are ready to go (aside from the small matter of packing, of course!).  Of course, depending on where you live, that’s likely to severely limit your family travel options.  So often, you’ll need to hire a car, and get a baby carseat installed.

You have three options for the actual baby carseats:

  1. Rent one from the hire car company.
  2. Rent one from a local baby supply outfit (assuming they will drop of the baby carseat when you collect your car).
  3. Bring your own.

Why are baby carseats such a pain when it comes to hire cars?

Car rentals and babies are, frankly, a bit of a painful combination. The problem is, baby carseats tend to bring about myriad issues. (We talk about this more in our post on cabs/taxis)

1. Renting baby carseats from the hire car company.

Basically, while most car hire companies will happily rent out baby carseats, it can be harder to get a seat that suits a very small child. In countries like Australia, where the rules on baby carseats are very strict, many won’t rent out a baby car capsule, saying they are not legally allowed to install them. (Confusingly, other companies aren’t phased by this – just one of the many inconsistencies on this issue.)

Take it from us: it doesn’t matter how many times you call ahead to double check or triple check there is a baby carseat attached to your car rental booking (and more specifically, that said baby carseat should be rear facing, or set on the very smallest setting), the chances of it all being as you’ve requested on arrival are, well to put it politely, minimal.

We are not trying to be negative here; if you’ve had a great experience to the contrary, please feel free to shout it from the rooftops in the comments below. But based on our own experience, and that of others we know, baby carseats and rental cars are stressful. You might still decide there’s no way round it: you simply don’t want to bring your own, or there’s no option to hire one from a baby supply company at your destination.  That’s fine – just be mentally prepared to spend an extra hour or two when collecting the car sorting it out, rather than thinking it will all be smooth sailing and be unpleasantly surprised.

2. Renting a baby carseat from a local baby supply company.

A great option, assuming such a company exists, and that they are willing to bring the seat (and anything else you are hiring from them) to the place where you are collecting the car (usually, but not always, an airport).  These guys will likely be expert at installing the baby carseats, which is one of the disadvantages of bringing your own.  Of course, it’ll still mean some fiddling around at the car rental pick up, because you won’t arrive with a baby carseat installed and ready to go. But never fear, as we note in point 1 above, that hardly EVER happens!

3. Bring your own baby carseats.

Our founder Sue’s own experiences with car rentals and baby seats have been so stressful that she eventually began to actively avoid this option. In fact, she eventually decided that for all future trips she would take her own baby car seat. She also vowed to get really confident at installing the car seat herself, to try to mitigate the various hassles with this aspect of travel with an under one.  It was slightly nerveracking, and yes, one more thing to carry. However, as airlines typically allow a baby carseat as free check in luggage, it wasn’t a huge hassle.

In fact, the biggest concerns with this option (aside from being confident installing the seat yourself), is that the airline will lose it (oh yes, and the hassle of installing the seat yourself to get home from the airport at the other end). If you do decide to take your own carseat, a Carseat Transporter can be a great help for lugging everything through the airport. It’s a bit like a luggage trolley, which you can attach your carseat to, turning it into a rolling seat for your baby. It’s simple to use and compact and light enough to be stored in an overhead locker.

In some ways, baby carseats and travel and like prams (strollers/buggies) and travel – an imperfect world where you just need to make the best choice available.

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Aussie journalist, travel writer and founder of Sue White has always been a traveller. When her son was born, Sue knew her travel itch would still need regular scratching. But how do you travel with a baby under one and still have a good time? Is it even possible? Where do busy new parents discover practical tips to support those first few trips? To find out, Sue and her baby son travelled both Australia and Europe doing house sits and house swaps; cat sitting and car journeys; took on 24 hours flights and short domestic jaunts; travelled with friends, solo and family members; and cycled, drove, flew and train-ed around seven countries, all before his first birthday. Learn more about Sue.